TORONTO - Long-time NHL defenceman Mathieu Schneider, now a special assistant with the NHL Players’ Association, hit the nail on the head on Thursday when he told a Toronto radio station that people should stop jumping to conclusions about former Maple Leafs tough guy Wade Belak.
Schneider told The Fan 590 it is “dangerous and hurtful” to speculate as to why Belak ended his own life this week, and particularly hurtful to Belak’s young family.
Schneider was certainly not impressed that almost immediately after Belak’s body was discovered on Wednesday in a Toronto hotel room, journalists and fans rushed to their soapboxes with pronouncements that his death must have had something to do with his former role as an NHL enforcer, that he took many blows to the head during his 549 games in the NHL.
And, of course, now the clamour to rid NHL hockey of fighting is reaching new decibels because many of these same sermonizers fully believe that Belak’s death, as well the deaths this summer of New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard and Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien, are all related to being an enforcer in the NHL.
And it might be. But Schneider is right on when he says that it is far too early to reach such preachy conclusions.
Could the deaths of Belak, as well as Boogaard and Rypien, have been linked to their roles as NHL enforcers? Sure. Concussions may have had something to do with it, or perhaps the pressure of finding a new career after leaving pro hockey.
Or, perhaps it was just the scourge of depression, plain and simple, that took a hold of these young men.
But to reach the conclusion that suicide is an NHL problem or, more specifically, a problem with being an NHL enforcer, is premature.
Sadly, suicide is all too common in all sports.
Just last month, former Blue Jays pitcher Mike Flanagan took his own life. In the past year or so, a shockingly large list of high-profile professional and amateur athletes committed suicide, including: Kenny McKinley, Denver Broncos wide receiver. Owen Thomas, University of Pennsylvania tight end. Robert Enke, German national team goalkeeper. Dale Roberts, English football goalkeeper. Edwin Valero, professional boxer. Solène Coulot, French curler. Erica Blasberg, American golfer. Terry Newton, English rugby player. Jeret Peterson, American freestyle skier. Chris Kanyon, American pro wrestler. Larry Sweeney, American pro wrestler.
Now, given that list, you might jump to the conclusion that suicide is reaching epidemic proportions in pro sport, period, and I’m sure some people will.
But I would suggest that suicide is all too common in all walks of life, not just in pro sports. It happens, tragically, every day. Athletes happen to get the headlines.
Schneider expressed disappointment that some players, particularly retired NHL agitator Tyson Nash, suggested that the NHLPA let Belak down. “The NHLPA does nothing to prepare u”, Nash tweeted following Belak’s death.
Schneider pointed out that retired NHL players have access to many programs to help in the transition from player to civilian.
Everybody has to stop pointing fingers and take a step back.
Perhaps we’ll never know why Belak, one of the most personable and engaging dudes ever to pull on an NHL sweater, took his own life.
Perhaps it’s not our place to know.
It’s certainly not our place to speculate.