Monday, November 28, 2011

"Punched Out": The New York Times 3-part series on the death of Derek Boogaard

From December 3rd through the 6th, the New York Times released a 3-part series on the life and death of Derek Boogaard. Each part includes detailed articles that are both written well and extremely thorough journalism, which is commendable. The shocking and and devastating details of Boogaard's addictions and ultimate death are tough to swallow, but a new level of insight. Each part comes with video, interactive features, and other exclusive insightful additions. The Times summarizes the series:
Over six months, The New York Times examined the life and death of the professional hockey player Derek Boogaard, who rose to fame as one of the sport's most feared fighters before dying at age 28 on May 13.
  • Part 1: A Boy Learns to Brawl
    • This article, the first of a three-part series, revisits Boogaard's childhood in the rugged youth and junior leagues of western Canada and his progression from physically awkward boy to renowned brawler on the ice. 
  • Part 2: Blood on the Ice 
    • This article, the second of a three-part series, explores the devastating toll — physical and emotional — of fighting on players who are celebrated for their toughness. 
  • Part 3: A Brain Gone Bad
    • This article, the third of a three-part series, chronicles Derek Boogaard's descent, on and off the ice, and the posthumous determination by researchers that he had a degenerative brain condition believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. 
The article essentially examines the ongoing debate about the role of fighting and violence in hockey, clearly drawing conclusions that the nature of the sport encourages a type of violence that can and will destroy a players life earlier than anyone realized. The culture of hockey players, especially enforcers, facilitates self-destructive behavior by hiding serious symptoms of head injury in order to retain their spot in the lineup and the risk these players are at to develop serious addictions. Furthermore, the NHL, NHLPA, and NHL teams do not offer adequate substance abuse programs, nor do they take a strong enough stance on dealing with this type of addiction within the league. Addictions are easily fed by the number of different doctors affiliated with a team, while the team takes no responsibility for the easy manipulation of the system.

The role of a pure enforcer does not truly exist in the NHL anymore, but the sport is still pro-fighting and violence nonetheless, and the NHL seems unwilling to accept growing scientific data about how deep the dangers run. At-risk players, therefore, are not properly aided and, as evident in two other deaths of similar type players this same summer, are their coping mechanisms are becoming increasingly lethal. This series is moving, fascinating, heart-wrenching, and a must-read for all - hockey fans or not.

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