Wade Belak, courtesy NHL.com

Laraque: "The League And The PA Have To Step Up"

Former Oiler tough guy Georges Laraque appeared with Brantt Myhers today on AM 630 CHED’s “Oilers Now” program.  If you got here a little late, Oilers Now is Bob Stauffer’s new show on the AM dial since severing ties with The Team1260.

I’m always a little weary about shows like this – where the host is employed directly by the team, and therefore can’t ask questions that you or I might have the luxury to ask.  Today however, Stauffer  and the gents hit one out of the park.

BGL. Image courtesy sportsworldcards.com

2011 has been a dark year for NHL players.  Families, friends, and fans have already lost Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and you can now add Wade Belak to the list of NHL players who have taken their own lives in this year alone.  Having never played at a professional level, I’m not really qualified to sit here and point out what I think ‘the problem’ is. Frankly, it’s probably more than just a single problem.

I will defer to a couple of former NHL players in Georges Laraque and Brantt Myhers.

Brantt Myhers is a guy who was able to walk away from his personal demons after his playing days, and Georges Laraque is…well, Georges Laraque.  Both talked for about an hour today with Bob Stauffer about what needs to be done by the NHL to help players that are dealing with issues that may lead them to the brink.

Laraque made an especially good point about how players are less likely to seek help from places that may have an attached stigma (doctors, therapists, anyone in the mental health field) as opposed to current or former NHL players.  I sure know that if I had an issue, I’d feel more comfortable (at first) talking with one of my peers before going to someone in the medical field.  I’d be willing to test that theory in any professional sports situation.  I don’t have thousands of people screaming at me when I screw up at work. (For me, it’s just one.)  Pro athletes do.

If you take fighting away, you’re going to take close to 50 jobs out of the NHL.

-Georges Laraque, today on Oilers Now (630 CHED)

I put a lot of stock into what Georges Laraque has to say.  He goes on the record to say that the reason he fought was so that he’d be guaranteed a job in the NHL, not because he liked to or that he was particularly good at it.  He doesn’t believe that anyone who made bank in the eighties and nineties being a pugilist shouldn’t have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude about fighting today, and that it’s still a part of today’s game.

The NHLPA needs to get something done here to help their own.  A panel of former NHL players who can talk with current NHL players about problems (be it substance, depression or otherwise) seems like the easiest thing that the league can do. I know that Laraque would be more than happy to lend assistance.  I’m sure that the league can find three, four, five, twelve, or a hundred former NHL players that would be willing to lend a hand.

There’s no reason that Boogaard, Rypien, or Belak shouldn’t be alive today with their families.  I can’t imagine the cost of setting up a player panel would be a big expenditure.

Whatever the cost may be – if it saves one life, then everyone involved has saved the greatest cost of them all.

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