By Ken Reed

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said during a sentencing for Jordan Hart, a minor league hockey player who supplied painkillers to former NHL player Derek Boogaard, that both hockey players were victims of organized sports and its lax attitude toward painkillers.

“Mr. Boogaard and Mr. Hart were victims of organized sports, which did not consider the consequences of supplying large quantities of addictive pain medication to their players,” said Buchwald.

Boogaard and Hart were also both victims of a hockey culture that glorified violence, including sanctioned fighting on the ice. Boogaard, an enforcer (read: thug) during his NHL career, was supported by a hockey culture that condoned the allocation of team roster spots to players whose only valuable skill — at the NHL level anyway — was beating the tar out of opponents.

Toward the end of his career, Boogaard knew something was wrong with his mind. He didn’t know what. But he knew he just didn’t feel right. What was happening was that his occupation, hockey enforcer, was slowly damaging his brain, leading to a variety of serious neurological problems. Boogaard had grown fearful about having to fight during hockey games. But he also knew that his teammates, coaches and team management expected it. He knew that if he stopped fighting his career would be over. So, he fought on, until an accidental overdose killed him at age 28.

Boogaard had so many concussions during his playing days that he eventually lost count. An autopsy found that he had been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head.

Buchwald had it right. Boogaard was a victim of organized sports and its lax attitude toward painkillers. What she didn’t mention is that he was also the victim of hockey’s lax attitude toward fighting and brain trauma.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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