Ex-NHL player calls out league over brain injuries, addictions

Former NHL player Nick Boynton — an “enforcer” in his days in hockey — penned what initially sounded very much like a suicide note today on The Players Tribune.

The experience he describes mirrors those of other enforcers, including the late Derek Boogaard of the Minnesota Wild, who live a life with fists in a league that has successfully conned its fans into believing fighting isn’t part of the game.

Boynton too got his brains beat in on a regular basis, became addicted to pain killers, drugs, and alcohol and when he asked for help, was shipped to another NHL team. Nice sport you’ve got there, hockey.

But it’s Boynton’s description of his life now that is most frightening, acknowledging that he’s thought of death in recent years as a release from it all.

Whenever things get really bad, and I find myself thinking about death, it’s always in the context of release. Escaping the pain. And no longer being around to make the lives of those I love miserable. The idea of dying as a way out.

And even though I definitely wouldn’t say death has been something that I’ve wanted — that I actually wanted to die — at the same time, when I’d hit those low points, it was like … I didn’t exactly not want it, either. In a lot of ways, as things got worse for me, death started to seem not so bad.

But the whole time, as thoughts of dying have ricocheted around in my head, there has always been another thought that I just couldn’t seem to shake. I’m not sure where it came from, or why it became so prominent for me, but it would keep breaking into my mind and kind of overtake all the really dark stuff. It goes something like this:

If you die now, without speaking up or saying anything … what good will that do?

If you’ve noticed that he’s now spoken up and said something, you can be forgiven for still holding your breath.

Stints in rehab didn’t work for Boynton.

Depression, anxiety, mental-health issues … that sort of stuff can seem invisible sometimes to those on the outside, but it’s worse than anything else I’ve ever dealt with. It can make you unbelievably sad to the point where you’re crying your eyes out. And then, the next day, you’ll just be so angry that you’re almost out of control.

With me, there have been times when the anger has been so bad that I legitimately worried that I might hurt someone, or that I’d injure myself. But when family members, people I truly love and care about, would ask me what was going on, or why I was so mad … I wouldn’t really be able to tell them. I honestly wasn’t even sure.

And, like, AA meetings are supposed to somehow fix something so deep-seated?

That’s fantasyland stuff, right there.

And yet the piece ends on an optimistic note. He says he’s feeling better these days.

Those days are over for me now. And I feel good knowing that I have spoken out and that I’m on the right side of this issue. I’m fully ready to do all I can to help find a way to fix things when it comes to how hockey treats head trauma and mental-health issues.

I have a mission now. A purpose.

And that feels really good.

Sharing my story with the world is just the beginning.

My life, I’m telling you right now, will not end up being a waste.

Let’s hold our breath and hope he’s right.

(h/t: Paul Tosto)

  • There is a FB page, I believe called “The Wild Feed” that occasionally posts fight clips or otherwise glorifies fighting.

    I call them on it when I see this citing Derek Boogaard and others. Many on that FB page don’t want to hear it, saying “it’s part of the game.”

    I call BS.

    There really is no need for fighting in hockey.

    • Well, we all know what happens with the crowd at an NHL arena when a fight breaks out.

      • Yes, I get up and get a beer.

        /I know what you meant, and it’s an uphill battle to rail against most hockey fan’s bloodlust

  • chlost

    I am not a hockey fan, one of the big reasons is the violence which seems to have become an expected part of the games. My son played when he was younger, and I saw how the kids tried to emulate the pros, thinking that trying to get away with violence was the only way to make it in the game.
    I am a fan of someone finding a reason to continue living. I hope that this mission is what is needed to give him the reason he needs to keep going. Please. It takes someone like him to have any chance to change things in this business of whacking heads together while on skates for “entertainment”.

  • lindblomeagles

    I had to take a concussion course before coaching my daughter’s softball team. The worst thing you can ever do to an athlete is send them onto the field to get their heads bashed. What’s worse than that? Not allowing an athlete time for his head to heal, which generally takes a month or two. I don’t know if anybody remembers this, but when Justin Morneau missed half of a season due to a concussion, the Twins were actually doing the right thing, because it isn’t that first hit that’s the lethal dose. Once you get one concussion, its easier to pick up the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and more concussions after that. It’s all those recurring hits that occur before the brain has had time to heal that is the lethal dose. Enforcers like Boogard and Boynton probably should have missed a month or more of time after they fought another hockey player. But instead, they suited up for the next game, and the next game after that one, and the next game after that. And just about EVERY athlete hides concussions regardless of the sport. Boynton’s writings are an important notice to THE FANS. If you really love the sport and/or the athlete, help them both by advocating safety in all sports.