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Twin stories: Boogaard and Barnaby

May 14, 2011

Derek Boogaard doing what he did best.

Last night the hockey world was rocked by two completely unrelated and completely unexpected stories: that of the death of 28 year-old New York Rangers toughman Derek Boogaard and the arrest of ESPN hockey analyst and former Sabres toughman Matthew Barnaby.

Now, my intent is not to connect these two stories in any way. They are, once more, completely unrelated. They just happen to break the same night, a quiet Friday night, and one of just a couple lulls in NHL Stanley Cup playoff action in the last month. So, the attention alloted to these two stories was more significant. It’s best not to imply wrongdoing in either instance, race to conclusions or speculate about the nature of these incidences. Much will come to light in the coming days, but right now, it looks like an ugly night for hockey.

Derek Boogaard was a much beloved and gritty player for the Minnesota Wild. His signing with the Rangers last year for a sum of money many deemed outrageous was batted around endlessly. He went on to lead a mangled first season with the team, ending in injury that sidelined him. He had suffered horrible concussions. The extent to which concussions can cause further health problems down the road is still be investigated, as there is so much we simply do not know. But it’s a shocking reminder of how the game can hurt.

Matthew Barnaby’s story is far less clear-cut. It would seem he was romantically involved with another ESPN analyst, and caused a great deal of property damage with two women on the scene at the time when the police were called in. We don’t know the specifics, but any sort of rage or aggression directed towards another human being, particularly a woman, is downright deplorable.

Both of these men were tough, they were enforcers, they had agitating qualities, and they would fight. Whatever happened last night, to either of them, maybe won’t fully be known by the public at large. That said, the speculation is bound to be rampant, and will likely become completely tangled in questions of neurology, sexism, conservative views on the sport of hockey, vitriol about fighting, headshots and all that. It could be ugly. Whether head injuries had anything to do with any of this, we just don’t know. But I suppose I just hope for reasoned debate, with careful thought put toward just how much we don’t know, and just how much we should learn. It’s too soon to plead with the NHL to take a more aggressive stance on any number of issues. I just hope that the central theme of the humanity of hockey players isn’t lost in this all.

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