How Hard Is It To Be Tough?
Posted By: Aaron Sims
I was floored by the news Friday night that NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard died at his home in Minneapolis. He was 28 years old.
I never met the guy. I will never forget this punch on Todd Fedoruk
, though. I was watching the game at my home in Madison. I got to the rink the next day and I remember Sheldon Brookbank telling me he didn’t like the punch, he thought it was a cheap shot. I told Brookie I didn’t like his opinion. Fortunately, he didn’t hit me like Boogaard did Fedoruk.
We won’t know for a while what happened with Boogaard. It’s completely wrong to speculate. He had been receiving counseling through the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program in the days preceding his death.
What I do know is, almost to a man, the “tough guys” in hockey are the biggest sweethearts in the world. They will do ANYTHING for the team on the ice…most of the time that means standing up for teammates or going after the other team’s tough in the hopes of rallying his squad. Off the ice, so many are the first to jump at the chance to visit hospitals, veterans, kids, etc.
I often think of the dichotomy that poses: the nicest guy in the world having to be the meanest guy in the world for three hours a game. How hard is it to turn that switch on and off? How hard is it to know you’re being paid to allow someone to beat the hell out of you? How hard is it, knowing that fact, to not be an angry SOB away from the workplace?
Eight years ago, I was fired from a radio job. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I hosted a talk show and, as you know, sports talk radio and sports coverage is all about conflict. Look at ESPN, they have Mel Kiper v. Todd McShay on the draft. Battles drive ratings.
I am one of the most easy-going people around. I’m not going to tell you your opinion is wrong if it’s a valid point. There are some things I know about that I will explain, but I don’t care to be a jerk about it. Every day, management was telling me how I should be on the radio. It wasn’t me. I was miserable. I didn’t know how to get out of the funk, though. It was all I’d ever done. Where would I possibly go if I quit?
The station went in a different direction. It was the biggest relief to me. I don’t begrudge them. I know I was difficult to work with because I was not comfortable being someone I’m not. I have to imagine enforcers in hockey may feel the same way.
Again, I’m not speaking specifically about Boogaard, but I can understand how someone would want to escape their supposed identity. It’s easy to fall into depression and, maybe, substance abuse. I never got into the substance abuse, but the depression sure was there.
I had a way out. I could still be in sports by being strictly a play-by-play announcer, which is what I always wanted to do. The other stuff of being a host was a means to the end. Tough guys probably won’t be in the sport if they can’t fulfill the role.
It’s a tough sport. Guys literally die to make it and stay in the NHL.
The manner of Boogaard’s death doesn’t matter so much. The fact that a wonderful young man is dead and his family has to bury him is heart-breaking.
Player Selection Hometown Team
Danny Sherer 1st rd (12th overall) Nashotah Indiana Ice
Alexander Dahl 2nd rd (18th) Eau Claire Youngstown Phantoms
Michael Kapla 6th rd (82nd) Eau Claire Sioux City Musketeers
Matthew Purmac 10th rd (143rd) Merrill Lincoln Stars
Austin Vieth 16th rd (226th) Marinette Chicago Steel
Todd Koritzinsky 17th rd (243rd) Middleton Youngstown Phantoms
Kyle Schmidt 17th rd (245th) Menomonee Falls Waterloo Black Hawks
Travis Wood 18th rd (262nd) Hudson Sioux City Musketeers
Sherer spent last season in the NAHL with Amarillo. He’s a former member of the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals. Schmidt led this last season’s Jr. Admirals in goals with 32 and points (58) in 67 games.
In closing, I wanted to share one more story. You may have heard that Baseball Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew has entered hospice care with esophageal cancer. One of the best moments in my life occurred when I introduced Killebrew before a baseball game in Madison. As a Minnesota Twins fan, it was a big deal for me just to stand next to him on a field.
After I introduced him and several other former big-leaguers, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You did a wonderful job." That brought me to tears, I was so happy.
This is to young athletes who will one day sign an autograph. It's good advice from Killebrew. He insisted that young players learn to sign legible autographs, to connect with fans. Let's stop the lazy scribbles.
God’s blessings, "Killer".