A physical hockey player gets caught, intoxicated and bloated, doing something illegal. More than that, his actions were dangerous and self-destructive and put those around him at risk. In the wake of the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, we expected an outcry: Get him the professional help he needs! The NHL is destroying its players! Instead we get: fat jokes.
Dustin Byfuglien was arrested last night for boating while intoxicated, after taking his craft out on a Minnesota lake in the dead of night. Drunken boating is not painkiller addiction, nor is it a symptom of crippling depression. This is not the same thing as the three enforcers who have passed away in recent months, and I'll never claim it is. But it's a sign of very poor decision-making. Intoxication accounts for more boating accidents than anything else, and led to 126 fatalities last year. If, god forbid, something had gone horrible wrong on that lake, and Byfuglien wasn't just sobering up this morning, the tone today would be completely different. It would be: this man had a serious problem, and the league did nothing to help him. Instead: fat jokes.
You don't have to look too hard to find stories of Byfuglien as a guy who likes to party, just as you don't have to look hard to find stories of Wade Belak's hard-living lifestyle. Immediately, in the wake of all three enforcer deaths, there were calls that the NHLPA/NHL Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program failed in its mission. It didn't give help to those who needed it. There are none of the same calls this morning. All it points to a hockey culture (not just NHL, but hockey) that says it's okay to push your limits as long as you don't exceed them. And only after someone pushes too far, or is pushed too far, do we say that something should have been done in hindsight. This isn't about Byfuglien—it's about any number of hockey players who drink too much or take too many pills, and are rarely chided, often admired for it. That's everyone's fault, and it's not a good look when the righteousness and concern only come out after it's too late. Pelle Lindbergh was a tragedy, but Dustin Byfuglien is just a punchline.