Islanders goalie has had a week to come to terms with being waived, and possibly the end of his star-crossed NHL career. Yesterday he sounded upbeat about his AHL assignment, telling Newsday, "The last couple of years, with all the injuries, if it's taught me anything, it's that I need to enjoy what I do."
Today his words aren't so sunny, but they're perhaps even more honest. DiPietro did an interview with News 12, and the reporter tweeted out a pair of teases:
(After the initial fuss over the comments, DiPietro made clear that he was "totally kidding" with the suicide remarks, but that the depression was very real.)
For a little more context, here's DiPietro last April:
Half-joking, he said: "There were times I was driving over the Throgs Neck Bridge and I thought I'd veer right and end it. It's tough times. This is a tough business. Physically, it's hard, but mentally, it's incredible. I always say you've got to laugh to keep from crying, because there are those days when you sit in the stands, and your teammates are like a family."
It's easy to forget this now, but for a few seasons there DiPietro was a legitimate superstar. The year he signed his infamous 15-year deal, he was arguably the best goalie in the NHL. His story's not a unique one, though it is colored by the abruptness of his fall-off and the magnitude of his contract: He's an athlete who lost the ability to play his sport. He's not the first or the last to deal with depression because of it.
Of course we feel bad about what happened to DiPietro—his career ended long before he was ready, and selfishly for us, we were deprived of a great young American goaltender. I don't believe that means we need to feel bad about all the jokes at his expense over the years. Yes, this headline reads very different in retrospect, but I'm not particularly feeling like an asshole for it. It's a shot at Bridgeport, not DiPietro. The jokes about Rick DiPietro were never on Rick DiPietro.
The jokes always came in two flavors. There were the ones about the contract, which are really jokes about incompetent owner Charles Wang and incompetent GM Garth Snow. No one blames DiPietro for signing that deal. The quips about the injuries, calling him "Mr. Glass," etc., served to emphasize just how unreal DiPietro's various setbacks were—he faced more random misfortune than an orphan in Dickens. Those jokes contained their own sympathies.
Islanders fans were less sympathetic, because after all it was their team that suffered. That's what got to DiPietro—the booing from fans who were more invested in the laundry than in his individual health or livelihood. Take a look at the photo above, as DiPietro salutes the crowd before the home opener. I'm pretty sure the kid over his right shoulder is booing him. This has been Rick DiPietro's life for the last few years, and it couldn't have been a pleasant one. But booing remains a fan's only opportunity for critcism that can land. DiPietro may not have been serious about suicide, but it's a good reminder that there's a line between criticism and cruelty, and it's desperately thin. About as thin as the line between superstar and AHL washout.