Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Open Letter to Steve Simmons



Dear Steve,

Every Sunday morning, I make the trip to the variety store near my apartment, and buy a copy of the Toronto Sun. I go straight to the sports section, disregarding the rest of the paper, and search my way towards your weekly column, Simmons says.

I will admit, I don't always agree with your views in hockey and sports in general, but your Sunday articles are put together very well, with more than enough ammo for debate, and are somewhat entertaining.

Waking up a little later than usual, I decided to tune into The Reporters on TSN instead, knowing that you are a regular contributor to the show. Once the show was over, however, some comments you made left me a little un-easy.

The question that was asked by host Dave Hodge: should how Boogaard died (a mixture of pain-killers and alcohol) be linked to what he did for a living (a heavyweight tough guy in the NHL).

While the other two panelists, Dave Naylor and Dave Feschuk, kept their comments at bay and said that it was part of his personal life and could have been due to his role in hockey, you went as far to say "...in my mind, Derek Boogaard was no hero."

All I could do is shake my head.

Trying to calm my rage, I put on a pot of coffee and opened my laptop, looking for your column.

In today's version of Simmons says, you write:

BOOGAARD WAS NOT A HERO

Can we please stop with the Derek Boogaard hero worship?

Yes, he was apparently a fine fellow, (if) not a tortured one.

But ostensibly, he died of a drug overdose for something well known on the streets as Hillbilly Heroin. He combined painkillers and booze, something addicts do regularly to get a buzz on. There is nothing heroic about that. You may want to term that accidental? That's your call.

But as the brother of someone who lost his life to heroin, I don't see it the same way. Clearly, Boogaard had an illness of some kind, a trouble with addiction.

For that, I sympathize.

But the addict heroes, in my world, are the ones who find a way to reform themselves, and don't waste or lose their lives in pills, syringes and alcohol, all in the name of the getting high.

My turn.

I see what you are trying to say, that we are remembering someone who fought for a living, had an apparent drug problem, and let his personal demons get the best of him. But, that isn't why people are calling him a hero.

He donated thousands of dollars and countless hours to charity.

He put a smile on the face of every teammate he ever played with.

He was a fan favourite on every team he ever played for.

Steve, how this young man died has nothing to do with whether or not he is a hero. If you were to ask a young Minnesota Wild fan who his favourite player was, and that it turned out to be Boogaard, should that child's parents cut in and tell them about his problems? What does the personal life of this player have to do with the on-ice impact he had on those who cheered for him? Should Bulls fans of the 90's trade in their Michael Jordan jerseys for Steve Kerr, simply because of Jordan's gambling problem? Should the Edmonton Oilers un-retire Grant Fuhr's #31 because of a cocaine addiction that was kept secret? Maybe every kid who's favourite athlete was a baseball player should choose a different sport, due to the fact that the majority of them took steroids?

When people die, especially at a young age, we try to remember the good things, and that's all that has been done since his death was announced on May 13th. For a popular figure like Derek Boogaard, fans joined together and celebrated the good times, reliving memorable moments that stuck out in our mind for whatever reason.

Trust me, we are now all aware of the trials that he faced in his life, and for that, I am saddened.

But to criticize the type of man he was, without ever really knowing him personally, to me that is gutless. What kind of position are we in, either from a media or fan perspective, that we can judge a book by its cover? Do we know the daily pain that Derek may have faced? Can we understand the pressure that a player of his role goes through during a season, knowing that one punch can either end or alter their careers or lives? Are we aware that he only started to use oxycodone to nurse the pain that he felt?

Leave the dead alone, Steve. It's one thing to use his death as a strong point in the war against drugs, showing athletes that pain-killers are easily addictive, and that the toll that fighters take over the course of their careers can have a profound impact on their lives; it's another thing to belittle someone once they've passed.

Derek was a good man, and to some, including myself, a hero. If you don't understand that, keep it to yourself.

Yours,

Hunter Crowther.

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