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This can’t be so impossibly complicated…

As things slowly work their way back towards “normal” here at TMR, I’ve promised myself to, if you’ll pardon the comparison, “Don’t be Ellen,” as in “don’t get preachy about mental health or anything else, just do your damn job” (her TV sitcom “jumped the Shark” when she came out because its focus became singular, I’m not going to turn into a chapter of NAMI here—this is just a hockey blog)...

But given all the talk we’ve already heard and will continue to hear about fighting and the role of enforcers as it pertains to the trio of passings this past summer, I’m lost as to why we can’t just state the obvious about the issues obviously facing the NHL, NHLPA and NHL Alumni in terms of investing as much in improving their behavioral health programs, mental health care programs and alumni support as they do keeping their athletes in tip-top physical shape.

To be brief (for once, and perhaps only once):

1. What’s the most common drug addiction in regular life? It’s not alcohol, it’s prescription drugs, and very specifically, painkillers, and hockey players are in a business where Percocet, Vicodin, Tylonol 3’s with Codeine and sometimes even Oxycontin are used pretty damn regularly, especially to deal with nagging injuries and to manage pain after surgery. The NHL can’t simply assume that it’s heavy drinking, “hard drugs” and promiscuous behavior (in terms of spending, carousing and, um, carousal) that have to be addressed by its substance abuse programs and behavioral health safeguards.

The players need to be educated about prescription drug/painkiller addiction, they need to be able to come to a trainer or coach or even fellow teammate if they’ve got a problem to get help and their trainers need to ask what’s in their medicine cabinets. The league’s policy remains, “We’ll put out fires if you’ve got serious addiction problems,” and it shouldn’t have to get to that point for the NHL and NHLPA to step in and help their players popping an extra pill, and this runs the gamut from issues with Class A drugs to drinking half a dozen Red Bulls to get up for a game.

Whatever substance has become “too much,” the players have to know that they can get help when it comes to any drug issues, from caffeine on up, and that they won’t be treated like they’ve done something terribly wrong or will be judged negatively if they’ve got a problem. Maybe every team could have a substance abuse rep to help the players deal with pain management issues and transitioning off painkillers, which ain’t easy for anybody who’s simply afraid of feeling debilitating pain once the pills stop.


2. Even if it means sitting through the same types of mandatory seminars that you might endure from your employer on a monthly or bi-monthly basis if you’re lucky enough to be paying through the nose for your health insurance, it’s pretty obvious that mental illnesses are just as prevalent in hockey as they are in real life, where 20% of the population deals with a serious mental illness in their lifetime. The NHL and PA must do a much better job of ensuring that players know they can approach their trainers, coaches, teammates, team, or the league, and perhaps even do so in a manner that keeps their participation in any said programs anonymous (if that’s what they need to get over the hump and seek help) to deal with any mental health concerns for both medical treatment, psychiatric help and plain old counseling, even if it’s just because they need someone to talk to about the wife or the kids or the coach or whatever else they need to talk out, and it has to be more than the team chaplain (that’s one thing the NHL does allow teams to have, but on-call counselors and psychiatrists should be part of the team’s medical staff, too).

These guys live tremendously regimented lives and while they’re paid gigantic wages, it’s a helluva grind for them, too, and they’re human beings. The NHL and NHLPA need to ensure that their players receive the same kind of mental health and behavioral care that any employee with health insurance can access, and the NHL and PA need to make sure that the players understand that this isn’t a, “Well, we’ll put the fire out if there’s a fire” situation.

The culture has to change here regarding everything from major psychiatric disorders (without starting another fire here, depression is one of the major side effects of post-concussion syndrome) to, “Dude, I need to speak to a counselor because I have to work some s*** out about issue X in my life,” and the players have to be informed—and informed regularly—that there is help available, and right now it doesn’t appear that the NHL or NHLPA have these safeguards in place to begin with.


3. Again, professional hockey players live incredibly regimented and structured lives and are surrounded by support galore in their teammates, coaches and management when they’re playing hockey, but as soon as their hockey career ends…They’re civilians, and all that structure and support goes away. This is clearly a huge concern, as many NHL alums have suggested, and I believe it does fall upon the NHL, PA and the NHL Alumni Association to make sure that there’s more than just an optional, “Life After Hockey” class that retiring players can take if they’re not one of the lucky ones who are either hired by one of their former employers or remain in the hockey industry. Not everyone’s going to become a coach, join the front office or work in TV or radio.

Are there vocational training programs, education packages, career counselors or job placement networks that could be made available to players? Could the NHLPA or alumni establish support groups or a transitional framework that involves more than joining a team’s Alumni Association to skate in charity hockey games from time to time? What can the NHL, PA and Alumni do to ensure that there is mandatory participation in some or all of these programs before the players retire, so that they can avail themselves of their options and plan ahead while they’re still playing, and how can the PHPA help if they’re in the AHL or ECHL, and can these programs be made available to all NHL alums, even if they finish their playing careers abroad?


Put simply, regardless of one’s stance on fighting, the roles of enforcers, “tough love” for people who violate off-ice protocols or whether you might suggest that retiring players simply have to deal with getting a job like the rest of us, I think the NHL, NHLPA and NHL Alumni can do quite a bit more to help their players in issues that don’t relate to their physical well-being, and I don’t understand why the conversation always has to be so damn politicized. The best hockey league in the world seems to do, at best, a marginal job of looking after their players’ mental health, pain management and doesn’t do enough to support their transition from professional athletic life to civilian life, and it can clearly do better by treating its players more like employees who are human beings instead of simply treating them like physical machines who are expected to perform regardless of the cost to their personal lives or futures as plain old people who are as normal, fallible and likely to deal with addiction, mental health issues and struggles with career transitions as you and me.

The NHL and NHLPA are reluctant partners in a business enterprise that generates over $3 billion in revenues, and it’s simply time for both parties to reinvest some of that money in taking better care of their money-making commodities.

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Comments

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DocF's avatar

George, why don’t you plug this column into an e-mail and send it to Brendan Shanahan?  You’ve outline quite well exactly how things should be and why. 

Doc

Posted by DocF from Now: Lynn Haven, FL; was Reidsville, NC on 09/18/11 at 11:57 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

This is probably your best post ever (on any subject), George. It was well thought out, and equally well written. And the points you made are even more valid because of your personal perspective on the issue of mental health.

Like Doc said, send Shanny an email, or just send him a link to this post. I think he’s the right person, at the right time, to push the league in the right direction on this issue.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 09/19/11 at 12:37 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Well done, George.

The idea of the hockey player as a human being is one that resonates with me. In addition to the things you mentioned, these guys are often the object of cruel insults from their “fans” when their play is less than stellar.  So in addition to the regimented lives they lead, there is also the pressure to perform at the highest level at all times.  And in light of the recent tragedy in Russia, I wonder how many guys are thinking about the number of times they get on a plane to fly somewhere to play. 

Lots of people seem to look at the money these guys make and think that makes their lives perfect and wonderful in every way.  Thanks for reminding us that hockey players are people, just like the rest of us, and as they dedicate their lives to entertaining us (including often playing injured and in pain), they deserve our support.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 09/19/11 at 08:05 AM ET

sjketcheson's avatar

Excellent post GM, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been missing you around here!

Posted by sjketcheson from the floor of the Hasek on 09/19/11 at 08:05 AM ET

Baroque's avatar

Unfortunately, you are asking the NHL to go against the prevailing trends in corporate culture. What companies are trying to jettison more than anything else is the expenses of retiree health care, because paying so much money for those who no longer add any value to their business is just draining away profits that would otherwise be paid to shareholders.

It doesn’t make the NHL any worse than any other business to not care about ex-employees, just no different. Sad and pathetic but true.

Posted by Baroque from Michigan on 09/19/11 at 08:12 AM ET

Avatar

this is great stuff george . . . .  this league is more invested in players in so many ways . . . it only makes sense . . ..

Posted by bobbo from romeo, Michigan on 09/19/11 at 08:55 AM ET

Slumpy's avatar

Well, we’ll find out soon enough now that Fehr is head of the players union if they got their act together or are still a fragmented union that can’t get on the same page united so they can get what they want instead of getting walked all over by little gary and the owners again.
Player safety on the ice and off hasn’t been a high priority for the NHL but at least bettman makes a nice salary for making the owners a lot of money.
Hopefully some good will come out of this sad summer in hockey news.

Posted by Slumpy from Detroit on 09/19/11 at 12:19 PM ET

Avatar

Excellent post, George, and you’re right, it shouldn’t be so impossibly complicated. 

Baroque has a valid point that the current corporate culture treats it’s employees as nothing more than money-making-machines (“The beatings will continue until morale improves around here”).  But nowhere is it written in stone that it has to be that way. 

There are successful places where humans are actually treated humanely—look at zappos for example.  All it takes is people at the top who think people are important and should be treated like people—which may be why it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon in the NHL.

Posted by BobTheZee on 09/19/11 at 03:40 PM ET

WestWing's avatar

It doesn’t make the NHL any worse than any other business to not care about ex-employees, just no different. Sad and pathetic but true.

Posted by Baroque from Michigan on 09/19/11 at 07:12 AM ET

I’ll agree that what you say about corporate culture may be fundamentally true.  Without going into a long diatribe as to why post-partisan, sensible, real-world solutions to real-world problems are our only hope as a society, I don’t think it’s ever a waste of time to speak up, address problems as we see them, and at least try to stimulate meaningful, constructive dialog. 


There are successful places where humans are actually treated humanely

Posted by BobTheZee on 09/19/11 at 02:40 PM ET

A profitable business that values the humanity of its employees is NOT an oxymoron.  In fact there’s an entire argument to be made for the case that while diminishing the human factor of a business may be profitable in the short term, it often proves to be unsustainable in the long term.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 09/19/11 at 06:32 PM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

Good write-up, GJM.

And nice touch, Pasha.

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 09/19/11 at 10:28 PM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

at training camp in TC ...

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 09/19/11 at 11:06 PM ET

Itrusteddrrahmani's avatar

Great article…as usual

Stonehands: Looks like Jimmy there. Did he get a new style of leg pads? or just new pads of the same brand?

Posted by Itrusteddrrahmani from Nyc by way of A2 on 09/20/11 at 02:39 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

Vaughn Vision 9500’s. More or less the same pad but without the horizontal knee rolls he’s worn before. It’s gonna be interesting to see whether he sticks with the pads or goes back to his old ones as flat-faced gear takes some getting used to.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/20/11 at 08:09 AM ET

Itrusteddrrahmani's avatar

ahh, thanks for the info. Let’s Roll

Posted by Itrusteddrrahmani from Nyc by way of A2 on 09/20/11 at 10:45 AM ET

RedMenace's avatar

Hate to hijack this thread, but does anyone have any info on streaming (video or otherwise) of the Red and White game?

Posted by RedMenace from the Church of Jesus Lashoff on 09/20/11 at 01:18 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

There wasn’t any video of the Red and White game, but if there’s somebody who has a link for the Penguins-Wings game tomorrow for those of us who don’t have the NHL Network, that would be spiffy.

Had a bit of a sinus-induced setback today but am doing much, much better overall.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/20/11 at 08:33 PM ET

Forlorn in VA's avatar

I don’t have any streaming info for tomorrow, but I think RedMenace is talking about the Red vs White game on the 27th at Van Andel Arena.

Posted by Forlorn in VA on 09/20/11 at 08:42 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

We’ll find something.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/20/11 at 08:46 PM ET

Avatar

I still wonder if getting you new sinuses would be cheaper than a new computer. Glad you’re better.

Posted by Bugsy on 09/20/11 at 09:51 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

The uber-laptop would cost somewhere between $2,000-$2,500 depending on how it’s built…When I had my deviated septum repaired and bone spurs taken out of my cheek sinuses back in 2000, it cost $6,000. I’m sure it’s more expensive now.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/20/11 at 09:55 PM ET

Avatar

George,

Did you hear the audio from KFAN 1130AM in Minn. where the owner let it slip that Detroit was moving East and possibly Columbus too for the 2012-13 season?

The story has been picked up by mlive

http://www.mlive.com/redwings/index.ssf/2011/07/minnesota_owner_might_have_rev.html

The audio is available here (starts at the 21 minute mark):

http://www.kfan.com/cc-common/mediaplayer/player.html?redir=yes&mps=KFAN_PADubay.php&mid=http://a1135.g.akamai.net/f/1135/18227/1h/cchannel.download.akamai.com/18227/podcast/MINNEAPOLIS-MN/KFAN-AM/PA_7-7-11 HR3.mp3?CPROG=PCAST&CPROG=RICHMEDIA&MARKET=MINNEAPOLIS-MN&NG;_FORMAT=&NG;_ID=∨_NEWSFORMAT=&OWNER;=&SERVER_NAME=www.kfan.com&SITE_ID=612&STATION_ID=KFAN-AM&TRACK;=#

source: Sean Keeley

Posted by dca from (formerly in Alexandria, VA) on 09/21/11 at 12:54 AM ET

Avatar

same story another source for you: Joe Yerdon

http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2011/07/07/did-wild-owner-craig-leipold-spill-the-beans-on-new-division-alignment/

Posted by dca from (formerly in Alexandria, VA) on 09/21/11 at 02:21 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

George, glad you’re doing “better overall.”

LET’S GO RED WINGS !!!!! 

I know it’s only a pre-season game, but I’m so excited.  Hockey is back!!!!!

cool smile

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 09/21/11 at 09:41 AM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

I’m with you MsRedWinger!

L.G.R.W.

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 09/21/11 at 10:10 AM ET

TheRealYooper's avatar

Will there be a live blog for tonight (Sept. 21, 2011) preseason game?

Posted by TheRealYooper from within sight of the edge of the Earth. on 09/21/11 at 01:24 PM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

1 - 1 after the 1st.

Kronwall scored for Detroit.

Pasha has been dominating
(and still wearing No. 24).

L.G.R.W.

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 09/21/11 at 08:44 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

No live blog, sorry :(

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/21/11 at 08:53 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Here’s a feed:

http://www.sportshunter.me/watch/81771/1/watch-pittsburgh-penguins-vs-detroit-red-wings.html

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/21/11 at 09:10 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I’ve had a bit of a setback…I’m still healing up but have struggled mightily to engage over the past two days. I’m sorry for another delay.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/21/11 at 09:19 PM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

1 - 3, pitts after 2.

(hang in there GJM)

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 09/21/11 at 09:33 PM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

2 -3 pitt with 17:00 left in the 3rd.

Homer with the tip-in
Pavel with 2 assists for the game so far

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 09/21/11 at 10:00 PM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

2 - 3 final

g’nite

(rest George)

L.G.R.W.

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 09/21/11 at 10:28 PM ET

Avatar

A 300 laptop would get you back to work just as easily as a 2500 one.  Maybe getting back to work would brighten your day too.

Posted by jkm2011 on 09/22/11 at 10:51 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

NEWSFLASH!

According to the Flyers’ web page, they are going to have a web cast of tonight’s game!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 09/22/11 at 01:33 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

A 300 laptop would get you back to work just as easily as a 2500 one.  Maybe getting back to work would brighten your day too.

I purchased an interim laptop and it’s working. That’s not the issue.

And the Flyers video preview isn’t necessarily a webcast…As far as I know, there won’t be any broadcast of the game :(

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/22/11 at 02:38 PM ET

stonehands-78's avatar

Tonight’s game with philly is being played in London, Ontario, Canada.

So, I’m guessing ...

no TV.

//sad face//

Posted by stonehands-78 from the beginning ... a WingsFan, on 09/22/11 at 02:44 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

George, I got this from the Game Notes on the Flyers’ site:

Philadelphiaflyers.com will feature a video webcast of the three other non-televised preseason games – tonight’s, tomorrow at Detroit and Oct. 1 at New Jersey. 

(I realize the game is being played in London, Ontario, but that’s the quote from the site.)

I’m going to check around game time and see…

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 09/22/11 at 03:58 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

We’ll keep our eyes open, then smile

And regarding the depression, I’ve got laptop that at least works and I miss doing my job like nobody’s business, but the “setback” involved quite literally spending two days in bed and feeling…let’s just say that if I didn’t know I have the support that I do from all of you, I would be in a very bad place all over again. As soon as I’m able I’m gonna get my ass back to work because it’s what I want to do, too.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 09/22/11 at 04:20 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Tomorrow’s game is in Detroit.  My bad.  Anyway, looks like tonight’s game in London and tomorrow night’s game in Detroit will be web cast by the Flyers.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 09/22/11 at 05:28 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Well, the game is on the Flyers’ site, but when I clicked on it, I got a box saying it’s not available in my area.  :(

Maybe others will have better luck…

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 09/22/11 at 07:42 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.