The battle off the ice: Rich Clune and his struggle with alcoholism

Rich Clune of Nashville (left) fights on the ice with Washington Capitals’ Patrick Wey (Right) (Photo credit: Yahoo Sports)

Before we go any further, we strongly recommend that you read the article, “The Battle” submitted to the Players Tribune by NHL star Rich Clune. Clune has enjoyed multiple seasons playing in the NHL for the LA Kings and more prominently the Nashville Predators.

Clune’s tell-all story in the Players Tribune recalls his battle with alcoholism, drug addiction and depression, and is the typical account of a young hockey player who had a promising future ahead of him and almost threw it away at an early age.

“When you finally pull on that NHL sweater, you put on the mask to deal with that ever-present fear that it could all go away in an instant.” (Rich Clune: The Players Tribune)

Clune admits to not being the unique case in a large pool of professional hockey players, and admits that many like him are suffering and have suffered through alcohol and drug addictions, yet nobody could tell because their stats were some of the best in the league or they would put on a ‘mask’ once they were out on the ice. Clune is one of the brave members of this group of struggling athletes who, like a few others, has come forward with his story. Hopefully Clune can serve as an outlet for other players suffering with the same struggles and guide them on the road to recovery.

This story raises some questions. What about those players like Clune who weren’t so fortunate and never received the necessary help they needed to handle their addictions?

Derek Boogaard, a winger who played for the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers, was very much like Clune in the type of style he adopted on the ice; being physically intimidating to other players. Boogaard was found dead in his bed after overdosing on a mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs. While accidental, his death raised other issues on how the situation may have been prevented. His father expressed concerns to the NHL about the way Boogaard’s drug abuse had been handled, and maybe even enabled, by the two teams he played for.

Two other players, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, were also both found dead within a four-month span following the death of Boogaard.

Now many critics are challenging the roles of ‘enforcers’ on professional teams. An enforcer generally plays the role of the goon for their respective team, and is known to be the fighter and instigator. Clune, Boogard, Rypien and Belak were all enforcers during their time in the NHL. This role requires the individual to be physically and mentally tough, and can take its toll over time. Combine this with the lingering thought that a player’s time with a team is fragile, and you have a bad combination that leads to these players turning to alcohol and drugs to suppress their fears.

Therefore…

Are we at a crossroads in professional hockey where there is no longer a need for an enforcer on every team?

How effective are the NHL’s current Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Programs? (Read about these programs here)

(The original article entitled “The Battle” was submitted to the Players Tribune on July 1, 2015. It can be read in full here)

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