There’s an argument to be made for removing fighting from hockey, but using Rick Rypien’s death to further that position is shameful.
Rypien played in 119 games with the Vancouver Canucks during his NHL career, serving as a fourth-line forward. As a hard-nosed physical player, a part of his job description was to fight from time to time.
While he won a fair number of battles on the ice, the one fight he never won was his battle with depression. On Aug. 15, 2011, Rypien took his own life at the age of 27.
Since then, almost every anti-fighting proponent has tried to pin his death on fighting. It seems like every time something controversial happens during a fight at the NHL level ―such as the recent injury to George Parros of the Montreal Canadiens― sports writers are quick to use Rypien as an example of the dangers of fighting.
Using Rypien’s death in this manner is short-sighted, ignorant and simply wrong. It’s a perfect example of cherry-picking facts to suit the story.
Rypien had been suffering from depression for over ten years at the time of his death. This fact is never brought up when anti-fighting articles mention him, because it wouldn’t fit with the narrative. Instead, the only explanation for his suicide and his struggles with depression is fighting.
Rypien’s family and close friends don’t believe fighting caused his depression or led to his death, so why do people insist on pinning the blame on it?
Doing so is a slap in the face to anyone who has ever suffered from depression. Instead of opening doors to help people who may be in a similar situation to Rypien’s, these articles trivialize depression.
His death should be used to encourage discussion about depression and to help end the stigma attached to it, especially in the athletic community.
For those suffering with mental illness, including Rypien, the associated stigma makes it hard to admit to having a problem. Often, those with mental illnesses are afraid of being seen as a burden, or as weak. Rypien’s story could be a huge benefit for those with depression if it’s told in the correct way.
There should be a robust debate about fighting in hockey, but using his death as a tool in that argument is simply wrong.
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