Old news, indeed, but we join in offering our condolences to family and friends of ex-Canuck forward Rick Rypien. On the ice, he was known for his complete fearlessness, throwing his undersized body at all takers and commonly rated, pound-for-pound, among the league’s toughest players.
Off the ice was another story indeed. Before his untimely passing and despite his well-intentioned efforts to add some much needed toughness to an often punch-less Canuck attack, he was mostly remembered in Vancouver for a seemingly never ending run of absences for “personal reasons”. At the time, the usual rumours of substance abuse or mental health issues made the rounds.
And in the wake of his tragic death, there will be plenty written, again, about the role of the “goon” in hockey. Not that his hockey skills should be diminished to that narrow classification, but Rick Rypien’s name can now be added to the roll-call of the troubled that have passed before - John Kordic, Bob Probert, and most recently, Derek Boogaard.
But really, the bigger story here is about mental health and how our society has a strong tendency to push sufferers of mental illnesses to the fringes, and often beyond.
Now that Rypien has passed, it has become public that he has, in fact, battled depression for 10 years. And in the end, depression won - the pugnacious Rypien no match in the end for a disease that ravages the lives of many.
Had Rypien suffered a career threatening physical injury or fallen victim to some chronic illness (like cancer or diabetes), he would have drawn our sympathy and been celebrated for his heroic efforts to battle against it. Suffering, instead, from a mental illness, he was absent for “personal reasons”. And despite having the seeming full support of his employer (something the average sufferer of mental illness often doesn’t get), it still wasn’t enough.
Here’s hoping that Rick Rypien’s passing casts a light on the plight of the untold millions suffering from mental illness and doesn’t instead cast a shadow over the great game of hockey.