48 years old is too damn young.
I didn’t even know who Greg Johnson was yesterday, but when I heard the former NHL player committed suicide, my head fell into my hands. Tragedy can do that to you, bringing you down even if the person wasn’t known to you. A universal ass-kicker of epic proportions.
Another hockey player taking his own life after his playing days were over creates a real sadness. In the hours since I heard the news, it hasn’t left my head so here I am at the keyboard, trying to come to grips with another human being turning out the light before it was time.
Johnson played for 12 years in the league, spending most of it with the Nashville Predators, whom he played in their inaugural season. He wasn’t what you would call a prolific talent, but he put up 145 goals and 369 points in his career, including 50 points in the 1998-99 season. He retired 13 years ago at the age of 34. Four months after his 48th birthday, Johnson is gone. A wife and two kids are left behind.
It’s the latest in a string of sudden hockey player deaths after the skates are hung up. The culprit seems to link them all together. The reports of CTE, aka chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which impacts behavior, has said to be a huge factor in a number of these deaths. Todd Ewen in 2015. Rick Rypien was just 27 when he passed away in his home. Bob Probert was only 45 years old when he died of heart disease, but was suffering from CTE, Derek Boogaard, aka “The Boogeyman,” was 28 when he died of a drug overdose. He was known to be suffering from CTE and depression, like Rypien.
Wade Belak was 35 when he died in a Toronto hotel room in 2011. It wasn’t officially ruled a suicide, but police treated it that way. Steve Montador was also 35 years old when he died, reportedly from the effects of CTE. There’s more, but you get the picture.
This needs to fucking stop. The NHL needs to not become the NFL and take better care of their players. When the ice time stops, some, if not many, need help adapting to a new way of life. They need benefits and treatment, essentially a voice to hear them. Every time I read about a suicide, I wonder if there was one damn voice they needed to hear in order to starve it off.
For once, I’d like some league to recognize CTE as a dangerous thing. The NHL has new concussion protocols, but they can do more, especially with older players. Get out there, go beyond the dollar, and help the people who made your league great. The vicious hits and relentless physicality takes a toll, because remember, they are human beings playing a violent game. Everybody loves the action, but far too few pay attention to the aftermath.
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps these are grown adults who should handle their business. There’s an argument there to present. I just don’t agree with it. A lot of companies help with their retirees after the career ends, so why not sports franchises? Why can’t leagues get in touch more?
Greg Johnson is dead, and maybe there are reasons outside of the game for that. I’d believe that if I didn’t see a laundry list of hockey players dying too young to mysterious causes or by their own hand.
Something needs to change. This needs to stop.
If you are having suicidal tendencies, call a friend, foe, or someone. Don’t turn off your own light. Reach out. Tough guys need a voice too. We all need someone.
Thanks for reading.