When former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard passed away in May inside his Minneapolis apartment from a lethal mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone, the 28-year-old’s death sent shock waves throughout the sports world. It was an obvious tragedy for his family and fans of the beloved enforcer, but it broke open the discussion on the legitimacy of fighting in the National Hockey League, and the physical and mental affects it causes upon those involved.
While dangerous contact has been targeted, analyzed, and made illegal in the rulebooks of America’s other major heavy contact sport, the NFL, the prospect of fighting in the NHL, a tactic banned in collegiate and international play, remains a way to strike fear into opposing teams and, much like a gladiator battle in Ancient Rome, a cause for raucous celebration among fans. For many athletes in both the NFL and NHL, dangerous contact has led to post-career mental and physical fragility for athletes, too often resulting in early deaths. For Boogaard, nicknamed “Boogeyman” for his fighting prowess and intimidating 6-foot-7-inch frame, it meant a series of battering injuries, hidden concussions, and a debilitating addiction to prescription painkillers that ultimately led to a death less than two months before his 29th birthday.
Following his death, the New York Times dove headfirst into Boogaard’s life and untimely death, traveling to his native Canadian province of Saskatchewan to speak to family, friends, teammates, coaches, scouts, trainers, and more to try to illuminate what happened to cause Boogaard’s unfortunate fate and why. Less than seven months later, NYT is publishing the three-part series “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer,” an intricate and detailed account of Derek Boogard’s life. The pieces reveal how Boogaard (whose last name we learn is actually pronounced “bow-guard”) went from an oversized kid constantly picked on to a 6-foot-6-inch 15-year-old told he’d have to be a fighter to make it as a hockey player to an NHL star whose helmet wouldn’t fit at times because of the knots on his head.
The first two parts of the series, “A Boy Learns to Brawl” and “Blood on the Ice,” are currently available on the New York Times website, along with accompanying slideshows and interactive video features. The final part in the series will be published tomorrow.