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A police officer stands outside an apartment in Toronto after former NHL player Wade Belak was found dead on Wednesday August 31, 2011. Former NHL enforcer Belak has been found dead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young/CP)
A police officer stands outside an apartment in Toronto after former NHL player Wade Belak was found dead on Wednesday August 31, 2011. Former NHL enforcer Belak has been found dead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young/CP)

The Usual Suspects

Does the public need to know details of Belak's death? Add to ...

Will we ever know the precise details of Wade Belak’s death? Is it in the public interest for the media to detail the cause? In most cases of “apparent suicide,” details would be suppressed to spare the anguish and/or embarrassment of the family. But as Belak’s death was appropriated as a cause célèbre by opponents of hockey fighting and by mental health experts as a learning moment about depression, finding a causative link to either is germane. That link has not been demonstrated yet.

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TSN’s Michael Landsberg, who knew Belak well, has linked the 15-year NHL veteran’s death to depression, a condition Landsberg himself suffers from. The NHL and NHLPA linked Belak’s death to those of Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard, saying “these tragic events cannot be ignored,” and “We are committed to examining, in detail, the factors that may have contributed to these events, and to determining whether concrete steps can be taken to enhance player welfare and minimize the likelihood of such events taking place.”

For the moment, the police continue to describe Belak’s death as an “apparent” suicide. They have said they do not plan to make more details public. Meanwhile, Belak’s mother told the CBC that her son was dealing with depression, although she was vague on details. His family has asked for privacy as it got through Sunday’s funeral in Nashville. But, lacking a definitive cause from police, many media outlets are now backing off linking Belak’s death to their coverage of either hockey fighting, concussions or mental health.

In this void, there also remains a stubborn counter-narrative. Former enforcer and current Hockey Night In Canada analyst P.J. Stock told the Team 990 radio station in Montreal that when the full story comes out it will be seen that Belak’s death was accidental. “Let’s just call it an accidental death right now. But he did die of strangulation,” said Stock, who, like Belak was doing, has performed on CBC’s Battle of the Blades. Stock went on to say that Belak’s death should not be put in the same context as Rypien or Boogaard.

Officials at CBC are uncertain how Belak's death will affect Battle of the Blades, which was to start its third season on Sept. 18. When asked how it might affect the series, CBC spokesman Jeff Keay told Usual Suspects, "Too soon to tell." The following message was posted on the blog for the series: "We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Wade Belak. We send our thoughts and condolences to his family and friends. He will be greatly missed."

THE POWER OF SUGGESTION

We also received a note from a reader who took issue with our inclusion of the details of the alleged hanging in our Saturday column. The reader was concerned that it might provide an incentive to someone who might be considering suicide. According to the current research, there is no conclusive evidence that the power of suggestion is valid in pushing a potential suicide over the edge. For studies that suggest a link there are others that find no connection.

Again, with the questions surrounding Belak’s death, the means of death are germane to the story. Although there is some question whether this death had anything to do with Belak’s depression (he left no note apparently), the best outcome here would seem to be the recognition and treatment of mental health issues, not the suppression of information.

DECIMATED RESEARCH

There have been some media suggestions that perhaps players should be polled as to whether fighting should remain in hockey. The last such attempt, though not conclusive, indicated that over 90 per cent of players think it has a place in the sport. Of course, asking hockey players about fighting in their sport is like asking Catholics about the Immaculate Conception. When you believe in the faith, you believe wholeheartedly.

Perhaps the people who should be asked about the continuation of fighting in hockey are the TV networks who dispense the product. After all, they’ll have the most accurate assessment of the public mood via ratings. Considering that NBC/Universal just paid $2-billion (U.S.) over 10 years to the NHL and the Canadian networks are lined up to shower the NHL with money for their next contract starting in 2014, maybe the question has already been answered.

HAMSTRUNG IN TEXAS

Arian Foster’s name was going to be a very popular one this weekend as fantasy football teams are drafted across the continent. Some have the Houston Texans running back as high as a top-three choice in many fantasy football leagues. But Foster put the big chill on optimism Wednesday when he used Twitter to show an image of his injured hamstring.

“This is an MRI of my hamstring, The white stuff surrounding the muscle is known in the medical world as anti-awesomeness,” wrote Foster, who emerged from nowhere last season to dominate the NFL.

Needless to say, football sweats had a cow over the incident, accusing Foster of giving away state secrets to the Indianapolis Colts, this weekend’s opponent for the Texans. Tedy Bruschi ripped Foster on ESPN, “What is he thinking? … This was incredibly stupid.” The Texans took a vow of silence on Foster’s hammy, but Foster didn’t seem to get what the fuss was all about. “If I had a ‘significant injury’ why post it?” he tweeted. “I’ll be fine, it was jus meant to make fun of the whole situation. Humor is lost nowadays.” Humour. Right. Ha, ha, Arian.

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