Mr. Bettman, you have a serious problem on your hands. Since May, three of hockey’s dearly beloved enforcers have passed away under tragic and entirely preventable circumstances. With the deaths of Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard, whose average age was just 30, and the various concussion-related issues in the league, all indications are that the NHL is losing the battle against mental illness for both current and retired players.

Looming over the sport today is the need for a change in management. If one completely ignores the previous mismanagement at the hands of Gary Bettman — the man infamous for bringing hockey to Phoenix and hiding the sport on an obscure television network — the current issue highlights the largest problem with the regime. Bettman doesn’t care about his players the instant they leave the bright lights of the arenas in which they perform.

From the top NHL scorer to the lowliest of enforcers who spends his entire career serving five-minute majors, Bettman has repeatedly turned a cold shoulder to the off-ice actions and struggles of his subjects, and it is finally starting to show.

Arguably the best player of the current generation, Sidney Crosby has been recovering from a concussion for nearly 10 months. Between attempting to watch television pain-free and struggling to drive, Sid “The Kid” has joined several other current and former players in calling for the commissioner to institute a zero-tolerance policy on headshots. The current NHL rule states that a player can be assessed a minor penalty or game misconduct for targeting another player’s head with a hit — a rather nominal penalty when weighed against the potential of ending the receiving player’s season or career.

Even with a potential rule to protect players against headshots, the NHL has given far too little help to those battling personal issues. Leaving your star player dizzy and unable to drive is one problem, but the poor state of mental health benefits for all players, regardless of physical injuries, is an even more crucial topic.

The role of fighting in the league, while completely barbaric, is a necessity too complicated to properly explain in this space. However, Bettman has failed on all fronts in getting help for the brave men who each and every night jump over the boards, skate across the ice and immediately begin to rain blows on a familiar opponent. For 82 nights in a season, these men endure nothing but pain and blood for the sake of their team, often times sidelined later with concussions and other injuries.

At the end of their generally short careers, the enforcers of the league are left seeking a purpose in the world. They will never go on to the Hall of Fame, nor will they ever be able to capitalize on the popularity of their careers — that’s left for the flashy scorers.

Instead, they are left alone. Alone with their thoughts, their pain and their addictions formed while trying to get by in a brutal league.

As a result of the most recent deaths, the link between fighting in the league and depression can no longer be ignored. Burdened by the rough life of an NHL enforcer, these men hide behind their addictions to painkillers and put up a mask to hide their depression due to the lack of psychiatric help from the league. Rather than seeking treatment for their depression, they are trained by the league to hide their troubles for fear of losing their roster spot or seeming less masculine.

Until Bettman establishes programs to help current and former players with their mental health issues and creates a culture of compassion in the league toward these issues, more and more of his employees will suffer. The sad truth of the matter is that once the arena lights fade, the unknown stars whose SportsCenter highlight reels only contain the bloodiest of bloody fights are left alone in the darkness.

The one man with the chance to shine a light onto that darkness is currently reviewing his options rather than taking action. In the meantime, concussions, depression and drug addiction will eat at the abilities and mental health of his players, representing the open sore of a once-proud league.

Unless things change drastically, hockey fans will continue the tradition of booing Bettman at the conclusion of every Stanley Cup Finals, a tradition we’re more than happy to continue as long as the commissioner insists on ignoring problems that are right in front of his face.

Corey Blaine is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. The Bleacher Seats appears every Friday.

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