Derek Boogaard was a fearsome hockey player for the New York Rangers and the Minnesota Wild. He was the enforcer, the player sent out to check other players hard, start fights or finish them if necessary, and generally turn a hockey game into a brawl. He sustained too many head injuries to count and became addicted to narcotic painkillers. Boogaard was admitted to the National Hockey League's substance abuse treatment program but it wasn't enough. In May, 2011, the 28 year-old athlete died from an overdose of drugs and alcohol. His family wants to recover $5 million in unpaid salary, and they claim that the player's union deliberately interfered with and sabotaged the process.
When, or if, the case ever comes to trial, it threatens to open a huge can of legal worms for the NHL and the player's union. Team doctors allegedly prescribed most of the painkillers. The union and the league jointly run the rehab program. The NHL is facing a flurry of lawsuits from players alleging they suffered brain injuries from hard contact with people, the boards and the ice. All of these issues could be raised at trial. Boogaard's relatives say they went to the union to collect the remainder of his multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. Union lawyers said they would get the collection process started but never followed up. The union missed a 60-day deadline for filing a claim and that closed the case. The suit alleges family members were told to apply for worker's compensation.
An examination of Boogaard's brain found he had a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma. The family's attorney could try to prove that the NHL and the union knew the risks associated with being an enforcer but took no action. The suit also says both Rangers and Wild team "doctors, physicians, trainers and dentists" prescribed piles of narcotics and sleeping pills despite knowing Boogaard was an addict.
The NHL is saying nothing about this lawsuit. It has its gloves full with a player lockout right now. The union is also keeping mum. Boogaard was one of three NHL enforcers who died in the spring and summer of 2011. Pressure has been building on the league to do something about fights and other on-ice violence. The Boogaard family's lawsuit could become a fascinating look inside the world of professional hockey and the life-long damage it does to players.
Source: The New York Times, "Boogaard's lawsuit may shake up hockey," Jeff Klein, Sep. 26, 2012