Saturday, 26 October 2019

TBC: Major Misconduct

if there's one topic that has kept the NHL's legal team busy, it's the long-term health of retired players who have suffered from the effects of concussions. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has continually denied any link between these health issues and the concussions the players suffered while playing, so to say that watching some of these players break down physically and mentally following their playing days has been hard. While the NHL can deny the science, it's harder to deny that some former players are struggling due to mental health issues. In saying that, Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Major Misconduct: The Human Cost of Fighting in Hockey, written by Jeremy Allingham and published by Arsenal Pulp Press. Major Misconduct takes a look at three players and how their lives were affected after hockey after being enforcers or tough guys in professional hockey throughout their careers. Without ruining this review, this was a hard read.

From the Arsenal Pulp Press site, "Jeremy Allingham is an award-winning journalist and musician from Vancouver. He works for the CBC, where some of his most recent and poignant work has included in-depth coverage of the opioid crisis; the Northern Gateway Pipeline; the craft beer industry; local, provincial, and federal politics; and pretty much anything and everything music related." When he's not at his keyboard working on his new book or another investigative piece for the CBC, Jeremy is a musician who sings and plays guitar, recently releasing a new album entitled Run Wild. Jeremy and his family live in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The work that Mr. Allingham does in Major Misconduct focuses on the post-playing days of three players in James McEwen, Stephen Peat, and Dale Purinton. All three men played hard roles in professional hockey at every level, trading dekes and dangles for fists and intimidation in order to make a living in hockey. Mr. Allingham's examination isn't on their careers, but about how the men are faring once the they step away from the game. There is no pretending that they retired to a life of luxury and riches thanks to their careers. Instead, Major Misconduct is about the struggle with mental health and the effects that mental health had on their lives after these men suffered repeated concussions throughout their respective careers.

James McEwen's story might be the best story of the three players as McEwen dealt with a lot of bad before finding some good. McEwen never played in the NHL, but he did deal with all the players in the minor leagues who were looking to make names for themselves in an effort to move up to the next level. McEwen played just four games in the AHL, spending the majority of his career at the ECHL level where he racked up penalty minutes by doing what he did best in fighting. In his post-playing days, he showed symptoms of CTE and found himself addicted to painkillers and alcohol to ease the pain that came with his warrior days. McEwen admitted to Allingham that he had thoughts of committing suicide to end the emptiness and quiet the voices in his head he had at times.

Today, McEwen has found better times thanks to some help and some personal examination. He's been an outspoken advocate to end fighting in junior hockey based on his own experiences, and has suffered some excommunication from the hockey community because of his outspoken ways. While it seems a little hypocritical for the hockey community to keep him out the game for asking leagues and lawmakers to make the game safer, this is the reality of the sport today.

If McEwen is the good story, Stephen Peat's story is a sobering reminder that the toughest, meanest guys who patrolled the NHL are now the guys who struggle to even do the simplest things. Peat, who racked up 234 PIMs in 130 NHL games mostly through fights, has had a well-documented life after hockey that has seen the former NHL winger struggle with mental health, telling Mr. Allingham in Major Misconduct that he hears voices that he can't keep quiet in his head, suffers from headaches that never go away, and has lapses in memory that cause him to miss important meetings and dates. Unfortunately, some of those meetings have been for probation check-ins, resulting in Peat having to serve time in jail. Reading about Stephen Peat in Major Misconduct is a sobering reminder that for as feared as he was on the ice as a player, he's now a shell of the man he once was.

The final man that Mr. Allingham talks to in Major Misconduct is former New York Rangers defenceman Dale Purinton. Purinton racked up 578 PIMs in just 181 NHL games, but perhaps more extraordinary were the 415 PIMs in 62 AHL games he posted in 1999-2000 with the Hartford Wolfpack. Dale Purinton never said no to a fight in the NHL until later in his career when he began to dread the idea of fighting. As his career wound down thanks to his unwillingness to mix it up any further, Purinton tried to transition into everyday life. However, like Peat, Purinton ran into troubles with the law that saw him spend time in prison. In the end, Purinton's issues with alcohol in self-medicating for the pain he was experiencing led to a lot of his troubles, and he's since gotten clean and is living a better life while advocating for more help for players in their post-hockey lives.

While it sounds like Major Misconduct is just one bad story after another about men we used to cheer for on the ice, there are some chapters in the book that look at CTE and the science of diagnosing concussions and CTE before another athlete dies, why we allow kids to participate in on-ice fights, and what Mr. Allingham believes needs to happen in order to save more lives for players who are currently living the enforcer life in hockey. I won't mince words in saying that there are chapters that are hard to read when it comes to hearing about the struggles these players went through or are still experiencing, but it's this sobering reality that needs to be read, digested, and understood if things are to change. That, in my opinion, is what Major Misconduct is trying to achieve, and I appreciate Mr. Allingham's work in this difficult subject because I have a greater appreciation for what these men are experiencing.

With Major Misconduct having been released, I'll post this excerpt from the book. I'm hoping these paragraphs will bring into scope the importance of having the discussions surrounding fighting in hockey and protecting players who do the hardest job in hockey. if we don't start having more discussions on this as the science into concussions and CTE gets better, there will only be more players who share the same fate as Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, and Derek Boogaard.
Former Washington Capital Stephen Peat and former New York Ranger Dale Purinton decided at an early age that they would do anything to play hockey at the highest level - to prove that they were worth it, not only as hockey players, but as people. And once it became clear that their skating and shooting and passing might not be quite enough, they hung onto those NHL dreams with their fists. They fought recklessly and relentlessly, earning big money and playing in front of stadiums full of rabid fans.

But those dreams were finite and came with devastating consequences. Purinton and Peat became addicted to drugs, were estranged from their families and have been in and out of prison. Both men live with symptoms common with the degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
I cannot say enough good things about Major Misconduct in bringing to light the problems and the stories that James McEwen, Stephen Peat, and Dale Purinton have experienced during their playing days and since hanging up their skates. Major Misconduct will be a heavy dose of reality for a number of people who read the book, and I'm hoping that it leads to more discussions about the problems these players went through so that future generations of players understand the risks they're taking when dropping the gloves. Mr. Allingham's writing is clear and concise for easy reading even if the content of Major Misconduct is hard to read at points. Because of the writing, the message, and the hope for further discussions about what these players have experienced, Major Misconduct absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Major Misconduct can be found at most libraries and bookstores. There are some instances of adult language in the book along with some very graphic discussions about mental health issues and the use of drugs and alcohol. Because of these instances within Major Misconduct, I would recommend this book for teens and older. The 249-page book is an eye-opener, so I hope you'll read Major Misconduct at some point!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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