“Do rainbows come out of your nipples? Do you fart cinnamon?” Jay Baruchel asks Allison Pill in forthcoming hockey flick Goon. It’s a comedy, surely, but as The Observer watched the film in February, we were vaguely uncomfortable. In between the coarse (if riotously funny) jokes, the sucker punches and the dirty checks, a darker theme took form.
The thing is, Goon isn’t just a movie about hockey, it’s a movie about hockey enforcers, whose on-ice fights rile fans, rally teams and smear the rink with blood. Until very recently, the role of the enforcer was little known to the world, at least those whose lives don’t revolve around ice time.
Last summer, three former NHL enforcers died: two apparent suicides and an overdose. Their stories, highlighted eloquently and graphically in a series of New York Times articles, showed the psychological, emotional and, most importantly, physical stresses of the position.
Analyzing the brain of the NHLs star fighter, Derek Boogaard after his accidental overdose, coroners found he had a degenerative brain disease commonly found in boxers.
Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as C.T.E., a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head….It appeared to be spreading through his brain.
Goon which parodies the brutal bare-knuckle fights, was filmed before the Times series was released in December, so it seems the film may be a victim of poor timing.
The movie’s co-star, Liev Schreiber, however, took a surprising stance when we asked him about the articles at the February premiere. Mr. Schreiber claimed that enforcers face the same physical challenges of all other hockey players. “I don’t think the injuries are from fighting. The injuries are from playing hockey. Most of the devastating injuries are from playing hockey; hitting the boards, not peoples fists…. I challenge someone to check the percentage of concussions that are the result of fists,” he said.
The deaths, he said, were not the result of brain damage from repeated blows to the head, but depression. “A lot of those guys, enforcers and tough guys in the NHL end their career feeling like no one appreciated what they did, that they’re under valued players. That may have led to some of the reasons some of the depression they felt as they moved out of the game,” he said.
Of course, many medical professionals disagree.