Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

York psychologist Paul Dennis says better support is needed for retiring players

York psychologist Paul Dennis says better support is needed for retiring players

The hockey enforcer gives his team a sense of security in the heat of battle – a debt that people should think more about repaying in civilian life. Certainly, the deaths this past summer of three National Hockey League players who excelled in that taxing job, the latest, Wade Belak, taking his own life on Wednesday, has given pause for thought, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 1.

"These guys played a really difficult role, but things change and people leave the game," said Paul Dennis, a York University sports psychologist and former staffer with the Maple Leafs. "We've got to support them the way they once supported us.

"We talk a lot about resilience after losing a game, every coach telling you to get right back up the next day after a loss. But we need to employ social resilience, too.

"The culture of sport, the brave face, is great. But sometimes that culture keeps a lot of things inside. That has to change. I'm not condemning people for not getting involved with these players. When Wade played, he was very open in his optimism, but it goes to prove we all have demons. We don't know what those demons are if they're not telling us. But I think the time has come to bring these stresses to light.

"A young man is gone, but hopefully there is a silver lining, something to be learned that can help other players," said Dennis. "Hopefully, more players can come forward and tell us what is troubling them and we won't put this issue on the back burner any longer. There is nothing more valuable than life itself."

Dennis travelled many miles with Belak during the latter's seven years as a Leaf. "He would pick up everyone's spirits," Dennis recalled. "Players would just gravitate to him. He never got to contribute a lot in the course of a game, but he was a guy who always saw the big picture, who never considered himself exceptional because he was a Leaf. He made us feel inadequate because he was so optimistic. This is just devastating."