Former Bruins enforcer Lyndon Byers, now a morning co-host at WAAF, joined sister station WEEI Friday morning for a discussion about problems with brain damage caused by repeated hits to the head in hockey.
Wade Belak died this week -- reportedly a suicide -- and became the third NHL enforcer of playing age to die in the last four months, joining Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard.
Byers said he's not treating Belak's case the same as the previous two.
"Sad coincidence," Byers said. "I expected a knee-jerk reaction. It's very, very sad that Wade Belak hung himself. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. I think it's completely separate from Rypien and [Boogaard]. To be honest, I think all three deaths are completely separate.
"The Boogaard incident, he was doing drugs with his brother and overdosed. His brother might be going to jail for that. Rick Rypien dealt with depression. Millions of Americans -- millions and millions and millions, in the hundreds of millions of Americans -- deal with depression. So, is it hockey? I beg to differ. I do not think it's hockey.
"You add the fact that Wade Belak just retired. I went through it. I wasted a year-and-a-half of my life, ended up in rehab because I was one of those guys who didn't plan to do something after hockey. I was just living the good life, living the dream, enjoying it. When it was all said and done, I was lost."
That said, Byers acknowledged that hockey is a sport that leads to physical problems.
"The human body wasn't made to run into a wall over and over and over and over and over and over again for 60 minutes," he said. "That's what happens in hockey."
Added Byers: "The game is a physical, violent game. There's going to be a worst-case scenario. My point to you is, it's amazing, I think, that there's not more Wade Belaks, Derek Boogaards, [Rick] Rypiens."
Asked how the sport has affected his post-hockey health, Byers said: "Physically, I feel the effects already. I have awful, awful arthritis in my hand. My back just about a year ago is acting up to the point where I'm actually back trying to lose some weight, get back to some decent amount of weight so that I can walk and play with my 18-month-old son.
"Do I worry that I'm going to lose my mind and maybe commit suicide? I do not think about it. … I don't pee and moan about how bad I feel because I played pro hockey and was a meathead for 13 years. My life has been a gift, I signed on the line and I played a role and played a game — like I said, I played a game that's very violent."
Byers said the people running the NHL and the Bruins care about the sport, and now it's up to the skaters to make a difference.
"The executives, they truly care about their sport," he said. "I've talked to Cam [Neely], Donny Sweeney, those guys truly care. They don't want to see Marc Savard not play hockey again. They want to try to change the rules. But ultimately when it comes down to it, it's the players that have to respect the other player and say, 'I'm not going to elbow this guy in the squash to win this game because I might end his career.' "
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