Two weeks ago, young Winnipeg hockey player Ethan Williams ended his life, and that feeling of hopelessness that usually accompanies learning of the loss of so much human potential descended.
Now the Moose Jaw Warriors prospect's mourning family members, in the hope no other family will have to experience what they are going through, are warning other hockey parents about the consequences of brain injuries. The Williamses aren't seeking redress and aren't laying blame, but are simply stating that their son's depression over the final months of his life was linked to the eight "diagnosed concussions" that Ethan sustained while playing competitive hockey.
From Mike McIntyre:
[I]t may have been a dangerous game he was playing, considering the amount of brain trauma he'd already suffered in his young life. Hits from behind, elbows to the head and yes, punches to the face, had all contributed to eight concussions since the age of 11.
His family suspects there may have been others that Ethan hid, not wanting to miss any playing time.
"He wasn't scared of pain. He would have definitely played through that," said his mother, Shannon Williams. "Everyone who knows him would say a 'Williams wouldn't stay down.' He wasn't afraid of anything. He was fearless." (Winnipeg Free Press)
The whole story is worth a read. Williams had other stresses in his personal life. During his minor bantam year, his father, Chris Williams, was "diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer." That's a whole lot of the real world to throw at a sensitive 14-year-old.
The theme that courses through McIntyre's article ties back to former OHLer Gregg Sutch's column written last season. Sutch, as you will remember, recalls having a moment of clarity as a teen when he was in a seminar and "couldn't think of one thing I valued aside from the obvious," i.e., hockey, friends and family. One gets the sense — and this is admittedly a sweeping generalization — that this could be applied after the fact to Williams. His mother related that he would "talk about what he was going to buy us when he signed that first contract." His world, understandably, was torn apart by his father's cancer diagnosis.
It is just a shame. Ethan Williams' family deserve credit for speaking up about their son's depression. It's called the silent killer for a reason; society has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last five, 10 and 20 years in talking maturely about depression and suicide. There's no villain here, other than a conveyor-belt hockey development system that no one seems able to overhaul in order to give some allowance for boys to be boys.
The hockey world cannot shut out this problem; it's at its door. It doesn't take a neurosurgeon to say that making the sport safer is a mental health issue. The next time people throw around code words such as 'soft' or 'tough,' think of Ethan Williams and his grieving family.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
- Sports & Recreation