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Why a former NHL player's family is suing the league for his death
Enforcer Derek Boogaard, who killed himself two years ago this month, was prescribed 1,201 pills in one season alone
Derek Boogaard, left, died in 2011 from a drug overdose after years of brutal head injuries.
Derek Boogaard, left, died in 2011 from a drug overdose after years of brutal head injuries. Getty Images/Paul Bereswill
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he family of former NHL defenseman Derek Boogaard has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the league, alleging that the NHL is to blame for the brain damage Boogaard suffered during his playing days and the painkiller addiction that ultimately led to his death.

In the suit, the family claims the league and its doctors pumped Boogaard full of painkillers to keep him on the ice, where he was a noted brawler. After years of crippling head injuries and a couple of treatment programs, Boogaard died of a painkiller overdose in May 2011 at the age of 28.

"The NHL drafted Derek Boogaard because it wanted his massive body to fight in order to enhance ratings, earnings, and exposure. Fighting night after night took its expected toll on Derek's body and mind," the Boogaards' lawyer, William Gibbs, said in a statement. "To deal with the pain, he turned to the team doctors, who dispensed pain pills like candy. Then, once he became addicted to these narcotics, the NHL promised his family that it would take care of him. It failed. He died."

After Boogaard's death, he was found to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head trauma. During his short career, he racked up 589 penalty minutes and took part in an estimated 174 fights.

The suit, filed Friday, names the NHL, the NHL Board of Governors, and league commissioner Gary Bettman as defendants. According to the suit, Boogaard received more than 40 prescriptions totaling 1,201 pills in the 2008-09 season alone — including 150 oxycodone pills — and another 366 the following year. 

He died shortly thereafter.

From The New York Times' John Branch:

His last game was on Dec. 9, 2010, when Boogaard sustained a concussion — one of dozens, the family believes — during a fight in Ottawa.

The next April, after stumbling on the ice during a Rangers workout, Boogaard was sent to drug rehabilitation a second time. It was during that stint that he was granted two extended, unsupervised recesses. He died in his Minneapolis apartment on the first night of his second leave. [New York Times]

The lawsuit is much like those brought in other sports in recent years, as researchers continue to explore the link between head trauma and irreparable neurological damage. Gibbs' law firm is also representing the family of former NFL player Dave Duerson, who killed himself in 2011 after sustaining at least 10 concussions during his playing days, in a class action wrongful death suit.

Boogaard's family is not seeking a specific dollar amount in terms of damages. They filed a separate $9.8 million suit against the players' union last year, though a judge threw out that case earlier this spring.

Jon Terbush is a staff writer for TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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