Anyone who can see themselves as a professional athlete, usually sees themselves as the center of the universe. They imagine the euphoria, the clench in the stomach upon winning a championship. They envision the flocks of fans waiting for a scribble on a sheet of paper. The media scrums at their locker, the growing numbers of trophies on the mantle. The friendly roar of your home venue, and the welcome boos of an enemy crowd. The Hollywood-style wedding to a beautiful person. The beauty of it all.
They never stop to consider what they might do if it all goes wrong.
Seven years ago, Rick DiPietro was in that dreamer’s mindset as he signed for life and $67.5 million with the Islanders, a contract that changed NHL deals forever. Eight years ago, everyone thought it was insane, but began to do just the same thing soon after. Franchise player for life, here we come.
And then there were the injuries. And the surgeries. And the comebacks, in plural.
Now, DiPietro is enduring bus rides and teammates ten years his junior. He’s in Bridgeport, Conn., with the Sound Tigers, far from where he’d imagined he’d be at 31 years old. He should be on Long Island, or so he feels. The Isles thought differently, having waived him a week ago Tuesday. He voiced his feelings about that in an interview with News 12 Long Island’s Kevin Maher, and from that came a series of posts on Maher’s Twitter account that sounded the alarm all over the site’s hockey contingent.
“I thought about driving into a tree, off the Throgs Neck Bridge. There’s been a lot of dark times.”
That was the quote that raised Maher’s hackles, causing him to tweet that DiPietro has contemplated suicide. DiPietro later clarified, stating to other news outlets, including the New York Post, that he was being “100 percent facetious” with his statements, “bringing light to” the fact that his wife has provided an excellent support system during his three years in and out of commission. The Post isn’t new to this scene, though — they’ve left hints that the netminder has experienced depression in the past.
And it’s only natural. When a general manager in the NHL spends time and breath telling you that you’re going to be a huge star on the biggest stage hockey has to offer, draft you No. 1, then signs you to a humongous deal a mere six years later when you’re just shy of 25, it’s only natural to feel shock, disappointment and maybe even depression, when you get injured time and time again. And go through multiple surgeries. And see other, sometimes younger, often times healthier and better, candidates take your spot between the pipes.
And, when it finally feels like you’re ready to go out there and prove that you still have what it takes, to turn around and find out that you’ve finally been cut loose would be heartbreaking. It might even be enough to push you to places you’ve never gone before in your mind.
Now, I’m not about to speculate on Rick DiPietro’s mental state. That’s between him and his doctors, and for me to even guess would be wrong. His comments about driving into a tree… if it was humor, it wasn’t funny. If it wasn’t humor, and he just wants to put minds at ease, then… I’m not sure. But going around calling him all ill-mannered things under the sun is no way to react.
As I stated in my initial post on the situation, DiPietro is a living, breathing, flawed human being. He’s capable of being depressed, making statements about it and then retracting said statements. It doesn’t matter who you are. Depression is indiscriminate.
He’s also capable of screwing up his words when it comes to talking about it. Kevin Maher’s just as much to blame for taking the words out of context, though honestly, it was extremely easy to come to that conclusion. This whole issue is reminiscent of what we say when we utter things we didn’t mean to — we clam up, say, “Oh no, I was just kidding,” and try to move on before anyone suspects. Which is why I still don’t feel assured that DiPietro is A-OK. But it isn’t for me to decide.
At any rate, we need to be okay with people, even people we don’t like, saying things like this. It isn’t right to dismiss it, belittle it, or laugh at it. The fact that so many people on Twitter were shocked and scared into reality upon reading Maher’s tweets is good; it lets me know that there are still many of us who aren’t desensitized to suicide or thoughts of it. And it reminds us that under all of the hair and the surgery scars, DiPietro is a real person who’s more vulnerable than he may have once believed.
Moral of the story? Remember who these people are.