Joe Murphy went from being a first overall pick in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft to living on the streets of Kenora, Ontario. While he never played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Murphy’s story is still one that should be known by all fans.
I am going to start this article by saying that this will get pretty personal. While this is a site about the Toronto Maple Leafs, mental health is important and needs to be talked about.
I typically do not like talking about my personal life, not even with my family so this will be news to them as much to any readers.
The trauma of a single concussion can cause you are more than most people think. Being on the receiving end a concussion three times, it may shock some people how it really changes you mentally and even sometimes physically.
I got my first concussion back when I was in grade six playing intercity hockey with the Brampton Snipers. I played defence – though I loved being a forward more because I liked being a goal scorer. On the play, I was skating into my end to retrieve the puck when I got hit from behind and went head first into the boards.
Laying there for probably two or three minutes you do not really think. You are kind of just laying there, eyes closed, trying to get your head to stop spinning. And something I still remember to this day, almost nine years later, is how slow everything seemed to happen. Getting hit into the boards, it sort of felt like it was all in slow motion. You can see the boards before you go head first into it and falling you are just watching the ice come closer to you. Then you just lay there and wait for the trainer to come.
Now, I was raised my dad to get up no matter what and after laying there for a bit that is exactly what I did. Went back to the bench, drank some water and tried to get my head to stop spinning. Being a kid who loved the sport, I did not want to get off of the ice so I continued playing and finished the game. Funny enough, I got the game puck that day because of the determination I showed.
I still have it sitting on top of my desk in my room. The date on the puck, January 16th, 2010. 14 days before my 12th birthday I received my first concussion.
Something that a lot of people may not understand or are just too ignorant to accept is how dangerous that is, especially for such a young kid. Your brain is still developing at that time and having an injury like that can really affect you mentally and it did for me.
Post Concussion Challenges
Now, this is where stuff gets more personal. That concussion happened midway through grade 6. I finished that year with only As and Bs, one of my best years academically. The following year is when my marks really started to drop, from As and Bs the year prior to receiving my first grade lower than a 60 (marks from JK-grade six were rated from A-F, in grade seven onwards they use percentages 0-100).
I had a 53 in history and that mark sticks out to me so well because that signifies when the grades really started to drop. In all of high school I did not have one grade in the 90s. I was generally a 65-75 student, a huge drop from where I once was.
Why is this? I never really knew until I really started to think about it. I used to have an amazing memory. I was lucky, I did not really have to study or even try that hard in school. I had a strong enough memory that I was able to remember what the teacher taught was did pretty well on tests.
After my concussion, that is when things changed. My memory nowadays is horrible, I forget things way easier and never studying when I was younger really hurt me because I never developed that skill and still struggle with it.
But the biggest problems I suffered from that concussion have nothing to do with school or learning, it has to do with my mental health. I have been battling with depression and anxiety since grade seven, an eight-year battle that will probably never go away.
The reason why I have not really told anybody that is because when people find out you are battling with mental health problems, they start to treat you different and that is something I never want to happen.
Yes, I have my battles but just like everybody else, I find my ways to deal with them.
With that being said, yes I battle with depression and anxiety, more so depression but both have their moments. Something that some people do not realize is that with depression, it is not something you choose to have, it is not something that you have a lot of control over. One moment I can be fine, but the next moment something happens that just flips a switch and you are just stuck in this darkness.
A darkness that just makes you feel alone, tired, anxious…
It puts you in this mood where you just want to lay in bed and do nothing. And while fighting it is always possible, some days you lose. Some days you succumb to those thoughts in your head and just lay in bed and stare at the roof.
And for some, that becomes too much. I was lucky and only had mild concussions but for people who have had major concussions like Joe Murphy suffered, my battles are not even close to what they experience. Constant headaches, suicidal thoughts even.
Concussions are way more serious than you think. Look at former Leaf Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard, both passed away from suicide at such young ages. That’s the reality of what a serious concussion can do to your mental health.
Murphy suffered his first major concussion in a game versus the Detroit Red Wings from a hit by Shawn Burr. A concussion like that affects your mental state a lot. In the TSN documentary “Finding Murph”, Murphy’s ex-wife and sister both talk about seeing changes in Joe after that hit.
"I noticed, definitely noticed changes. I mean you could just see, he was starting to do erotic things. He was starting to do drugs and he was starting to drink, he made these decisions to do these drugs, if he didn’t have a brain injury, he wouldn’t be doing these drugs. – Cathy Pugliese (Joe Murphy’s sister)"
Not just that though, if you even watch how he moves, his hands and feet, he looks very anxious. Now obviously drugs take a huge toll on your body but I can bet that he was suffering from anxiousness for a long time. When asked how it has affected him, Murphy had this to say:
"It has affected me, physically, mentally, it has just affected me, I just couldn’t function. In an everyday life, I couldn’t, but I still had to function and it was scary. And like a heavy depression."
Yes, Murphy decided to take drugs, but as his sister said, he would never have touched those drugs if it was not for his brain injury. Sure there are chances that he could have, but more likely than not, he would not be where he is today if not for the concussions he suffered.
While fighting and hitting have been a part of the game of hockey for as long as anyone can remember, a player’s health should not be the expense of entertainment for fans. Even then, there is no need for hitting or fighting in a league filled with 12-year-olds. It is time for the sport to start taking care of their athletes.
It is also time for the NHL to take care of former players like Joe Murphy, Matt Johnson and Stephen Peat. Having those players living on the streets when you have billions of dollars invested in your league is an absolute disgrace and the NHL should be doing everything they can to make sure they are taken care of.
Fighting and hitting are apart of today’s NHL, but they should not be apart of tomorrow’s NHL. Mental health is important and that is the best way to ensure players are safe.