The Problem With Pascal Dupuis

After reading Pascal Dupuis’s piece in The Players’ Tribune I am very grateful not to know him.

Despite knowing he was putting his life in real jeopardy, Dupuis nonetheless played hockey, and traveled, and hid a painful and dangerous blood clot from all those who he knew would have stopped him for the sake of his own safety.

That apparently strikes many people as tough or brave or inspirational, but I can’t see it as anything but selfish.

Dupuis loves playing hockey and doesn’t want to be forced into an early retirement, and that’s totally understandable. But he’s also a husband and a father and a brother and a son and a friend and a teammate and an opponent and a role model, and the voice in the Players’ Tribune essay is that of a man who gives little to no weight to how his actions affect anyone other than himself.

He basically declares himself a hockey player first and a family man second. He knows that he’s scaring the hell out of his wife but he refuses to let that deter him from engaging in extremely high-risk behaviour.

“My wife has been incredibly supportive, but she worries. When I told her the whole story about me feeling it five games before, she got really scared about me going back. She’s like, ‘What keeps you from not saying anything again?’ It’s a hard thing to answer.”

Imagine this was someone you care about, telling the world that he has lied before and most likely will lie again if it means he can get back on the ice. Dupuis talks about his four children; imagine you’re one of them and you find out that daddy would rather play a few more years of hockey than watch you grow up. Because that’s the calculation: How high a risk of early death am I willing to accept? How valuable is my time on the ice when weighed against the possibility that my children will be fatherless before I have the chance to retire on my own terms?

Do I defy all medical advice, as well as the signals I’m getting from my own body, because I want to play hockey that badly? (This, of course, takes the man at his word and assumes he’s not suicidal but merely the reckless person he was raised and conditioned to be.)

Dupuis is a grown man and if he wants to take risks with his health that’s his choice. Here, though, Dupuis’s choice has endangered other people both emotionally and, on at least one occasion, physically: After being told not to drive himself to the hospital, presumably due to the potential for him to throw a blood clot and collapse behind the wheel, he did so anyway just to avoid looping his family in on his health problem. He might as well have driven drunk, since the risks to other people on the road were exactly the same.

That’s to say nothing of the position he would put other players in if he returned to hockey. Opponents wouldn’t be doing their job if they never hit him, but every hit carries an especially high risk of causing another clot. Even a collision with a teammate – like the one with linemate Sidney Crosby that he credits with causing the original clot – can be potentially life-threatening. Nobody deserves to bear the burden of having destroyed another human being simply through the act of playing hockey in good faith.(Also, as someone who actually witnessed a person die on NHL ice once, I can tell you it’s something that stays with you even if the person isn’t a young athlete.)

I have to believe Dupuis is wrong when he says he will play in the NHL again. I just don’t see how the Penguins, another team or even the league itself could accept the liability of such a foreseeable potentially bad outcome. Dupuis is a known risk and in the litigious USA that probably makes him all but untouchable. I can only hope that he has the sense not to try to play in a European league with even more taxing air travel and less skilled trainers, but after reading his piece I fear he might be willing to go that route.

So I’m glad I’ve never met him. I’m glad he’s more of an abstraction than a human in my life, and that I’m not one of the people who will be personally impacted if his stubbornness and deception end in an all-too-predictable tragedy.

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