At first, it seems like he's living the life of Riley. Joe Murphy works as a labourer, when he needs money, and he sleeps in a tent in a farmer's field, when he needs shelter.
During a short chat, he'll talk about settling down a bit in an apartment. He says he now calls Kenora his home by the water, but finding affordable housing is next to impossible, not just because of the market.
The thing is, Joe Murphy's not your average Joe. He's actually a retired NHL player.
A first overall draft pick of Detroit, he played 15 seasons, including a Stanley Cup win with Mark Messier and the Oilers in 1990.
However, life after hockey hasn't been kind to him, to put it mildly. Truth be told, Joe Murphy's one of 80 plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the NHL related to concussions.
"It's a very serious matter, concussions. I've suffered a horrific, serious concussion that debilitated me for a long time. It was tough," he says, recalling how he fractured his skull in a game.
In their class action, the former players say the league didn't do enough to protect them and warn them about the dangers of the game, including fighting. The league, however, says they did their part, and the players were well aware of the risks involved.
As the interview moves on, Murphy talks about the debilitating energy loss and lethargy that he felt, after he suffered a concussion. He says this took its toll on his play towards the end of his career.
"After I was getting hit, fireflies around me all the time. Just everywhere," he continued. "Even at the end of my career, I'd hit a guy and then 'boom.' There'd be those sparkly things all over. Very difficult."
An article from the Globe and Mail talks about how Murphy's career might've been at an end in Boston in 2000, after he stirred things up in the dressing room with teammates and his coach. Nevertheless, Murphy would go on to play another two seasons in Washington, before retiring.
Today, Murphy notes doctors have been gathering information for close to 90 years now, and there are fewer players suffering from concussions. The speed and finesse of today's game is 'excellent,' he says.
Still, he thinks there should be something done for the retired players, who need help. Murphy thinks they should be 'taken care of,' which he thinks should involve some financial aid and some medical help.
At this point in his life, he admits he's 'de-escalated,' meaning he's lost everything. One estimate said he'd made more than $15 million in his playing days, but today he doesn't even have a phone. He acknowledges he hasn't been online in years. There's no contact information, even for fans who want to reach out.
The class action lawsuit continues to crawl along at a snail's pace, so it won't be a big payday anytime soon. A hearing in federal court in Minneapolis last spring simply dealt with motions.
Recently, two more retired players joined the class action. One of them is Nick Boynton.
Last month, his open letter entitled Everything's Not O.K. was reprinted in The Players' Tribune.
"Whenever things get really bad, and I find myself thinking about death, it’s always in the context of release. Escaping the pain. And no longer being around to make the lives of those I love miserable," he says in the letter.
Boynton notes he knew enforcers, who also suffered after hockey:
- Steve Montador
- Wade Belak
- Derek Boogaard
- Rick Rypien
"I’ve lied for too long. I can’t lie anymore," Boynton writes.
Boynton describes breaking down to cry before his kids, or being unable to leave the house to visit his daughters. The alcohol and drugs were there to self-medicate and relieve the pain, but rehab and self-help programs weren't enough.
Instead, he talks about a specialized treatment centre in Florida, where they've been able to pinpoint problem areas in his brain, then develop programs to help. If he'd known what was coming, Boynton says he would easily have retired from the game earlier, give away his Stanley Cup ring, and scratch his name of the trophy. He would trade it all, if it meant he could feel better.
(Joe Murphy's photo in the Oilers' uniform courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame)
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