Former NHL great reflects on the effects of numerous concussions
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“I can say this—any player, any place, any time that needs help—can get help from us.” – Glenn Healy
Joe Murphy was the number one overall pick in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft. He was a talented player who possessed great speed and offensive skill. Before he began his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings, he won the Calder Cup and NCAA championships.
In the 1989-90 season, Murphy was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, and he would win a Stanley Cup with them the following spring. He played on a line known as the “Kid Line” with Adam Graves and Martin Gelinas. The line was productive during the playoffs. Murphy would play three seasons with the Oilers before he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1993. He later played with four more teams: St. Louis, San Jose, Boston, and Washington—before retiring in 2001.
Unfortunately, Murphy suffered numerous concussions during his NHL career, and the damage from those concussions greatly impacted his post-hockey life. He has had various symptoms including wild mood swings, constant headaches, and personality changes—including turning into an enforcer and beginning to take alcohol and drugs. Murphy earned over $15 million during his NHL career, yet he became destitute and homeless in Kenora, Ontario.
In the 2018 TSN documentary, Finding Murph, TSN reporter Rick Westhead detailed Murphy’s life living in the streets in Kenora. It also showed former NHL goaltender, Trevor Kidd, driving his truck while searching for Murphy. He would eventually locate Murphy sitting outside a convenience store. Kidd had a brief conversation with Murphy, and after being told about Westhead wanting to speak with him, Murphy agreed to be interviewed.
Murphy was very candid and honest about his own situation to Westhead: “The people here are so kind, and they love hockey and I love to talk about hockey. Here’s the truth. I’m sleeping on the ground right here and I’m worried about my health. I am soaking wet and cold all of the time. I have a headache. My head is pounding. I need a place to stay. I’m disappointed that no one from hockey has been in touch with me but I’m not mad at the alumni. I don’t need money. I know I wouldn’t spend it properly. But I need help. I’m also just a little disappointed with my life. I’ve made some bad choices.”
Furthermore, Murphy admitted that he had been using drugs due to the concussions he had suffered. “I struggled for a few years with cocaine and crystal meth after I first left the NHL,” Murphy said. “Why did I do it? I have been suffering. I have been struggling with the concussions. I do have a head issue. It’s the truth. I remember seeing fireflies after some of those hits and I still see them. I’ve used marijuana a few times more recently but nothing more.”
Former NHL goaltender, Glenn Healy, is the current executive director and president of the NHL Alumni Association. He is very aware of Murphy’s situation. In September 2018, Westhead of TSN reported that Healy and Adam Graves, former NHL player and Oiler teammate to Murphy, traveled to Kenora and visited with Murphy for several hours. Healy and Graves declined to comment on their visit. Speaking in a phone interview with the Other Press, Healy declined to disclose further about Murphy’s current situation in order to maintain confidentiality: “I can say this—any player, any place, any time that needs help—can get help from us. So, with no exceptions, whether it is a coping issue that you have [….] or whether it is an immigration issue, we are there to make sure that we help.”
Former Oilers defenseman, Kevin Lowe—Joe Murphy’s teammate on the 1990 Oilers cup winning team—wishes the best for his former teammate. Lowe told the Other Press in an email interview that “sadly, I never got to know Joe very well the couple years we played together. I was concerned for him when the story surfaced about him being on the street.”
In the documentary, Murphy’s sister Cathy said that her brother is a good person, and he should be able to get help. “He deserves to have help. He didn’t do anything wrong. It’s easy to pass judgment and say you know, ‘he’s crazy, he’s eccentric.’ He didn’t go in crazy and eccentric. So, tell me, what happened along the way?” When Cathy was asked for her reaction to the NHL and its fans suggesting that Murphy is homeless due to making poor choices she responded, “I think when you have a brain injury and people make a judgment like that—they have no idea what they’re talking about. His mind doesn’t think like a normal person’s mind thinks.”
Recently, Murphy was discovered living out in the streets in Regina. He told CTV News Regina in August 2020 that he was in Saskatchewan visiting a friend in Saskatoon—stating it was his first trip to the province. Murphy said he planned to return to Ontario when the time is appropriate for him. “I’m still enjoying life, I love it, I’m kind of moving around, and I’m on the street and I’m in a shelter.” He went on to say that “I just want to get a place where I can get into a steady rental place.”
Cathy hopes that her brother is able to get the help he needs: “It’s devastating. He’s my brother. What am I supposed to do? It makes me want to cry. He’s a good human being. He doesn’t deserve to live like this.” Murphy’s daughter, Krystal, also hopes her father will seek help to get himself off the streets: “If I was face-to-face with my dad, I would just tell him that I love him—that I am there for him. I support him. My dad has survived things that would kill most people. He is a survivor, and he can survive this too. But he has to fight and he has to take help.”