Westhead shares update on Joe Murphy's story
Former National Hockey League first-overall draft pick Joe Murphy, who is living homeless in Kenora, Ont., said he’s disappointed but not angry that he has yet to be contacted by anyone in the hockey world three weeks after his story was documented in a TSN feature.
Murphy, 50, spent Wednesday and Thursday with a TSN reporter and former NHL goalie Trevor Kidd in Kenora, expressing worry about his declining health with winter approaching.
On Wednesday afternoon, Murphy sprawled out on a black sleeping bag on the edge of the Canadian Tire property as a steady stream of locals stopped to check in on him.
One man handed him a Tim Hortons coffee. Twenty minutes later, a woman handed Murphy $20 and said, “Get yourself some food, Joe.” Others who pulled over in the parking lot dropped off granola bars, bottles of water, hockey magazines, chocolate bars and bottled Starbucks Frappuccinos. One woman handed Murphy a plate of homemade pasta and salad.
“The people here are so kind and they love hockey and I love to talk about hockey,” Murphy said between visitors. “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.”
Years after filing a workers’ compensation lawsuit in California against one of his former teams, the San Jose Sharks, and Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., Murphy reached a (U.S.) $125,000 settlement in February 2017 that left him with $106,250 after his lawyers’ contingency fee.
“I played the stock market and I made stupid mistakes,” Murphy said. “That money is gone, just gone. And is it my fault? Of course it is.”
Murphy now lives on an NHL pension that pays him about $14,160 per year. Since he arrived in Kenora in early April, he said he has slept in a local homeless shelter, on the Canadian Tire property and in the bush along Highway 17, The Trans-Canada Highway.
Both the NHL and National Hockey League Players’ Association have declined to comment on Murphy’s situation although a source told TSN that the former Stanley Cup winner with the Edmonton Oilers has been offered help through the NHL/NHLPA substance abuse program.
Murphy said that he has used drugs including cocaine, crystal meth and crack cocaine in past years but that he has limited his drug use in recent months to marijuana.
“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 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.”
An official with Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services who has dealt with inmates with mental health issues for more than 20 years and is familiar with Murphy's case said he is exhibiting symptoms that are more troubling than any other case the official has helped to oversee.
“Joseph’s case is one of the most serious I've ever seen,” said the official, who does not have permission to speak publicly to the media. “You might say he just needs to ask someone for help but this seems to be a case where he is not capable of making that request.”
Murphy is not the only former NHL player who is struggling.
A person familiar with the matter told TSN that about 150 former NHL players receive monthly stipends through an emergency fund administered by the league and players’ association.
Murphy said he plans to remain in Kenora through the winter.