EXCLUSIVE: Attention on the long-term brain damage suffered by contact sports stars has primarily fallen on pro football because of the tragic suicides of superstars like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, both of whom left behind their brains for study on how on-field collisions made retirement life too much to bear. But the problem reaches other sports, including hockey, and Focus Features and Peter Berg are tackling the issue by focusing on renowned enforcer Derek Boogaard. A shy, oversized player who learned to use his fists to make it to the National Hockey League, Boogaard became hooked on painkillers from years of damage, and was found dead at age 28 after mixing prescription drugs with booze.

Focus has made a deal with The New York Times for an eye-opening series of articles by John Branch entitled Punched Out: The Life And Death Of A Hockey Enforcer. Berg and Film 44 partner Sarah Aubrey are producing, and Berg hopes to direct. Ryan Condal is writing the script, and Josh McLoughlin will oversee the pic. The deal was made by ICM Partners, which reps the Times, and also reps Boogard’s estate and his mother and father, Len and Joanne Boogaard. All of the money they make will go to a charity set up for their son.

The subject matter here was somewhat covered in that gem of an indie movie Goon. This version clearly demonstrates the price one can pay for doing anything to achieve the dream of every kid skating on the frozen ponds of Saskatoon: to make the National Hockey League. Boogaard was nobody’s idea of a hockey star, but when he learned to fight, he became an invaluable presence who’d drop gloves and clean the clock of any opposing player who messed with the skill players on his team. At a hulking 6’7″ and 270 pounds, Boogaard became known as the Boogeyman, and rarely lost a fight when he played for the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. Nightly violent encounters led to broken bones and concussions. After a brawl, the callous on his knuckles would peel off and his hands hurt all the time. By the time he joined the Rangers, he was a shell of his former self. By the time of his death, Boogaard was ingesting huge quantities of pills, and died after a night of boozing. His family hopes that a movie like this will play as a cautionary tale for others whose kids pay the price for realizing a dream that for Boogaard and his family became a nightmare. The subject matter seems a good match with Berg, who directed the Friday Night Lights film and was the architect of the superb TV series that followed.

Here are links for a three-part vid series, chapters one, two, and three, that NYT posted as part of the excellent series the newspaper published on the fallen enforcer. Berg’s repped by WME, Condal by WME and Caliber Media.