If you don’t follow Matt Fenwick (@FenwickMatt) on Twitter, you really should. Matt had a good exchange with Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail about a piece that Blair wrote about Georges Laraque. The piece, was astoundingly petty and mean:
You run into guys like Laraque everywhere in sports: self-promoters who practice being glib to curry favour with the media. It used to be that was enough for some of them to keep their jobs, but that’s not the case any more. It seems that with the advent of social media and around the clock news coverage the self-promoters get smoked out sooner rather than later because they talk too much. Not a bad thing, entirely. My guess is Georges will resurface as a hockey analyst – you know, the francophone version of P.J. Stock!
JB: Posted: Unwritten Rules: Shed no tears for self-promoter Georges Laraque http://bit.ly/5GgIxS
MF: Hey, @GloBlair: your blog post about Laraque was puzzlingly mean. And your last paragraph doesn’t fit with your opening sentence at all.
JB: @FenwickMatt The guy has no cred. Talked to some of his former teammates? I have. The last line was tongue in cheek, cuz Stock is awful.
MF: @GloBlair Thought your take was “from a distance”, not based on player gossip. But that info makes your piece make more sense, + also, less.
JB: @FenwickMatt It’s a blog post. You want Shakespeare, I suggest “King Lear.’
MF: Shorter @GloBlair: Georges may seem like a prince, if slightly dense, but he’s actually a poseur and a dink (not that we’ve ever met).
Now, I could imagine that Laraque might be frustrating as a teammate. He probably never shuts up, his fight code is irritating as a fan and there’s always something going on with the guy. It might even be fair to call him a self-promoter, although it always seemed to me that he’s just a guy who likes talking to people. I like to think I have a pretty good bullshit detector and I have a hard time believing that Laraque isn’t genuine. I have a bias here – he’s one of my favourite Oilers of his era because he always seemed like he was having a good time and he was such a unique player.
I did a little googling and found some quotes from other people who Laraque must have fooled. This story is from the lockout, when Laraque was thinking about heading to Sweden to play:
“Georges once said to me, ‘Whatever you need, Brian, just call me,’ ” Salvation Army Capt. Brian Venables said yesterday.
Laraque gave him his personal cell number, said Venables, adding not every celebrity supporter provides that.
Venables remembers a trip Laraque made to the Salvation Army’s Clareview office. He visited kids attending the after-school homework club.
Laraque took the time to talk to every kid, Venables said. “He was there for them. He engaged them. That says a lot.”
Laraque also helps police educate kids through their DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.
“His presence will definitely be missed,” said police spokesman Andy Weiler. “He talks (to kids) about why he’s decided to go alcohol and drug free. And kids really look up to him.”
Laraque shares time with the Stollery Children’s Hospital, too. He was their poster boy for a project launched two years ago to educate the public about shaken baby syndrome.
“He’ll be missed,” said Pam Brown, a spokesman for the Stollery foundation. “We look forward to seeing him again.”
Hah. Fools. If only they knew what his anonymous teammates told Jeff Blair, who doesn’t actually have a hockey beat and would seem unlikely to have a variety of good hockey connections.
Here’s another from 2008 in Pittsburgh. I encourage you to go and read the story, which is just ridiculous:
Mr. Laraque often goes beyond what groups ask of him, like the time he received a package in the mail the day of the Penguins’ first game of the postseason.
It was from Catherine Marmol, a fifth-grade teacher at Hatfield Elementary School in Uniontown, who had contacted Mr. Laraque after hearing television broadcasters tell of his good deeds.
She wanted to involve him in a class project with Flat Stanley, a paper cutout man sent out for adventures to be documented with a camera and a journal.
At practice the next day, Mr. Laraque introduced the team to Flat Stanley, posing him with teammates — including stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — and in different places around Mellon Arena, from the ice to the weight room.
Instead of mailing the package back, as Ms. Marmol had requested, Mr. Laraque then hopped in his truck and drove to Uniontown — not realizing how far it was. He arrived just as the students were being dismissed for the day.
There was enough time for Mr. Laraque to pose for pictures with the class and sign a few autographs before the buses left, and Ms. Marmol came away impressed.
“I can’t stress enough what a nice person he was, how gracious he was,” she said.
“What he taught my kids is priceless. It goes way beyond textbooks.”
From the same story:
During his own childhood, Mr. Laraque, who was raised by Haitian parents in Montreal, was always the only black kid playing hockey, and he has worked to promote the sport with minority children in Pittsburgh. Mr. Laraque is heavily involved with Hockey in the Hood, a local organization that works through the NHL Diversity program.
Mr. Laraque, one of just 12 black players in the NHL, acknowledges that if he had grown up in the Mon Valley rather than Montreal, he would have gravitated toward a different sport, and hockey’s expensive equipment can be a barrier for poor families. But whenever he has a chance, he educates kids about famous black players in the NHL — including Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr — and tells them, “Hockey is for everyone.”
Mr. Laraque also has made numerous visits to Boys and Girls Clubs, Imani Christian Academy in Penn Hills and a recent trip to The Doorway in Bellevue — which supports children with family members who are in jail or addicted to drugs — with eight Penguins teammates in tow.
Those who encounter him tell the same story. Like Gary Lee, the front office manager at the Marriott across the street from Mellon Arena, where Mr. Laraque frequently stays. Mr. Lee said the Penguin was always kind to him, and as a result, he bought a No. 27 shirt to wear to Game 3.
Sally Crompton, of Scott, who was wearing an autographed replica Laraque jersey, recalled his kindness to an ill co-worker. “He has a smile that will light up the room,” she said.
Here’s a Mark Spector story from 2008. It’s kind of difficult to excerpt because he’s cut a letter into the story. I’ll excerpt the letter separately and then the bit about Laraque:
My nephew [Jordon] was a victim of muscular dystrophy and was in the last stages of this mindnumbing disease. On Friday, after much deliberation, he decided to go off the ventilator and go along with whatever happened. The doctors said it was just a matter of time.
Now, Jordon has always been a great fan of hockey. To make a long story short, on Friday the Oilers found out about Jordon’s plight. Somehow and with no notice, Georges Laraque came up from Calgary and visited Jordon at the University Hospital in the ICU ? He chatted with Jordon and even apologized that he had been so rushed to get to the hospital he didn’t have time to pick up some hockey souvenirs for Jordon.
Georges might never know how much that visit meant to Jordon and his parents. Jordon, who was 19, died on Monday.
The kid was 19, and he only had a few hours left. Maybe another night.
Georges Laraque had just checked into a hotel in Calgary. Hadn’t even unzipped his bag when a secretary of a friend called his cellphone. Everybody gets Georges’ cell number.
“She asked me if I could come to Edmonton,” he said. “There was this kid who was going to die. He had a couple hours to live, they thought, and his last wish was to see me.”
Laraque was playing for the Edmonton Oilers at the time. He checked out, got in his truck, and made the two-hour, forty-five minute drive back to Edmonton “in an hour and 45 minutes.”
“I was driving sometimes on the shoulder. I knew I wasn’t going to get a ticket, because of the reason I was going back for. Karma, you know?”
“When you give someone a moral boost like that, sometimes you give them the will to live. The boost he got made him so happy, they said he lived another few days because of that,” Laraque said.
“The fact I have the power to do this? I do as much as I can.”
Boy. Laraque sure fooled that dying kid and his family. Just another glib self-promoter, doing his usual schtick and he fooled them into having an experience that meant a lot to them by making a five hour round trip from Calgary when it would have been entirely reasonable to say no.
Jeff Blair isn’t fooled though. He knows what Laraque is really like. Even though he’s never spoken with him and is relying on anonymous gossip.