My work as an advocate has bestowed many benefits. One significant perk is that I have represented some very interesting and colorful characters. These short commentaries are easily documented publicly in newspapers, magazines, books or the Internet. Their public nature makes them quite unlike the private information communicated to a lawyer for obtaining legal advice, and permits commentary on the public aspects of my interaction with these former clients. Each of these individuals enriched my life, by their love of life and by the unique way they approached their role in society. The nineteenth century poet and essayist Matthew Arnold once wrote: “Use your gifts faithfully, and they shall be enlarged; practice what you know and you shall attain to higher knowledge.” In the end, if we are to be true to ourselves and to this noble profession, we need only strive to fulfill this dictum.
William Wadsworth “Dollar Bill” Wirtz, was the former owner of the Chicago Blackhawks. I first met Bill, together with his close friend and business associate, Bob Pulford, when I negotiated the first of several contracts with the Chicago Blackhawks on behalf of Bob Probert. But, I came to represent Bill because of my representation of another client, Robert Esche, the goaltender of the Philadelphia Flyers. In 2005, you might recall, the NHL locked-out the Players of the NHL causing the cancellation of what would’ve been the 88th season in the NHL. The Stanley Cup was not awarded for the first time since 1919. It was also the first time a major professional sports league in North America canceled a complete season because of a labor dispute. To say that these were turbulent times in the NHL would be an understatement, and, the hostility between owners and Players was at an all-time high.
I was a certified agent of the NHLPA at that stage for approximately 12 years, beginning with my first client in the NHL, Bob Probert, of the Detroit Red Wings. During the lock-out I was sharply critical of the NHLPA and particularly of its executive director Bob Goodenow. I said publicly that the impasse between the NHL and the NHLPA was created by the irresponsibility of the NHLPA. The owners had offered to produce all of their financial records to the NHLPA for examination, but Goodenow, the Executive Director of the NHLPA, had refused acceptance of the records, preferring to assume the owner’s books were ‘cooked’ rather than examine them for fairness and authenticity. Goodenow eventually reversed his ridiculous position, but far too late to save the season. And, notably the ultimate agreement between owners and Players was entirely based upon the very records that he previously refused to examine. Goodenow also eventually capitulated on his absurd and untenable stand that the NHLPA would never accept a cap on salaries. The NHLPA seemed frightfully unaware that for many years all entry-level NHL Players already had a cap on their salaries, and, every other professional sport of any significance also had caps on their salaries. For these reasons and others, I found the organization of which I was a member to be embarrasingly out of touch with reality.
In fact, I was so disconcerted with the NHLPA’s farcical approach to bargaining with the NHL that I refused to re-apply for re-certification by the mandatory date of May 27 of that year. In an e-mail message to the NHLPA advising of my decision not to re-certify, I described the NHLPA, among other things, as “bereft of competent leadership”. I told the Executive Board of the NHLPA that, “I choose not to belong to an Association led by the people that presently lead the NHLPA.” Unfortunately for Robert Esche, he was a client of mine, and, he also was a player representative on behalf of the Philadelphia Flyers to the NHLPA. I was quoted as saying that the idea that the Players would never accept a salary cap was ludicrous, and, having taken that position the NHLPA had boxed itself into a corner with no way out – either total defeat or absolute victory- and my prediction was total defeat. As prophetic as my comments were, I take no pleasure in the fact that they must have caused Esche some anxiety, and, perhaps some personal embarrassment. His own agent was not in line with the approach of the NHLPA in their negotiations with the NHL. But Esche’s loyalty to me apparently out-distanced his loyalty to the NHLPA. Despite my caustic comments about and to the NHLPA and its bonehead leader Goodenow, Esche was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 13, 2005 as saying, “Pat is a really smart man and has the right to say what he feels whether people agree with him or not. He and I remain good friends”. Enter, Bill Wirtz.
Not surprisingly, Bill Wirtz, the Chairman of the Board of the NHL and recognized patriarch of the NHL, relished my acidic comments concerning his archrivals at the NHLPA. I was already familiar with Bill as a result of my contract negotiations with him and Bob Pulford on behalf of Bob Probert when Bob left the Detroit Red Wings and signed with the Blackhawks in 1994. I could not help but like Bill Wirtz from our first meeting because he had not only offered Probert, a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract, but he had also agreed to pay my rather substantial agent’s fees that included our fight with the Detroit Red Wings to have Probert declared a free agent, my fight with the immigration authorities who were seeking to arrest Probert and throw him out of the U.S., and my negotiations with several other NHL teams attempting to sign Probert after his declaration of free agency. When the Blackhawks agreed to paying my bill they saved Probert the expense of having to pay for all of this work.
The NHLPA had a regulation prohibiting any player agent from receiving fees directly from an NHL team. The rationale of the regulation was that money could be secretly received by an agent “under the table” thereby creating the danger of an undisclosed conflict of interest. My way around this particular regulation was to include in the Player’s contract with the Blackhawks the payment of my fees and disbursements– all specifically listed in the contract. No one could allege any failure to disclose, because the contract is, upon execution, filed with both the NHL and the NHLPA and becomes a matter of public record. The NHLPA did not challenge my legal dyke around their regulation. But it was the first of many occasions where I was perceived as a thorn in their side. Because representing professional athletes amounted to a very small portion of my work, I was in a much better position to challenge the NHLPA than other agents who relied entirely upon this work for a living.
Bill Wirtz read the articles referring to me challenging the collective intellect of the NHLPA and he immediately called me with a unique proposition. He asked me to represent him. In order to do so, I would have to cut all ties with the NHLPA—”Gladly”, I announced. In fact, I told him, I had already begun that process even before his telephone call.
For the next several years I would become Bill’s friend, advisor, confidant, and, on occasion, his legal representative. In doing so, I also gained the opportunity to get to know Bob Pulford, Bill’s closest friend and business associate. Pulford is a genuinely classy man of impeccable integrity. Pulford, ironically, was the very first Executive, Director of the NHLPA. Pulford, immediately upon signing Probert to a contract with the Blackhawks, accepted Bob Probert into his personal care and arranged for the treatment that Bob needed for alcohol and drug abuse. For more than seven years Bob Probert was free of any substance abuse. I credit the Chicago Blackhawks’ organization and Bob Pulford particularly for that respite from the demons of addiction in Bob’s life. It was, in my opinion, the best time of Probert’s life.
I was awed by the extent Bill Wirtz genuinely cared for not only his Players, but all the Players in the NHL. Bill was, of course, an exceptionally successful businessman, but more importantly from my perspective, he was a goodwill ambassador of the game of hockey. His success in business just allowed him to indulge in this, his true passion. I know, of course, that Bill inherited many critics over the years who suggested his business side overshadowed his passion for hockey because of his well-known, incendiary stand that Blackhawk home games would not be shown on local television except when the United Center was a sellout. His hard-nosed business approach did not diminish his love for his Players.
The most interesting assignment given to me by Bill Wirtz was to protect and recapture the money contributed by NHL Players to the NHLPA during their careers. Those NHL Players on the verge of retirement or having recently retired from the NHL were not routinely paid back their contributions to the NHLPA. Instead, their money had been stockpiled by the NHLPA. These funds, we alleged, were held improperly by the NHLPA. Surely, we argued, the NHLPA was only the “trustee” of the funds, not the “owner” of the funds. Our first step was to demand an accounting of the money held by the NHLPA “on behalf of the Players”. Not surprisingly, the NHLPA resisted. I had refused to recertify and therefore was no longer an agent. I was not entitled to this information. But, of course, the Players were entitled.
With Bill’s help, I signed on to represent Jeremy Roenick, Bob Probert and Denis Savard as my “named complainants” to challenge the NHLPA to provide a proper accounting of the money earned by these Players and hundreds of other Players during their NHL careers, and, more importantly, to receive a payout to the Players of the millions of dollars held and kept improperly by the NHLPA. There were many Players who had come and gone from the NHLPA that contributed abundantly during their careers, only to have that money confiscated by the NHLPA.
The NHLPA was unfairly stockpiling funds earned on the backs of hundreds of hockey Players through their dues and licensing fees. There was no NHLPA plan to refund the money to Players who earned the money upon their departure from the NHLPA. The NHLPA was, in effect, confiscating their money for its own purposes. It was Wirtz’s conviction that this fund, earned by the Players during their careers, was “held” by the NHLPA in trust for the Players. It was not money accumulated for the benefit of the NHLPA to keep as its own as a war chest in preparation for anticipated future labor strife.
By December 2005 Bob Goodenow had been unceremoniously dumped by the NHLPA and replaced by Ted Saskin, a man of imperceptible skill and meager presence. His leadership of the NHLPA, in my opinion, was only marginally better than that of Bob Goodenow. But, let’s face it, how could he be worse? The NHLPA, now under the wimpy hand of Saskin, the NHLPA initially resisted our demand– a demand now made in the names of the Players– for an accounting and a payout. Their new excuse was about as lame as one could imagine! The NHLPA said, in essence, “we have held the money because if we had given it back to the Players, the Players would have to pay tax on it.” The bizarre stance of the NHLPA that the Players would actually prefer not to have their money because to have their money would require them to pay tax, in my opinion, bordered on psychotic senselessness. It struct me that my earlier comments to the NHLPA, that it was devoid of competent leadership, was now a proven fact.
Jeremy Roenick was the perfect anecdote to the malignant incompetence of the NHLPA. Saskin’s leadership was already the subject of simmering discontent. Outspoken, smart and completely fearless, Roenick publicly lashed out at the NHLPA Executive in a Hockey News article dated December 7, 2005. The article was entitled Roenick, Others Want Answers. Jeremy was playing for the Los Angeles Kings. He demanded that the NHLPA disclose what they had done with player’s dues and licensing money for his entire career. He demanded to know if proper financial records and annual balance sheets were kept as mandated by the NHLPA Constitution. He wanted to know if the annual statements were prepared by an independent chartered accounting firm as required. He denied that he had ever seen such a statement in his entire career, despite the fact that the Constitution required an annual disclosure.
Although Saskin had replaced Goodenow, the leadership of the NHLPA was still significantly impoverished. Article 5, section 5 of the NHLPA Constitution mandated an annual accounting of the money received and held on behalf of the Players. The NHLPA, now confronted with a threatened lawsuit for an accounting and a payout of monies owing to the Players, reluctantly reversed their position and revealed that they were holding hundreds of millions of dollars on the Player’s behalf, and, that the NHLPA was “considering” a payout to the Players. The NHLPA’s period of reflection was brief, approximately two weeks. Eventually, large payments were made to many Players retired or in the process of retiring. Ironically, the idea of protecting the Players did not come from their union, but instead came from the Chairman of the Board of the NHL, Mr. Bill Wirtz.
Bill loved the game of hockey and he cared about those who played the game. Bill died on September 26, 2007. He was the owner and president of the Chicago Blackhawks for 41 years and served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the NHL for 18 years. His reputation for stubbornness and frugality was well known—hence his nickname—Dollar Bill—but for me, he was a no-nonsense friend and client who cared about life and the people that worked with him.
While at dinner at a sleek Chicago restaurant with Bill long before this labor dispute and well before representing Bill, he pulled out a book entitled, “Net Worth” by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths. On the cover of the book was a picture of a man holding a hockey player puppet and appearing to manipulate the puppet’s movements by marionette strings. Bill turned to a page of the book where I was quoted by the authors as saying, “Wirtz pulls Ziegler’s (referring to John Ziegler, then President of the NHL) strings and he jumps like a puppet”. It was the first time I had read this quote, although I vaguely remembered being interviewed by the authors about the workings of the NHL and its lack of a drug and alcohol policy years earlier. I looked at Bill to see if he was angry or amused by the quote.
His response to my comment was characteristic of Bill. He laughed uproariously! He said, “I love that quote”, and, “It’s not true but I love it”. “That’ll really piss off John”. I knew then we had something in common. We both enjoyed a little controversy, stirring the pot a little, or, what might be described as the art of contentiousness. My time representing Bill Wirtz was filled with lighthearted moments like these, where this giant of a man in business and sport just seemed to enjoy ‘hanging out’, having a drink in his private box in the majestic United Center, talking about issues, and, above all, occasionally stirring the pot.
Marilyn Chambers was best known as a porn star. In the porn industry she reached legendary status for her hard-core performances in the films, Behind the Green Door and Insatiable as well as having ranked as one of Playboy’s Top 100 Sex Stars of the Century in 1999. Marilyn was generally not known for her minor role in the film, The Owl and the Pussycat, starring Barbra Streisand, or, as the face of Procter and Gamble’s the “Ivory Soap Girl” on the Ivory soap box. Although Procter & Gamble dumped Marilyn from the Ivory soap box because of her success in the porn industry, her “ squeaky clean” persona prior to entering the porn industry helped set Marilyn apart from her contemporaries Linda Lovelace and Georgina Spelvin as the wholesome, all-American girl next door-turned Porn Queen.
I represented Marilyn on charges of indecent theatrical performance and nudity in a public place when she was charged by Windsor Police Service officers during one of her performances at Jason’s Adult Entertainment bar in Windsor Ontario. During her trial on these charges, we entered into evidence the film of her starring role in Rabid directed by David Cronenberg, The Owl and the Pussycat and Together written and directed by Sean Cunningham. On the morning of her trial Marilyn attended my law offices dressed more like she was ready for a striptease performance than an appearance in court. I quickly summoned a couple of business-like legal secretaries to take her to a nearby women’s clothing store on Ouellette Avenue that opened at 9:30 AM to re-cast her image for the 10 AM start of her trial. The transformation of her appearance in 30 minutes was remarkable. She went from Porn Queen to ‘business dowdy’ in less than 30 minutes.
During Marilyn’s trial it became apparent that the trial judge was enamored of her. As the police constable who arrested Marilyn described in monotonous tones how she pushed her breasts together and pulled them out by their nipples, wrapped her legs around a pole onstage, then pushed her vagina against the pole, gyrating in rhythmic fashion to the music, and, flicking her sensuous tongue out at the pole simulating oral sex, the trial judge was so enthralled he appeared to hang on every word. And, when Marilyn testified the judge was leaning so far over toward her perch in the witness box that he nearly fell out of his stately judicial chair.
Watching this, it did not take a great deal of courtroom experience to guess that Marilyn would be acquitted. She was. I later learned that the judge had actually attended her performance in Behind the Green Door at a showing in Detroit prior to the trial. The judge, seldom given to lengthy decisions, and even more rarely, to reducing his decisions to writing, eclipsed himself with a 37 page written decision that supported Marilyn’s claim that her provocative dance was nothing more than an expression of constitutional freedom, the freedom of expression, known since the beginning of time, as ‘seductive dancing.’ From the time of King Herod, young, lithe, nubile dancers entertained the King and his Court with seductive dances.
Shortly after her successful defense Marilyn was on the cover of Gentlemen’s Quarterly Magazine. The cover story related her successful defense on behalf of women everywhere—their apparent constitutional right to disrobe, entertain, and please men, while earning a living and protecting the Canadian Constitution. Her seductive dance had been transformed into a statement for women’s liberty.
The GQ article made reference to her clothing “for the courtroom”, describing it as a “loose-fitting sweater with a matching skirt that falls below her knees… and pantyhose.” The article made reference also to the fact that Marilyn did not want to buy new clothes minutes before the commencement of her trial because she “was trying to get pregnant.” There’s no question what Marilyn wore into the courtroom was significantly different than the revealing outfit she had worn to my office just a short time earlier. But as she walked out of the courthouse triumphant she delivered a memorable line that I will not ever forget. I consider her words to me to be an insightful rebuke by a veteran in the world of pleasing men to a lawyer boringly ensconced in the dry spaces of law.
Marilyn had been quite resistant to my suggestion of more dour clothing. But she had complied with my request, yielding, albeit reluctantly, to my advanced experience in the world of the courtroom. Then, having witnessed her Lincolnesque Judge fawn over her in obvious admiration, and perhaps a touch of lust, she looked at me with a look of disdain and said, “I knew I should’ve worn my own dress.” Touché, goddess of men!
Marilyn died April 12, 2009. Throughout her career she longed for legitimacy as an actress but found her fame in the seedy, squalid world of pornography. In ironic juxtaposition of that world, in 2004 and 2008 Marilyn ran for Vice President of the United States of America on the Personal Choice Party ticket as the candidate for this quasi-libertarian Party. She received a total of 946 votes in 2004, undoubtedly all from fans of the porn industry. Marilyn was animated, brash and playful. In retrospect, I should have allowed her to wear her own clothing. She would’ve won the case handily in any event—at least with any red-blooded male judge. She had a knack.
Bob Probert was best known for his 17 years in the NHL as the league’s toughest enforcer, meaning that he was best known for throwing his fists rather than scoring goals, but, in truth, he was quite able to do both effectively. Bob died on July 5, 2010 while boating on Lake St. Clair with several members of his family. I represented Bob throughout his NHL career as his agent in contract negotiations and as his criminal lawyer on his many and varied brushes with the law. I also represented him in relation to his immigration status and his broadcasting contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, a contract he signed after his retirement from the Blackhawks. Bob was undoubtedly one of a kind. Tough as nails on the ice and as gentle as any person you would ever meet off the ice. Bob was like a little boy, mischievous and funny. He was articulate and witty. He was blessed with social grace and sensitivity and yet he was plagued by the demons of addiction. To see Bob scrap with an opponent on the ice was like discovering a bizarre ending to a murder mystery—you could not help but think—who is this guy? Bob was an enigma.
Many newspaper articles over the years proclaimed that I was his best friend. I would often say to Bob, “If I’m your best friend, you are in more trouble than most people think!” I did not say this to deride or embarrass, but instead to acknowledge what was obvious about the connection between us, that he shared very few of his private thoughts with me. I suspected that he shared very few of his private thoughts with anyone. It just happened that he spent a lot of time with me because he was always in trouble with the law and I was his “go-to guy” in that regard. So naturally, others assumed he was sharing his private thoughts with me. That was not the case. Bob used to quote his mother as saying, “A wise head is a quiet head.” I suspected his private nature emanated from his early years.
Bob shared one odd, private and perhaps prophetic thought with me about seven or eight years before his death. He told me he was absolutely convinced that he would die at an early age. He said, “I know there’s something wrong with me.” He said that he had been to several doctors but despite several different tests, including MRIs and EKGs, the doctors had never been able to discover any specific weakness or illness. Nevertheless, he “knew” that there was a physical weakness “lurking inside”.
Contrary to Bob’s version contained in his national bestseller Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge, at the start I was not technically hired by Bob. Instead, I was hired by the Detroit Red Wings. True, Bob was always the “client”, and, as such, I took my instructions from him, but the brass of the Detroit Red Wings hockey organization was actually calling the shots with him. Jim Devellano, then the GM of Detroit, Steve Yzerman, the Captain of the team, and Bob came to my law offices initially seeking legal advice concerning a number of pending criminal charges he was facing. Jim and Steve introduced Bob to me. The year, I believe, was 1986. Devellano made it clear to me that the owner of the team, Mike Ilitch, would be, “taking care of anything that was needed.” Ilitch apparently wanted to know from me whether I felt confident that I could keep his bruising winger out of jail. I sensed that only a positive answer to that inquiry would lead to my taking over his impressive but unenviable list of pending criminal files. I assured them that Big Bob would never kiss the inside of a jail cell. I was hired.
Bob had consulted with another criminal defence lawyer before me, and that lawyer had apparently told him that there was no legal way to avoid jail, that the law required that he would automatically receive a mandatory jail sentence based upon 2 sets of charges for drinking and driving. The fact that he was also charged with assaulting a cop and resisting arrest only added to the degree of difficulty in keeping him out of jail.
I have since learned through Bob’s book that it was Bob himself, however, who discovered my name and insisted that the Detroit Red Wings consider me for his legal representation. He writes in his book that his deceased father had “a good buddy”, Detective Don Wiley of the Windsor Police Service. Detective Wiley had continued to be a good friend to Bob and his brother Norm even after Bob’s father’s death. Bob recalled that Don Wiley recommended me because, “Pat was one of those lawyers everybody in the police department hated because he had so much skill. So I hired him to help me out”. I was not aware of this backhanded compliment or the referral until after the publication of his book.
Ironically, I had met Detective Wiley through a previous case where a client was acquitted on a constitutional argument. That decision, based as it was on a legal principle rather than the evidence uncovered by the police, so riled Detective Wiley, the officer in charge of that case, that he slammed his fist against a wall and broke it, requiring hospitalization. I went to visit Wiley after his release from hospital. I wanted to get a good look at a cop who took his job so seriously that he would break his fist because a criminal skated on a constitutional argument. I thought to myself if anyone in my family is ever victimized by a criminal, I want this zealot investigating!
Bob’s chances of avoiding jail, in truth, were not promising. He was suspended indefinitely by the Detroit Red Wings as a result of his criminal charges. The first set of charges was more the garden-variety type of driving while your ability to operate is impaired by alcohol and then exceeding the breath test. The first set of charges were not the real problem.
The second of the two sets of charges was the more serious. Again, Bob was charged with impaired operation, but this time he was also charged with refusal to provide a breath sample. In refusing to provide a breath sample, he also refused to enter a jail cell when ordered to do so by the police, a scuffle ensued, leading to his being charged with assaulting a peace officer and resisting arrest. On this second set of charges Bob allegedly (sorry for the word ‘allegedly’, force of habit) drove across the center-line of the main street in his hometown, over a curb, into a cement light standard causing it to crumble to the ground, breaking electrical wires everywhere, and then, driving through the front window of a drinking establishment and ending his sordid trip parked next to the bar. And, of course, the most aggravating feature of these charges was that they were committed while he was out on bail on similar charges.
Fortunately, no one, other than Bob, suffered any serious injuries. Bob had several broken and cracked ribs. His teammate Joe Kocur was seated in the front passenger seat at the time of the accident. Bob’s blood alcohol concentration level measured off the charts. I was beginning to wonder myself about my bullshit bravado in claiming that he would never kiss the inside of a jail cell.
The courts in Canada interpret the meaning of a ‘previous conviction’ for the purpose of imposing a greater penalty to refer to, not just the fact of a conviction, but to a conviction together with a sentence that has already been imposed prior to a second or “subsequent” sentence. The rationale of this technical interpretation is that it ensures that an offender has been given an opportunity to learn a lesson via his earlier sentence and the knowledge and understanding to avoid trouble with the law in the future. As one builds a record of offenses, generally, the penalties increase based upon that prior record. So the first legal maneuver was to schedule the two separate trials in reverse order, that is, the case that took place first would be tried last and the case that took place second would be tried first. Therefore, even if there was a conviction on the second set of charges, the more serious of the two, it would be in relation to a matter for which Bob had never been previously sentenced. As a matter of law there was no “previous conviction” and therefore no legal requirement for a minimum mandatory jail sentence. In the end, Bob did not go to jail and we were successful in having the Red Wings re-instate his playing privileges. On the more serious charges we cut a deal for no jail taking advantage of this definition and on the second set of charges we went to trial and Bob was found not guilty.
Moving on I handled not only Bob’s future legal problems but also his contract negotiations with the Red Wings and later the Blackhawks and, of course, his immigration struggles. Bob was such a regular client that I would joke with him that I could never put his file in the filing cabinet. Instead, I just left it on the side of my desk and added paper to it. Bob seemed to take a perverse pride in the fact that he was one of my regular clients. During a charitable “roast” were I was the roastee Bob quipped that my fancy cars were purchased after I took on his case. Over the next 17 years I handled approximately 20 different scrapes with the law, I attended the NHL disciplinary offices in New York several times related to his suspensions, including his lifetime suspension for drugs, a suspension that was later reversed by Bettman. I had countless meetings with the owners, the general managers and coaches of both the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. All my ‘Probert experiences’ were rich with controversy and conflict.
When Bob signed his first contract with Chicago he was actually on the run from the immigration authorities who were seeking to deport him from the United States because he was no longer “employed” in the NHL. We cut a deal with the immigration authorities that we would accept service of their papers of deportation only if they would agree to change the venue of his immigration hearing to Chicago from Detroit. His contract with Chicago was imminent.
At first US Immigration resisted. However, after weeks of looking for Probert without success, they called to agree that if I would accept service on his behalf they would agree to move the hearing to Chicago. We agreed. They did. We won. I believe the immigration judge who sat on the hearing in Chicago was a Blackhawk fan– not that that would have any impact on the result! Many of Probert’s legal struggles are accurately chronicled in his book. He writes in his book that I told him on one occasion that he was just too much trouble, too much heartache and for that reason I didn’t want him to call me anymore no matter what the problem, then headed for the door. He stopped me. We talked for hours. And I remained his advisor and his friend until his death. In retrospect, he wasn’t too much trouble. I’m glad he stopped me.
I like to think of Bob’s addiction problems as leading directly to the NHL establishing an effective Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Program. When Gil Stein was the President Of the NHL, he invited me to attend a conference in Toronto of invited parents of Toronto-area Players drafted into the NHL to speak about the need for a Drug and Alcohol policy. Among the parents who attended was Darryl Sittler who was then in management with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but also a parent of a son drafted that year into the NHL. I criticized the NHL’s total absence of any drug or alcohol policy. Interestingly, Sittler, despite his position in management, was vocal in his support of the need for policy to “protect our kids”.
The NHL claimed that it did have a policy, and, referred to it as a “zero tolerance” policy. Their policy briefly stated was that Players found to be abusing either drugs or alcohol would be banned for life. It left Players with no option of coming forward with a drug or alcohol problem, for fear of being suspended by the NHL for life—as was the case with Bob Probert when he was caught with drugs at the US border. I offered that night to draft an appropriate Drug and Alcohol policy and present it to the league. To my surprise, not long afterwards the NHL adopted the policy, almost verbatim.
If not for Probert’s drug and alcohol addictions and this invitation, I suspect that the NHL would have carried on for many years with its archaic and unrealistic philosophy that NHL players did not have the same problems as those in other professional sports. The NHL’s failure to have any policy of rehabilitation forced troubled, addicted Players to hide or deny problems of addiction. I suspect another driving force that led the NHL’s change of position on a Drug and Alcohol Policy was John Kordic’s death.
Not long after this conference, John Kordic, the tormented player of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montréal Canadiens, lost his life from a drug overdose. In a poignant and compelling book entitled, “The John Kordic Story” author Mark Zwolinski tells the story of how the NHL brass, like Dinosaurs and Neanderthals, chose to ignore drug problems in the NHL until those problems could not be hidden any longer. Representing Bob gave me a platform upon which to fuel change. Sadly, for John Kordic, that change came far too late.
Elton John would say Bob Probert’s candle burned out long before his legend ever did. His status as a tough guy was and is indeed legendary. His love of life, his sense of humor, and his devotion to his children, while much less known, only enhance that legendary status.