I have found the media silence deafening following the disclosure that the jersey of former Soo Greyhounds’ goalie, coach and NHL star John Vanbiesbrouck had disappeared from its hallowed place in the rafters of GFL Memorial Gardens.
After the barebones account by Sault Star sports writer Gordon Anderson on Jan. 4 that quoted team President Tim Lukenda as saying that Vanbiesbrouck’s Number One would remain retired but the jersey would no longer be visible to fans — nothing.
I had thought the media would be clamouring for the reason the jersey was taken down, especially since it had been there for so many years.
As it stands, we are left to suspect that it was because of an incident that occurred way back in March 2003.
Following a 6-1 loss to the Guelph Storm Vanbiesbrouck, who had become part owner and coach of the team after retiring from the NHL, used the “N” word in reference to team captain Trevor Daley, who is black.
When Daley heard about the comment, he immediately left the team but only for a brief period.
After coaching only one more game Vanbiesbrouck, his reputation in tatters, departed permanently, not only leaving his coaching job and the city behind but selling his stake in ownership as well. Part of the headline on Anderson’s story said “Hounds owner Tim Lukenda opens up about the Vanbiesbrouck banner removal.”
“Opening up” was hardly the case since his brief remarks gave no reason for the removal. “We aren’t trying to make a big deal of it, We just thought it was the right thing to do at this time,” Anderson reported Hounds owner Tim Lukenda as saying in an email to the Sault Star. “Basically, we want to make sure we are creating a welcoming environment for all of our guests, players, former players and families. The jersey #1 remains retired and will not be worn by any other Greyhound in the future.”
I attempted to find out a bit more, asking in an email to the team when Vanbiesbrouck’s jersey was retired and why was it taken down? Was there a complaint from the public or an organization? If so, what was the wording of the complaint?
From Gerry Liscumb Jr., director of public relations and hockey administration, I received the same basic information Anderson did.
“The Soo Greyhounds work hard to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all of our guests, players, former players and families. As part of our updating of the retired jerseys on display in our arena, we have decided to discontinue the display of this particular jersey in our rafters. The jersey # 1 remains retired and will not be worn by any other Greyhound in the future.”
Update retired jerseys? Probably one of the most ridiculous statements the Hounds could have made. I would think any updating would be by adding, not subtracting.
Along with questioning whether the Greyhound organization did this on its own or as the result of a complaint, I also wondered if it was maybe pushed by the OHL However, I doubt that since Lukenda is chairman of the league’s board of governors.
It is hard to believe that 20 years later political correctness would result in Vanbiesbrouch’s jersey being taken down but, absence an explanation from the only ones who know, the Greyhounds, what else are we to believe?
There is no doubt Vanbiesbrouck made a terrible mistake in using the racial slur in regard to Daley but does this negate everything he had done before and everything he has done since? Vanbiesbrouck played with the Hounds from 1980-81 to 1982-83, and followed that with 19 years in the NHL After retiring from the NHL in 2002 Vanbiesbrouck bought the Hounds along with his brother-in-law, Sam Biasucci, Dr. Lou Lukenda and a few others, Vanbiesbrouck took on the roles of coach and director of hockey operations.
In regard to the Daley incident, he admitted using the “N” word and apologized..
“I used the ‘N’ word instead of calling him Trevor,” he was quoted as saying. “I used it just not thinking. It’s a mistake and consequences have to be paid by me. I’ve embarrassed everybody and my family by this one comment. It’s not what they represent and it’s not what the Sault Greyhounds organization represents.”
The Greyhounds were fined $50,000 by the OHL because of Vanbiesbrouck’s remarks, the largest in league history. The previous largest fine was $10,000, levied against the London Knights in 2000 after interim coach Mark Hunter was suspended for the balance of the season for allegedly sending players out to fight.
After leaving the Greyhounds, Vanbiesbrouck worked with the Belle Tire elite youth hockey organization in Detroit, his hometown, spent some time as a hockey analyst/broadcaster and in 2013 was named general manager and director of hockey operations for the United States Hockey League’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. In 2018 USA Hockey hired him as its assistant director for hockey operations.
Some obviously believe Vanbiesbrouck still has some worth.
Although it is not known for sure, it seems Vanbiesbrouck’s jersey came down about the time in November Joe Thornton’s went up, joining Greyhound alumni Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis, Adam Foote and Craig Hartsburg.
I am also told Vanbiesbrouck’s name had been blacked out for a time before that.
Twenty years after the Daley incident I have to ask, how long does Vanbiesbrouck have to pay for it? Forever? Eric Mearow, Ronald Mitchell and Dylan Jocko, the three who beheaded Wesley Hallam, were free and clear in 12.
Simply put, I am convinced the Greyhounds made a mistake in removing Vanbiesbrouck’s jersey. Surely a man should not be defined in perpetuity by a wrongful and hurtful comment he made in a heated moment.
And where does forgiveness stand in all this? Shouldn’t it be taken into account? After all, nobody died.
Put the jersey back up where it belongs.