As the collective euphoria about the Rangers hot start lingers on, there is one topic upon which Ranger fans still seem divided. That topic is the presence of one Donald Brashear. Some have readily embraced him as one of their own, while others have not, vowing they never will. Donald Brashear is not the first former antagonist to join the boys in blue. While others have gone from villain to hero seamlessly (Ulf Samuelsson comes to mind) Brashear has not. Perhaps the freshness of the Betts hit will be too much to overcome. Perhaps Brashear simply does not have the personality to be a hit in New York. Appearing aloof, he rarely gives fans a glimpse beneath the surface. A closer look at the man is revealing.
For more than 15 years Donald Brashear has led the violent life of a NHL enforcer. Known more as a fighter than a skater or scorer, Donald’s ability with his fists has never been questioned and is what put him in the NHL. What leads someone to live such a violent life? For Donald Brashear the road was long and hard.
The third child of a biracial couple, Donald began life in Bedford, Indiana. His mother Nicole, who had led her own hard life, was a product of the Quebec foster-care system. His father Johnny, a violently abusive alcoholic, would beat them both. In a scene that happened far to often, Johnny would come home drunk and angry shouting for Donald’s mother to feed him. "If I rubbed my eyes to wake up, he’d grab me by the hair and pull my out of bed saying, ‘I mean now!’ " Nicole would say. "He’d say, ‘Shut the baby up.’ If Donald didn’t stop crying, his dad would grab him by the arm and throw him across the room, He was 6 months old when that happened." Donald would receive repeated beatings from his father who would whip him with electrical cords and whatever else he could find, leaving welts and bruises all over the boy. Then, after Nicole received three consecutive beatings of her own, fearing for her life she would leave, hitchhiking her way back to Canada.
Nicole, now remarried in Quebec, would eventually return to Indiana to collect the two older siblings. However she would leave Donald, now without his brother and sister, with his father. What would cause a mother to leave her youngest child, now 18 months old, with an abusive father? The answer would come 4 years later when Donald would finally rejoin his Mother. Nicole’s new husband Gerard Roy was a man she would describe as "prejudiced" who did not want another biracial child in the family(a charge Roy denies). Donald’s new stepbrother Danny would recall a time when visiting his grandmother that Donald and his siblings, being biracial, were not permitted to use the bathroom and were forced to go outside.
At home all the children slept together in the same room except for Donald. Because of a bed-wetting problem he was isolated in a small, dark room across the hall. Donald’s stepfather would sometimes force Donald to sleep with a plastic bag tied around his waist as a solution to the bed-wetting. Danny would later say, "All you could hear was the garbage bag crinkling and Donald crying all night. I hear him crying still in my head. I kept thinking how hot and scared he must have been in there. He must have been 7, I guess. It still haunts me."
Donald’s mother would eventually give him up again, sending him into the same foster care system from which she came. Donald was 7 years old and now refused to recognize Nicole as his mother and really still doesn’t. He would briefly live in two foster homes before eventually moving to a third where Donald would say, "life really started for me." This is where Donald discovered hockey. He had to learn to skate at the age of 8, quite late for an aspiring player. Donald worked hard at his new sport and worked equally as hard at odd jobs to earn enough to continue to play.
Brashear progressed quickly in the game once scoring 38 goals and 66 points in 62 games. But when Donald dropped his gloves for the first time he was forever to be viewed as a fighter. Donald would say, "To tell you the truth, I never liked fighting. I always wanted to be the type of player that plays hard, hits, body checks and scores some goals. But that’s not what they wanted me to be." His ability to fight became widely known and he was continually challenged by players looking to make a name for themselves.
Today Donald has absolutely no contact with his family, unable to reconcile because of what happened to him as a child. His mother would say, "We’re dead to Donald. He doesn’t want any contact with us." Donald’s "family" all these years have largely been his teammates. Perhaps we can now understand why he goes to such lengths to protect them. Brashear says, "Somewhere, inside, there’s a little part of me, maybe 1 out of 100 percent, that I know I have my real parents. I didn’t live with them. I didn’t grow up with them. But somewhere I would like to have my own family. I didn’t have the family I wanted to have growing up. And that’s all I wanted."
Brashear was mistreated by his father and stepfather, and abandoned twice by his mother. The road that led Donald to New York was long, painful and hard. But maybe, ... just maybe, he has finally come home. Donald is now part of a new family - the Rangers family. Being a part of this "family" has always had a different, deeper meaning than with other teams. The Ranger faithful embrace their team in a way that is unique to New York and lasts long after a player’s career. "Once a Ranger always a Ranger."
Donald Brashear overcame incredible obstacles to succeed as a professional athlete. It is a story to which New York fans should strongly connect - and he is now a Ranger. Hopefully Ranger fans will show Donald what that really means, and how deep Ranger Blue really runs. After all, "Once a Ranger always a Ranger. "
Welcome home Donald. Peace.
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- The bulk of the source material for this piece was borrowed (heavily) from the great article by Matt Wise of the Washington Post. Read Matt’s full article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/01/AR2009050104147.html
Other Items of Interest:
- Donald’s great uncle was Carl Brashear, the first black master diver in U.S. Naval history. He was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 2000 film "Men of Honor"
- Mike Wise also did an interesting little video on Brashear making an appearance at a local DC rink http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2009/04/23/VI2009042302681.html?sid=ST2009050104383
- Brashear suffered a grade 3 concussion when he was struck in the head by the stick of Marty Mc Sorley in what some consider one of the worst acts of violence in NHL history. Mc Sorley was found guilty of Assault with a Weapon and never played another game. Brashear states he still has no memory of the incident. See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnP18StCoHA