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A VLM reader with a touching memory of meeting Darryl Sittler more than 30 years ago- and a lasting life lesson for all of us

My "headline" today may not do justice to the story that I have enclosed here, but sometimes a story pulls us back from the proverbial “edge”, those times when we feel agitated, or perhaps a bit sorry for ourselves.  The “loss” of hockey for many of us can be one of those times (though goodness knows, we have all dealt with much more serious life issues than "no hockey") and it's evident that we won’t have Maple Leaf hockey for a while.

I thought it might be a good time, in the absence of true hockey “news” to bat around (other than a change in goaltending coaches for the Leafs),  to highlight a piece shared with me by one of the thoughtful posters here at VLM.  Regular follower InTimeFor62 (who was born just before the Leafs won the Cup in the spring of 1962) reflects on an encounter he had with then Leaf captain Darryl Sittler many years ago, when InTimeFor62 was just a teenager.

But the story is about more than a young “fan” meeting an idol.  It runs much deeper than that.  If you have a moment, read it through.  I’ve enclosed it here as a kind of open letter to the well-respected former Maple Leaf legend on behalf of InTimeFor62:

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An Open Apology to Darryl Sittler:
(And all players who have been hurt or exploited by fans)

During the past few months, it became apparent that VLM might be the perfect forum to right a wrong perpetrated by a young fan upon his favourite player.  The reason for that is, I did not previously know how (or where) to apologize anonymously (enter the internet age) without actually ‘using’ the same means of offense inherent in this offending story that would actually perpetuate the wrong, rather than make appropriate contact with Darryl in order to set things right. 

Therefore, I am putting this ‘out there’ on Vintage Leaf Memories in order to provide the opportunity for the one I wronged to know that I know what I did was not worthy of the response I was graciously afforded in the doing of the deed.  It was also important to me that I would not be placing Darryl in the same position as he already experienced in the unfolding of the story I’m about to tell … I was wrong then and do not want to compound the ‘felony.’ 


Darryl:  I extracted a meeting with you that, upon reflection, was entirely undeserved and presumptuous… on the other hand, when we met, you were full of grace toward me and acted as a consummate professional (both then and throughout your public life).

At the conclusion of this expression of repentance and remorse, I hope that the sentiment expressed will become known not only to Darryl, but might be appropriated by all the fine young athletes whose excellence and efforts in sports (and beyond) have opened them up to offenses (both great and small) from the very fans who so greatly admire you.   I hope that this small token will bring healing to those who have experienced such things and will give pause for thought to those who might consider avoiding the same mistake that I made.

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A fleeting roadside contact with a not yet overly famous Terry Fox is the initiating point of my story in June of 1980.  As I travelled through Quebec, some 200 km East of Montreal on a highway that would ultimately connect me to BC, I saw a young man (not much older than me) who ran (skipped and hopped) an excruciating Marathon of Hope daily in his quest to conquer a cancer that had taken most of his leg.

I was horrified to know that people could make life so difficult for anyone with such a dream.  Not only would ignorant naysayers complain about his presence on the highway (both verbally and with their horns), other absolutely morally deficient morons would even try to run him off the road.  I could identify with anyone who would try to rise above such inanities.  I was very much inspired by such a one as Terry Fox and was entirely thrilled when Darryl Sittler (likely my all-time favourite hockey player) revealed his heart and his support for Terry as he brought his own Hope into Toronto.

My story fast-forwards to late 1980 (or early ’81) when I was in University and working part-time with a co-worker who knew Terry’s family.  I learned of some aspect of his failing health (that was not particularly well-known in the media) just at the time that the Maple Leafs were visiting Vancouver to face the Canucks at the old Pacific Coliseum.  I was hoping to be cheered up by my first ever opportunity to watch the Leafs play live, but was also downcast over the news of Terry’s health - that topic truly was weighing upon my thoughts.  Strangely, I don’t even recall the result of the game (but believe that the Canucks were the victors).  After the game I went down to the level where the players were to be found.

A fleeting thought had occurred:  “What if Darryl (right) had not been told about Terry’s condition?”  It was na├»ve for me to think that, however, my thinking really only went that far, though I must acknowledge there was an underlying knowing and lack of ease in my demeanor about what I chose to do next.  I asked someone behind the barrier to let Darryl Sittler know that Terry Fox was not doing well, providing the key tidbit of which I was aware (initially thinking that he would then make contact himself).  However, I was asked to wait there as the man with whom I had spoken left.  It was at this very moment that I should have spoken, and with that silence came a guilty mind regarding what would soon transpire.  I anticipated… then experienced the man’s return with none other than Darryl Sittler.

The sense of genuine concern for Terry was written all over Darryl’s face as he approached and asked about Terry’s health (having reason to believe that I was actually an emissary from Terry’s family).  Given that I had little more to add to what I had said before, I felt overwhelmingly like one who has misrepresented himself only to gratify his own desire to meet his childhood hero. 

Despite the fact that I was initially excited to meet Darryl Sittler face to face, nothing has ever diminished my sense of regret regarding the look in his eyes when he realized that I was simply a fan (with a common concern that opened a door) rather than a bearer of news deserving of his special heart-felt attention.

Notwithstanding the displeasure that he must have felt, Darryl Sittler (ever the gracious and professional individual), stayed a short while in order to interact respecting Terry Fox (expressing his genuine concern for the young man) and, all the while, demonstrated his statesmanlike proficiency as an ambassador for the game (and his good name) that we all appreciated for many glorious seasons (and whenever he has been in the public eye since).

I was probably 18 at the time, and have never forgotten the feeling that I had disappointed the one player I had always hoped to know… the player to whom I wished to express a depth of gratitude for the joys that he had given me throughout my youth.  A man who I greatly respected was actually diminished by my inability to realize that maybe, deep down, in some small way, I was actually using the information about Terry, hoping that I could meet someone who meant so much to me.

I still feel regret over this incident being the means by which I came to meet Darryl Sittler, and I wish to express my own deep and humble apology to this classy man and great hockey player, whose performances alone should have been his sufficient gift to me (and to all of us). 


As I have grown in years and maturity, I realize that I was quite young at the time, but this does not excuse any young reader who hears my story that might consider his/her own misguided attempts to meet their sports heroes by questionable means.  Take a pause and realize that you will regret your actions OR, worse, you will probably begin to change into someone who cares little for others – not giving consideration to the impact that you are making upon that life.  Let us not take something from the very ones we love and respect!

You may say to me, “That’s fine for you to say, you actually met Darryl Sittler” and you would be right about meeting the man, however, it was not worth it, because I do not have a lasting relationship with the man, only a lasting regret.  Every time I see his 10-point night on video (or some clip of his play on YouTube); Every time I see him on Hockey Night in Canada, or on some broadcast or article; Every time I see his name, I think of this wrong I did to the man.

To Darryl Sittler and all others whose life force is/has been drained by the very people who say they love and appreciate you… perhaps we have (or one day) will grow in love and grace because of your patient and gracious response - though it is unlikely that we will ever know what has happened in the lives of our heroes as a result of our actions. 

To each of you, I say I am sincerely sorry for our actions toward you; for the callous and unthinking, selfish things that we have done to hurt you. 

I hope this will act as a healing balm for the hidden things that have been taken away from you and who you are.  Be restored and energized in the knowledge that your efforts are not in vain.  And, if one of you has been curt with any of us (as a result of our selfish ways or your own particular burdens), don’t ‘beat yourself up,’ just know that there is always another opportunity to have a lasting positive impact on our lives.  Perhaps this is the only knowledge of your reward that you will ever know in this lifetime! 

For your love of the game and your life lived as a positive role model - I salute you!  Especially you, Darryl Sittler!
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At my 20-year high school reunion, I was approached by a classmate I knew since I was 10.  He went out of his way to apologize for wrongs done to me during our school years.  I cannot tell you how healing that was for me.  He ‘stood in’ for the many and healed much.  It is my hope that I might ‘stand in’ for others who have wronged you and become an agent of healing in your life; a single anonymous fan who apologizes anonymously.

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A word from multiple life experiences to other fans, young and old alike:  If ever you happen to meet your heroes from any walk of life, let it be natural.  Do not idolize these people… most really don’t want that kind of attention (and if they do, you’ll soon know)… just be real and, even if you let them know what you appreciate about them, be sure to ask them what they like to talk about.  Get to know them (even just a little bit), you’ll be amazed how much more enjoyable that can be for everyone!
A special word of gratitude for Michael – your blog is an oasis of respect and reason in a desert of harsh and often disturbing internet opinion.  Thank you for your willingness to provide this unique opportunity for me to ‘set right’ a wrong and clear my conscience in an honourable manner.

Sincerely,
InTimeFor62

**

There’s a lot of food for thought there.  Thanks to InTimeFor62 for sharing his story today.  If you have any reflections, by all means send them them along.



4 comments:

  1. I would say Intimefor62, you are being unduly hard on yourself.While you make a good point about seeing athletes/celebrities as people as opposed to idols, please forgive yourself the exuberance of youth. I am sure Darryl appreciated being informed about Terry's condition while he was in the area...so my opinion is at the very least you performed a service in that regard.

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  2. Thanks Sean....that was my thought as well, that InTimeFor62 was being awfully hard on himself! But a very nice story....

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  3. I appreciate your kind words Sean and Michael.

    In most respects I have forgiven myself the exuberance of youth whenever I think on the matter… what has been missing is the opportunity for a sense of possible conciliation that can only happen if the one harmed receives the apology.

    This incident was a grain of sand irritating the oyster of my life, as a result of which, I hope a pearl has developed that may be of benefit to others. I have attempted to expand the scope of my action in this writing (without exaggerating its proper perception) in order to bring healing to a broader field of injuries amongst readers (and athletes alike). It is my hope that the insights are generic enough to help others who have been injured in greater ways than the actual harm I caused.

    When I spoke of the potential for a hardness developing (i.e. ‘caring little for others’) in the hearts of people who might justify themselves (in order to get what we want), I was observing the impact of my own actions with Darryl upon another event some 5 years later. I gave myself ‘permission’ to meet a singer (Cliff Richard) at a show in London, so that I could ostensibly ‘help my sister’s singing career.’ This second time, my actions were quite intentional (and successful), but I only had to sell out the truth in order to get what I wanted. Cliff, too, was very kind (though his agent/buffer was obviously displeased). It was following this incident that I fully turned in the other direction, so that I could remain true to myself and the standards I hold dear: Standards that I would always hope might be in the hearts of those who would deal honourably with me.

    I am thankful for this ‘anonymous’ opportunity to send out an apology and to recognize the small role I played in diminishing a fine man’s appreciation for his fans.

    I realize that the weight of a million feathers is enough to bog down the life of the anyone living under that burden - I am hoping to ‘blow them away’ (and remind players why they play in the process - and it's not about being recompensed for the burdens we put on them - it's for love of the game!).

    Perhaps it is too large a goal or hope, but significant and positive transformations of any culture can only be accomplished when unreasonable goals are first identified!

    Deep down, my most practical hope, is that Darryl will one day find this post and be able to read and accept my apology in the comfort of his own heart and mind. I hope what I've shared will help to heal from wrongs done to him as a result - I don't expect to know, but I hope and believe it CAN happen now. This opportunity lets me fully release an old error, by doing what I perceive to be the right thing in this case.

    I hope it will do the same for Darryl and others.

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  4. I, too, hope that somehow Sittler will come across this post, so your thoughts will reach him.

    What you have so beautifully expressed here does indeed go beyond your own personal "story", and speaks to something that can reach a lot of people.

    Thank you for sharing it, InTimeFor62.

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