Georges Laraque, Penguins Forward, 2007-2008
First, can you let readers know what inspired you to write your new book, Georges Laraque, The Story of The NHL’s Unlikeliest Tough Guy?
When I was a kid I went through a lot of racism. I thought of quitting and read the biography of Jackie Robinson – a guy who went through the same obstacles I did and that really inspired me. I knew sharing my experiences could help kids overcome their obstacles too.
How did you overcome those experiences?
Same as Jackie Robinson. I used the racial slurs as motivation – fuel for proving them wrong. There were too many people to get mad at. Instead of getting mad at everyone, I used the slurs as my determination to show that they were wrong. I would not let them shut me down.
How has the NHL dealt with racial issues and diversity – are they doing a good enough job in your opinion?
In my career I only had one incident – the one with Sean Avery. The diversity task force in the NHL does a good job in promoting diversity.
It was in the minors that I experienced racism. But the NHL does a really good job. They have programs like the one in New York to get Black people involved. There are NHL players from all over the world – teams just want the best players, they don’t care what color they are.
You also touch on the issue of steroids in hockey. What are your thoughts on drug testing?
The league has done a lot with drug testing, but the current testing isn’t good enough. You need blood testing like they do in the Olympics. You need to be able to test for all drugs – that way you can learn if guys are suffering from the drugs they take. The effects, like depression, can be helped.
Three players passed away last year from the effects of drugs. Those could have been prevented with blood tests that could have revealed the presence of those drugs. Other than a moment of silence, what have we done to prevent more casualties?
We can protect more tragedies like these – it would help the players. We need to come up with a solution. People already forgot.
You were known as an enforcer more than as a well-rounded player. Did that bother you?
I always worked hard. If you got to know me you would know me as more than a fighter. Fighting didn’t define me as a human being. Some saw a big Black man and assumed I was a fighter, sure. – but really, no one except a few I talk about in the book really like fighting.
I was really fortunate to have thirteen years in the NHL. I averaged nine minutes in the playoffs. I was never going to have Crosby’s point totals but I always took pride that I was in the top three in points for tough guys when I played. I was more than just a fighter.
You were traded to Pittsburgh from Phoenix. How did that occur – was it something you were happy with?
I wanted to be traded. Phoenix was out of the playoffs and I wanted a chance to be in the playoffs. I fell in love with the Pittsburgh community fast. Ask Frank Bohannon – the Penguins PR guy – I went into his office every day with a schedule of places to go for charity work. Pittsburgh had some tough neighborhoods with kids that needed help.
I loved Pittsburgh – the people are unbelievable. The team, the fans…it was unreal. They are blue-collar worker guys like the tough guys in hockey.
You left after a year-and-a-half – how difficult was that for you?
The year I left we lost the Stanley Cup in game six to Detroit. Sid wanted me to stay – said if I returned he guaranteed we’d win the cup within three years. I said sure, ok (laughing).
It was tough. I was talking with Ray Shero who I respect very much,. But the team had cap issues – it had to keep it’s core players like Crosby, Staal and Malkin. They could only afford $750,000 for a tough guy, which is why they went and got Godard.
Tough guys have shorter times in the NHL. If I’m making $10 million and go down to $6 million, who cares. But going from $1.5 million to $750,000 – I couldn’t take that pay cut. I almost did anyway but went to Montreal. Of course they won the cup the next season!
You’re a busy guy. Politics (Canada’s Green Party), charity, hockey, the book….what drives you?
I am fortunate to have played in the NHL and to have this life. Hockey exists because of the fans – we can play hockey for a living because of them. It’s our duty to show our appreciation. They work 9-5 and money is tight but they still come out and pay to see us.
If we can get kids to smile – there’s no medication that can do that. There are so many things we can do to touch lives. Hockey is just a sport – it doesn’t change lives. When you retire, people don’t care about your play. What you did for the community and kids – making a difference is what matters. Whatever status you are in life, you need to be involved.
How much did the fact your parents were born in Haiti and the tragedy there affect the way you live your life?
I am lucky to be alive – I could have easily still been there. God had a role for me. A bigger role than hockey. Hockey is the stage to help me impact the world.
I’ve been to Haiti four times. I also went to Tanzania for charity too – to help raise money to prevent suicides here in Montreal. Being in Haiti was shocking – seeing how the kids are living….
Any last thoughts for readers?
The book talks about motivating kids – anyone who has a dream. Any dream is possible not matter what you think the percentage is of succeeding. There’s always a chance. In the book, I talk about kids raised in violence. It’s chain, they say. Well I am a twin and I broke the chain.
I also in the book talk about my time in Pittsburgh, Montreal, animal rights, politics, gay rights, meeting with the Dalai Lama and more. It’s accessible to hockey and non-hockey fans.
I think it’s a book that will inspire anyone.
Where can readers purchase the book?
They can go to my website at http://www.georgeslaraque.com/