Patrick Kane: A “Regular” Kid?

Who knows whether Patrick Kane is guilty of beating a cabbie in Buffalo or not? Certainly, the facts are not in on this particular case – and it would be premature to assess or dismiss blame. But, in reading about the incident, one phrase simply leapt off the page at me – the phrase was “regular kid.”

On Thursday, before the alleged beating, Patrick Kane was talking about how happy he was to hang out back home in Buffalo. He noted, “The best thing about it is my friends treat me like I'm a regular kid. They don't treat me like a celebrity or whatever they might treat me like in Chicago.” Later, Patrick Kane’s lawyer (Andrew LoTempio) told media: “It's a regular-kid incident, I think. I think part of the reason it may have escalated after the fact was because of who he is.”

That’s scary. When even being close to a beating or robbery is “regular kid” stuff, life is messed up. Furthermore, Patrick Kane’s comment about liking to be a “regular kid” shows how deeply affected the lives of these young hockey players can be. And, I would assume that the lives of other young athletes who suddenly rise to stardom and experience the new-found status and lifestyle that go with stardom are also not “regular kid” things! I feel sorry for all these rich, young guys.

“Regular kid” things are asking Mom to borrow the car, then being sent to Dad to ask again.

“Regular kid” things are “forgetting” to do your homework or study for a test at university.

“Regular kid” things are to be torn between going out when your girlfriend decides, or watching the hockey game at your friend’s house.

Just the other day, a friend told me a story about Ryan Smyth and Kelly Buchberger (who is from Langenburg, Saskatchewan). Smyth, then a young man, had just signed his first contract with the Oilers (and received about a $1 million bonus) and was taken out to lunch in Moose Jaw.

When the bill came, Smyth paid his portion of the bill but declined to pay the entire bill – perhaps another $50. Buchberger took Smyth aside and “mentored him” about his fortunate (notice the root word “fortune”) new status and the responsibilities that went with it. It is obvious that the lucky Smyth paid attention.

One point of this story is that, for these “regular kids,” one day you are a young guy for whom $50 is a fortune, and the next day you are a millionaire. It must be horribly confusing and difficult – especially when you are so very young and, because you have done so little on your own except play hockey, not yet mature in your thinking. Add to that making a living daily in a sport where solving issues literally means beating on someone, and where for punishment you receive an entire five-minute penalty before it is back to business as usual.

And we wonder why there is some immaturity? And we wonder why Dany Heatley seems like a prima donna? I suppose it is easy to sit back and judge, and say, “This would never happen to me. I would be smarter.” Sadly, others have said this, too, and been wrong. The list of young athletes of all sports who are virtually penniless after making millions of dollars is staggering.
Michael Vick, just released from prison and now attempting to find any team to play for in the NFL, was the #1 overall pick NFL Draft and a three-time Pro Bowl QB for the Atlanta Falcons whose estimated lifetime earnings are more than $130 million. At one time, Vick was one of the 10 richest athletes in the world, and on the Forbes 100 list of all people. He has filed for bankruptcy and his homes for sale.

Latrell Sprewell was a four-time NBA All Star with an estimated lifetime earnings $50 million. He turned down the Timberwolves’ $21 million offer to extend his contract for three years because, as he said, “I've got to feed my family.” Within three years, Sprewell’s yacht was repossessed, he defaulted on a $1.5 million mortgage, lost his home to foreclosure, stopped paying his bills, and defaulted on a $10 million home loan. He is not alone. In 2008, the NBA players association released a statement that almost 60% of former NBA players file for bankruptcy five years into retirement.

Finally, Darren McCarty, a former Stanley Cup winner and is now a Detroit Red Wings player – or rather spent more time in 2008-9 with the Grand Rapids Griffins. McCarty’s estimated lifetime earnings were over $12 million, but he declared bankruptcy and listed over $6 million in debts. His business partner looted their company, and he owned 20% of a company with one asset – a truck stop. McCarty’s partner – probably once a great friend – took out a $3 million dollar loan and forged McCarty’s signature for $650,000.

All this put together suggests that the dreams of young men to play hockey and get rich can turn into nightmares. It might not be so bad, after all, to just be a “regular kid.”


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