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Athletes As Role Models

I remember as a 15 year old die hard Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan, one of my heroes was Toronto tough guy Brian “ Spinner” Spencer. He was as intimidating as anyone from his era of NHL fighters. He would drop the gloves with anyone who wanted to try him, and in his relatively short time with Toronto, and the National Hockey League, he carved out a space for himself. While with the blue and white, he helped make a somewhat placid team, a lot bolder because of his pugilistic prowess. Spencer was with the Leafs from 1969 till 1972, and was in the NHL until 1979. ( GP- 553, G- 80, A- 143, (-53 ) PIM- 634 )

Unfortunately, the Fort St. James, B.C. native led a tragic life. In his first season with the Leafs, Spencer’s father Roy, wanted to watch his son on a Hockey Night In Canada telecast, of a Toronto – Chicago game, where Brian was a scheduled intermission guest, in December of 1970. The game being shown in British Columbia was a Vancouver Canucks match. In a rage, his father drove a long way to the nearest CBC TV station, and demanded at gun point that they switch over to the Maple Leafs telecast. The RCMP responded, and Roy Spencer was shot dead. Within a week or two of that terrible event, Brian scored a hat trick against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Maple Leaf Gardens, also on Hockey Night In Canada, and the fans gave Spencer a standing ovation.

After the 1971-1972 season, he was picked in the expansion draft by the New York Islanders. After spending the duration of his career with the Islanders, Sabres, and Penguins, I didn’t hear much about him again, until I read about him being in prison in Florida in 1987, according to Wikipedia, on charges of kidnapping and murder, which were later dismissed by a jury in 1988. Former Leafs captain Dave Keon, was trying to help Spencer, and would visit with “Spinner” while he was incarcerated. Tragically, not long after he was freed from prison, he was shot and killed, allegedly in a drug deal, as detailed by Wikipedia.

Years later, when I was working at the Fan 590 as a talk show host, I got to know some of his former teammates in Toronto. The stories they conveyed to me about him as a family man were disturbing. It was hard for me to believe the terrible allegations about the tough guy, whose number 15 was on the first Leafs jersey that I purchased. As a fan of Toronto and Brian Spencer, I can still recall when he signed a hockey card for me, outside of Maple Leaf Gardens during training camp of 1971. I remember how thrilled I was when he opened the doors to his gold Cadillac with Oklahoma license plates, ( The Leafs had a farm team then in Tulsa.) and took the time to speak with me and my friend, who were hanging around, just hoping to get a glimpse of our hero. To a 15 year old, he looked like a 6’4” bodybuilder. No wonder he won so many fights. How sad it was for me, that the rest of his life never came close to matching the heroic image I first had of him.

I recall Spencer’s troubled life, being the first realization I had, that some of the people we admire, just like non celebrities, have their frailties, faults, and failings, some worse than others, as was the case with Spencer. Years later, I remembered hearing that one of the original members of the rock music icons, The Doors, advised that fans should admire the late Jim Morrison, legendary lead vocalist, for his music, while understanding that the there were undesirable aspects to his existence that should not be copied. Hopefully, parents give that same advice to their children about the current generation of heroes.

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