Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reading Wiz: Bob Probert's Story

Bob Probert fighting Darren Langdon. Photo via Wikipedia.

This entry was brought over from my new blog: One Hundred Books in 2013. It's pretty relevent here.

My new blog, The One Hundred Book Challenge, has been met with a small amount of praise from friends and family since my first post, where I discussed Batman: Battle for the Cowl. I'll admit that it was a peculiar way to kickoff a brand new blog, but it was the first book I finished in 2013. I couldn't wait long to jump into post number two, so I picked up a book I received for Christmas in 2011. Most people who know me know I have a passion for ice hockey. If you need any further proof, check out my other (more successful) blog, The Wizard of Osgood, over here. With the National Hockey League recently ending the 2012-13 lockout, I thought it was a good idea to jump back into talking about hockey. I had not posted anything on the blog since December and despite picking away at a little piece on how I felt about the lockout, I didn't know what to post.

As soon as there is hockey to watch, I'll be there to talk about what I see. In the meantime, I read Detroit Red Wing alumni Bob Probert's biography, Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge, written by Probie himself and Kirstie McLellan Day. Day helped Theoren Fleury write his biography a couple of years before and I found his book to be one of the most captivating manuscripts I have ever written. I was hoping Bob Probert's book would continue the positive trend of detailing day-to-day player life. It turned out to be a very different read with a very different result.

To summarize, Bob Probert's biography documents his personal struggle to remain alcohol and drug free during his NHL career straight through to his death in July 2010. His story, compared to Fleury's, is not nearly as dark but sheds light on a different kind of player than Fleury: an enforcer. Probert was one of the most dominant enforcers in NHL history during his career, competing in 238 career fights. His ability to evoke fear into the hearts of opposing players is well known. Here's arguably his best fight, coming against fellow enforcer, Marty McSorley in 1994:

Bob Probert wasn't just a tough guy, though. Probie was also a scorer and had hands that even the most skilled forwards in the NHL wished they had, especially at his size. Check this one out:

Probert was the kind of player every team wanted and every team hated to play against. He could score, he could grind you down, and when the going got tough and Steve Yzerman needed someone to watch his back, Bob Probert stepped up. He was a force at his best with the Red Wings. Unfortunately for Probie, his drug and alcohol related problems limited his true potential as a scorer and a star.

The most striking element of Probert's book was how honest he was about his repeated lapses into substance abuse. I wouldn't say I expected a luxurious cruise through his life and how exciting it was to be an NHL player, but the book largely focuses on his personal life, with hockey providing a background. Some of the key figures in his life, such as Steve Yzerman, Mark "Trees" Laforest, Petr Klima, Sheldon "Mo Melly" Kennedy, and Jim Devellano are all Red Wing alumni and ice hockey personalities who influence or participate in Probert's personal life. Despite hockey being his first passion, Probert's book reads like a confessional of his crimes and misbehavior. It's an unsettling read for those who are unfamiliar with the fast life of a hockey player, especially those who have no understanding of the personal struggles of men with lots of money and deeply seeded personal troubles.

The most disappointing thing about Tough Guy is its' ending. It has none. Probert passed away in 2010, with very little of the book covering his life from 2007 until his passing. His wife helped bring the book to conclusion but there's a considerable gap in his final years. It leaves the reader hoping for a positive ending to the personal journey Probert takes from substance abuse to recovery to relapse to recovery to relapse and possibly a final recovery. There is no satisfaction to the end of this book. There is no happy ending to Bob Probert's story as it is written in Tough Guy. It is a remarkably tragic, disappointing end to a life that can be seen as a cautionary tale to young hockey talent.

With all of the personal tragedy Probert dealt with in life, his passing provided something that may yet be a "happy" ending. In fall of 2010 Probert's family announced they would donate Bob's brain to the Sports Legacy Institute in order to study the effects of concussions on the brains of athletes. The following year, it was discovered that Bob's brain had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can cause people to show symptoms of dementia, memory loss, depression, or aggression. I know next to nothing about the subject, or Bob Probert's life beyond the pages of Tough Guy, so I believe it is best to leave the postulating to more educated people. What I do know is that Bob Probert cared very deeply for his family once it was created, and in the final pages of his book, he begins to show an understanding for the value of what he had in his family: a reason to live long and stay clean.

In conclusion, similarly to the first book I read, this one has a particular market that would have an interest in its subject. I would not recommend someone with no knowledge of hockey or the lives of professional athletes. This book is better left on the shelf for fans of the game, the Red Wings, Bob Probert, and young players who are on the cusp of hockey greatness. It isn't written particularly well, even for a biography, but it is from the heart, it's honest, and even though it doesn't really have and ending, it's a captivating read that will entertain its reader. My final grade for Book Two of One Hundred Books in 2013 is C.


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