Yesterday’s Washington Post had a front page story about Washington Capitals hockey player Donald Brashear.
I don’t follow hockey like I do football but I was curious about Donald Brashear. The only black hockey player I was ever familiar with was Grant Fuhr. Brashear has a reputation in the league for being a fighter. Right now the Washington Capitals are in the second round of the NHL playoffs and Brashear was suspended for six games after encounters with a couple of players from the New York Rangers during a first round playoff game. By the way the Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday 3-2.
By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Outside the Washington Capitals locker room, the most feared fighter in the National Hockey League stared at a sealed envelope that had just been handed to him by a reporter. On the front, in neat, cursive writing, a relative whom Donald Brashear has not seen for 18 years, had written simply, “Donald.” Brashear clutched the envelope in his swollen left hand, the hand he has shaped into the cudgel of a fist in 223 fights over 15 violent seasons in the NHL. He thought hard about opening it, whether he wanted to peel back the layers of his past, because, he said, “there are some things I don’t want to know, some doors I don’t want to open.”
When the Capitals step onto the ice at Verizon Center this afternoon for the first game of their second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Brashear will not be skating with them. In a first-round game against the New York Rangers, Brashear caught an unsuspecting Rangers forward in the face with his forearm, sending him crashing to the ice and breaking an orbital bone. The blow, and an encounter with another Rangers player before the contest, earned Brashear a six-game suspension.
For fans of professional hockey in North America, he is an imposing 6-foot-3, 235-pound forward, one of the sport’s most recognizable enforcers, a black man playing a predominantly white man’s sport whose skating and stick skills have been dwarfed by his ability to pummel opponents with his fists.
Donald Brashear didn’t have the best childhood. His father was an alcoholic and beat Donald with belts and electrical cords and he wasn’t treated well by his stepfather. His mother eventually placed Donald in the foster care system.
Nicole Gauthier backed her black Saturn out of the parking space behind a working-class brick apartment complex in Candiac, Quebec, which sits on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River about 20 minutes from Montreal. She was going to visit a friend when a reporter from Washington told her he had come to talk to her about the son she had not seen since he was 19.
“We’re dead to Donald. He doesn’t want any contact with us,” she said, idling the vehicle and taking a drag from her cigarette.
She met Donald’s father in 1967 when he was on weekend leave from the U.S. Air Force radar station in St. Albans, Vt., less than 20 miles from the Canadian border. Johnny Brashear was 22, already in the throes of alcohol addiction, and she was 19, a hardened product of Quebec’s foster-care system, when she became pregnant. They moved to Bedford, Ind., about 75 miles south of Indianapolis, to be married. By the age of 24, she had given birth to three children — Lorraine, Johnny Jr. and Donald, the baby.
“He was a beautiful child,” Gauthier said. “He had an innocence about him.”
Johnny drank to get drunk, building up enough tolerance so he could down a pint of Seagram’s VO Canadian whiskey in three swallows. He would lose money at cards and come home angry and hungry, telling his wife to make him something to eat.
“If I rubbed my eyes to wake up, he’d grab me by the hair and pull me out of bed saying, ‘I mean now!’ ” Gauthier said. “He’d say, ‘Shut the baby up.’ If Donald didn’t stop crying, his dad would grab him by the arm and throw him across the room. He was 6 months old when that happened.”
He whipped Donald with belts and electrical cords and whatever else he could find during drunken rages that left welts and bruises all over the little boy’s body.
Gauthier finally left Donald’s father, hitchhiking back to Canada in the middle of the night after he had beaten her three nights in a row. “I believed I was going to die or have a nervous breakdown,” she said.
He would not rejoin his mother in Canada for another four years, when he would move to Loretteville, a small, middle-class town in central Quebec, to a brick house with windows poking through the roof. There he was reunited with Jay and Lorraine, and he would meet his half-brother, Danny, the first child Nicole had with Gerard Roy, her new husband.
Gauthier said she had left Donald with his father because Roy was “prejudiced” and did not want another biracial child in his household. Roy had earlier tried to persuade her to give up Lorraine and Jay to social services, she said. Danny Roy recalled a visit one time to Gerard’s mother when she would not let his three half-siblings use her bathroom. “She took all three of them outside and made them go out there,” Danny said.
One of the interesting things I learned from this article is that Donald Brashear is related to Carl Brashear, the first black master diver in the U.S. Navy.
Johnny’s late uncle — Donald’s great uncle — was Carl Brashear, the first black master diver in the U.S. Navy. He was played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 2000 film “Men of Honor.” Johnny still hands visitors a pamphlet celebrating Carl’s life.