July 6, 2010, - 12:14 am

Bob Probert, RIP: Tragic Pro Athlete Life Spans Races, Sports

By Debbie Schlussel

The big story around Detroit and throughout the sports world–today–is the “untimely” death of Bob Probert, the former NHL enforcer.  If you are a hockey fan, as I am, you will remember Probert as the ’80s and ’90s enforcer, the fighter–one of those who made hockey exciting for the brawls for which it was once known as opposed to the boring kabuki dance of male ballet it has become.  His on-ice brawls and fights make up at least four hours of footage on two DVDs.  And his death is sad news.

bobprobert

Bob Probert, RIP

But I disagree with press descriptions of Probert’s death as “untimely.”  When you consume hard drugs like candy and constantly abuse your body, you are risking your life then and at all points in the future.  Eventually, your body gives out.  Probert’s story is not all that different from the much-pressified failed Black athletes in the NBA and NFL–proof that pro athletes who waste their lives and fortunes on drugs, excess, and immature behavior span the races and all major league sports (if you can still call the NHL “major”).  His own father died of a heart attack at 41, so perhaps it is hereditary.  But I doubt it.

Over the years, I occasionally saw Probert work out at the gym I go to.  He seemed like a nice guy.  But there is a reason a healthy 45-year-old man collapses of an alleged heart attack, the speculated cause of Probert’s death this afternoon while relaxing on a holiday weekend boat excursion.  Years of cocaine use, excessive drinking, and refusing to grow up despite having fathered four children who did not choose this–it takes its toll.  I am sad for him and his family that he died.  Even though I am no medical expert, it appears this was no freak collapse, but the culmination of a life lived in the way he lived it.

Even when he was a big NHL star, for a long time Probert couldn’t go to Canada  for NHL games, or he would have been deported from the U.S. after being caught trying to smuggle cocaine into Detroit from Windsor.  He also drove his motorcycle in suburban Detroit while drunk and crashed.  While his fights on the ice were exciting, his life off of it was a little too exciting.  And not in a good way.  And it wasn’t just the coke and drinking.

After his hockey days were over, I rooted for Probert, as he tried to make a go of it as a businessman, investing in and opening a local Greek restaurant, “Little Daddy’s.”  His other hockey partner in the restaurant has had a similarly tragic existence.  Darren McCarty wasted his fortune, filed for bankruptcy, and had a bizarre, short-lived marriage in Canada.  Their restaurant still exists, but long ago, they cased to be part owners or employees.  They just couldn’t participate in the humdrum regular rigors of working-class life, away from the glare and minus the headlines.

And so it went that Probert returned to the headlines again in 2004 and 2005 in three run-ins with the law–including attacking a police officer and having to be tasered in another incident after assaulting witnesses and bystanders over drugs (after he drove and parked his BMW the wrong way).  This was at a time when three of his four kids were aged 4, 4, and 7.  Yes, we remember these things because they were in the news . . . constantly.  It could be that, off the front pages, he was a fine and loving family man.  But the stories say otherwise.  It appears he put himself before them, at least at that time.

Some people say that Probert was turning his life around.  And perhaps he was.  We’ll never know, and only his closest friends and family knew for sure.  But that wasn’t the case as recently as five years ago.  And one of the people who was allegedly on the boat with him today is a man who attended a past Fourth of July party, which I quickly  left because the man was smoking up a storm of pot.

May G-d rest Bob Probert’s soul.  I’m sure it is of little solace to those who loved him that  his demons will no longer haunt  him.  I pray for his family.  And I remember the entertaining hockey fights he provided us in the ’80s and early ’90s when hockey was exciting.  He was a big part of why it was exciting.

Bob Probert’s tragic story is a lesson for us all:  drug and alcohol abuse affect you forever.  And their tragic consequences aren’t just reserved for the pro athletes who grew up in the welfare-ridden killing fields of America . . . but also the white bread working-class environs of Canada.  And everyone else who refuses to turn away from this lifestyle.

If you don’t grow up for your own kids, you may not live to see them grow up.  It is truly tragic that this is the case for Bob Probert, regardless of whether–in the last five years–he did turn things around.

Bob Probert, Rest In Peace.

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17 Responses

Even when he was a big NHL star, for a long time Probert couldn’t go to Canada for NHL games, or he would have been deported from the U.S. after being caught trying to smuggle cocaine into Detroit from Windsor.
I don’t understand. Was he a Canadian? Why wasn’t he charged with the drug smuggling and then either convicted or acquitted?
Was he told “If you go back to Canada, we won’t let you into the U.S.?

If you don’t grow up for your own kids, you may not live to see them grow up. Oh, how heart breakingly true.

Miranda Rose Smith on July 6, 2010 at 2:16 am

I find hockey fights infantile. As an old fighter, I think them really stupid. If the sport can not live without them. then it should die.

pat on July 6, 2010 at 2:29 am

Their restaurant still exists, but long ago, they ceased to be part owners or employees. If they cased it, that would mean they were planning to burgle their own joint.

Miranda Rose Smith on July 6, 2010 at 3:20 am

I’ve never been interested in hard drugs and alcohol. I remember as a teen, the kind of illicit activities that would interest other boys, I was never attracted to. And I have never smoked either. If you take of yourself, G-d will bless you for it and give you a long life. If you drink and abuse your body with drugs, you’re headed to an early grave. That is what happened to Bob Probert.

I wouldn’t wish what happened to him to happen to any one else. May he RIP.

NormanF on July 6, 2010 at 5:20 am

This is a sad day. But perhaps he lived the way he wanted to live…..fast, fun and short. It is unfortunate for his children that they don’;t get to share the great events of life with him. But hopefully he made some nice memories with them that they will be able to cherish and reflect on in a loving way.

Musiccgirl on July 6, 2010 at 8:15 am

NHL violence in the 70′s was a little much and the WHA was able to steal a peice of the NHL’s pie because of it. Bob Probert and Curt Bennett were probably the most dangerous fighters the NHL ever witnessed. Probert because he was trained as a boxer, and Bennett because, during his playing days, was a brown belt in Judo. While I am no longer enamored with sports violence, I have to say there was something about going to an NHL game as a kid knowing that anything could happen that night. Even in today’s watered down version of professional hockey, there is nothing in team sports like an NHL playoff game.

Barry on July 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

Probert had an ability to score goals in his early days. Don Cherry was a big fan. Don Cherry is one of 2 CBC people I like. The other was Rex Murphy who defended Isreal about Gaza blockade runner.

madman on July 6, 2010 at 9:27 am

Yeah, he was exciting and lived life hard and fast. I have to agree with you that he seemed to not grow up and to the detriment of his family. I always look at that kind of situation as the person was too selfish to turn his life around. I have to admit to renting the hockey fights and watching them on youtube as well. I barely watch hockey now.

samurai on July 6, 2010 at 10:07 am

This hits home for me today, as it’s my 44th today and I grew up in Windsor following Probie’s career. I met him once at the once annual, “Gregoon” bash at the Roostertail in ’88. He was a quite and polite man as also my mother informed me when she sold him a sweater. He even tried to tip her. Getting back to why this tragedy hits home for me. As like Bob, I too abused alcohol for too long and went to the same rehab as him where he gave back and can understand the obsession and wake of destruction wrought fourth. I give my condolences and hope for the best for his family. RIP Probie.

tov klein on July 6, 2010 at 10:12 am

Great article Debbie,RIP #24…..

Chiefscotty24 on July 6, 2010 at 11:06 am

Live fast, die young, and, in his case, leave a scarred, beat-up body. Too many athletes beieve this is the way to go.

WilliamMunny on July 6, 2010 at 11:42 am

I am sorry for his family that Bob Probert has died, but I really do not believe the short-sightedness of some who have been writing about Probert (not in these posts but elsewhere on the net.). Many have been describing him as someone who protected his team and would take no crap from anyone. Excuse me?? He brought a dump truck full of crap with him to every game and pushed it around all night with a front loader. He did not protect his team, caused other teams to find guys like Todd Ewen and Marty McSorley so tha their players could be protected. Again, I am truly sorry for this guys family, but it is not a tragedy for hockey. He was hockey’s real king thug ( a crown now worn by Todd Bertuzzi).

Rob on July 6, 2010 at 2:36 pm

He was like a Shark when he drifted up and down his wing. He never picked on little guys (except a goalie once in a while just to keep himself interested)and knew when his opponent was done and never took any cheap shots. He accepted any challenge anyone offered even when he was getting on in years and some rookie wanted to “try” and make a name for himself on Probert’s reputation. Had some quick hands in front of the net and a nice wrist shot. It is to bad he could never win the battles against his own “inner demons”. I hope he was able to provide for his family left his family. We should remember the best times but also only be reminded by his problems of what can happen when you make bad decisions.

Lancaster on July 6, 2010 at 4:41 pm

He was a childhood friend of my brothers. He went to the same elementary school and lived a few blocks away. We have pictures of him at my brother’s birthday parties. My mom tells a funny story about how he came home with my brother one day and my brother introduced him to her by saying “this is Bob mom. One day he is going to play in the NHL”. I had remembered that his dad died young. I think his death was definitely something hereditary. It’s very sad.

Karen on July 6, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Growing up in the Philly-area where the Broad St Bullies were legendary, I remember Bob Probert as a rough dude. It’s ashame for his family.

patrick on July 6, 2010 at 8:48 pm

I personally knew (at least) 3 cocaine users that died from heart failure. It can happen years after quitting, as the heart is damaged from the abuse.

I’m not a fan of hockey, one reason being “enforcers” & fights.

Dr Dale on July 7, 2010 at 9:54 pm

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