Tuesday, June 17, 2008

DU Alum Glenn Anderson Battled With Media

(above) Today you're more likely to find former DU hockey player Glenn Anderson helping six year olds to their feet than hoisting the Stanley Cup, which he won six times, above his head

Today former DU player Glenn Anderson will hear his fate from the Hockey Hall of Fame Committee. His career numbers, playoff stats and six Stanley Cups would suggest he's a shoo-in, but a contentious relationship with the media and some highly publicized off the ice incidents, including the death of his best friend, have blocked his induction in the past.

Anderson only played one season at the University of Denver (1978-79) but he recorded 26 goals, 29 assists in 41 games. He was selected by the Edmontion Oilers in the 4th round of the 1979 Draft.

This excellent article from the Edmonton Journal documents Anderson's often rocky relatiship with the media.

Glenn Anderson's Hall of Fame numbers should speak for themselves, but his Hall of Fame friends have felt the need to lobby on his behalf for ages.

Because until now two equally influential factors have conspired to bar the former Oiler from the shrine to hockey greatness.

Some years, it was all about the competition; too many automatics like Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Scott Stevens and Al Macinnis. But more often, Anderson's failure to garner enough support was related to an unflattering public persona, one shaped by the dark and negative headlines that followed him around the National Hockey League from Edmonton to Toronto, New York, St. Louis and even into retirement.

The problem will disappear forever today if at least 12 of the 16 selection committee voters agree that 1,099 points and six Stanley Cup rings amount to an admittance fee paid in full. Up to four players can get the nod and competition isn't stiff - Doug Gilmour, Steve Larmer, Adam Oates, Igor Larionov and Pavel Bure. The timing seems right. But just in case he needed to tip the scales, Anderson has been working on perception, reaching out to suggest his problem with the media has been rooted in misunderstanding.

We didn't understand him, he said, because we didn't take the time. I would counter that he wouldn't give us the time of day, or a thoughtful answer to most of our questions, and his standoffish attitude was detrimental.

What cannot be argued is the fact his relationship with the media went sideways and every negative headline played a role, however small, in keeping him on the outside of the Hall looking in at teammates Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Gretzky and Messier. Though only five committee members are from the media, a larger consensus suggests Anderson has been left wanting with regard to the off-ice component of the voting.

He contends the negative media coverage has never told the real story of his personal life.

"Back then, I don't think they really knew who I was," he said of the Edmonton media. "They only wanted the story. I was categorized as a person before I was even interviewed. It was already determined and I was hung out to dry.

"That's not the individual I was. As years went by, we developed relationships. It changed. We finally came to a very civilized balance."

It didn't happen quite that easily. The bridge was burned in Edmonton and is only now being rebuilt. He returns phone calls, entertains questions, gives thoughtful answers.

For those who knew Anderson as cool, distant and occasionally antagonistic, his recent evolution can be traced to media courses he took in a continuing effort to educate himself and establish a healthy life after hockey. He has gained an appreciation for the role of the media and has been busily re-establishing relationships with sports writers he came to view as irritants; people who wouldn't look past the wacky grin and outlandish statements for any deeper meaning.

Anderson said he didn't want to think outside the box, he wanted to saw through it, and believes that oblique focus was misconstrued and he was written off.

But his larger problem with the Edmonton media can be traced to 1988 when his friend George Varvis died after collapsing in Anderson's pool.

"In Edmonton there were some things that were really blown out of proportion, especially when my very good friend died. I ended up getting death threats and hate mail. Everyone knew where I lived because the pictures of my house were on the front page. Every week I got a different letter in a different colour in an envelope. In Latin. Whoever was sending it was threatening to kill me.

"If it weren't for the media reports they wouldn't have had my address. I thought, 'Geez you guys have no idea what you opened up.' Then there was all the innuendo and false accusations of what transpired. I thought, 'Guys, do a little research. Find out what happened because that's not what went down.'

"Not only did I lose my best friend, but I'm getting wounded by all this other stuff."

He said the manner in which his friend died was misconstrued.

"I dove in to the pool and revived him by giving him mouth-to-mouth. He walked out of the house with paramedics and went to the hospital, where he had a relapse. People said he died right there (in the pool). Not true.

"It just showed me that I got treated unfairly. It snowballed from there and I'd always had to have my guard up.

"Now, I'm over it. I forgave and forgot. Life goes on. I'm not holding a grudge. Life is too short for that."


He is 47, living in New York with wife Susan and five-year-old daughter Autumn. He said he has resolved a contentious child support issue regarding a teenager from a previous relationship and continues to make regular payments, even though he still considers them too large because his income has been drastically reduced from that of his playing days. He runs a fantasy camp, plays in charity and oldtimers games and operates a hockey school in Connecticut, his wife is in the real estate industry and his daughter has done some acting.

"She makes more money than me now, because she's in commercials," he chuckled.

The laughter usually came easily to Anderson when he was an Oiler. He was, as he still states today, a free spirit. I bumped into him in Quebec City during the world hockey championship and sensed he is trying hard to engage. Skeptics would point to the timing, but I don't think he's simply shilling for votes.

"I feel way more comfortable talking to the media now, especially the guys I had been around for years," he said. "I respect them for what they have to do."

What they and other committee members ought to do now is put him in the Hall of Fame. His numbers say he belongs there and if voters embrace

Anderson's new persona, it's a slam dunk. After years of shrugging off disappointing results with an ambivalent tone, as if to deny the media any satisfaction, Anderson admitted to nervousness on Monday.

"For the first time," he said. "I don't know if we'd celebrate like we did after a Stanley Cup.

"But we'll be pretty happy. And if it doesn't happen this year, it's going to be pretty tough because of the players coming up and eligible for next year (Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull). I know that.

"If it happens, great. If not, who knows what happens down the road."

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