P.K. Subban’s Big Heart

Ryan Remiorz / Canadian Press

Ryan Remiorz / Canadian Press

There’s no question about it: we all know Montreal Canadiens‘ star defenseman, P.K. Subban, is an exceptional hockey player.

He’s always the first one off the ice between periods or at the end of a game, in order to high-five his teammates and encourage them as they exit to the locker room.

He’s always the first one to take responsibility for a loss, and consistently the first to give credit to his teammates for a win.

He is the one every other fan base loves to hate: those of us who love him know that’s because he’s a player other teams would want on their side. His visits to the Children’s Hospital, as part of the annual team event, always show how he is a fan favorite:

Once again, P.K. Subban has shown us how big a heart he has, and what an exemplary human being he is. On Wednesday, he announced that he will be donating, over the next 7 years, $10M to the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, and he did so at the unveiling of the P.K. Subban Atrium, unveiled this morning. In attendance, besides P.K.’s family – to whom he attributes his career and his values – was Elise Béliveau, the widow of hockey great, Jean Béliveau (a man who epitomized humanity and charity). Mrs. Béliveau became a special fan of P.K’s last season, and they have grown close.

He said, “I idolize Jean Beliveau. I want to walk in his footsteps.” He told Mrs. Béliveau he hopes his acts would make Jean proud. “I am proud to walk in the footsteps of my idol Jean Beliveau by giving back to the community and feel privileged to be able to help transform the lives of sick children and their families

The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation called it an “unprecedented philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history.”

His commitment includes sitting on the board, as well as being a spokesman for the Foundation (fundraising, and events). Listening to him speak, and knowing the kind of maturity and confidence he exudes, it isn’t hard to see him in the role of spokesman.

P.K. has always been an impressive speaker. The first interview he ever gave, he displayed an articulate intelligence that has only increased over the years. Subban continuously speaks about others, never himself. This is the mark of a good hockey player, a teammate, but it is more the mark of the person and his outward reach to the world he inhabits.

Subban’s examples of humanity have emerged over the years he’s been with the Habs. His jumping into a street hockey game he came across on his way to dinner one summer day; his visits to the Montreal Children’s Hospital even – or especially – when the cameras were not rolling.

Last season, he hit a shot that deflected up over the glass and hit a young boy. Visibly shaken by it, on the ice, P.K. then reached out to that young man’s family; he spoke to the boy on the phone, then extended an invitation to him and his family. They attended a game, meeting with P.K. as well, and turned a scary situation (the boy was not injured) into a positive once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Last December, in one of my favorite events, he disguised himself as a security guard (“Karl”), to surprise a group of kids he had arranged to come visit the Brossard practice arena:

So it isn’t surprising when he reaches out and gives of himself. This announcement is more meaningful in its reasons than in the donation itself. Listening to his announcement, I was compelled to take down his statement in writing, knowing he would impress. He didn’t disappoint. Here is some of what P.K. said in his announcement:

  • I’ve always wanted to do something special and significant. But sometimes that takes baby steps.
  • I’ve experimented, with myself, over the years. I’ve come to visit the kids in the hospital. No cameras, just on my own.
  • I went to Haiti, with WorldVision, something that changed my life.
  • I saw things in Haiti that maybe a 21-year-old shouldn’t see, but it was good for me.
  • These experiences helped mold me, into coming here to make this commitment today.
  • I always said I wouldn’t let my profession dictate how I lived my life.
  • It was my experiences that helped me make this decision.

Subban told the story of how he and his sister, Natasha (also there today), used to play many games as young children. One day, he threw a ball up, it hit and broke a light, and the falling glass became embedded in Natasha’s eye. Terrified, P.K. hid in his parents’ bathroom, but Natasha was taken to the hospital. There, they removed the glass and her vision is perfect today. That, too, shaped his desire to give to hospitals in some capacity, as he’s seen how hospitals have changed and saved many lives.

One of the more poignant stories he told was how he was brought into the life of a young boy, Alex Shapiro, a 10-year-old minor-league hockey player who was fighting cancer. Alex rallied, and in his first game back, scored a goal.

Subban brought Alex to the NHLPA Charity game, where he gave the youngster an incredible experience, meeting all the NHL players involved, and a prize spot on the bench to watch the game.

At Wednesday’s announcement, P.K. was filled with emotion as he talked about the night he got a call from Alex’s coach, saying Alex was in the hospital. As the Habs were playing the Leafs that week, P.K. was in Toronto at the time, but at a team function when he heard Alex might not make it through the night, he excused himself, and FaceTime video chatted with Alex. Alex was unable to converse, and P.K. was taken aback at the physical deterioration the boy had gone through since their last meeting, but he did what he could. He told of what happened next:

“I went back to finish dinner, but Alex passed away before I finished my steak.”

P.K. said, “People ask me what’s the significance of the things I do. Is it for attention? The accolades? People don’t understand the experiences people have. Before you think why people are doing what they do, take the time to understand their experiences. That’s why I do what I do.”

Global TV reporter, Kelly Grieg, tweeted a photo of the Atrium:

It was filled with patients, staff, and attendees for the announcement.

More quotes from his speech:

  • I’ve met some outstanding kids at the hospital in my visits. Courageous, inspirational kids.
  • I’ve made a promise to these kids: you’ll be seeing a lot more of me.
  • You’re not defined by what you accomplish, but by what you do for others.
  • This year is not about how many goals I’ll score, or even how the team does. For me, it’s about how I live my life.
  • This is about what’s important in life, in general.
  • Sometimes I think, “P.K., are you a hockey player, or just someone who plays hockey?”
  • I just play hockey. Because someday I won’t be a hockey player anymore. I’ll just be someone who played hockey.
  • What do I want people to remember about me?
  • Well, every time you walk into this hospital, you’ll know what I stand for.

There is a pride that comes from being a fan of the Montreal Canadiens. That pride happens as our team succeeds, achieves incredible feats on the ice, and continues to add to the already-storied history this franchise is known for, worldwide.

But the pride transcends the ice, when we see our team’s players reach out, make gestures that are as small as a phone call or as huge as a $10M donation to a Children’s Hospital Foundation.

I have seen the cynics; against my better judgment, I read comments on stories that outlined P.K.’s donation, many of them accusing him of trying to secure a contract beyond his 8-year deal, or trying to vie for the captaincy of the Habs.

I shake my head at the small-mindedness that dictates that kind of cynicism. The bigger picture is what P.K.’s money will do for kids in Montreal, for those who are in need, and for the kinds of children who have shaped P.K.’s experiences, adding to the already-beautiful person he has always been.

Most of all, it is the example he sets – for kids and adults alike. We can all be inspired by this gesture, and while none of us is able to give $10M to a charity, it is the heart behind the amount that is exemplary.

Does P.K. love the spotlight? He sure does. His goal celebrations have earned him much criticism for how dynamic they are (even when other players around the league celebrate as hard but do not get the scrutiny P.K. does).  But it was evident in this speech, and in his many gestures off-ice, that he does not seek the spotlight for the good things he does for kids.

I suppose haters will hate.

But it’s those of us who believe in the man, and the pure act of giving, who know it is from his big heart – and utterly without an agenda.

Habs fans can continue to be proud of our team, and of our players. And P.K. continues to raise the bar on how human beings ought to treat one another.

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