Georges Laraque will never forget what his father said to him on Feb. 6, 1994.
Laraque, then 17, was in the midst of his rookie season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Already 6-foot-2, Georges knew if he wanted to make the NHL, he’d need to be willing to drop the gloves. So he challenged Sylvain Blouin, the toughest player in the league, to a fight.
“I got killed and there was blood all over the place,” said Laraque, now 43, from his home in Montreal, Quebec early this year. “I had to go to the dressing room because a vein in my nose popped out it was bleeding so much.”
Holding his nose in place with a towel, Georges reconsidered whether this was the right profession for him.
“I was like, ‘What the fuck? This job is nuts. What am I doing?’”
Edy Laraque came to see his bloodstained son in the locker room.
“He looked at me and said, “Are you going to go hide in your mom’s skirt or are you going to become a man?” Georges recalls.
Georges Laraque carried a heavy burden throughout his 12-seasons in the NHL.
Despite being one of the most feared heavyweights in the league, he hated fighting and loathed the image he felt he portrayed. “The stereotype of a Black guy that fights for a living is not a good one,” said Laraque.
The Montreal native also held a deep-seated resentment toward his father, struggling to accept the tyrannical way in which he was raised.
After leaving professional hockey in 2010, Georges sought psychological treatment, which enabled him to come to terms with his former role as a fighter, and helped him mend his relationship with Edy.
Over the last ten years, Laraque has founded successful businesses, acted in television shows and movies, served as the deputy leader of the Green Party, and been a strong advocate for PETA as well as the LBGTQ+ community. (He also recently was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was just released from the hospital. This interview was conducted prior to his diagnosis.)
Looking back, Georges is thankful for the positive impact therapy had on his life, and he hopes to help others by sharing his story.
When he was eight years old, Laraque was on the verge of quitting hockey. The N-word coursed through his ears every time he stepped on the ice in the homogenous French Canadian city of Sorel-Tracy, Quebec. The racial slurs came from parents in the stands, players on the other team, and even players on his own team.
Edy Laraque and Evelyne Toussaint desperately wanted their son to stop playing, and they wouldn’t even come to games because of the abuse. So Georges trudged through the snow on his bicycle for an hour—while carrying his equipment on his back—in order to reach his place of torment.
He put on a strong face in the face of his abusers, but late at night, in the privacy of his own room, the tears flowed.
One day, while rummaging through his sister’s bookshelf, Georges came across a children’s books series on highly accomplished individuals.
Maurice Richard. Thomas Edison. Benjamin Franklin.
One of the book covers featured a picture of a Black man holding a baseball that Georges didn’t recognize. Turning the pages, he learned about how Jackie Robinson had to endure racial slurs for years in order to break baseball’s colour barrier and make the major leagues.
“When I read it, I was like, ‘Oh my god, what I’m going through is normal,’” said Laraque.
“’I’m going to be like Jackie. Ok, I’m Jackie Robinson. Fuck this. Let’s go. I’m going to make it.’”
In his 8-year-old mind, Georges was going to become the NHL’s first Black player. He’d never heard of Willie O’Ree, the Black New Brunswicker who debuted with the Boston Bruins in 1958, at the time.
Laraque said that from there on, every slur he heard was an incentive for him to work harder.
“I used everything as motivation to prove everybody wrong. Even though hockey was not my favourite sport, now I had to be the next Jackie.”
In addition to the prejudice Laraque was subjected to at the rink, he also had to deal with growing up in a house run by Edy Laraque.
Edy Laraque immigrated from Haiti to Canada in 1975 when he was 22 years old.
He’d been disciplined in a physical manner by his parents, which carried over to the way he brought up his own children.
“My dad was very, very severe with us,” said Georges. “I got beat up a lot as a kid because my dad wanted perfection.”
Any transgression by Georges would result in up to fifty blows from his father’s belt. If he had less than a 90% average at school, he’d get lashed. If he misbehaved in a minor way in a social setting, he’d face his father’s wrath.
Edy Laraque confirmed to VICE that his son’s recollections of him were accurate.
“I strongly believe that parents should always discipline their kids,” Edy Laraque said. “This is the only way kids will learn the principal respect for society.”
As much as Georges despised his father, he admits there were times when Edy’s tough love served to benefit him.
One of those instances came 26 years ago in the St. Jean Lynx dressing room, after Georges had been obliterated in one of his first fights.
“He didn’t hug me. He didn’t say, ‘Are you ok?’” says Laraque. “He said the right thing that needed to be said for me to take the next step.”
In between 1997 and 2010, Laraque participated in 131 NHL fights, according to hockeyfights.com.
“Now that I’m retired, I look back over what I did. I can’t believe that I fought for so many years.”
The 6-foot-3 winger took pride in the fact that he was one of the best in the game in his specific role. But that didn’t change how he felt about it.
“I hated doing it. It was hard to go in front of somebody and fight for no reason,” said Laraque.
“You go fight, and you try to kill somebody to make a name for yourself. How dumb is that!”
In a move that confounded his adversaries, Laraque often wished his opponents good luck before a scrap, which was sometimes misinterpreted as the arrogant move of a confident fighter.
“They thought I was nuts,” said Laraque. “… I think they got more scared because nobody did that. Nobody was nice like that.”
In order to build some hostility toward his foe, Laraque frequently conjured up a specific image in his head.
“Often, when I fought guys, that’s my dad I would see in their face.”
Laraque’s NHL tenure came to an end in January 2010, when he was released by the Montreal Canadiens. He’d been playing with a herniated disc in his back for the last two seasons, and his productivity had plummeted.
Free from the daily grind of hockey life, Laraque had more time to deal with his own issues, including the longstanding animosity he held toward his father, who he hadn’t spoken to in a very long time.
“Resentment is negative and it’s acidic. … It’s important to release that, to get away from that, because it takes a lot of energy to hate someone, but loving someone is much easier,” he said.
Shortly after playing his final NHL game, Laraque started going to therapy.
“As strong a person as I think that I am, I have no shame in admitting I needed counseling to be able to overcome that, because to me my biggest obstacle in life was being able to have a relationship with my dad.”
After two years of therapy, Georges was able to forgive Edy. Nowadays, the two aren’t necessarily close, but they speak to one another and go for dinner on occasion.
“If my dad would’ve passed away before I fixed that and could talk to him is something that I would never forgive myself for.”
Counseling also helped Laraque deal with the toll his NHL role had taken on him.
“Fighting for 13 years when you hated doing it, it gives you a lot of burden,” said Laraque. “So I had to get rid of that to show myself that I was not an animal, because I was viewed as an animal by many people.”
Since his playing career ended, Laraque has been an orator at 150 conferences across North America.
“When people listen to my story, they don’t feel that their obstacles are that much bigger anymore.”
He said he wants audience members to understand that they’re in control of their own destiny. He says that instead of looking inward, people often blame others for their shortcomings.
“Because of their family, because of their friends, they can’t do something. It’s too big, their dream is too big, nobody believes in them.”
Most importantly, he feels that he’s making a positive contribution to society.
“Now I know that when I die, that’s what I’m going to be known for, and not just for the guy that was fighting for a living.”
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