November 03 2012 02:46PM
I write occasionally at my own blog - The Wanderer Sports - and yesterday I wrote a piece on the quickly muddying image of the CHLPA. First we'd heard there were two Gumbleys and then there were two Clarkes. Now, some clarity. Fy Virani, aan articling student and aspiring sports lawyer who also contributes to The Wanderer, has a story to tell. What follows is mostly his words, though I have helped out with some editing, here and there.
A guest post By FY VIRANI
Tidbits about the CHLPA have been flooding the media like a bad soap opera these last few days, and I’ve decided to share my story.
A quick recap: The CHLPA is a group of individuals who were attempting to unionize junior hockey players across the country. The public face of the CHLPA was Georges Laraque, but there was also a spokesperson, who would identify himself as "Derek Clarke." Media reports this week suggested the Clarke was perhaps a man named Randy Gumbley, a man twice-convicted of fraud.
Gumbley scammed minor hockey players and their families out of thousands of dollars in exchange for undelivered scouting services. To make a long story short, Clarke’s identity is still somewhat of a mystery, although a Derek Clarke did speak off camera to TSN. Laraque has stepped down and the movement for a union appears to be dying--if it's not dead already. Even now, the CHLPA maintains that Randy Gumbley has never been "officially" involved with the CHLPA.
I’m here to prove otherwise and to tell my story regarding discussions with the CHLPA.
My contact with Derek Clarke began in the summer. Through a colleague, I was connected with Clarke via email as someone who may be interested in helping to unionize CHL players. Clarke and I also spoke over the phone on 3 occasions. My initial reaction was that Clarke and the CHLPA had some interesting points to raise, but I wasn’t ready to commit my time until I knew more.
What I did receive were documents from a Vancouver law firm that seemed quite legitimate. Although I questioned a fair bit of the inner organization of the CHLPA, mainly how disorganized “Derek Clarke” seemed to be, many other things made it appear as though the CHLPA had some good external people in place. The media has focused on the negative associations with the CHLPA but let's not forget, Georges Laraques, many volunteers, young lawyers, and ex-junior players believed in the main aspects of this cause.
Interestingly enough, I discovered that one of the documents sent to me by “Derek Clarke” appeared to have been authored by Randy Gumbley. When I checked the file's properties, the author was listed as “Randy Gumbley," meaning it came from Mr. Gumbley’s computer (Dave Naylor of TSN reported similar findings on Friday). Now, since the CHLPA has claimed only Glenn Gumbley has been involved with this endeavour, not his brother, an easy explanation might be that Glenn had used Randy's computer, but who are they kidding?
Randy Gumbley's hands are all over this. When the story first broke I started to wonder why no one, three weeks ago, had addressed my requests for further information. I’m not sure who I spoke to on the phone or whether it was the same person each time, but that's not important; what is important is that I've dealt with Randy Gumbley before. About ten years ago, he recruited me to play on his Streetsville Tier II Jr. A team. It's possible that he didn’t recognize the name “Fy Virani” – perhaps that’s why I never heard back from him. Or maybe I was initially contacted because he really did remember me, or he knew of my legal/hockey background - all I’ve been able to do for the last 48 hours is speculate in that regard.
Either way it gave me a sick feeling to know that it was likely Gumbley talking to me as Clarke, and possibly (probably?) knowing full well who I was.
Randy Gumbley approached my parents with the promise that I would play for his Streetsville Derbys team if I paid $3000 to play on a “farm” team for a year while playing 10 games at the Tier II level. The advantage was simple, the following year I would be on the team for the RBC Cup – the biggest tournament in Canada for players outside the CHL - a tournament crawling with NHL and NCAA scouts.
I was sold. My dad, on that other hand, had his doubts. After seeking some advice we turned down the offer and I played junior hockey elsewhere. Needless to say my interactions with Gumbley were extensive. Now, it wasn’t until this week that I learned about his more recent fraud convictions for scams surrounding hockey but it definitely doesn't surprise me given the “pitch” he gave to us 10 years ago. A pitch that sold me hook, line and sinker; clearly the revelation of his fraud convictions this week makes me thankful to have had such great guidance from my parents.
PEOPLE LIKE GUMBLEY ARE THE PROBLEM
By no means do I think a revenue sharing model like the NHL should be implemented, but I think a union or some of the policies they are advocating for would help the players in many ways. At all levels of junior hockey players are “paid” or given “subsidies” for their efforts. I negotiated gas money, sticks, etc. when I played. Some players get more than others. That may not change under a union but it would become far more transparent.
Here’s the irony of it all. A union would go a long way to protect the players from vultures like Randy Gumbley – an individual who preyed on the dreams of young hockey players.
The fact is, is that money is exchanged at the CHL level. Players are paid a weekly stipend, given a billet, free equipment and other benefits. I’m not sure a union is the answer but they certainly make some interesting points. To collect on a CHL scholarship, a graduated player must attend a Canadian university within 18 months of playing his last game. So, if you go to Europe or any other professional hockey league, where you might last 3-4 years, you're likely saying goodbye to your education credit. Not to mention that many need to take extra courses before even thinking about post-secondary.
The fact is most guys who have a shot will pursue their dream, but they get punished when they return. This needs to change. Maybe not by way of a union, but the CHL needs to allow players to get an education that doesn’t expire given the fact that 98% of major junior players never make the NHL. The education aspects being pushed by the CHLPA is why I had preliminary discussions with them.
Now here’s where I get confused. Why would Randy Gumbley associate his name to this venture? Why would his brother? Surely they knew their names alone would cause controversy and undermine the credibility of it all. Glenn Gumbley used the last name “Clarke” for certain aspects of the CHLPA, saying he wanted to avoid connections to his brother, but that’s not what’s important. I cannot figure out for the life of me what their motive for helping players was. I don’t foresee a long-term payoff. I don’t understand how they thought their names would’ve been kept out of it for an extended period of time. Could their efforts have been sincere? I have no idea – but one thing’s for sure – the story still doesn’t add up.
People now need to look past the faces to understand some of the policies that were being suggested. I know there are people out there who believe the CHL abused their power by hiring a private investigator to determine what was going on with the CHLPA. I’m not sure I share their outrage, especially since Randy Gumbley's name surfaced, so I’m going to leave that one alone.
As for Laraque, his intentions were pure. We spoke twice and he seemed sincere, genuine and I truly believe he had the players' best interests at heart. Hopefully Randy Gumbley and Derek Clarke aren’t the last memories of this rapidly-fizzling story.
At the end of the day I hope individuals lacking credibility haven’t killed a somewhat credible cause. CHL players are treated well, they are adored by many kids in local communities, but that does not mean there aren’t certain areas that could be improved to protect them in the future. Hopefully all of that won’t be lost because the wrong face associated himself with what I still think could be a good cause.