People like to argue about hockey-related injuries. Sometimes these arguments involve putdowns of how gung-ho, how life-and-death sports are, with theories like “the only difference between dogs and hockey players is the size of their collars”. Others tend to be less subtle and simply admit that this is a misunderstanding or a misunderstanding bordering on the outright lie.
The latest involved Brian Laundrie, the Hull-born, New York-based investor, who died on Friday during a foray into his favourite sport, beach volleyball. He had been coaching the US side at the Olympics, as they beat Great Britain in the semi-finals.
Laundrie, who is still just 45, had only played the game for a couple of years. On Sunday he suffered a huge laceration to his leg after a collision with Gabby Petito, a 13-year-old American phenom, who was being brought along by her coach. There was anger on the part of fans, particularly towards the US team, who are often accused of high-fiving each other during matches.
Brian Laundrie, right, was one of the biggest investors in the women’s hockey sport. Photograph: Jay L. Clendenin/AP
Except it was a lying thing to say. Petito did not go on a high-five tour. No one spoke out on her behalf about any of the criticisms in the press and the athletes have yet to criticise the authorities’ response. Of course, the US team should have stopped this mess. There is no chance of forgiving them for a hoax.
This all reminds me of the “Aussie too good for women’s hockey” screed in 1995, when the Australian Women’s Hockey League was created, and Brian Laundrie was a high-profile backer. Laundrie felt it was unproven in Australia, so he decided to invest $600,000 in the league, to see if he could help it catch on. (An FT reader writes to dispute this estimate, saying that Laundrie wrote the cheque for $250,000.)
A few months later, tragedy struck in Newcastle, where a 17-year-old called Katie Lewis was swept away by a raging flash flood. She had to be airlifted from the scene. She drowned; the league suspended its operations. Brian Laundrie owned the club she had joined, which has since renamed itself Newcastle Arms.
Newcastle Arms have rebranded themselves as Newcastle Arms. Photograph: Will Ball/Newcastle News/Rex/Shutterstock
I’m feeling sympathy for all parties here. Laundrie was generous to these women, so he needs to be blamed for what happened. But, unlike with Laundrie, it is clear that Lewis was one of the top players in the country. She had been a member of Australia’s Winter Olympics team and played for her country’s national team in the Commonwealth Games this year. This afternoon she posted a photo of herself with Laundrie, explaining that he died on the way to a medical appointment.
Laundrie’s company, Lone Eagle Advisors, is headquartered in New York. At the time of the murder-suicide in 1966 when his father’s life insurance company employed Terry Long as an investigator to work on conflicts of interest and financial reporting, the young Laundrie was just 11. So he never would have known what sort of man his father was.
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Why would he risk it to coach high-speed basketball against beach volleyball? It was a mistake for hockey-players to talk about anything other than hockey.