Tripp’s journey: Sobriety gives Carolina broadcaster, Grosse Pointe’s Tracy new life

Detroit News

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour knew something was wrong when Tripp Tracy didn’t show up for work on April 26, 2022.

As the Hurricanes’ TV color analyst since 1998, Tracy was scheduled to tape a pregame show with Brind’Amour, a former Michigan State Spartans center who won a Stanley Cup in Carolina as a player in 2006 and has led the team to five straight playoff appearances as head coach.

“I didn’t see him (Tracy) at the rink in the afternoon but didn’t think anything of it,” Brind’Amour said ahead of Carolina’s 3-2 loss against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday. “When he didn’t show up at 5 o’clock, we were all concerned. I had my wife (Amy) call him. Everyone was trying to see what was going on. We knew he was in a little bit of trouble.”

Tracy’s troubles with alcohol addiction became public that day. After more than five years of sobriety from 2009-15, the Grosse Pointe Farms native missed his first broadcast in 24 years when he fell asleep in the afternoon after drinking gin while preparing his game notes and didn’t wake up in time for Carolina’s division-clinching 4-3 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The team announced the next day that Tracy was stepping away from his duties to “address a personal matter.”

“What’s done is done,” Brind’Amour said. “First, we made sure he was going to be all right. He took ownership right away and then it was what’s the next step? He didn’t blame anyone. Tons of people supported him because he cares about people. That’s what stands out for me and how you get through tough times.”

Now, with the first anniversary of the New York incident coming up at the end of the month and Tracy back in the broadcast booth since the start of the 2022-23 NHL season, he credits Brind’Amour as well as a huge support network, including his sister Tiffany Klaasen, his cousin and Ford CEO Jim Farley, and his addiction counselor Brian Spitsbergen, for helping him during these 11 months of sobriety while he attends daily meetings in a recovery program.

“When you’re an alcoholic like I am, one of the things you struggle with and prevents you from truly accepting that you have a disease is comparing and not identifying,” the 49-year-old Tracy said. “You’ll say, ‘Well this hasn’t happened to me yet or that hasn’t happened to me yet.’ It takes the yets to get to the necessary acceptance.

“When I think of April in New York last year, one of those yets I couldn’t have fathomed was drinking on the day of the game. I did. I had a terrible hangover and I thought another drink would calm my head down. I think about that day every day because it gives me the acceptance that I am one thousand percent an alcoholic.”

Farley, whose mother was the sister of Tracy’s father, said Tracy’s public incident “wasn’t his first rodeo” while helping a family member. Farley’s cousin, Chris Farley, was a Saturday Night Live comedian who died at age 33 of a drug overdose in 1997.

“When I worked for Toyota on the west coast, I helped out Chris when he had a relapse or whatever,” Farley said. “He always had my support. This is going to sound really weird but I didn’t want to know anything about it (Tripp’s incident). I didn’t investigate because it doesn’t really matter to me. That’s not how I see my cousin.

“We have another cousin who had a similar issue and some of my siblings would ask my mother (Mary Kay Farley), ‘Why are you celebrating and so proud of that person, who is basically a drunk or drug addict? I don’t understand.’ My mom would say to them, ‘Well, they had a harder road to walk than you.’

“When I would come to Detroit for Christmas or Thanksgiving, Tripp’s dad was always interested in me. He got me volunteering at the Pope Francis Center, he took me to homeless shelters downtown, and he updated me on the auto business. He was a very endearing person. I kind of feel like I owe his father a lot.”

Tracy’s father was Emmet Tracy Jr., a Detroit automotive businessman who served as a special counselor to Michigan governors George Romney and William Milliken. A longtime supporter of AAA youth hockey, he died in 2018 at age 85.

Tripp Tracy’s sister, Tiffany Klaasen, said her parents and grandfather (Emmet Tracy Sr. worked on the original Model T production line in Highland Park) had a big influence on the family and instilled values of respecting others and community service.

“My father and grandparents were devout Catholics and I’m a practicing Catholic,” said Klassen, a former lawyer and mother of three children in Grosse Pointe Farms. “Tripp has said, ‘I wish I could have your faith,’ but he’s morally grounded. What matters is family, friends, experiences and treating people with respect.

“As crazy as it sounds, what happened to Tripp is probably the best thing that could’ve happened to him. As a public figure, he can reach out and hopefully help one person who reads his story or someone who is not in the right space. There can be a stigma and it’s very important to him to try and help change that.”

Tracy agrees the drinking incident changed his life. After flying home from LaGuardia Airport in New York and not knowing whether he would have a job with the Hurricanes, Red Wings play-by-play announcer Ken Daniels put Tracy in touch with Spitsbergen, a licensed counselor in Plymouth and Farmington. Spitsbergen has also been sober for more than 36 years.

“One of the recovery principals is the ego has to be smashed,” Spitsbergen said. “If you’re not doing the service for others, you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s a death sentence when it starts to be about you and you lose focus on what really matters.

“Tripp is real honest about what happened. This isn’t about him. He’s just another person who went through it and knows he’s in this spot to be helpful. He needs to keep asking, ‘How can I serve?’ I get that too. That doesn’t change after 36 years.”

Tracy said he’s grateful for the “massive support” from Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, general manager Don Waddell and Brind’Amour, as well as from players like Sidney Crosby, who contacted him right after the incident, ex-players like Wayne Gretzky, who called when Tracy was watching a playoff game on TV with his mom, and North Carolina governor Roy Cooper, who tweeted his support for Tracy’s recovery.

Just last week when the Hurricanes were back in New York and Tracy was boarding the team bus after the game, he exchanged text messages with an NHL official, who said his son was struggling with addiction and Tracy’s public story gave him a new perspective on what his son was going through and the nature of the disease.

“I had dreams of playing in the NHL, watching ‘Hockey Night in Canada,’ going to Joe Louis Arena, playing street hockey in Grosse Pointe,” said Tracy, a goaltender for four years at Harvard from 1992-96 and two years in the minors after being drafted in the ninth round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1993.

“I think that developed a form of wanting to control every situation. I’m not saying you don’t have to work until the ends of the earth but letting go of control and doing a rigorous inventory of my past and my character defects has been a gift. I’ve never been given an opportunity like this and I’m not going to let it go.

“If I were to wish one thing, it would be for teenagers and people in their 20s whose whole lives are ahead of them to know what life can be without alcohol. You can live a happier, more joyous, more free life than you can ever fathom.”

Farley said it’s “incredibly exciting” to watch Tracy’s sobriety journey and is looking forward to hearing more progress and success stories nearly a year after he took Tracy to a workout in Novi five days after the news broke in New York.

“We’ve always been raised with the idea that if you are blessed in any way, your job is to go out and help other people,” said Farley, who last week showed a picture of his grandfather’s Ford ID badge from 1913 to workers at a new electric pickup truck factory under construction in Stanton, Tennessee.

“Look, let’s be honest. I think times have changed so much, whether it’s mental illness, addiction, we all have a burden we’re carrying. I don’t care what it is. If I sat down with you, and all we did was talk about families, friends and what’s happened in our lives, we would come up with a list. It’s the same list. I have no doubt Tripp’s heart is in the right place, where it is for all of us. Nothing feels better.”

Twitter: @falkner

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