TAMPA — Pat Maroon was taking a postgame shower following the Lightning’s 3-1 loss to the Bruins on Tuesday night when teammate Steven Stamkos approached and asked if he had seen a video circulating on social media.
“You’re probably gonna want to see it,” Stamkos told Maroon.
Bruins TV broadcaster Jack Edwards dipped from play-by-play on the NESN broadcast for 40 seconds to make fun of Maroon’s weight. He said that Maroon is listed at 238 pounds, but he’s had “a few more pizzas” since testing was done on the first day of training camp. “(Intermittent) fasting for Pat Maroon is like four hours without a meal,” said Edwards, laughing through the sequence with NESN color analyst Andy Brickley.
“I was kind of in awe a little bit, a little shocked,” Maroon said. “Obviously, I had to calm myself down for a little bit there.”
Inside the Lightning locker room, players and staff were already frustrated by losing a game to the Bruins that they felt they should have won. And for a tightly-knit group that always comes to each other’s rescue on the ice, they stewed about Edwards’ low-blow jab.
A war of words would not help. Instead, Maroon and the Lightning executed a well-timed counter-punch that made tremendous impact, while helping a local Tampa Bay non-profit along the way.
On Wednesday afternoon, Maroon announced on his social media platforms that he was donating $2,000 to Tampa Bay Thrives in Edwards’ name “in support of those struggling with mental health, bullying and body image.”
As of Friday afternoon, Maroon’s posts had led to $55,000 in donations for Tampa Bay Thrives through the Lightning Foundation.
“There’s always the knee-jerk reaction when something negative happens that you want to attack it or do something without really thinking,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “To take a step back and in situations like these turn negatives into positives, that’s why Pat Maroon is who he is. You really have to tip your hat to him.”
Before the team plane’s wheels were up on their postgame flight from Boston to Philadelphia, Lightning senior director of communications Brian Breseman already was brainstorming with Sarah Costello, senior manager of the Lightning Foundation and community events, about philanthropic avenues.
The Lightning have been major donors in the community under owner Jeff Vinik, and Costello’s staff met Wednesday morning to discuss potential charities before selecting Tampa Bay Thrives, a local non-profit founded in 2019 focused on the message that mental health is just as important as physical health. The Lightning had previously partnered with Tampa Bay Thrives to hold an all-day event for high school students; “Strike The Stigma”sought to remove the negativity around asking for mental wellness help.
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About six hours after Maroon’s post, Carrie Zeisse, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives, was told that the Lightning Foundation has already collected $19,000.
“Oh my gosh; that is amazing,” said Zeisse, shocked by the momentum the campaign gained so quickly. “It says a lot about him as an individual that his reaction was, ‘Hey, let’s raise this issue more broadly and make sure that we have a conversation about the impact that words can have,’ and for him to do it in such a public way is just amazing. ...
“This is the important conversation we need to have as a community so that others feel safe to come out and talk about what’s going on with them. You know, there should be no shame in raising your mental health concerns.”
Zeisse said the money donated will focus on expanding youth programs similar to “Strike the Stigma.”
The hockey world rallied around Maroon.
“A lot of guys reached out and said it was kind of messed up,” Maroon said. “A lot of people around the league reached out to me, players I haven’t even played with.”
Stamkos tweeted out, “Well done, Patty. ... Donating now!” Current and former teammates shared Maroon’s posts on social media and offered encouragement. The Carolina Hurricanes made their own donation, and encouraged their fans to follow suit. The Lightning Foundation pledged that it would match all donations made by Lightning players.
Auto protection plan company CarShield, which Maroon does commercials for, donated $5,000, with pro wrestling legend Ric Flair, a fellow CarShield pitch man, matching it.
Even opposing mascots showed their support. During pregame warmups of the Lightning’s road game in Philadelphia on Thursday, Flyers mascot Gritty held up a sign in the Lightning’s end reading, “Thicc and Tired of all this Body Shaming.”
Bailey Quinn has been a Lightning fan since 2015, when she arrived in Tampa to get her master’s degree at USF. The fourth-year med student already was a Pat Maroon fan, but when she saw his posts, they hit home.
“I am going to be a pediatrician who will pass on the tradition of Pat Maroon to kids who haven’t even been born yet,” Quinn said. “I’ll be printing that tweet and putting it up in my future office. I hope he understands the magnitude of what he’s done in dismantling bullying.”
Quinn, a distance swimmer, once rode a bike across the country for charity and last month met a long-term goal of running the New York City Marathon. But she was the recipient of derogatory comments about her weight on social media.
When Maroon opened a dialogue about body shaming, she said it “felt like a hug to the childhood me.” She watched the NESN broadcast and heard Edwards’ comments.
“In the back of my head, I thought to myself it sucks because there is some 14- to 15-year-old kid, and when they hear that and they laugh, they think, ‘Oh, I can be funny and I’ll make fun of the slow person on my team,’” Quinn said. “And I was the slow person on those teams. It is so hard to show up and be the teammate that everyone else gets their laughs from.”
Edwards was silent until Friday, issuing a statement to The Athletic that said he has tried to reach out to Maroon. NESN has not replied to an email from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment about Edwards’ critique of Maroon.
Though polarizing in his own way, Edwards is a broadcaster with a SportsCenter pedigree. Maroon didn’t like that his comments could send the message that treating people that way is OK.
“People are tuned into a game (and) you’re just basically batting off on someone about something unnecessary,” said Maroon said. “If someone is watching the game (who is) struggling with that stuff, and they listen to that, imagine how they feel.
“Listen, I’m a professional athlete, I can take it. I can take some stuff, but I’m a strong guy. I’m a funny guy. I’m an easy guy to talk to. You can joke with me all you want, but that was very unnecessary.”
The Lightning don’t know when they will present the money they raised to Tampa Bay Thrives.
Perhaps when Boston returns to town Jan. 26.
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