Would you turn your back on David Sidoo?
When I first met David Sidoo, he wasn’t famous for his professional athletic achievements or his stellar entrepreneurial success in the energy business.
The young man I met was an 18-year old scholarship freshman who struggled with the rest of the rookies to fit in with the group and earn a position on the Thunderbird football team.
Young athletes thrown together at a training camp don’t readily trust each other.
This is especially true for a physical sport like football, with its inherent violence and fierce competition starting in practice and building up to an eruption on game day. One's place on the team is defined by efforts on the field, but the emotion necessary to survive in the gridiron trenches radiates into the locker room.
The best teams use the energy to mold diverse young egos into an effective unit, but the culture of banter, sarcasm, and practical jokes requires a thick skin and proves perseverance.
In reflection, I wasn’t conscious of the challenges David faced as a minority nor the extreme pressure he placed upon himself. He was driven to succeed not only as a college athlete but looked ahead to becoming the first South Asian to play in the CFL (Canada’s professional football league.) David aimed high and proved his tenacity while showcasing his talents as he ticked off every one of his goals.
I don’t think he was singled out nor excessively hazed compared to the other members of the freshman class, but he wasn't a favorite of the team's trainer. David was caught using excessive under-wrap (athletic tape), which was a luxury item for our college team’s tight sports medical budget, and the head trainer made him the butt of a joke.
I joined in on the laughter.
Over a few beers midway through the season, he called me out on my arrogance and entitlement. A gutsy man faces his challenges, and I respected David for never backing down from anyone. We bonded.
David was credited for filling in critical slots in the defensive backfield and as a skilled specialty team player. He wasn't an undersized football player, but he regularly sacrificed his body to take on larger opponents and never hesitated to field a punt and drive forward into the rushing coverage.
The next memory is indelible and is a testament to David’s courage and resolve. We’d upset a juggernaut of a university football team from Ontario called Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, and the playoff win sent us to the Canadian Championship game in Toronto. It was a first for a UBC football team, and we were all elated.
After the game, David and I were slow to remove the tape and get to the showers and found ourselves alone and conversing about the game when he turned away. His complexion paled as he began to urinate blood in the corner of the shower room.
He’d taken several hard hits returning punts, and one collision finished with a helmet shot to his kidney. He was obviously injured, and we later found his kidney had suffered blunt force trauma, and David was sidelined for several weeks.
If David had been alone in the shower, he'd undoubtedly have kept the injury a secret, but I freaked out and ran into the trainer's room and alerted the medical staff. He spent the night in the hospital and a week later watched us lose the Canadian Championship broadcasted on national television. It was a setback for the young upcoming star, but he made up for the missed opportunity.
David and I were fortunate to be part of a Cinderella team in 1978, which was considered a UBC year to rebuild. We disproved all projections and won our way to the Canadian Championship Game. The season was capped off by beating our cross-town rival Simon Fraser University for the first time in school history.
David Sidoo’s accomplishments as a college all-star and professional player are well documented. I’ve lived in Japan as an expatriate since graduation and only caught glimpses of his meteoric rise in the Vancouver business community. On the few occasions when we met over the years, he seemed to be the same friendly, confident, and generous person I knew as a college teammate.
A few years ago, David personally invested his own capital and energy in resurrecting a UBC football program on the verge of going dark. The team had one-winning-season in the last 15-years, and the administration wanted to terminate the program. In response, David’s family established the most generous single athletic scholarship program at the university.
David deflects credit to like-minded UBC football alumni who formed the 13th man foundation in 2014. Individuals such as Peter Bull, David Negrin, Chris Davies, George Petrovas, Peter Espig, and David's youngest son Jordan generously contributed to the program.
The signing of a famous coach (Blake Nil) combined with super-charged recruiting, investment in infrastructure, and reenergized support from the university administration, produced immediate results. The UBC Thunderbirds won the Canadian Championship game in 2015 and followed with playoff appearances for the next four seasons.
David’s tenacious and focused approach proved effective once again and benefited everyone involved with the college athletic program. The generous, driven, intelligent, and courageous man I met during my freshman year proved to be an exceptional benefactor and community leader.
I wish the story could finish with my last statement. Many cheer the demise of the successful entrepreneur/celebrity as they slide off a pedestal.
Who doesn't make mistakes?
One hopes you’ll judge a man or woman by the big picture composing their life and the strength of the family and friends they’ve gathered around them.
For me, David Sidoo will forever remain the member of my freshman class who would have sacrificed a kidney to help the team win a championship.
Life has a way of altering your perspective and refocusing priorities.
Our teammate Christopher Thompson recently passed away after an extended battle with cancer. We also lost Coach Robert Laycoe, a UBC Hall of Fame Member, after his fight with Parkinson’s Disease.
They were remarkable men and will both be sincerely missed.