Derek “Turk” Sanderson‘s years as a professional hockey player began in 1967 with the Boston Bruins. His years of dedication and perseverance through the Juniors had finally paid off. After winning the coveted “Rookie of the Year” award at the close of the season, Derek Sanderson went on to some of the Bruins’s best years.
In both 1970 and 1972, the Boston Bruins brought home the Stanley Cup. They were heroes – and love him or hate him, one of the most talked about players was Number 16, Derek Sanderson. Perceived as flashy, flamboyant and gregarious, he established himself as the “Joe Namath of hockey.” He appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight, Donahue, 60 Minutes and Merv Griffin. He was the host of his own television show, appeared in three Hollywood films, co-authored two books, and was voted one of America’s ten sexiest men by Cosmopolitan magazine. Derek Sanderson was hot – and nothing could stop him now.
In 1973, Derek made history by signing a $2.65 million contract with the Philadelphia Blazers, members of the newly formed World Hockey Association. He thus became the world’s highest paid athlete. But when he suffered an injury after playing only seven games with the Blazers, he started a roller coaster ride of trades, retirement and come-back attempts. It was during his tenure with the New York Rangers that Derek‘s problem with alcohol became apparent, although he would continue to deny it for another three years.
The WHA contract settlement had left Derek Sanderson a rich man – and he spent freely on himself and others. Cocaine, alcohol and Quaaludes were constant companions, and remained so until 1978. His first attempt to dry out brought him another season in hockey, but failed because he thought he would be able to drink socially. When Pittsburgh chose not to renew his contract, Derek once again fell into the trap of drugs and alcohol. In the two years that followed, Derek Sanderson fell into the depths, even to the point of sleeping in Central Park with other alcoholics.
Finally, in 1980, Derek made an independent assessment of his life. He made the hardest decision he ever had – and he chose to live. And as Tom Brokaw pointed out, he was the only athlete to do it all on his own, without being arrested or getting a lot of press. Without outside assistance, Derek’s victory was that much sweeter. Now working with young people as a counselor, Derek Sanderson has a powerful message.
Sanderson is also a prostate cancer survivor and speaks on the importance of improving early detection of prostate cancer which is critical for saving lives.