Sunday, April 10, 2011

Breaking the rules and winning a fan


Is it ever OK to break the rules? 

Late in March, my two grandsons lost their other grandfather, who died suddenly and unexpectedly. The death was a blow to the family and the loss of a lovely man.

Before my son-in-law told his two sons about his father's death, he called to ask if I would attend an autograph signing not far from my home in Boston that my oldest grandson was to attend the night of the wake in Chicago. My son-in-law wanted to be able to tell Evan that I would go to the event for which he had saved his money for months.

The rules of the autograph event were that you had to pay a separate fee for every item you wanted autographed. Evan had purchased an official NHL puck so he could have it signed by Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron.

I, of course, agreed to go, as did my wife.

The morning of the event, Evan called from Chicago. He asked me if he thought it would be OK to call me on my cellphone from the funeral home when I was scheduled to get the autograph. 

"Maybe Patrice Bergeron will say hello to me," Evan said.

I reminded Evan that 500 tickets had been sold for the two-hour event, so we were likely to be rushed through. But I told him that I would try.

Being no hockey fan, I had no idea who Bergeron was. After Evan's call, I figured I should find out. In addition to playing for the Bruins, he had won a gold medal on the Canadian Olympic team. And buried in a sports reporter's blog was a reference to the fact that he had missed a game early in March because of his grandmother's death.

I called my son-in-law to tell him of the coincidence in Bergeron and Evan each losing a grandparent recently.

Figuring the phone call between Evan and Bergeron wouldn't happen, I printed up a sign that said, "Hello, Evan" as well as Bergeron's name and jersey number. (It's 37. I looked it up.) I figured my wife might hold the sign next to Bergeron when he was signing Evan's puck and we could snap a photo.

I also wrote to the owner of the shop where Bergeron was appearing explaining my grandson's loss and seeing if there was any possibility Bergeron would get on the phone with Evan. Terry Fox, co-owner of P&T Sports Cards, called me back, told me how moved she was, but that it was unlikely there would be time for a call. Still, she said she'd print out the email and give it to Bergeron's agent.

As expected, the event was packed. When we were third in line to get the autograph, Evan called. Someone grabbed the puck, ushered us up the line and, as Bergeron was signing it, I started to ask if he might talk to Evan. Without hesitation, he asked for the phone. He had seen the printout of the email and knew the story.

"I'm sorry for your loss," Bergeron said. "Hang in there." My wife's eyes welled up. And then Bergeron's eyes welled up too as he continued to talk. His agent put the sign I had made in front of Bergeron and asked him to "sign it for the kid." He did that too, breaking the rule about having to pay separately for each item signed.

Evan called later to thank me. 

"What did you say when he told you he was sorry for your loss?" I asked. 

"I told him I was sorry for his loss, too," Evan said. 

Did Bergeron do the right thing by breaking the rules to sign an extra autograph? I'm biased, of course, but I like to think he did. I also know that he has new fans for life. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net.

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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