Before he left the Capitals’ game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, a 53-year-old season ticket holder pulled out $100 worth of raffle tickets he had stuffed into his pockets for one last look.
During the third period, the Capitals had announced the winner of Monumental Sports and Entertainment Foundation’s 50/50 raffle jackpot, which had ballooned to $38,570. Half of the proceeds would go to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and benefit the Tree of Life synagogue, the site of a recent mass shooting by a right wing terrorist that left 11 dead. When he glanced at the stack of tickets at the time, he figured he didn’t win when the first three numbers didn’t match the majority of his tickets.
But as he waited for his 17-year-old son to make a pit stop at the bathroom, he checked again. On the very last stack of raffle tickets, he noticed a familiar number. He had won. What happened next led to a viral tweet from the Capitals and praise from the sports community for his selfless act. The Alexandria resident, who requested to remain anonymous, decided to waive his winnings.
“Look, I know it’s a lot of money,” he tells City Paper of the $19,285 that he could’ve pocketed. “I could never write a check that big, it wasn’t lost on me. But at the same time, I kinda had the attitude it just wasn’t my money. I won it, but you know, if I gave it back, I was never going to miss it, because I didn’t have it when I walked in. I told someone that we walked out $100 poorer, but infinitely richer in spirit knowing that we helped some people that could really use the help.”
Earlier that night, the season ticket holder had texted his wife with a thought. How great would it be, he said to her, if he and his son were to win the raffle and then decide to give the money back.
He figured it was a throwaway text. His wife was on board, and so was his son. He’s had Capitals season tickets since the 2010-11 season, and usually purchases $20 worth of tickets for the 50/50 raffle. But this time, his son wanted to participate, and the cause felt particularly worthy.
Capitals games, he says, are a good way to teach his son valuable life lessons.
It’s “teaching him how to win with class and how to lose with dignity,” he says. “Our seats are down by the opposition bench. [You] obviously get some hecklers down there. When he was younger, he would be tempted say, ‘I hate that guy.’ I would tell him, ‘Let’s not use the word hate. It’s just a word you don’t want to use.’ And so when the synagogue shooting happened, I told him, ‘Look, this guy, he did this. He hated people because of where they went to church. He hated people born somewhere else.’ One thing I’ve tried to instill in my son is that it’s absurd that people hate other people because of the color of their skin or where they worship or who [they] date, or where they were born. It’s just ridiculous. Giving [the money] back was an easy decision.”
He says he’s seen the viral tweet from the Capitals and the responses praising him, but that he didn’t do this for attention, which is one of the main reasons he is choosing to stay anonymous.
The Capitals, he says, have told him they plan on doing something for him, but he doesn’t know what yet. Several commenters online have implored the team to give him free season tickets. “Wow. Caps fans are seriously the best,” Capitals right winger Tom Wilson wrote on Twitter.
The season ticket holder adds that the only time he’s been to Pittsburgh was for the 2011 Winter Classic. He adds that he has no connection with the Tree of Life synagogue and that he is not Jewish. His decision to waive his winnings was “natural,” he says, just a way to push back against bigotry and assist those in need.
“I think it brings home just a need for everyone to help more, and be kind to one another,” he says, “regardless of your politics or sports rivalries or whatever else it might be. Let’s just remember we need to help others in need, and really fight hate wherever you can.”