Thursday, August 23, 2007

While Leagues Punish Players, NHL Offenders Skate

Imagine if OJ Simpson was named head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
Or Ron Artest coach of the Indiana Pacers then spent the rest of his career as a revered legend in the Hoosier state.
Imagine Alan Iverson killing a teammate while violating the law and having him turned into a sympathetic character beloved by all.
Imagine Pacman Jones waiting for a receiver to be alone over the middle, nowhere near the ball, and delivering a head to head blow breaking his neck. Imagine Pacman being suspended for a season, which he never serves because of a work stoppage, and the league, decides, when play begins, to waive the suspension, because he has shown remorse.
Imagine if several NFL players were sentenced to jail and not only did the league do nothing about the problem, but the media mentioned nary a word.
Imagine Jose Offerman, if he had actually fulfilled his intention to injure and left his target with a Grade 3 concussion, becoming a color commentator for the Arizona Diamondbacks and doing cameos on ABC Family shows.
Imagine if Michael Vick was found guilty of the charges he is facing but he wasn’t suspended and his sentence was wrapped around the NFL schedule so he didn’t have to miss any games. And imagine the media didn’t care.
In what kind of twisted world would something like this occur? Only one: The National Hockey League.
While OJ Simpson will never be allowed on a coaching staff, as part of a team’s front office, or in the broadcast booth after being found innocent of killing his wife and another man (not that I believe the verdict was justice) Craig MacTavish, is the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, despite being found guilty of killing a woman in 1984 while driving under the influence of alcohol. While MacTavish didn’t premeditate the murder of the mother of his children, he still killed a woman, was sentenced to jail, and is in a position no one would ever dream of bequeathing to Simpson.
When the day comes that Ron Artest passes from this earth, near the top of his obituary will be his storming into the stands in Detroit to use his fists to pummel a fan. Artest’s brutal display earned him a season long suspension and is baggage that he will carry through the rest of his life. Any post-career NBA work is as unlikely as snow in Barbados. On the day after Christmas in 1979 Boston Bruins winger Terry O’Reilly led a charge into the stands at Madison Square Garden to avenge teammate Stan Jonathan who had his stick taken by a fan and hit in the head with it. O’Reilly, with glove, and stick, began to pummel the fan. He received an eight game suspension, became Bruins coach, is a legend in Boston for his toughness, and was Happy Gilmore’s favorite hockey player.
While there is no evidence that any NBA player ever killed a teammate while breaking the law, Dany Heatly killed teammate Dan Snyder while driving to endanger on September 23, 2003. He was found guilty of vehicular homicide and received a suspended sentence. The NHL found no need to suspend him. This past year he was a first team all-star. The accident is barely mentioned. One has to wonder if Iverson, a player as talented in his sport as Heatly is in his, had killed a teammate driving recklessly, it would be forgotten so easily.
Again, we can only imagine Pacman Jones breaking the neck of an opponent on a play where neither was near the action. We don’t have to imagine that with Todd Bertuzzi who sucker punched Steve Moore and broke his neck. He was arrested for assault and causing serious bodily harm. He received probation for his actions. He was suspended for a season by the NHL, but the players were locked out that year, and when the gates were unlocked, Bertuzzi was graciously allowed inside. He was also chosen to play for Canada in the 2006 Olympics. If football becomes an Olympic sport in 2008 and Pacman is selected by the league to be on the team the media earthquake will make Peru look like a vibrating bed. And let’s not forget, he didn’t break another player’s neck.
With the arrests of Pacman, Tank Johnson, Michael Vick, Artest, and Stephen Jackson the NBA and NFL respectively took steps to suspend the offenders. In the NHL Alex Zhamnov plead guilty to DUI, Pete Worrell spent ten day in jail for DUI, and Sergi Fedorov was found guilty of impaired driving in 2002. All these actions could have led to the deaths of innocent individuals. The amount of games the NHL suspended the admitted criminals. Zero.
While it seems obvious that Jose Offerman’s career came to an end Wednesday night when he charged the mound with his bat in Bridgeport Ct. with the intent to do bodily harm, Bruin Marty McSorely used his stick on Donald Brashear leaving him with a grade 3 concussion. McSorely was suspended for the rest of the season, but was welcomed back the following year, except his skill level had deteriorated, which kept him out of the game. He bounced back to become a commentator for Fox Sports and the San Jose Sharks, and recently played himself on the ABC family network show Greek. Does anyone imagine they will be hearing the words “Welcome to Game 3 of the NLCS, I am Joe Buck with my analyst Jose Offerman, who you can see Monday night on a brand new Hannah Montana?”
And while Michael Vick awaits a punishment he justly deserves Toronto Maple Leaf winger Mark Bell, who last Labor Day, while intoxicated, rear ended a vehicle leaving the driver injured in San Jose, was sentenced to prison for the infraction, the time to be served in the league’s off-season. Imagine the wringing of hands and outrage of the media if Vick receives a similar deal.
So, while the NAACP supports Vick and other black athletes charged with crimes, and white people shake their heads in disbelief at their knee jerk response to helping a fellow black man, remember the above named white athletes who committed crimes that led to severe injuries or death of innocent people, and were allowed back into the NHL, without nary of word from the mostly white media, and understand that those Vick supporters see this, and wonder how much trouble the Falcons quarterback would be facing if he was a Thrasher defenseman.
There has long been a hypocrisy about the media’s coverage of the NHL. The NHL reporters are white men raised by middle class parents reporting on young white men raised by middle class parents who share the same culture, listen to the same music, were raised the same way. You will often see members of the media say how much they enjoy being in NHL locker rooms and the polite way they are treated. This is code for no boom boxes blasting Hispanic or Hip hop music, no threatening posies protecting the stars, no hard to decipher slang.
But if you are looking for some justice it is this: While the NHL and the media covering it turns a blind eye to the crimes committed by its players, the three major sports in America quickly acts to suspend its lawbreakers, and the media covering them dissect every aspect of their crimes, those three leagues are thriving, and the NHL is dying.
And one is left wondering, has the average fan, from Terry O’Reilly’s assaulting fans, to the unpunished assaults on it’s players, to the special treatment given the players sentenced to prison, become tired of watching a sport that won’t police itself.
Maybe if the NHL and the media covering it want it to become a major sport again, they can start weeding out the bad apples instead of welcoming them back. If it wants to be a major league then perhaps the NHL should start acting like one.


Eric McErlain said...

It's important to have your facts right. The MSG incident with the Bruins took place in 1979, not 1989.

Craig Henry said...

I can't believe that anyone would single the NHL out as a league that has the worst morality/justice issues compared to the NFL (hello Michael Vick, OJ, Pacmman and Ray Lewis); the NBA (hello Wilt, Magic, Kobe, Artest and a billion other freaks); or MLB (please insert numerous steroid gobblers and cheaters here). The NHL is by no means a league of pure individuals, but I would suggest it is made up of more quality individuals than the other 3 "major" sports. Many of the players you mentioned have turned their lives around and have contributed positively to society and their sport. They were forgiven and got a second chance, which is something worth noting.

And the NHL is not dying. It struggles in non-hockey markets where it doesn't belong, thanks to the boneheaded dream of an American Commissioner. In Canada, the NHL is king, easily. The other three sports garner interest in Canada, but they are secondary to hockey - and the same sentiment applies to many European countries. Personally, I wish the NHL would pull out of about 10 US cities. They don't deserve the greatest sport in the world because they don't understand or appreciate it. I get sick of hearing that hockey is not "major league" because the US doesn't consistently embrace it. Who gives a crap? I could say the same about the NFL. Aside from Canada and the US, who cares about the NFL? Is it really "major league". Heck, many NFL players couldn't even find success in the CFL, which, of course, is considered an inferior league (even though it isn't)...

But dumping on the NHL because it handles unsavory characters differently than the big 3? I find that amusing when you consider that MLB has a cheater home run king and the NBA's all-time superstar is a chronic gambler. There are more than enough ongoing issues with the big 3, so perhaps the writer shouldn't worry too much about the little ol'NHL.