Avery’s Just Desserts Are Sloppy SecondsFriday, December 5, 2008 22:45
Commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman has handed down his judgment on Sean Avery and it looks as though the Dallas winger will have six games’ worth of time to work on his fashion portfolio while continuing his valuable service of screening potential dates for other members of the NHLPA. Maybe he should get a reality show like the Millionaire Matchmaker. Although, I don’t think I could ever hate Avery as much as I hate that lady.
Anyway, for those living in a hole for the past week, Avery was suspended as a result of comments he made with regard to Calgary defenseman and Hummer-enthusiast, Dion Phaneuf, and his cleft-chinned lady friend, Elisha Cuthbert, whom Avery used to date (Cuthbert, not Phaneuf). Avery referred to the former 24 star as his “sloppy seconds,” a term which elicited gasps of disbelief and shock from lots of people who have never seen a hockey game. Without Jack Bauer around to defend his TV daughter’s honor, it fell to Gary Bettman to step in. And, step in he did, to the tune of a six-game suspension that will surely teach Avery a lesson–in marketing.
I’m not going to argue with the validity of the suspension other than to say that Ryan Hollweg is a lot worse for hockey than Avery will ever be and he’s still playing. The fact remains that someone had to address Avery’s decision to make such a statement in a public forum. The fact that the Dallas winger deliberately gathered the reporters to himself before making the statement is, at least to me, much more troublesome than the content of what he said. I’m certain he says things on the ice that would have made Lenny Bruce blush. That’s part of being an agitator. What made this different is that Avery made himself into a spectacle, and in doing so, he made himself bigger than the game, and that can’t happen.
To be fair, the first time I saw photos of Cuthbert and Phaneuf cavorting in Hawaii, I thought exactly the same thing Avery did. Actually, scratch that. The very first thing I thought was how good Cuthbert looks in a bikini. However, immediately after that, I thought about how much jawing Phaneuf was going to hear from agitators around the league.
It’s a time-honored tradition. One need only to look at sports movies which have always been a great, if a bit behind-the-curve, barometer of sports culture. From Paul Newman’s, “Hey Hanrahan!” line in Slapshot to “How’s your wife and my kids?” in Major League, razzing a player’s significant other has always been an accepted, even time-honored, tradition. I sincerely doubt that if this was said in a game, and I’ve no doubt it has been, Phaneuf would have been surprised by it.
In the end, the problem lies with the new NHL. The culture of the Bettman-era NHL is one where players have very little respect for one another. Sticks are carried high, boarding penalties are on the rise, and agitators are crossing every line they can to get an advantage. Avery simply tried to see how far the guys in charge would let him go before they stopped him. It’s the same way he’s played the game his entire career. Ever since the inclusion of the instigator penalty, the players have been robbed of the ability to police themselves, and suddenly guys like Avery, Claude Lemieux, and Essa Tikkanen found a role.
I’m not saying that I want the league to go back to the days of the Broad Street Bullies, or even to the clutching and grabbing days of the late 80′s. But, if Bettman really wanted to reign in this kind of behavior for good, the return to the ice of players like McSorley and Twist would ensure that justice was meted out on the ice, where it should be, and not in Bettman’s Manhattan offices.
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