National coverage is currently fixated on all things Plaxico Burress – did he really use the Ron Mexico-style alias “Harris Smith” after accidentally shooting himself while at a nightclub? Did teammate Antonio Pierce try to help cover the whole thing up? Did Burress rob his New York Giants teammate Steve Smith at gunpoint? (Okay, maybe I got that headline confused, but you get the point).
At any rate, there’s not much chance any of the major sports networks or outlets have had time for anything other than all-Burress all the time, which is really too bad, because the rest of the nation is missing a really juicy story coming out of the National Hockey League.
Dallas Stars forward Sean Avery created a nice little controversy this week thanks to his not-so-subtle comments made during a morning practice session before the team’s game against the Calgary Flames.
“I’m just going to say one thing,” Avery started. “I’m really happy to be back in Calgary, I love Canada. I just wanted to comment on how, it’s become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don’t know what that’s about, but enjoy the game tonight.”
For those not familiar, Avery was referring to Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who is dating Avery’s ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert, of 24 and The Girl Next Door fame. In response to his comments, the NHL suspended Avery indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the league or game of hockey.”
A 2007 poll of 283 NHL players found out that Sean Avery was easily the most hated player in the league, earning more than 66 percent of the votes. He’s been accused of making racial slurs against opponents, accused of making fun of a hockey player diagnosed with leukemia and is generally viewed as an asshole in and around league circles.
He’s also the guy who last season was standing in front of New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur waving his hands and stick around like a jackass – prompting the league to create the “Sean Avery Rule” the very next day, a rule that cracks down harder on unsportsmanlike conduct (specifically, waving your hands and stick in a goalie’s face like a jackass). So needless to say, he’s not going to ever be considered the teacher’s pet with the league office.
But here’s the thing – the NHL completely dropped the ball on this one.
If Avery knowingly attempted to injure Phaneuf during a game because he’s with Sean’s ex-girlfriend, then fine. Suspend him for as long as you see fit. But that’s not the case here. Avery got sent home for as long as the league sees fit for simply running his mouth. What Avery said definitely qualifies as “poor taste,” but to suspend him for being an asshole is wrong.
I wish I could take credit for this, but Puck Daddy over at Yahoo! Sports suggested to me at the Washington Capitals game Tuesday night that if anyone was going to take action against Avery it should have been his employer, the Dallas Stars. If owner Tom Hicks suspended his player for embarrassing the franchise, it sends the proper message that Avery was in the wrong for putting himself over the team. But when the league is the one handing out this punishment, it comes across as petty and vindictive.
If it were up to me, I’d have let Avery play against Calgary. Think about it, every time he stepped out on the ice he’d have been a marked man. Phaneuf is a stand-up guy and a budding superstar for the Flames, and his teammates surely would have had his back against Avery. Keeping Avery out of that game was probably in the league’s best interest – preventing what very well could have been an ugly on-ice incident. But from a personal standpoint it would have been great to see all of Calgary lining up for the chance to finally shut Avery up.
And if he did somehow manage to survive Calgary, there’s zero chance Avery would have made it back to the states intact. No one – I repeat NO ONE – badmouths Jack Bauer’s family and lives to tell about it. So call off your dogs, NHL. Remove the suspension and let Avery believe he’s once again a free man. As soon as he hits the streets, Jack Bauer will handle the rest.
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.