Have you ever wondered what it must be like to cover a professional team as a sports reporter? This blog post, written by former NHL.com writer Dave Lozo perfectly articulates the experience, specifically the challenges of dealing with a “difficult” coach. Reading his account jogged so many memories of “first time” interviews and press conferences. For better, and for worse. Lozo covered the New York Rangers and head coach John Tortorella for four seasons. Enjoy, and be thankful it was him not you :)
The old press room in Madison Square Garden was a fitting setting for my introduction into covering John Tortorella. The tiny quarters had a suffocating, claustrophobic feel. The room was encased by cement bricks and filled with 20 or so metal folding chairs that faced a stage that held a table and chair where Tortorella would sit and answer – or usually, not answer – questions from the assembled media.
If a prison had a press conference room, this would have been it.
It was September 2009, and my extensive professional hockey writing experience totaled one Western Conference Final game and four Stanley Cup Final games, all of which were contested at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit the previous summer. I found myself covering these very important games after writing stories off conference calls in the earlier rounds that the usual writers couldn’t do because of travel situations.
It turned out my reward for that three weeks of work was four years covering the scariest coach in the NHL.
There’s no way to ever relay the terror that comes with that first press conference involving Tortorella. I had seen the videos, heard the stories and knew what to expect. Seeing as how it was my first day, I planned to simply sit back and watch the beat writers ask their pre-game questions and see how it went.
As became his routine during the season, Tortorella hobbled into the room with Rangers PR star John Rosasco at his side. Tortorella had a hip issue during the season that he would get corrected afterward, but it did nothing to soften his gruff personality. Tortorella walked up the three stairs, examined the chair and table as if it didn’t belong there, sat down, and looked out onto the gathered reporters with a long, deep sigh as if he were an 11-year-old and the human beings in the room were green beans he had to finish if he was going to be allowed to play video games later.
From their colors to their coasts, the Devils and Kings couldn’t be more different, yet in other areas, these teams have quite a bit in common, especially their underdog status.
Nobody expected the No. 6 seed Devils, or worse, the No. 8 seed Kings to be around in June playing for the Stanley Cup, but alas, here we are, with Jersey and L.A. as the last teams standing.
Historically speaking, the edge goes to the Devils who are gunning for a fourth championship (they won it all in 1995, 2000 and 2003) as they have now made the Final five times since 1995. Not too shabby. In fact, the 1995 Devils, as a No. 5 seed, are etched in the history books as being the lowest seed to ever win the Cup. One way or the other, a new group of men will take that title within the next two weeks.
The Kings record books are barren in comparison as the Gretzky-led Kings’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 marks the only Final appearance for L.A.
Both teams have players with Cup Final experience on their resumes, but the Kings young nucleus of Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and team captain Dustin Brown is completely lacking in that department while the Devils’ on-ice and locker room leader Martin Brodeur, is one of the most experienced players in the history of professional hockey.
The Kings’ inexperience has been nearly invisible since their unexpected playoff run began as L.A. ripped through the Western Conference with a 12-2 record after beating Vancouver Canucks in five games, sweeping the St. Louis Blues and disposing of the Phoenix Coyotes in five games as well. All three of L.A.’s series-winning games came on the road as the Kings are 8-0 away from home.
The Devils’ road to the Cup Final has been tougher, needing a full seven games to take care of the Florida Panthers in the first round, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games and the top-seed New York Rangers in six games. Of course, Brodeur - who turned 40-years-old during the Conference Semifinals - has been outstanding in net for the Devil while rookie Adam Henrique has impressed, scoring two series-winning goals, both coming in overtime periods.
The Devils won the regular season series beating the Kings in both games, the first, by a score of 3-0 (both teams played with backup goaltenders) and the second by a final score of 2-1 in a shootout. Both teams use size and aggression when battling for the puck and on the forecheck. It should be interesting to watch these two go against each other considering their similar style in that respect.
Perhaps the most interesting match up isn’t even a true match up at all, as Brodeur and Jonathan Quick are the brightest-shining stars of the bunch. Old Man Marty has a 2.04 GAA in the playoffs while Quick’s stat line looks outstanding with a 1.54 GAA. While neither guy has the flash or looks of a Henrik Lundqvist, both men have had their fair share of exquisite, body-bending saves throughout the playoffs. In fact, the Kings players themselves will admit that they wouldn’t have made the playoffs if it weren’t for the consistency of Quick throughout the regular season, especially in that last month.
Both goalies have had plenty of help in the playoffs as the Devils are averaging 11.27 blocked shots per game while the Kings are keeping the crease clear for Quick at a rate of 14.07 blocked shots per contest. Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell are playing with brutal physicality on the blue line for L.A. and Anton Volchenkov and Marek Zidlicky are doing the same for New Jersey.
As for the offense, the Devils are lucky, boasting four solid lines and guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise who have played big-time in these playoffs. As for the Kings, most agree that the team’s top six forwards are the ones to worry about, but L.A. has had 15 different players score at least one goal and another 15 log at least one assist in the playoffs. That’s ridonkulous.
Special teams has been interesting for both teams in the post season. The Devils are scoring on the man advantage 18.2% of the time while the Kings are at a measly 8.1% on the PP. Perhaps the more important number comes on the flip side of the coin. The Devils are 74.2% on the penalty kill while L.A. is a whopping 91.2% on the PK. Jersey has logged two shorthanded goals while the Kings have scored five while killing penalties. The Devils can really do some damage if they can poke holes in the Kings special teams play.
At the end of the day, my heart says Kings. Then again, I’ve picked against the Devils in every series, and they’ve made a liar out of me each time. I think the extra rest for the Kings, as well as their special teams unit and the play of Dustin Penner might just put L.A. over the top and crown the Kings Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history.
They say history often repeats itself and the New York Rangers are living proof of it. The Rangers’ third-round playoff series against the New Jersey Devils has mimicked the first two seesaw-like rounds in which the East’s No. 1 seed won the first game, lost the second, and rebounded for a Game 3 victory.
The home team Devils actually dominated the first two periods showing plenty of toughness and out-shooting the Rangers 26-14 en route to a goose-egg tie heading into the third period of play. Henrick Lundqvist was phenomenal throughout and when push came to shove - both literally and figuratively - New York’s offense pulled its head out from you know where to smoke New Jersey late for the 3-0 win.
It took some nudging on behalf of Rangers coach John Tortorella to wake his boys up. By way of verbal lashings and line shake-ups, Tort reminded the guys, “Hey! You fools are the freakin #1 Rangers, so get out there and act like it.”
Apparently Rangers right winger Brandon Prust heard that message loud and clear as he elbowed the back of Anton Volchenkov’s head, dislodging his helmet right after a Tortorella pep talk. While wanting to prove to your coach that you get the point, that was a less-than-ideal way to do it as Prust is almost certain to be suspended at least one game for the play in which no penalty was called.
Much like in Game 1 of this series, the tables turned completely in the third period. Dan Girardi, a proud member of the Rangers’ fourth line, was the first to inflict pain on the Devils, scoring a only a few minutes in. The Devils didn’t even have time to suffer the pain of an 1-0 deficit as Chris Krieder -a rookie who was playing for BOSTON COLLEGE in April, and now has a goal in each of the last three games - scored 1:57 later, changing the landscape of the game in a hurry.
Lundqvist and the 40-year-old Marty Brodeur were both fantastic in the first two periods, but the Rangers goaltender could not be matched over the long haul. Lundqvist finished the game with 36 saves while Brodeur’s 19 saves -many of them spectacularly physical and heroic- were not enough to to combat the two he let in early in the third period, the first, coming right off a face-off during a power play.
New York’s third goal came on the cheap, an empty-netter from Ryan Callahan providing icing on the cake with only a few minutes remaining in the game.
Lundqvist, who logged his second shutout of the series, said after the game that it was just a matter of time before things started to go the Rangers’ way, and he was right, as the more physical and skilled team eventually prevailed. The Devils, who with the loss broke a four-game win streak on home ice, were unable to capitalize on the power play going 0-5.
The bazillion-dollar-man himself was no match for the super-human Lundqvist as the Rangers netminder stopped Ilya Kovalchuk on a breakaway 49 seconds into the second period before logging a set of back-to-back saves shortly after. The sequence set the tone for the rest of the game, letting Los Diablos know that that whether or not his teammates were going to block shots, Lundqvist wasn’t letting a penny squeak past him today.
Between old man Brodeur, Hollywood Henrik and the rookie Krieder (whose story is sure to be made into a Disney movie if he keeps playing at this level), there is no shortage of great story lines and physical play forcing our fingers crossed in hopes of this series going 7 games.
And if the Rangers’ recent history repeats itself, seven games it is.
Hockey Day In America. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? NBC is trying to change that as the network hosts its second annual “Hockey Day In America,” a nine-hour block of hockey-related programming across various NBC platforms.
While hockey can’t seem to find a solid, widespread fan base in the United States, it’s as popular as ever in Canada and Europe and NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to NHL games, would love to see that popularity shift to the U.S.
Lets dissect what Hockey Day In America will consist of before getting into why hockey isn’t, but should be more successful in the U.S.
Starting at Noon ET, three different NHL games will be aired on NBC. Depending on what region of the country you are in on Sunday morning, you’ll see either the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres, the San Jose Sharks at the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues at the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once the first round of games wraps up, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will take on the Minnesota Wild in front of a national audience on NBC. The fun continues on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) with the New Jersey Devils at the Montreal Canadiens, also nationally televised, at around 6pm ET after the conclusion of Bruins at Wild.
NBC chose some great match-ups as each game features star players and intriguing story lines. From Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller in net for the Sabres to the Red Wings attempting to stretch their home winning streak to a whopping 23 games, there’s something for everyone to gravitate to, including the casual NHL fan and even someone who doesn’t know a thing about hockey.
But nobody is counting on back-to-back-to-back games to do the trick and convert your typical “any sport other than hockey” fan into an NHL sweater-wearing believer. NBC is weaving the details of the game and its culture throughout the nine-hour telecast in the form of features and human interest stories designed to keep the television audience engaged and actually teach people a thing or two about hockey.
While many of us think of hockey as a Canadian sport, the U.S. makes plenty of contributions to the game which will be showcased Sunday. For example, a disproportionate number of NHL players come from two tiny high school hockey programs in Minnesota. Located in towns with populations under 3,000, Roseau High School and Warroad High School will be featured on NBC as the rival schools pump out professional hockey players at an abnormally high rate.
Other tales to be told during Sunday’s telecast are those of a groundbreaking program created by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation which provides sled hockey for the physically challenged and “The Program,” which gives American kids interested in hockey a legitimate path to the NHL without having to leave the country for the Canadian junior leagues. American-born players will be featured and interviewed throughout the telecast.
The NHL had a small window of opportunity to increase its fan base during the NBA lockout, but in the end, there just wasn’t enough time to forge a grassroots movement to attract new viewers.
I once had a conversation with a front office employee of a non-Original Six (Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs) NHL team about how hard it is for his team to grow its fan base. He said the organization had seemingly tried everything to increase ticket sales and TV ratings but nothing would stick. Putting butts in seats inside the arena wasn’t as much of an issue as the TV ratings, which he said were extremely hard to grow.
It’s no coincidence that four of the NHL’s Original Six teams will be featured in “Hockey Day In America” as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal will bring their strong fan bases with them and perhaps NBC’s presentation of the traditions and folklore of those teams can get others outside of those markets interested in the sport and its history.
Sure, baseball is “American’s Pastime” and its roots run deep through U.S. soil, but football surpassed baseball as the country’s most popular sport years ago and basketball is beloved by Americans from every walk of life. If only sports fans realized that hockey has the violence of football, the speed of basketball and the agility and skill superior to both, they would certainly fall in love with the NHL.
They say “hockey doesn’t translate on TV,” and while there is some truth to that, once you learn the rules and understand the game, hockey is just as exciting to watch on television as any other sport. Seeing a game in person is also a fantastic experience.
Being able to watch hockey on TV was in jeopardy after the NHL lockout as the league was dropped by the networks that carried the games before the 2004-05 season which was lost completely due to the labor dispute. Luckily, NBC came along and partnered with the NHL (which I think saved the league from collapsing). NBC got one heck of a deal as they did not have to pay rights fees for the games, instead, agreeing to simply split ad revenue with the league.
The higher the TV ratings, the more money NBC and the NHL take home. Unfortunately, this year’s Winter Classic game between the Rangers and Flyers had the lowest ratings in the short history of the event, in it’s fifth year. It’s not all bad news though because the game was moved from prime time on New Years Day to mid-day on Jan 2 (competing against college football) due to weather conditions which is probably a likely explanation for the ratings drop. The 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins drew the event’s highest ratings with help from HBO’s reality series “24/7” leading up to the game (the cable network also featured this season’s Winter Classic teams) and because the match-up featured the NHL’s top players in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Given the massive programming block of Hockey Day In America, the NHL and NBC should be able to capitalize off a Sunday devoid football or baseball. Plus, NBC has a full hour of hockey all to itself before any NBA or NCAA basketball games start. That should be enough time to plant the seed and convert the non-believers into hockey fans, slowly but surely, beginning with nine hours of Hockey Day In America.
The Boston Celtics announced Saturday that the contract of Jeff Green will be voided as a result of the forward being diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. The 25-year-old will undergo season-ending heart surgery to repair the problem.
This incident is important on both micro and macro scales.
After reporting to training camp on Dec. 9, the condition was discovered when Green failed a stress test during his physical. Several cardiac specialists recommended the surgery that should allow Green to resume his basketball career next season.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, an aortic aneurysm (which can cause fatal bleeding) is described as, “a weakened and bulging area in the upper part of the aorta, the major blood vessel that feeds blood to the body. Because the aorta is the body’s main supplier of blood, a ruptured thoracic aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding.”
Green is not the first professional athlete this year who has discovered a life-threatening condition via a team physical.
In October, the Eagles medical staff discovered a brain tumor when running back Jerome Harrison underwent a required physical after being traded by the Detroit Lions to Philadelphia. The Washington Post reported that Harrison told the Eagles doctor he suffered from headaches, prompting the doctor to order an MRI which revealed the tumor. ESPN reported that Harrison’s surgery was successful as doctors removed the entire tumor.
Had Harrison not been traded, or Green not signed a new contract, both of their lives would still be in medical jeopardy, at best.
News of Green’s heart condition elicited sad memories for Celtics fans as the death of Reggie Lewis in 1993 still haunts Boston. The late Celtic died during an off-season practice after having previously shown symptoms of a heart condition (including collapsing during a playoff game) in the months leading up to his death.
Lewis died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, commonly referred to as an an enlarged heart, the same condition that took the life of Fred Thompson, an Oregon State freshman football player who died on Dec. 7.
Like Green’s condition, an enlarged heart can easily go undetected due to lack of physical symptoms. According to an Associated Press story about the death of Thompson, “Dr. Karen Gunson said Friday that the 19-year-old had increased thickness of the heart muscle, which can cause an irregular heartbeat during strenuous exercise. She says the condition is a common cause of death in young athletes who seem completely healthy but die during heavy exercise.”
Despite the fact that few people exhibit symptoms of an enlarged heart, some do, and others could if they underwent physical testing, such as the stress test that helped reveal Green’s condition. According to the Mayo Clinic website, “in a small number of people with this condition, the thickened heart muscle can cause signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath and problems in the heart’s electrical system resulting in life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).”
If an athlete exhibits any symptoms, a simple, painless test called an Echocardiogram (ECG) could be administered to diagnose an enlarged heart and other heart conditions. In fact, several countries and the International Olympic Committee now require athletes to undergo screening including an ECG before partaking in sports, according to a story written by CNN’s Elizabeth Landau in March of this year after four high school student athletes died of heart conditions during athletic competition within a two week period.
"There are about 50 to 100 sudden deaths among athletes in middle, high school and college every year, said Dr. Marlon Rosenbaum, associate clinical professor of medicine and pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons," wrote Landau.
The same article ( http://tinyurl.com/6nfepto ) cites two differing studies; one of which found mandatory ECG testing did not affect the number of sudden athlete deaths in Israel and another study which previously found a reduction in sudden deaths among athletes after the implementation of mandatory testing in Italy.
While the impact of screening is debatable, that is exactly the point; there should be a debate. I have long maintained that professional athletes (and even college athletes for that matter) should undergo both physical and mental evaluations three times per year. Once during the preseason, again during the season and once more at season’s end.
Why should some football and hockey players suffer head injuries in a game and not be given a concussion test immediately?
Why should an athlete wait to get traded to undergo a simple test that would subsequently reveal a brain tumor?
Why should three NHL enforcers fight mental demons which stemmed from the game and resulted in their deaths?
While Derek Boogaard addressed mental health and addiction issues by going to rehab, he was embarrassed and worried about how his reputation might be impacted ( http://nyti.ms/vvLrZM ). Surely mandatory physical and mental evaluations would simultaneously help to reduce the stigma of weakness associated with health issues and perhaps, reveal life threatening conditions before its too late.
Click here to read Elizabeth Landau’s article on how teen athlete deaths can be prevented: http://tinyurl.com/6nfepto
Click here to read “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer,” a fascinating 3-part series about Derek Boogaard by John Branch of the New York Times: http://nyti.ms/vvLrZM
Everyone can agree that that the Cleveland Browns handled the Colt McCoy concussion situation poorly. Well, everyone but the Browns themselves.
Quick recap: After the Browns quarterback received a crushing helmet-to-helmet hit last Thursday night care of the Steelers’ James Harrison, McCoy’s hand was checked out by the team’s medical staff, not his head, after the play. McCoy played the rest of the game, missing only two plays after the hit and was not even tested for a concussion until after the game when his complaints compelled the medical staff to do so. As an indication of how serious that hit was, McCoy’s father said his son has no memory of the play ( http://tinyurl.com/bvbly8t ). According to the Washington Post, McCoy did not undergo the mandatory Sports Concussion Assessment Tool review until the following morning. The results of the test were abnormal and the doctors sent McCoy home.
Browns president Mike Holmgren confirmed the fact that McCoy did not undergo concussion-related testing on the sideline during the game, yet defended the reaction of the coaches and medical staff in a press conference on Wednesday, saying that nobody on the sidelines saw the helmet-to-helmet hit.
"I’ve had guys in my career come out and go, ‘hey, you better check Steve Young, somebody better check him because he’s not coming out right. None of that happened," Holmgren said. "Ok, no one alerted anybody to this. It seems inconceivable that nobody did, so, how do we do this, now so they get the information they need, the doctors? This is still to be talked about, but to have somebody say something at a proper time."
My first thought was why didn’t the assistant coaches up in the booth call down to the sideline and inquire about the hit once they realized McCoy was going back in the game after sitting out for less than four minutes? The coaches have a television feed in the booth and even if the TV was muted, they would’ve seen NFL Network replay the hit over and over again. Interestingly enough, that was the situation Holmgren himself was in.
"I saw the hit on replay, and I go, ‘okay, that’s not good’ but I’ve also seen hits that… it looks bad, but you know, and off ya go," Holmgren said. "You really do have to just let the medical people go through their procedures and make the judgement they’re getting paid to make. I’m telling you, we’ve got good guys. It didn’t start to show until the locker room, and a good, good time in the locker room, that’s when they really got alerted to it I suppose."
Accidental or not, I thought the NFL should fine the Browns, which would hopefully compel teams to do their due diligence when recognizing and diagnosing head injuries, regardless of how it could affect the outcome of a game.
Just when I thought fining the Brows was the answer, I read this from an article written by Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com:
"The NFL has a new policy this season where a league observer in the press box can alert a team’s medical staff on the sideline about a concussion (or other injury) the team may have missed. Some players say that isn’t good enough. They want an independent observer with a medical background to look for concussions that were missed or are being hidden by players or ignored by the medical staff."
Holmgren confirmed that the appointed NFL official at the game last Thursday did not speak up or contact the Browns in any way regarding the hit. Given that information, how could the NFL possibly condemn the team’s inaction when the league’s own representative failed to see the severity of the hit noticed by the NFL Network broadcast crew and subsequently, every viewer?
Even more disturbing is an attitude expressed by Holmgren in Wednesday’s press conference. Holmgren said that even if the coaches and medical staff had seen or been alerted to the severity of the hit, because McCoy was on the bench after and not displaying any signs of a concussion at that point, nothing would’ve been done differently. Well ya see Mike, that is the problem. That’s why guidelines are set mandating the medical staff to test a player for concussion after a play like whether the player shows “symptoms” of trauma or not.
Freeman’s article addresses that issue as well:
"Said one player, who is also a player representative: ‘The concussion rules are the best they can be. The league and the union have done a good job protecting players, but the truth remains, players are still hiding concussions, because they want to protect their careers. In some cases, teams know a player is concussed and let it go. Yes, that still happens.’ The NFL and players union might soon respond to holes in the policy by placing independent doctors on the sidelines during games, taking the decision out of the hands of the interested parties: the teams and players. But until then, some players will continue to put themselves at risk by doing whatever they can to stay on the field."
Remember what happened to San Diego’s Chris Dielman in October? The Chargers guard took a hard hit in a game against the New York Jets, stumbling around the field after the play. The referee even approached Dielman as he couldn’t find his balance, yet the Chargers didn’t take him out of the game. Dielman did in fact suffer a concussion on the play and ended up having a grand mal seizure on the plane ride back to San Diego ( http://tinyurl.com/7zyz3hg ).
Research has proven that hits taken before the symptoms of a concussion have subsided can be extremely damaging and sometimes fatal. Second-Impact Syndrome (SIS) has killed several high school football players, as the brain is fragile and still forming in the teenage years. SIS is a huge reason why the NFL and other athletic governing bodies have created guidelines to test for a concussion immediately following a play. The goal is to save an injured player from sustaining further damage by letting the athlete continue to play.
Colt McCoy finished the game after being knocked out. Chris Dielman finished the game after suffering a concussion. NHL star Sidney Crosby not only finished one game after receiving a concussion, but was knocked out of the following game four days later before the Pittsburgh Penguins realized the severity of his injury.
Crosby was forced to sit out for 10 months before returning to the ice this season. After only eight games, it was recently announced that Crosby will be out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms.
While many players are starting to come around in terms of realizing the importance of healing from head injuries ( http://tinyurl.com/7nalxh2 ), many still choose to ignore the evidence pointing to a tragic future that possibly awaits them. If the story of the NHL’s Derek Boogaard won’t scare someone into taking care of themselves ( http://nyti.ms/vvLrZM ), perhaps nothing will.
That is exactly the point. It is the league’s job to save players and coaches from themselves and their perhaps misguided self interests. While the NBA, NHL and NFL have all taken steps in the right direction by adopting policies to keep players safe, it clearly isn’t enough just yet.
Click here to read Mike Freeman’s eye-opening story about the NFL’s efforts to curb concussions while many players still try to avoid the polices designed to help them: http://tinyurl.com/7nalxh2
I’m a bit perturbed by the NHL’s decision not to punish Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds for “allegedly” yelling an anti-gay slur at Rangers forward Sean Avery in a preseason game a few nights ago.
Remember, Avery publicly supported the push to legalize gay marriage in New York a while back, becoming the first pro athlete (of a major North American team sport) to make a PSA about the issue. This guy has cojones of steel to do that in an environment where no active player has EVER come out of the closet, indicating just how taboo homosexuality still is in team sports.
After a league hearing with Simmonds on Tuesday, NHL senior VP Colin Campbell made a statement condemning racist/sexist/homophobic comments, yet said the league did not have enough evidence to punish Simmonds. What do you mean you don’t have enough evidence? One doesn’t even have to be able to read lips to clearly see Simmonds yell “f***ing f****t” in this video (watch it here… http://fitperez.com/2011-09-27-philadelphia-flyer-calls-sean-avery-a-gay-slur#.ToN5lpY090o ).
While you can’t see Avery in the video, since he told the media about the incident right after the game, I think it’s safe to put two and two together on this one. But no, the NHL didn’t do that, instead, turning the situation it into a game of “he said, he said,” with Avery coming out on the losing end.
When it comes to dating, my friend Melissa always says this about men: actions speak louder than words. The same rule must be applied here. Condemning a behavior then refusing to punish it sends a mixed message. We saw the NBA fine Kobe Bryant $100k for directing the other “F” word at a referee last season. Not only that, but Bryant went on a full media blitz apologizing all over the place and the NBA even made public service announcements about the issue.
Here’s what I think the real issue is. Remember when Charlie Villanueva accused Kevin Garnett of calling him a “cancer patient” while trash talking during an NBA game last season? I recall various players and media personalities say that whatever is said on the court between two players should stay there and not be subjected to outside scrutiny; the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” principle. Trash talking is just part of the game, no matter how nasty it gets. But I’m not buying it. If a white player called a black player the “N” word during a game, would that be acceptable because of where it was said? I think not.
This illusion of privacy or a sacred environment while playing a professional sport is just that; an illusion. Games are played in front of thousands of fans, not to mention millions of TV viewers. Close-ups, replays, and microphones are capable of capturing nearly every millisecond of a game on video. What a player does or says on the field is a public display open for interpretation, inspection, criticism and complaint by all those watching, thus team management and leagues must find a way to hold people accountable.
If your inner monologue is reading, “calm down, it’s sports. Politics don’t belong here,” you are fooling yourself. Sports has long been a platform for civil rights and social justice. Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Not long ago, I saw an athlete tweet something to the effect of, do this, or else you’re gay. The second I read it, I texted the athlete, who is a young guy with thousands of followers, and suggested he delete the tweet immediately. A few minutes later, the tweet was gone, and shortly thereafter I got a text message from him saying, you know that’s not how I meant it. He also said that some of his twitter followers had tweeted him saying they were offended and were going to unfollow him. I went on to give him a motherly lecture via text, explaining that if that’s the case, you shouldn’t have said it. Say what you mean, and unless you mean homosexual, leave the word gay alone. He responded saying he understood, and that not only would he not use the world publicly, but he would try his best to eliminate it from his every day vocabulary.
Even though he is just one guy, the transformation has to start somewhere. That’s why the NBA fined Kobe. They started the trend that such language wouldn’t be tolerated on the court, which will hopefully serve as a deterrent and force players into the habit of thinking before speaking. I wish the NHL would’ve done the same.
P.S. Simmonds should just admit what he did, apologize for it and move on. People are willing to forgive those who admit their mistakes, but BSing and refusing to fess up is pretty weak and very disappointing (especially given what happened to him last Thursday in Ontario).