The NHL May Be Multi-National, But at Least It Still Values Integrity
It seems that in modern day sports the words "professional athlete" and "arrested" are becoming more synonymous with each season that passes.
However, when was the last time you heard about a National Hockey League player being suspended for drug charges, hosting dog fights, or even threatening to end the career of a fellow professional?
Perhaps some will cite Jordan Staal's recent underage drinking fiasco at a bachelor party as a prime example of NHL'ers having run-ins with the law. Or brother Eric's charge of disorderly conduct.
If you've never been in the Staal's position, consider yourself sheltered. If you are a teenager growing up in America and have never drank a beer, consider yourself among the minority.
While I'm not condoning such actions, it is foolish to say that the vast majority of the American populous haven't sipped the forbidden drink at least on occasion throughout their adolescence.
However, let's take a very recent look at the rest of the professional sporting world's crime record.
The most obvious place to start is Major League Baseball. The man who has recently gained the title of most prolific home run hitter of all-time and the face of baseball for the past decade also has a big fat asterisk next to every one of his individual records.
It's no secret that the Barry Bonds steroid scandal has been arguably the biggest sports scandal in history (sorry, O.J.).
Whether or not Bonds ever actually confesses to using steroids is completely irrelevant. This scandal has already tainted the game of baseball, and the record books, to a point far beyond repair.
It doesn't take a scientist or a doctor to figure out that Bonds is guilty of doping. One look at the scrawny frame and normal sized head of Bonds in his days with the Pittsburgh Pirates provides a solution to the doping problem that neither Chuck Norris' Total Gym nor Billy Blanks' Taebo DVD collection could offer.
Since the release of the Mitchell Report last December, numerous childhood idols have watched their integrity swirling around the metaphorical toilet bowl before being washed away forever.
Such stars as Roger Clemens, perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era, are now regarded as nothing more than cheaters. Playerswhose dissatisfaction with their God-given abilities drovethem to allegedly take performance enhancing drugs to give them even more of an upper hand on the opposition.
So baseball players have been, once again, allegedly, taking steroids, tarnishing the integrity of "America's Pastime." What else ya got?
My biggest beef lies with the National Football League. I am by no means well-versed in the happenings of the NFL. I haven't watched a professional football game in over three years and probably never will again.
However, you don't have to be a die hard fan, hell you don't even have to watch Sportscenter on a daily basis to be bombarded with news stories about "professional" (emphasis on the quotation marks) football players breaking the law.
Who can forget watching Michael Vick go from one of the most respected, athletically gifted players in professional sports to a dog killer in a matter of days this past summer?
Let's not forget about Adam "Pacman" Jones' run-ins with the law. Jones was said to be interviewed by police on at least 10 separate occasions in the past two years, before being suspended from the NFL for the entire 2007 season.
Jones appealed the suspension, then withdrew the appeal and was eventually allowed to take the field with his new team, the Dallas Cowboys. Jones was re-instated at the end of August, only to be suspended indefinitely just two months later due to a confrontation with a body guard.
Then there's the oh-so-classy Bengals' receiver, Chris Henry. Henry was arrested five times in three different states between December 2005 and April 2008. Henry joined the group of nine Bengals arrested in nine months in 2007.
Then, in April of 2008, Henry was booked again for allegedly punching a kid in the face and breaking some car windows.
Yet, through it all, as of August, the Bengals were close to re-signing Henry after a mistrial from the incident in April.
Is this guy really that valuable to your team that you are willing to risk the integrity of your organization just to have a better shot at finishing somewhere in the ballpark of .500? I just don't get it.
I could further site Tank Johnson's arrest record that is probably longer than most college level textbooks, Santonio Holmes' recent naked shower photo to go along with his recent drug possession charges in Pittsburgh, or Plaxico Burress' domestic disputes, but at this point, I think you get the idea.
We could move on to the NBA, where Dallas Maverick Josh Howard was arrested for street racing, which made openly admitting to smoking marijuana regularly seem like a walk in the park.
Additionally, Brad Miller, Joakim Noah, and David Harrison each got themselves in trouble with the NBA's substance abuse policy for either possessing or driving under the influence of illegal substances.
By this point, if you're a fan of either or all of the obviously tainted professional leagues I have examined, your panties are probably in a rather uncomfortable metaphorical bunch.
I am in no way generalizing that the actions of a certain few, but increasingly large number of players reflects the actions of a league or a players' association as a whole. Well, at least sort of.
It is puzzling to me why these repeat offenders are still playing professional sports. Any average citizen that is convicted of a felony almost immediately loses their job. You choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.
Although, for whatever reason, it seems that athletes have become somehow immune to repercussions from their professional affiliates.
Getting back to the focus of this article, the NHL is not void of integrity strainers among the ranks of its' players' association.
Players such as Chris Simon, Todd Bertuzzi, and Ryan Hollweg are no strangers to suspensions; however herein lies the difference between hockey and other professional sports.
The suspensions' of the aforementioned players, and the vast majority of other players suspended from their teams, are a direct result of in-game offenses.
Whether it's stomping on an opponent's foot, slashing a player in the back with your stick, a hit from behind, a hit after play has halted, or knocking down an official, NHL'ers are rarely suspended for anything other than on-ice offenses.
Anyone who has ever played a sport knows that things are different in the so-called "heat of battle." Tempers flare, adrenaline gets the best of you, and it might cause you to do something that violates the rules of the game.
The severity of the action notwithstanding, it is often times understandable when a player takes a cheap shot in any sport.
To summarize, hockey might still not be considered a "major" sport in America, but it has by and large retained its integrity throughout history.
Whether it's a result of the vast array of culturally different athletes that comprise each of the 30 teams in the league, or the respect for those who have played the game before them, NHL'ers seem to carry themselves with a much higher level of dignity than athletes of other major sports.
I came across an interview with Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Lee Suggs that was nearly vomit-inducing. Before I examine it, let me re-iterate that while I am from Pittsburgh and have been a die hard Penguins fan my entire life, I could care less if the Steelers ever win another game in the history of their franchise.
Suggs admitted to having a "bounty" on the head of Steelers' rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall during the previous Ravens-Steelers game this season. Mendenhall sustained a season ending broken shoulder during that game.
Suggs added that the Ravens' new target will be receiver Hines Ward, stating that "we've got something in store for him" when the Steelers next meet the Ravens.
These kind of childish comments might serve to motivate a core of four linebackers, but to everyone else, doesn't it just sound ridiculous?
To imply that you are intentionally aiming to injure a player is not only unsportsmanlike, it is unprofessional and inhumane.
I'm sure this isn't the only case of ill-mannered trash talking going on around the NFL this season, but frankly, I don't care to know about the rest.
You stay classy, NFL'ers, we'll keep delivering solid shoulder checks and dropping the gloves on the ice, while commending the opposition for their effort after the game, avoiding possession of illegal firearms, petting our dogs instead of staging fights, and smoking a victory cigar instead of a tightly rolled joint, all the while holding the integrity, storied traditions and history of hockey above all else.
So the next time you see a series of mugshots run across your local sports news television station, pay attention to the ratio of NHL'ers to other "professional athletes".
I'm sure you won't be surprised at who comes out on top.
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