Sean Avery was wrongfully suspended on Dec. 2, 2008.
On that day, Avery said; “I'm just going to say one thing. 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.”
I’m far from an NHL expert. I’d never claim to be one.
Unlike what I’d do in a baseball, basketball, or football article, I will not present precedent for my opinion. However, if the NHL plans to return to the small place it had in the United States sports forefront, suspending players for things like this is not the way to go.
Rather than doing that, I’ll bring up some points from America’s three favorite sports: football, baseball, and basketball.
In 2004, Terrell Owens had an eventful offseason. In that offseason he was traded to the Ravens, became a free agent, signed with the Eagles, and also called Jeff Garcia, his former teammate in San Francisco, gay.
In 2004, when asked if Garcia was gay during an interview with Playboy Magazine, Owens said "Like my boy tells me: 'If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.'"
Owens of course, would deny the context of the controversial comments. In 2004, he’d go on to have a great season, suspension free, and play in the Super Bowl.
Baseball’s recent history has not been free of speech related controversy. In 2000, when asked about New York in an interview with Sports Illustrated, John Rocker was given a 14-game suspension for saying this:
"It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the seven train to the ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids.
"It's depressing. The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"
Those comments are clearly far worse than what Avery said.
On a more parallel level, in 2005, the Cleveland Indians welcomed Josh Beckett’s ex-girlfriend, Danielle Peck, to sing the national anthem before Beckett’s start in the ALDS.
After the game, a game when Beckett pitched eight innings giving up only one run, capturing a Red Sox victory, Beckett was asked about it.
"I don't get paid to make those f--kin' decisions...She's a friend of mine. It doesn't bother me at all. Thanks for flyin' one of my friends to the game so she could watch it for free,” said Beckett.
Neither Beckett nor the Indians were punished.
That was called gamesmanship, and added to the suspense of one of the greatest teams in terms of recent “sports cinema.”
In June, Shaquille O’Neal was on stage at a New York night club rapping, “Kobe, tell me how my a— tastes.”
Stephon Marbury told LeBron James, in reference to LeBron’s deal with Nike and Marbury’s ownership of Starbury that he’d rather “own than be owned.”
“For five years I’ve been the best prostitute in a high-class whorehouse, but all the other girls get paid more than I do,” said Dennis Rodman once.
None of those players were suspended, and those things are patently more offensive than poking some fun at someone’s ex-girlfriend.
However, in the NHL, players are routinely given five-minute “sentences” in the penalty box for fighting. When fights occur in the other three, it leads to multiple game suspensions.
Has the NHL missed the boat on trash talk? Probably, among other, more important boats. However, for a few days now, I’ve been following the fate of the Dallas Stars, which is something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Hockey is supposed to be a sport which polices itself, but in this circumstance, they’ve managed to get arrested by the sports-equivalent of a stripper dressed like a police officer.