Sean Avery Might Be Dumb, but NHL Overreacted

Jason WhitlockCorrespondent IDecember 4, 2008

Just about everything in the sports world I get.

Take Plaxico Burress for example. He isn't that hard to understand. To him, and many other misguided black athletes, a concealed handgun isn't that much different from a diamond-encrusted Rolex watch. Expensive jewlerry and a Glock are the can't-leave-home-without-'em necessities for many athletes/wannabe rap stars.

I have nothing profound to say about Plaxico's stupidity. He's trapped in a self-destructive cultural mindset that won't be altered by get-tough suspensions from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

I also have little news to offer, as it relates to Notre Dame retaining The Great Weis Hope for a fifth season. Notre Dame made a huge mistake giving Charlie Weis a contract extension, but the cost of fixing that mistake and the gettable candidates to replace TGWH prohibit the school from dismissing him. I get it.

What I don't understand this week is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's overreaction to Sean Avery's slightly off-color joke about his peers dating his exes.

I am not trying to be flip, primitive, or insensitive. "Sloppy seconds" has never been to my knowledge, an obscenity.

I acknowledge that perhaps I was raised poorly. My parents divorced when I was four or five years old. My dad let me and my brother spend too much time sitting on a bar stool talking sports at his tavern, Jimmy's J Bar J.

My mother liked to play bingo and cards, take an occasional road trip to Churchill Downs and spend a Saturday morning playing the numbers at the local "peashake" houses. She didn't hide it.

But I was also raised at 25th Street Baptist Church. My dad once spanked me for saying "fart." I had well-established boundaries of decency and respect. And the Whitlocks, we love to laugh. We laugh at ourselves, the people we love, and everybody else. A dirty joke with a good punch line is always welcome at a Whitlock gathering.

My friends, a healthy cross section of blacks and whites, rich and poor, male and female, old and young are all the same way. I like to feel I'm part of mainstream America, with mainstream American values.

I just can't fathom the Sean Avery controversy. This has to be some kind of desperate publicity stunt for a terrific sport that is being ignored.

Obviously, Avery did not have to crack his joke in front of TV cameras. He should've saved it for the locker room, but indefinitely suspended by the league? Predictions that he'll never play again for the Dallas Stars?

Have we heard from Elisha Cuthbert? Is she pulling a Vivian Stringer and claiming that her role as Kim Bauer on "24" has been ruined by Avery's immature attempt at gamesmanship directed at Calgary's Dion Phaneuf?

I am not denying that Avery is an idiot. He has previously been accused of uttering a racial epithet at Georges Laraque. The league took no action because it was an impossible-to-prove he-said-it, between Avery and Laraque.

I'm sure that history played a small role in Bettman's overreaction. Bettman, I'm sure, is trying to stop Avery from turning into the NHL's John Rocker. Bettman could've handled it by issuing a statement from the league apologizing to Cuthbert and any offended fans and promising to suspend Avery for his next, remotely inappropriate public comment.

OK, that's my quibble with Bettman. My real problem is with my peers in the media. I think we're too quick to go for the death penalty when it comes to verbal screw-ups. We can never see the gray areas and just want hard and fast rules.

Avery may be just as dumb as Rocker, but Avery is not John Rocker, yet. Avery isn't even Fuzzy Zoeller, who mean-spiritedly tried to diminish Tiger Woods' first Masters title with a fried-chicken joke.

For now, Avery is a garden-variety simpleton. Some might argue he's Charles Barkley without the timing, occasional substance, and fawning friends in the media. And I'm one of those fawning media members, even though Sir Charles has made some mistakes along the way (I never liked the Shirtless Charles in Chains Sports Illustrated cover, but I loved his take on LeBron and New York. It's always a mixed bag with Chuck).

My point is we're trying too hard to paint Avery as a despicable human being. ESPN ran a graphic, referencing the fact that Avery called another player "fatso" and described an announcer as "terrible."

How is that any different from what Barkley does during TNT's pre-and post-game shows? Barkley is the best studio analyst in the business.

We have to cut people a little slack, even people we don't like. Avery gets to be offensively flawed up to a point. He's yet to cross the line however. We shouldn't push him over it.

You can e-mail Jason Whitlock at

This article originally published on

Read more of Jason's columns here.