Blowing Smoke: The Sean Avery and Steve Williams Debacle

Casey MichelCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2008

Please, don’t take offense, Phil. And Elisha, it’s nothing personal.

But guys, it’s time to grow up.
Maybe I’ve been subscribing too much to the Judd Apatow School of Crude, Base, and Immoral Thoughts, but there’s no reason for last week’s uproar surrounding the golfer and the girlfriend.

For those who may not have seen the recent news, Phil Mickelson, he of southpaw putts and a penchant for heartbreaking losses, was addressed by someone else’s caddie in rather odious terms. The word seems to have, ahem, pricked at the thin skin of Mickelson, a golfer known more for his pudgy, pouty dregs than his powerful, prolonged drives. But the real crime, it appears, was not that Mickelson’s tender feelings were trod upon; rather, it’s the fact that the name-calling came from the caddie of the GOAT, Tiger Woods.

In similar straits as the droopy Mickelson is Elisha Cuthbert, best known as “The Girl Next Door,” who seems to have made a few enemies along her way to stardom. Cuthbert may have broken onto the scene as that girl from “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”, but she’s since broken the heart of the wrong hockey player.

With his spirit charred by Cuthbert’s burn, former boyfriend Sean Avery, late of the Dallas Stars, resorted to throwing Cuthbert back into her “Next Door” role by calling her an alliterative synonym for “unkempt after-firsts”. (Sorry, there aren’t many synonyms for “seconds.”)

According to the fervor meeting each “offensive” disturbance, you’d think that Avery and Williams had been pulling Bernard Madoff’s strings or were at least responsible for the (hilarious) shoe-throwing fiasco of Bush’s victory lap.

But in fact, these two professionals did something far more unseemly, far more insidious than actual ruining bank accounts or expressing their disgust at the pointless loss of thousands of lives. They called other people names.

That’s right. These two men, decidedly successful at the highest levels—granted, Williams is simply an intelligent pack mule, but can you name any other caddies on the circuit?—brought out their second-grade weapons of derisiveness and bombarded their enemies with (shudder) names.

Now, you’d think that these two would have earned certain leeway when it comes to expressing their opinions. After all, Williams has prodded Woods to become God’s gift to golfers, eclipsing record upon record and earning the most words of accolade since JFK.

And while Avery may not have earned the hardware that lines Woods’ yacht, he has, arguably, accomplished something far more noteworthy: piqued my (and many others’) interest in the NHL. As much as Gary Bettman turns me off with his elfish looks and corporate folly, it’s the crazed warriors like Avery that keep me returning to the once-moribund NHL.

However, it seems like Bettman, with his proclivity for rash decisions, has once again decided that must steer away from the best interests of his sport. Claiming that Avery had stepped the invisible line of offensiveness, Bettman promptly suspended the left winger from the league. As much as I hate to say it, I can begrudgingly see where Bettman is coming from on this one. Avery’s comments were not a flash in the pan, rarer-than-a-Dick-Cheney-supporter occurrence.

In recent years, the Canadian has not necessarily been the perfect little angel of the sport: From calling Mighty Ducks announcer Brian Hayward a fecal announcer to calling his the NHLPA’s management a pack of liars, Avery’s past has been more checkered than a Guy Ritchie movie.

But for Avery to be suspended in a matter of personal relations, at a time when the only thing controversial about the NHL is whether to leave the Wrigley Field ivy up in next year’s outdoor game, is simply stupid. The guy had a slip of the tongue, perhaps, but for him to lose both pay and prestige is misguided and sets an ugly precedent.

Like Avery, Williams’ days in the sunshine have netted a share of hoopla. The Kiwi has often clashed with fans attempting to snapshot the Woods, at one point snatching a spectators’ camera and depositing it, $7,000-lens-down, into a nearby lake. As the Rahm Emanuel to Woods’s Barack Obama, Williams hasn’t hesitated to crack a few heads along the links. Fortunately for the sake of good humor, Woods understood his caddie’s sentiment and smirkingly noted that Williams would, of course, be back behind the bag.

The latest rounds of controversy may have forced a couple people to check out Urban Dictionary, but let me assure you, there are worst things out there. There are worse names, there are worse intentions, and there are worse ways to run afoul of fans, teammates, and sponsors.

The Dallas Stars’ management appears to have skin as thin as the NHL’s margin of error, and Avery has been axed for the remainder of the season, unleashing a purported barbarity in the sport of barbarians. Meanwhile, by forgoing punishment, the generally stiff-upper-lipped gentry of golf actually let the content dictate their standards, rather than the other way around. They—and the game of golf—are better for it.

No one threw sticks, no one heaved stones, and no one trudged home with broken bones.

And Phil, Elisha, I hope I don’t offend you when I tell you to grow up, and grow a pair.