The National Hockey League, in my opinion, should be applauded for not putting up with a player who is considered to be a prima donna, who had a mediocre (at best) season, who lost his starting job yet demanded more than he was worth. Instead, the league is being scrutinized by some…and why? I’ll get to that soon enough, but first let me try and paint the picture…
Say there is a player, one who has been suspended for slashing a player in the face. This player shows up late for numerous practices. When he doesn’t get the starting nod in net, he pouts visibly on the side. Not only that, but he fights with his teammates, and has had a few of the all too familiar “traffic incidents”. Does that sound like someone you would like on your team? These are all personality and judgment characteristics that have earned this player a one-way ticket to Russia. Did I mention that he was black? Does it matter? Absolutely not.
The NHL has had a long and proud tradition of not tolerating cancerous individual behavior. When off-ice issues become too much for a team to handle (Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Heatley, Theo Fleury), players are run out of town. Bertuzzi hasn’t been the same since his incident which lead to him being kicked out of Vancouver. His point totals have plunged and as such, he has accepted a lesser role and thus less money. Heatley left the United States in a trade that sent him to Ottawa where he has still been successful but has since stayed out of any major trouble. Fleury was run right out of the league altogether and was playing in a professional team in Ireland. Did I mention all of these players were white? Does it matter? Absolutely not!
The NHL has always earned my respect for its strict behavioral policy, the unwritten one that reads “Miscreants Not Welcome.” This whole shape up or ship out mentality has largely kept the NHL from many of the highly publicized problems that the NFL and NBA always seem to be facing. Is it because the NFL and NBA have more black athletes? No. Is it because the league (policy makers, disciplinarians, GM’s, coaches, and fans) has had a tradition of tolerance for bad behavior? Absolutely.
Rules and policies should transcend race and should also transcend celebrity status. An NHL goalie, two seasons removed from backstopping a team (that was extremely offensive oriented) to the conference championship, should be held to the same standard as the minor league backup goalie struggling to get ice time. Just as the starting quarterback should be held to the same standard as the 4th or 5th string wide receiver fighting for this spot on the roster, or the big shot point guard and his rookie teammate, etc. To let one player behave in such a way that would cost the job of a lower profiled player acting the exact same way is an extremely slippery slope, and will lead to bigger trouble as time goes on. The NFL has taken a few good steps forward in their disciplinary actions and I commend them for that.
So, going back to our original story of this mediocre goalie with a bad attitude who takes a job (a multi-million dollar job) over in Russia instead of taking less money as a backup somewhere else…why even bring up the issue of racism? Because some small-time blogger wants to use the sensitive issue of racism as a lightning rod in order to get him national attention. Did he have to go and open up Pandora’s Box regardless if it was warranted (and it wasn’t)? No, he did not. Are we all going to have to deal with now? Unfortunately, yes. In an age where any idiot (myself included) can blog his opinion to the masses of internet junkies, it is our responsibility to keep in check those that make potentially dangerous and harmful accusations just as it is the NHL’s duty to not tolerate behavior that could be potentially damaging to a sport that is still trying to win back the masses