SBD/Issue 56/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NHLPA's Paul Kelly Could Be In Tough Spot Over Avery Situation

Avery's Contract With Stars 
Includes Morality Language
NHLPA Exec Dir Paul Kelly "would be put into a difficult spot" if the Stars take the "unprecedented step of trying to fire" LW Sean Avery for cause, according to Eric Duhatschek of the GLOBE & MAIL. Avery, who has been suspended indefinitely for controversial comments he made Tuesday, this morning was scheduled to meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at league HQs in N.Y. Avery signed a four-year, $15.5M deal with the Stars in July, and his contract requires him to "conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standard of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship." But did Avery cross a "legal boundary line and if so, could the Stars void that rich payout on the grounds that Avery breached a contract that the two sides agreed to, in good faith, only five months before?" The NHLPA "would almost certainly need to run to his defence, because of the dangerous precedent it might set," but there is "no way [Kelly] could defend Avery's words." Duhatschek writes Bettman was "perfectly within his rights to suspend Avery for conduct detrimental to the league" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/4). Avery yesterday apologized for his comments, saying, "I should not have made those comments and I recognize that they were inappropriate. It was a bad attempt to build excitement for the game. ... I apologize for offending the great fans of the NHL, the commissioner, my teammates, my coaching staff and the Dallas Stars management and ownership" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 12/3).

ANY PUBLICITY GOOD PUBLICITY? In Calgary, Randy Sportak writes under the header, "Avery Hurts The Game: Lewd Public Talk By Notorious Pest Shines Negative Light On NHL." The NHL "needs media attention" in the U.S., but "attention on the PerezHilton and TMZ websites isn't what the league had in mind." Sometimes negative attention "isn't better than no attention at all." Flames C Craig Conroy: "This is a great sport, great guys in it, and when you have one guy make comments like that, it makes the league look bad" (CALGARY SUN, 12/4). SI.com's Michael Farber said, "I think it's terrible for the league. It's demeaning, it's misogynist. I'm not of the school that believes all publicity is good publicity. ... It's in the spirit of protecting the image of the game that Bettman acted" (SI.com, 12/3). CBSSPORTS.com's Ray Ratto: "The league stepped in to say, without actually saying it, 'There really is something we won't tolerate no matter how much notice it gets us.' ... Until this, we were sure they would do literally anything to get someone to pay attention to them" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/3). The CBC's Don Cherry: "This is worse than a guy hitting from behind because there is something creepy about the whole thing. ... To think that somebody would say (it is a good thing) just because we're talking about the National Hockey League because the guy would say a creepy thing like that -- that's just nonsense" ("The Jim Rome Show," 12/3). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote in an online chat, "We need characters to sell the game in the U.S., but not guys who cross the line" (ESPN.com, 12/3). But FOXSPORTS.com's Jason Whitlock writes, "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" (FOXSPORTS.com, 12/4).

Writers Support Bettman's Decision
To Suspend Avery Following Comments
MOVE STOPPED VIGILANTE JUSTICE: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ryan Dixon wrote the decision to "immediately suspend Avery was a good one, partially because it curbed the possibility of Clint Eastwood-style vengeance on Dion Phaneuf's part." But Dixon wrote the "indignation some people showed in the wake of the comments made me fear I was going to drown in a sea of hypocrisy" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 12/3). MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann named Avery one of his “Worst Persons In the World” in his regular segment on MSNBC’s “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” last night. Olbermann: “There is a conspiracy theory out there now that Avery did this deliberately in order to get suspended because (Phaneuf) might have beaten the Shinola out of him during their game” (MSNBC, 12/3). The CBC's Cherry said there is "no doubt somebody would get him" if he was not suspended. Cherry: "It’d be pretty tough on his own club because it would be too obvious, but somebody, but somebody else would get him in the league.” When host asked him to clarify if one of Avery’s Stars teammates may try to hurt him, Cherry said, “I wouldn’t be surprised (to hear that something happened) in the practices” (“The Jim Rome Show,” 12/3). ESPN's Matthew Barnaby said the league "should have made him play in that game like the … rest of the Dallas Stars wanted. Make him pay the price for what he said.” But ESPN’s Brian Kenny said, "You’ve got to be careful of frontier justice though too” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 12/3).

GRAY AREA: ESPN.com's Damien Cox wrote, "This is the reality that professional sports leagues confront when they attempt to legislate against words or thoughts. Without the benefit of a public vote to tell them what their constituents believe is a proper code of verbal conduct, these organizations rely on reflexes or gut feelings when it comes time to decide what is lively trash talk and what crosses the line into untoward politicization of their sport, a hate crime or simple crude and boorish behavior." Never mind that the NHL "does little or nothing to stop the words that athletes exchange on the ice, mostly because there's little it can do about attempts to get the other guy 'off his game.'" But after Avery's comments Tuesday, the NHL "suddenly felt compelled to act." Cox: "This is an imprecise science at best, and Bettman's heart is probably in the right place" (ESPN.com, 12/3). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, “The thing I have trouble with is (the NHL) promotes goonery, they promote thuggery, they want players who will get under the skin of other players and then get into fights, but they don’t want bad language?” (“PTI,” ESPN, 12/3).

MORE IMPORTANT ISSUES: SI.com's Allan Muir wrote, "Real threats to the game ... have been boiling over for the past month, and yet Bettman chooses to assert his authority over a schoolyard-level incident with a zinger so lacking in impact that it was rebroadcast verbatim on the NHL's own network." If Bettman had "any real understanding of the game, he would have left this to be addressed on the ice by the Flames." Maybe Bettman is "just doing a favor for his buddy" Stars Owner Tom Hicks (SI.com, 12/3). In Ft. Worth, Jennifer Floyd Engel writes Bettman suspended Avery "because he's a reactionary wussy who probably had to look up the term [sloppy seconds] in his urban dictionary" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 12/4). In Toronto, Steve Simmons writes, "This is, in truth, an historical time: The first NHL player to get a lengthy suspension ostensibly for being an ass. This is all very serious -- but also it is ridiculous." This is not like NFL Giants WR Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg, as there was no gun, "nobody got shot" and "nobody is going to jail"  (TORONTO SUN, 12/4).

NO SURPRISE: In Dallas, Tim MacMahon wrote, "So Avery being an obnoxious, immature jerk surprises Hicks?" The Stars "decided that class wasn't a priority when they signed Avery." They knew "what they were getting, and it wasn't a guy who could be held to a higher standard off the ice" (DALLASNEWS.com, 12/3). A DALLAS MORNING NEWS editorial states, "We can hope that Stars owner Tom Hicks, his co-general managers and their coaches have the good sense to make the current separation with Mr. Avery permanent." The editorial: "Whatever part of Mr. Avery's ... contract the Stars must eat to make him go away, it's money well spent." Hicks has "shown before that he'll pay what it takes to do the right thing," and it is "hard to see that he has any other choice this time" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 12/4).

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