Rules are different for athletes

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

At least one major league executive tried to do the right thing.

But it seems there is a much stronger message making its way into our society. It's the message that says if you are an athlete, be it professional or high-profile, the rules society lives by are different for you. What's even more disturbing is how ready so many in society are to accept that.

We'll get to the Todd Bertuzzi reinstatement in a moment. For now let's just say NHL commissioner Gary Bettman put business interests ahead of doing the right thing when he allowed Bertuzzi back so soon.

When Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers acted like a spoiled child and decided to exert his macho image by attacking two television camera operators, baseball commissioner Bud Selig tried to do the right thing. He suspended Rogers for 20 games and fined him $50,000.

Since Rogers is a starting pitcher, that meant the worst-case scenario would be he would miss four starts.

The players' union howled that the penalty was excessive. No surprise there -- the union isn't ready to accept that its members are using steroids either.

The case went to an arbitrator, who ruled in Rogers' favour, cutting the suspension from 20 games to time served, which amounted to 13 games or two starts. The arbitrator ruled Selig went too far in his punishment.

"I strongly disagree with arbitrator (Shyam) Das's decision," Selig said. "It sends the wrong message to every one of our constituents: the fans, the media and our players.

"There is a standard of behaviour that is expected of our players, which was breached in this case. The arbitrator's decision diminishes that standard and is contrary to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. In my opinion, the decision is seriously ill-conceived."

Selig is right. By reducing the suspension, the arbitrator not only puts the rights of the athletes above the rights of others, but he also sends a message that athletes may benefit from all the trappings and bonuses that come by playing within the business structure of the major leagues but they don't have to abide by the rules and principles of the majors or the decisions the commissioner makes.

Athletes love the money, publicity, special treatment and adulation that come with the sport. But too many refuse to recognize earning all that means more than simply playing the game. They get paid so much because they are expected to deal with the media and with fans and they should help sell their sport and the image of the sport.

Selig has the right to step in when an incident can do damage to his business.

As the man hired to run the show by the owners, the commissioner has the right to step in and make a decision, be it the right one, as in the Rogers case, or the wrong one, as Bettman made with Bertuzzi. It is on the basis of those decisions that a league and sport earn their reputations in the eyes of outsiders.

Das was involved in pitcher John Rocker's appeal of a 73-day suspension and $20,000 fine before the 2000 season. Selig issued the suspension because of insensitive remarks Rocker made toward minority groups. Das cut the suspension to 14 days and the fine to $500.

Does the league care about the image it leaves with its constituents, including children?

The decisions by Bettman and Das are frustrating because they emphasize how athletes and celebrities are judged by different standards. So many people are willing to let athletes off the hook for their actions. Actions that are demeaning, vile and embarrassing face minimal punishment, as if they are an accepted part of being a celebrity. When anyone questions the validity of those decisions, the door shuts with the hackneyed phrase, "It's time to move on."

It's not time to move on. It's time to make things right. If we continue to move on without getting it right, we will revisit the same issues over and over again.


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