February 18, 2006
The sports media owes Gretzky a huge apology
By Al Strachan
Where are all the apologies?
Less than two weeks ago, the sports media were falling all over themselves excoriating Wayne Gretzky, Janet Gretzky, Mike Barnett, Rick Tocchet and a dozen unnamed National Hockey League players.
Now, lets do the roll call.
It is clear Wayne Gretzky did nothing wrong.
Janet Gretzky bet on football -- wow, what an unusual activity -- but also did nothing wrong. In New Jersey, where all these alleged crimes were committed, betting, either legally or illegally, is not against the law.
Mike Barnett reportedly made one Super Bowl bet (see above comment re: Janet Gretzky) and is of no interest to the investigators.
As for Tocchet, his scheduled day in court has been delayed, probably to give the state time to justify a decision to drop all charges against him.
And the dozen unnamed players? They still are unnamed and almost certainly will stay that way.
So let's now hear it from all the radio, TV and newspaper people who were so quick to jump on Gretzky et al.
Say it loudly, clearly and often: "I was wrong."
But even if that happens -- which isn't likely -- the matter deserves further examination. It goes far beyond the mere exoneration of innocent victims.
It is an unfortunate example of what the media has become, and more importantly, what Canada has become.
We are a nation so insecure that we can't wait to join the American media wolfpack and tear our greatest sports hero to shreds.
The Americans said it, so the Canadian media assumed it must be true. But how many reasons were there for the attackers to make these assumptions about Gretzky? Has he ever let down his game before?
After a lifetime in the media spotlight, has he ever done anything reprehensible, illegal, or even embarrassing?
And how many of the Canadian media who were vilifying Gretzky had actually talked to him in person to hear his side of the story?
Pick a number between one and minus-one.
Many of these detractors weren't even in the country. They were in Italy sending back assurances of guilt, and demanding Gretzky quit his Team Canada post.
But what if someone said to them, "Come back from the Olympics. Someone on this side of the ocean says you might have done something wrong."
You can just hear the howls of protest: "I'm innocent."
Well so is Gretzky, but you wanted him out of his job.
One of the national papers ran a major feature about a hockey player who was suspended for gambling in 1948. The implication was clear.
Another national paper railed against Gretzky's "apologists" -- the people who had the facts -- and gravely assured the world the media had done nothing wrong. If you don't count false accusations as anything wrong, that's true.
Then there are all the radio people who assumed the worst, again without any first-hand knowledge. They, too, should apologize.
Gretzky has represented this country with class and grace for as long as he has been in hockey -- and not just on the ice. When Canada needed a presence to help swing the decision on the 2010 Olympics, for instance, it was Gretzky who went to Europe to woo the delegates -- with success.
But why are we, as Canadians, so quick to assume the worst? How many people gave him the benefit of the doubt? Is it because we are so insecure as a nation, or is it because we are basically small-minded people who resent any glory that might flow to one of our number?
Whatever it is, the Gretzky "gambling" saga has not been our finest hour.