Worst side of hockey

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:29 PM ET

After spending a week in a Napanee court room, listening to former hockey player after former hockey player testify in great detail about the objectifying of young women, I find myself somewhat immune to the verbal nonsense that surrounds Sean Avery.

It is bad -- but it is not dangerous.

It is stupid -- but as Avery stared into a camera in Calgary and spoke his apparently rehearsed words, what he was exposing most was his own arrogance and ignorance.

Already the National Hockey League has found him guilty by suspending him indefinitely for using the words "sloppy seconds" and once they meet in person this morning and insist upon literally duct-taping Avery's yap, among other things, all that will be left to determine is the length of the suspension -- and the peril of Avery's professional career.

What will the league throw at him? Five games? Ten? Twenty? You take your pick. It may not, in fact, matter. There may not be a team for him to return to once his suspension is over. The Dallas Stars are ready to wash their hands of him and maybe wash his mouth out with soap in the process.

Who else would touch him now?

Which team is as desperate for attention as Avery himself?

All of this over an utterance of "sloppy seconds," an insensitive and insulting turn of phrase. The suspension from the league will come because Avery lacks the ability to self-edit. It will come because of the cumulative effect of all he has managed before. 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 isn't Plaxico Burress. There was no gun. Nobody got shot. Nobody is going to jail. There are no police reports here.

This isn't Todd Bertuzzi. There was no assault, other than verbal. There was no ambulance. The only career injured -- and possibly ruined -- belongs to Avery.

This isn't an overreaction for a sport that often is too comfortable in protecting its own.

Because Avery is, in every conceivable way, the author of his own demise. Saying to a camera what likely has been said many times on the ice. And probably a whole lot worse.

This is nothing new for hockey, except this time there was a camera running and the player was just dumb enough to think he was being cute instead of inappropriate. And this time around, this wasn't an emotional response. This bit of verbal garbage was actually thought out.

The truth is, on-ice exchanges happen all the time.

You just don't hear about them.

That is hockey trash talk. Low-brow verbiage. Funny to those on the ice. Never to those off it. A similar thing happened with Avery in a pre-game episode last season. He made a crack about a player's wife sleeping around. He said that everybody in the Ontario Hockey League had their way with her. Pushing and shoving followed.

The NHL, for the record, doesn't punish the kind of talk nobody hears. But now, it will throw the book at Avery this morning and it's hard to argue its decision, even harder to understand what exactly it allows and what it doesn't.

"I said 10 times worse on the ice," said Matthew Barnaby, a former player turned excellent broadcaster, speaking to Darren Dreger on AM640 radio yesterday.

By itself, the Avery case is symbolic of the worst side of hockey, the side nobody wants to talk about, which is why the NHL would like this to go away as quickly as possible. We heard it in the David Frost trial, as uncomfortable as that was. We've heard it before that. There has long been an underbelly of sexism, insensitivity, arrogance and a total lack of judgment in hockey at the highest and most competitive levels.

Just as Sean Avery needs to disappear from the NHL, so does that.


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