One right path for NHL

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Not much good comes with Sean Avery.

The soon-to-be ex-Dallas Stars disturber offers short-term gain with long-term pain.

But his latest engage-mouth-before-brain-kicks-in episode may prove to be beneficial to the NHL if it is smart enough to initiate change rather than merely attempt to smooth over a very rough surface.

Avery has been suspended by the Stars and will be further suspended by the NHL for comments he made that were detrimental to the league, team and society in general.

He made disparaging remarks about his former girlfriend, who is now the companion of Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf. Not surprisingly, the comments were juvenile, off-colour and showed a complete lack of respect for women, not an uncommon occurrence in a hockey dressing room or sports environment in general.

To the Stars' credit, they didn't let Avery get away with it. To Avery's teammates' credit, they publicly flogged him. To the NHL's credit, it has suspended him.

"If he's not (suspended more), it opens up another door for what players can say, and it's going to get out of control," said Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood, a former teammate. "It's not just adults watching what we say, kids watch what we say on TV. It's a degrading comment. You can't say that about women and can't let boys think that's alright to say about women or anybody in general."

Good for him.

There will be those who will say the Stars and league caved in to political correctness, that it doesn't matter what happens in the public world of fun and games, that sports is a different entity and should be treated as such.

They will tell you that sports is beyond the normal scope of society and should not be judged by the same standard. That's why vicious assaults on the ice, fighting and the like, are still condoned and accepted.

Avery's stupidity has given the NHL an opportunity to do what other professional sports are attempting to do: clean up the game off the ice.

Other leagues have figured out that with all the money, publicity, marketing and television contracts at stake, they can no longer afford to elevate themselves beyond what's considered acceptable within normal society.

Football, baseball and basketball players are employees of a very public company. What they do even on their own time reflects on that company. Over the years, the NFL and NBA have instituted rules that punish players if they do anything that's detrimental to the game or breaks the player conduct policy, whether it happens in a nightclub or their own home.

An athlete needs to be accountable 12 months a year, 24/7 for what he does. There are big-time suspensions involved.

The NHL needs to follow suit.

The league probably cringes about the image the movie Slapshot gave hockey. The violence, treatment of women, drinking and on-ice actions may be exaggerated, but no one can say it doesn't happen.

The sad truth is that the culture portrayed in Slapshot is not far from reality.

What someone says or does in a dressing room is often beyond the reach of the league -- or what is socially acceptable. The culture is so ingrained, it will not change easily or quickly.

It isn't just the player culture, it's the media culture as well. Many in the media are the first to defend hockey's right to be left alone and govern itself.

In stories written about Avery and his former partners, one was referred to as now being hockey player Jarret Stoll's "squeeze," as if she's some kind of plush toy owned and operated by another player.

It's degrading, but no one thinks twice about the expression. It's part of the belief that whatever and whoever is around an athlete is considered an ornament.

What the Stars did to Avery must now be considered a benchmark for anyone else who decides to degrade and marginalize another human. The NHL can learn from it and while it may not be able to immediately change the caveman-like mentality of some of those players in the dressing rooms, this type of action will begin to get their attention.


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