No gains with suspension

According to the NHL and NHLPA, Mark Bell has been suspended for reaching Stage 2 of a confidential...

According to the NHL and NHLPA, Mark Bell has been suspended for reaching Stage 2 of a confidential program. (Sun File)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

If Mark Bell is to be believed -- and there is little reason to doubt him -- then today is Day 366 of his sobriety.

For that, he should be congratulated.

For that, in a hockey world where drinking is part of the everyday culture, he should be applauded.

Instead, the National Hockey League, in agreement with the NHL Players' Association, has determined to suspend the Maple Leafs forward indefinitely -- sticking to a negotiated policy which has clearly demonstrated its flaws in this case.

While "indefinitely" may turn out to be not a very long time, the notion of punishing a player long after the fact -- and after he has made huge progress -- seems to defeat the very purpose of the policy.

According to the NHL and NHLPA, Bell has been suspended for reaching Stage 2 of a confidential program intended for the well-being of all parties involved.

Typically, the confidentiality of the program was laughable: How, as a player, can you trust a confidential program that doesn't remain confidential?

Somebody leaked the suspension story and, in doing so, somebody breached Bell's right to confidentiality. It seems Bell hasn't let down the NHL, or the PA, as much as the opposite has taken place here.

And that's just the beginning of the hypocrisy. A question to ponder is: In whose best interest is it to suspend Bell at this time?

It doesn't benefit the player. It doesn't benefit the Leafs, who were forced to pick up Bell if they wanted goalie Vesa Toskala from San Jose. It doesn't benefit the PA. And really, how does the league benefit from this?

So, what's the point?

The intention of any substance abuse or behaviour health program by the league or the Players' Association -- or your own office, for that matter -- should rely on a number of varied elements. Beginning with:

1) The individual's health and welfare;

2) The company's health, welfare and reputation;

3) The public conduct of any NHL player;

4) The outside perception of the violating player.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly sees nothing wrong with the Bell suspension. He views it as part of the program working. He doesn't believe the co-operative program is, in any way, flawed.

"The timing of the discipline is not particularly relevant to the disciplinary aspect of the program," Daly wrote in an e-mail. "There's a price to pay under the program for engaging in certain conduct (or in this case acknowledging to having engaged in that conduct in the past), and that is where Mark is, right now."

So let's, for a moment, consider that justice works slowly, and that can often be the case. What happens if an NHL player is charged with drunk driving, goes into the program, doesn't end up in court for two or three years, as did Rob Ramage. Let's say the alleged drunk driver completely gives up drinking in the years that follow his charge, becomes a model citizen, does community service and pleads guilty three years after the fact.

Does the NHL then suspend a sober man?

And for what reason?

In this case, that appears to be what has happened. Mark Bell, frankly, has been punished substantially for his crime. His name is basically dirt in the hockey world. His reputation, until he changes it, is somewhat shot. He is going to prison when the hockey season ends. He is going to be sued in civil court. None of this is going away. Why pile on?

That hard line may play well in Roger Goodell's new National Football League, but this isn't a league with NFL-type off-field problems. The very doctor who oversees the Players' Association's end of the substance abuse program was the same doctor who saw turned-over photographs of David Frost's work on kids and turned a blind eye when Frost was certified as an agent some time after that.

The integrity of this program is in question, from its breach of confidentiality to the suspension of an apparently sober man.

Mark Bell has enough to worry about. Suspending him now serves no purpose at all.


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