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September 28, 2011 :: 8:50pm ET
Defending the Bad Guy
It's time to end the sham that is Sean Avery, writes TFP Senior Writer Dennis Bernstein.

LOS ANGELES -- I could give a damn about Sean Avery's politics.

As sure as the NHL season starts in October, Avery has injected himself into the spotlight and predictably, it's shrouded in controversy.

Before you get to the end of this sentence, you know this piece won't be about that great hat trick he scored in pre-season or the on-ice impact he'll have as the Rangers battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The only talent this player has shown is the ability to carve out a marginal career with four different teams and the only reason the word 'professional' is in the same sentence is that he gets a paycheck for it twice a month.

In a sport that is benchmarked by playoff success, he's played in a grand total of 28 post-season games and his teams have never advanced past the second round.

I covered him for three seasons and witnessed that his greatest ability was to alienate or anger everyone who crossed his path. Team officials, coaches, writers and teammates rebuffed Mr. Avery, all for the right reasons. From refusing to do an on ice drill when directed by-a Kings assistant coach to disrespecting Hall of Fame media members to mocking guys he shared the room with, his three-year run in Los Angeles was three years too long.

Though he had a cult following at the time, it's been years since I've seen anyone wearing an "Avery 16" jersey here.

Even more telling, when his actions brought him into question, I never saw a teammate go to his defense. When he landed an internship at Vogue Magazine after arriving in New York, the only thought I had was, 'thankfully it wasn't The Fourth Period.'

I could regurgitate the long list of people Avery has offended, I can reference the on-ice racial epithets he's hurled and break down the calculated misogynistic comment in Calgary that was so egregious the League suspended him and the Dallas Stars terminated his contract, but most know these too well. Only when the Rangers' GM Glen Sather became the bigger fool and thought his act was worthy of a second run on Broadway did Avery find another safe haven to chirp on the ice about Martin Brodeur and Scott Hartnall's ex-wives, likely only because the cap hit was half of his $3.8 million price tag.

Through 135 games over two seasons, he scored only 14 goals and is a minus player. This alleged vital cog to the Rangers' success was a healthy scratch by head coach John Tortorella for six games down the stretch last season and the opening game of the playoffs. His injection into the lineup resulted in one win and three losses, as the Capitals dispatched the Rangers in five games.

So, now that we've established the fact that this is a fringe player (who may not even make the Rangers roster), let's get the heart of the matter and this column.

Intolerance is wrong in every way, shape and form. It's ugly and you're very lucky if you haven't experienced it in one way or another.

Operating with full disclosure, I'm apolitical for the most part and feel that the freedoms we enjoy in North America should be available to all regardless of their color or whom they choose to spend their life with, that's not negotiable. Human rights should include all humans, a premise not too hard to figure out. I'm Jewish -- you're likely familiar with the tribe, a bunch of cats hanging around for about 6,000 years despite all the efforts to eradicate us from the planet by various forms of evil. Whenever something bad in the world happens, we're always at the top of the list as the cause, so I'm well aware of what discrimination looks like.

I've also covered Wayne Simmonds during his first three professional seasons in Los Angeles. He's the anti-Avery; a great kid, always approachable, gives interviews even after tough losses, universally well liked by his teammates, and most importantly, gives and earns respect.

One of the reasons I cover the sport of hockey is because the nature of the men like Wayne that play it; fortunately there's only one Sean Avery and hopefully there won't be any imitators in the future.

But on the night in question at Wells Fargo Center, Wayne did make an unfortunate mistake in judgment, but not of character, and it was caught on camera.

Avery is an opportunist. He uses people and situations to his advantage, while admirable on the ice (where this sad incident took place), it's despicable off the ice. I watched the preseason game against the Flyers and there was a preamble to the Avery/Simmonds incident. Inside of the game's first five minutes, the microphones at ice level picked up a lone voice dropping half a dozen f-bombs and threatening to kill Flyers' center Claude Giroux. I'll give you three guesses who was the author of the verbiage that was heard on live TV throughout North America, and the first two don't count. Here's a hint, it wasn't Nicklas Lidstrom.

Looks like the fees for those anger management classes Avery attended should be refundable at this point.

With Avery already hot under the collar, he spied the ice for his next victim of his antics and the target was Simmonds. There was a dust up and words that were used by Simmonds (yes, he did say them) have been heard throughout the decades in this violent-at-times game played by very tough men. While it's never right, that's the reality of a testosterone driven game. While the Flyers didn't feel the need to send the video the League office to review the clear threat Avery delivered to one of their stars (as that’s what happens in the heat of battle), Avery seized the opportunity to portray himself as a victim. He inferred that because he wears nice suits and came out in favor of same sex marriage that he was the target of a homophobic slur.

What hypocrisy.

I'm sure when Avery sucker punched the Edmonton Oilers' Ladislav Smid in Madison Square Garden and Theo Peckham wanted to rain down punches on him, it wasn't because of his stance on gay marriage. When Avery carefully orchestrated his 'sloppy seconds' comment about an actress who works in an industry where a high percentage of the employed are gay individuals, I don't think GLAAD would be pleased having a connection to a man who is unafraid to voice public hatred against women.

Rangers fans should root hard for their team, but there are so many other class acts on their team to pick as their favorite, whether it's Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist or Ryan Callahan. I covered Tortorella for six months in Tampa, the year before he won the Cup, and knowing his reverence for the game, he must bite down hard when he bears witness to this behavior.

There's always room for more tolerance. Brian Burke is right, there is no place for mean spirited bigotry in the sport, but it will continue. The NHL is not alone, if you mic'd up every NFL player this coming Sunday, one could only imagine what you would hear on the gridiron.

It benefits everyone that the NHL came out with a release stating fines will be levied for words that have no place in the game or, in reality, life. We can never have enough reminders about tolerance and what is the wrong thing to do.

But when Colin Campbell chose not to fine Wayne Simmonds, despite the fact that there was ample video evidence in support, it was really about who was the other party. If you had to choose which of the two would be involved in the next act of wrong doing of this nature, it would be a landslide.

Could have the league have fined Simmonds? They could have, but $2,500 in the grand scheme of things means nothing. The maximum degree of punishment was negotiated into the CBA by both the League and players, so those pointing a finger at Commissioner Gary Bettman for not doing more are so far off course they needs a GPS to get back to reality.

What makes this situation especially tricky is that if this was any other player in the League, there would be no discussion and I'd have written no column. I'll support the cause every time, but never this 'advocate' as I operate with the credo that people earn respect with their actions and not entitled to it.

The only consistency this player ever has shown has been his blatant disrespect for the game and the people involved in it, yet now he asks for respect for himself and his values? The NHL should be a leader in eradicating bigotry from sport in general, but to make Avery the poster boy for tolerance and to portray him as a martyr would be far worse than turning a blind eye to the incident.

In a sport with hundreds of great guys, it's sad that the rotten egg gets such disproportional attention.

If Sean Avery has fooled you into thinking he's a victim, you need to look real hard and see if he's really worthy.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine and a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com.
You can also visit Dennis on Twitter.


 

 

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