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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.