Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just desserts for Mark Bell

The NHL Players Association, like other sports league unions, were founded on a couple of fair principles -- that the players were human beings and not cattle, and they deserved to have a share of the gate, TV revenues and merchandising. But over the years, they've taken on a life of their own. And while they may come off as vociferously opposed to what the teams stand for come the time to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), they have actually demonstrated a propensity to collude with the teams on many issues.

Not only do they ferociously defend their now obscene salaries -- which rank with the A-list music and movie stars (a 40:1 ratio compared to the average salary of the working person, compared to, say, 7:1 even 30 years ago), they also oppose two principles: Breaking up the cartels that the North American leagues are in favour of a system of promotion and relegation (instead, weak individual players are "sent down" and strong players from the minors "called up"); and making sure players are subject to the same rules and regulation the rest of us must abide by.

In the real world, for example, Todd Bertuzzi would have been charged with attempted murder for his unwarranted attack against Steve Moore back in February 2004. Instead, he was allowed to plead down to the ridiculously minor charge of assault causing bodily harm -- and got probation plus no rap sheet.

In most of the sporting world, getting caught doping results in a mandatory two-year suspension, in all sports, on a first offence. And that does mean all sports, including contract bridge and Texas-Hold-'Em Poker. Not in North America. Baseball, for instance, only calls for a 20-game suspension -- three weeks. Big hairy deal.

Maybe things are finally starting to turn around. League head offices are starting to smarten up, and for a change are enforcing the morals clause in the CBAs. Sadly, not the players' unions not the teams; who continue to believe players should be in a league of their own. Yesterday, for example, Mark Bell of the Toronto Maple Leafs was suspended for 15 games following word he pleaded nolo contendre to drunk driving. The NHL Players claim the suspension is excessive. So do the Leafs, who pointed out that Dany Heatley killed a fellow teammate while driving and didn't do a single day in jail. Oh yeah. Heatley wasn't drunk.

Is it excessive? Frankly, I think it's not enough. He should be benched concurrent with his jail sentence of six months -- the judge ruled Bell doesn't have to serve it until the end of the season; but I think he should serve it now even if it runs over the winter season of ice hockey. None of the rest of us get deferrals when we cited with a moving violation -- let alone one that merits the purview of the Penal Code.

I hope this is the sign of things to come. It's time players started acting like human beings like the rest of us, and were held to the same standards as the rest of us. It's time teams and unions also took the stand that if their players will not conform to the norms of humanity, they will be kicked out of the fraternity (or sorority, as the case may be) and lose their pensions.

Yeah, yeah, I know, OJ ... but at least he was put on trial for the murders. Many of us would have plead guilty even if we knew Mark Fuhrman had been leading the investigation. Players choosing to commit crimes consciously, like the rest of us who do decide to break the law, should be held accountable -- even if a jury finds them not guilty, the public dressing down is often enough because even presuming innocence, we often hear about other skeletons which make them even more unsavoury characters.

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