Canadians are the worst sports fans in the world. To all of them out there who are absolutely apoplectic that Todd Bertuzzi was chosen to represent Canada in Turin (or saddened, or appalled, or considering cheering for those gentle, noble Finns, or whatever other forms this outrage takes), I have one simple question: How long would have been enough for you? The most popular answer, so far as I can see, is simply “more than what he got.” This is known in the business as a “cop-out”.
No less an authority than the Toronto Star’s editorial board is of the opinion that Bertuzzi should have been banned for life, but there is simply no precedent in the annals of the NHL history for such a penalty. And commenters in said newspaper, their pants sticky with self-righteousness, have conveniently omitted their preferred penalty in favour of the usual ranting and raving. To wit:
Jack Sim from Toronto says: “He does not represent me or my values. Any other Canadian that did what he did would be in jail, and not out making millions of dollars.”
Alex and Janet Duff from Oakville say: “What kind of message does this send to our youth? Do whatever you want in life because there are not really any consequences!”
Wayne Powers of Saskatoon agrees: “We tell our kids there are repercussions for their actions, and turn a blind eye to Bertuzzi and Heatley. Heatley should not go either.”
Kristan Jones of Bala too: “He ruined the NHL career of a fellow athlete, yet his punishment was a slap on the wrist and he still gets to make a wealthy living…”
These arguments — the first, and the next three in combination — are popular, and they are nonsense. As I’ve said before, the suspension the NHL handed Bertuzzi was easily the most severe in its history: 20 NHL hockey games (including seven playoff tilts, not including however many more Bertuzzi’s play might have netted the Canucks), the entire 2004-2005 hockey season, two World Championships and the World Cup. He lost half a million US dollars in NHL salary, plus an estimated $350,000 in endorsements, plus whatever he could have earned in Europe last year — if he’d caught AK Bars Kazan’s fancy, for instance, potentially well over a million samolians.
That’s 13 regular season games, seven playoff games, three international tournaments and likely upwards of two million American dollars. I’ve seen lenience, and it doesn’t look anything like that.
Many of this theory’s proponents will give you the “he should be in jail” line, too, as if we routinely hand out life sentences to those who rob people of their livelihoods. There are, what, like eight people in Canada serving true life sentences? A first-time offender who did actually manage to recreate Bertuzzi’s suckerpunch/piledriver act on a downtown Toronto sidewalk would probably get probation. The idea that he’d get 20 months in prison is richer than my grandmother’s trifle. Burp.
The suspension is to the on-ice act as the prison sentence is to the on-sidewalk act, after all: a lifetime ban is equivalent to a life sentence. Thus, banning Bertuzzi for life from NHL hockey would have been totally out of step with how we treat offenders in non-hockey contexts. I don’t anticipate any cessation of bleating to the contrary, mind you. I’m willing to debate whether Bertuzzi should have been left off this Olympic team as a gesture of disapproval towards his actions, but not until everyone calms the bloody hell down.
To me, the real story of the week was the anonymous (and ultimately groundless) cowardice coming out of the Canadian Olympic Committee. We can have a reasonable discussion about Bertuzzi, but questioning Dany Heatley’s and Shane Doan’s worthiness is beyond the pale. Doan especially — he’s been officially cleared of any wrongdoing by the league after some very fuzzy accusations of calling linesman Stephane Auger a “frog”, and that is (or should be) that. Cue Denis Coderre, former secretary of state for amateur sport, who said the following of the non-incident (please read aloud using Don Cherry’s girly-man voice):
It’s totally unacceptable and I sent a letter to Bob Nicholson, the president of Hockey Canada, and I’m sending all the messages that I can to all my sports colleagues [former colleagues –ed.] to send a clear message that as long as Mr. Doan doesn’t apologize and show that he truly regrets his gesture that he shouldn’t be there as a member of this team, period.
Truly this is the former secretary of state for amateur sport that Canadians deserve. Shane Doan arguably shouldn’t be on Team Canada because he’s not a good enough hockey player, but Wayne is presumed to be wise in this regard. Coderre certainly shouldn’t be an MP, because he’s an idiot. I shan’t wait up for his apology.
Any lingering antipathy towards Dany Heatley, meanwhile, seems to me to stem entirely from the public’s unslakeable thirst to see rich young athletes come a cropper (and from an incredibly stubborn rumor that he was drunk, which he was not). If he’d been driving a Honda he might never have even been charged, and we’d think of Dan Snyder’s death as a tragic accident — which would be great, I think, since that’s what it obviously was. I don’t care what the law in Georgia says — calling what Heatley did homicide is ridiculous, and even hinting that it’s grounds for his exclusion from the Olympics, especially anonymously, is more or less akin to pissing on Snyder’s grave.
Notice how it’s “about the victim” in the case of Steve Moore, who seems to hold a very justifiable grudge, but somehow not about the victim in the case of Dan Snyder, whose family famously supported Heatley from the get-go? Funny how that works. One way or the other, it always ends up being about us, the participants in Canada’s third and fourth national sports — pietistic sermonizing, and self-loathing.
These people who wouldn’t dream of watching Bertuzzi play hockey in red and white are the same people who cheer on Adam van Whoosits — you know, the canoe guy, yay Canada! — but recoil in bombastic disgust when Perdita Felicien biffs on a hurdle. Then, for want of a mirror, they fire off letters to the Toronto Star wondering what the problem is. My Canada includes both Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore, but it does not include these people. They’ve already guaranteed themselves a lousy New Year, and I hope they had a really crummy Christmas too.