The NHL is 100% wrong for suspending Sean Avery over the comments that he made prior to the Dallas-Calgary game on December 2, 2008.
“I am really happy to be back in Calgary, I love Canada,” Avery told TSN after asking if he was on camera. “I just want to comment on how it’s become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don’t know what that’s about. Enjoy the game tonight.”
He did not commit slander or libel from a legal perspective. None of Phaneuf, Cuthbert, Komisarek, Rachel Hunter or Jarret Stoll stand to be publicly ridiculed as a result of it, and so they have suffered no injury or damages. Plus, the statement is actually truthful, albeit poorly phrased and delivered and certainly classless.
Was it crude? Yes. Does Avery look like a moron for saying it? Perhaps.
Getting away from the legal system and into NHL rules – does the NHL’s reputation really stand to be injured as a result of his outburst? Absolutely not. If anything, it can help it. ANY press coverage of the NHL is good press coverage. Love him or hate him, Sean Avery is entertainment personified. He’s a character with a charisma (whether you view it as funny or enraging) that transcends the sport.
You know what? Avery’s right about Iginla in a sense. Iginla is a wonderfully talented hockey player – a star – yet, beyond the rink, there is nothing exciting about him (at least nothing that Iginla has ever chosen to share with the general public). But being a wonderfully talented hockey player and having either a boring or simply a very closely guarded, private personality does not sell the game. Characters sell the game. And Avery is character #1 in the NHL. The NHL needs more characters, both beloved and reviled, not fewer of them.
The fact that he made a public comment disparaging someone does not inherently injure the NHL or the sport of hockey. He committed no legal tort. He has a right to freedom of speech, provided that he does not incite others to violence (which he did not do).
If anything, he should challenge the suspension, hold a press conference, speak his mind, repeat the comments even, and then sue the NHL. I’d take that case as his attorney in a New York minute.
Expressing an opinion that is not in and of itself a legal tort towards another, and is not related to the game of hockey, and is actually truthful, cannot logically be considered to be damaging to the NHL.
The clown in this case is actually Gary Bettman, and his unbelievably harsh (and, in my legal opinion, legally unsupportable) action against Avery for comments that – while crude – were harmless is more damaging and more of an embarrassment to the NHL than any comment Avery made.
Mark my words, the NHL will be a better league when Bettman is gone. Don’t tell me the club owners demanded that Bettman take this action today. This is Bettman’s idiocy and misstep, all on his own.