Thursday, February 09, 2006

How does this happen?

Gary Bettman has to be pulling whatever is left of his hair out today. Here's what we learned:

- Phoenix GM Michael Barnett, who formerlly served as the agent to Wayne Gretzky as well as other top NHLers, allegedly placed a bet with Rick Tocchet on this past Sunday's Super Bowl 40. Talk about bad timing. That's like being the guy who buys drugs from the dealer just before the FBI breaks down his doors. Apparently, it was a one time bet.

- Accoring to the Newark Star & Ledger, who are serving as the best source for the latest in this disaster, Gretzky was caught on a wire tap discussing the gambling ring run by Tocchet with Rick himself. Gretzky never placed any bets himself, but he knew about the operation.

- Another NHLer, this time from Team Canada's preliminary list of Olympic hopefuls, tested positive for a banned substance. We don't know his identity yet but it's safe to assume he's a top player if he was on that list. What substance it was, and whether or not it was a steroid or simply one of the many cold medicines the IOC has on its banned list, is also unknown. But this doesnt do a lot to silence Dick Pound's rants.

Getting back to the Tocchet story, as the whole thing unfolds, and as I get more time to digest it, I still can't make sense of it all.

Gambling is a prevelant part of society. This much we know. I talked about how the NHL has wet it's beak in the world of gambling before. So nothing new there.

But if you're Michael Barnett, a guy who is in a prominent in this league, why on earth do you put yourself in a position like this by placing illegal bets? Why, when there are so many legal avenues available, whether it's on offshore company or a Las Vegas based operation.

The argument that those betting, from Barnett to Janet Gretzky, didn't know it was illegal is absurd. When they're making a $500,000 bet, as allegedy Mrs. Gretzky did, do they think Rick Tocchet will pay them from his own pocket? That he's using his salary as an assistant coach to pay them off? Or what he made as a player?

Even the most naive, turn-a-blind-eye person in the world knows of the connection between gambling and organized crime, and has to know that when these kind of bets are being played, something involving them, or at least the activities that they've been known to engage in (money laundering, etc.), is a part of it.

Some have dismissed this as a non-story, saying "oh, wow, hockey players aren't perfect. Big deal. Who cares?"

If you want to be that dismissive, go ahead, but you're only kidding yourself. If YOU don't care, fine. But don't make the mistake that because you don't, the rest of the world won't as well.

And yes, it matters what the rest of the world thinks. The NHL has been on thin-ice as far as public perception for some time. The ramifications of this all being true, and now Wayne Gretzky being involved, are so immense that anyone who brushes it off as an insignificant situation only makes themselves look foolish.

The latest dilemma, is, does Gretzky go to Turin? Everyone is weighin in, it seems. Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated says he shouldn't. Kara Yorio of the Sporting News agrees.

At this point, I see no other solution, unless there is some revelation in the next few days that makes what the Star & Ledger wrote today incorrect. This is not to say Gretzky is in fact guilty of what they say. Like the rest of you, I'm sure, I'm hoping it's all false allegations and Wayne will come out clean like he always has when it looked like he might get some dirt on him.

But at this point, it doesn't matter if it's true or not. The story is out there, and it would serve as such a distraction that Wayne would be better off staying in Phoenix and away from the team. Even though they're considered the favorites to win Gold again, it'll still be a tough enough tournament to win without this circus going on in the midst of it.

I'm sure they'll still be asked about it, but to have one of the people supposedly involved leading the team from the top, would be something no one needs.

And Wayne, if you are going to stay home, you might want to sit down with your wife and her bankbook. Just a thought.

POSTSCRIPT: A big thanks to Kuklas Korner, which have pretty much kept me informed on this situation with their neverending updates.


At 8:16 PM, Blogger Jeff J said...

"We don't know his identity yet but it's safe to assume he's a top player if he was on that list."

Guess again! :)


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