Kids, Don't Drink And Write

Originally posted by Kim Jorn on August 16, 2007

Mark Bell has been convicted of a hit and run while under the influence of alcohol, joining a long list of current and former NHLers who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law for drinking and driving related incidents.

Dale Hunter, Dave Hunter, Peter Worrell, Chris Pronger, Bobby Hull, Paul Holmgren, Mike Keenan, Jamie Macoun and Bob Probert have all have DUIs on their records. Jay Bouwmeester faces a drunk driving trial in September. Tim Horton died after getting behind the wheel drunk. Steve Chiasson killed himself in a drunk-driving accident outside of Peterborough in 1999. Craig McTavish served a year in jail for a 1984 drunk-driving accident which killed a woman in Massachusetts. Rob Ramage is still awaiting trial on charges stemming from a drunk-driving accident in 2004 which took the life of Keith Magnuson. It goes on and on...

Mark Bell should consider himself lucky. He isn't dead, and neither is the victim of the hit-run, whom Bell left with severe neck, head and back injuries after smashing into his car with so much force that it propelled it 15 metres up a hill and wrapped it around a telephone pole. When the police finally caught up with him - after he fled the scene - Bell blew almost two times over the legal blood-alcohol limit.

For this, he will spend six months is jail, served over the summer months so that he will not miss any of the hockey season. Mark Bell should be on his knees thanking god and blowing his lawyer, and as soon as he is finished he should begin doing whatever he can to make amends, starting with paying restitution to the victim of this crime.

Or, if Damien Cox had his way, Bell would hire Stephen Ames' PR person:

What was interesting was how the Leafs chose to address the news yesterday that Bell will be going to jail at the end of this season on drunk driving charges. Few realized that someone was hurt significantly in this incident - the driver of the truck Bell hit - and that Bell is still up to his eyeballs in legal problems over this incident.

The Leafs seemed slow to react, with GM John Ferguson finally issuing a bland, predictable statement crafted by some public relations guy, and then Bell doing to the same.

Contrast that with another athlete, albeit one in very different, non-legal bind. Stephen Ames failed miserably in his final PGA championship round pairing with Tiger Woods, but by the day after was on the media circut, very available to print, radio and TV reporters interested in discussing that and his exclusion from Presidents Cup team.

Suddenly, instead of being difficult to reach, Ames was everywhere, and suddenly he became a sympathetic character rather than a punchline.

For the Leafs, this Bell story isn't going to go away. But he's surely not the only 20-something to get in trouble with drinking and driving, and they would do well to find a way before training camp to get his story out there in a human way.

People will be much quicker to forget other stuff if he can play.

But right now, most people don't even know what he looks like. They just know he sounds like trouble, not a solution of any kind.

This is what passes for analysis at the Toronto Star? Stephen Ames is a golfer who got his ass handed to him by Tiger Woods on Sunday and then got left off the President's Cup team because he isn't very good. Mark Bell got drunk, drove, and almost killed someone. How does anyone, let alone the star sports columnist at a major Canadian newspaper, get away with writing this crap?

Did Cox bet a friend that he could work golf into every article, column and blog entry that he writes for the next six months?

I can't stress this enough: This is the dumbest shit Damien Cox has ever written. Ever. If it weren't for Jay Mohr, this may be the dumbest thing ever written about sports.

Mark Bell, as Cox points out, surely isn't the only 20-something to get in trouble with drinking and driving. But Mark Bell has problems that go way beyond drinking and driving. You see, Mark Bell is a bad dude. When he was 19, he beat up a cabbie in Ottawa, leaving him with bruised ribs, black eyes, a split lip and a five-stitch hole in his forehead. He was drunk at the time. Is it any wonder that the Leafs are hesitant to get his story out there in a "human way", as Cox suggests? It seems that Bell likes to get drunk and fuck people up - let's get him in front of as many cameras as we can, as soon as possible. Just like Stephen Ames.

Cox did get one thing right: Ferguson's statement, crafted by some public relations guy (aka scourge of the earth) was terrible. I would have preferred to see Fergie mumble some honest words, maybe along the lines of the following:

"As many of you may know, our hockey club desperately required a starting goaltender following last year's shameful debacle. We attempted to trade Andrew Raycroft for a draft pick and a goalie similar to Tuukka Rask, but there was no GM in the league stupid enough to make that trade. As a result, we dealt for Vesa Toskala, but were forced to take that scum-bag Mark Bell as part of the package. I know you don't like it, and believe me, we don't like it either. Honestly, we hoped he would be in the slammer by October..."

But I digress...

Cox's relentless hatred of the Leafs puts him in an awkward position here. What he seems to be suggesting is that the Leafs failed in whitewashing this story, and should be making a better attempt to improve Mark Bell's public image. What I am suggesting is this: the Leafs don't need to do anything because Canadian hockey fans and media types will often look the other way when a "good Canadian boy" gets in trouble. You see, hockey players are different than other athletes (ie, mostly Canadian, mostly white). It is all well and good to condemn basketball and football players for their (often heinous) transgressions, yet hockey players always seem to skate away unchecked.

I know it isn't technically a sport, but look at what is happening with professional wrestling. The WWE is suffering an "epidemic" of steroid related deaths. There will be a congressional investigation into steroids in wrestling, and Nancy Grace fills five hours a week with news from the squared-circle. The funny thing is, this story didn't hit the mainstream until Chris Benoit killed his family. Drunk hockey players have been killing people for years. Where is the outcry about the alcohol culture in hockey?

I must say, it came as quite a shock to see Don Cherry's comments after an alcohol-fulled evening landed the Staal brothers in a Minnesota jail:

"This might seem like small potatoes, but all you kids out there listen up. Too many hockey players have suffered because of alcohol and it is about time we put an end to this. We've lost too many members of the NHL family due to driving fatalities and too many careers have been shortened by alcohol abuse. It is time we took a stand and addressed the fact that we might have a problem here."

Wait. I made that one up. Here is what Canada's most cherished bigot actually said:

I am very disappointed in the Sun because I always thought of it as very fair and not a trash tabloid

aha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha....pause, catch breath...aha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...good one Grapes.


You weren't making a joke?

But what you did to those kids by putting their mug shots on the front of the paper was really low.

All of these other sports have all kinds of crazy things happen -- you have got guys up on rape charges, murder, attempted murder, gambling suspicion and guys taking steroids, and you have some kids on your front page who got a little too loud at a party. Come on!

In the last five years the NHL has had one player convicted of manslaughter, an assistant coach was kicked out of the league for operating a gambling ring with the mob, and Sean Hill took so many steroids that the crappy Islanders managed to make the playoffs. Oh yeah, and a whole bunch of players got busted for drunk driving. But all of these other sports, well they have crazy things happen.

(I do realize that the Staal case is not nearly as serious as other cases mentioned here, but they did get arrested, and one of them was drinking underage, which is illegal. I also think the Sun is not very fair and is also a trash tabloid, but I don't fault them for putting the Staals on the front page. It was a no-brainer.)

Am I totally off base here? I imagine that if I bothered to do some research, I would likely discover that the rate of drunk driving incidents amongst hockey players mirrors that of the general population. So, am I advocating that we hold hockey players to a higher standard as some sort of role models? I don't think so. I came to terms years ago with the fact that I probably wouldn't like most hockey players on a personal level. Rich, mostly white, millionaire jocks are not really my type of crowd. But, frankly, I don't care. As long as Darcy Tucker scores goals for the Leafs, I don't care what he does with his personal life (to a certain extent, obviously). What pisses me off - and results in my bashing out a 2000 word blog entry that three people might read - is the way these incidents are glossed over in this country with this boys-will-be-boys attitude.

This goes all the way down the ranks to - at least - junior hockey. Laura Robinson's excellent book Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada's National Sport, documents, in horrifying detail, shocking behaviour by some of Canada's junior hockey heroes and the great depths that coaches, teams, and communities will go to to cover-up their actions. I am too drunk to go into too much detail about the book, so I'll just give you the dust-jacket description:

Crossing the Line, Laura Robinson takes an unflinching look at abuse in junior hockey, the breeding ground for the NHL. She explains how this great sport has gone so bad, and challenges those who are a part of the world of hockey to rethink the game and consider ways to fix it.

The abuse takes many forms. It may be overtly sexual. It may be an overwhelming pressure on players - removed from the support of their families and often living far from home - to perform and to fit in. It often takes the form of degrading hazing rituals, many of which have violent sexual overtones, designed to take the players beyond their inhibitions and the normal limits of their aggression.

Robinson shows how the institutionalized abuse in hockey turns the players themselves into abusers. Yet when accusations are levelled against the players, team managers and owners rally around to protect them, applying pressure to have the charges dropped or the accuser discredited.

Junior hockey and the NHL are arenas for the display of what we consider to be ideal manhood. In Crossing the Line, Laura Robinson shows how damaging it can be when the participants in this often violent spectacle are unleashed on the real world.

Isn't it strange that this country has hundreds of hockey writers, yet this is the only book I have come across on this subject? The way I see it, too many hockey players in this country have been led to believe they can get away with murder (or at least vehicular manslaughter) and we have a compliant and complacent media that refuse to examine the reasons why. Sure, most of these guys are decent, well adjusted men who don't deserve to be tarred with the same brush as the bad apples...

...but, when someone screws up, and screws up bad (like Mark Bell), wouldn't it be better if our esteemed hockey press recommended that they get counseling, rather than better PR?

The Globe's James Mirtle gets it:

Mark Bell will remember Sept. 4, 2006, for more than just the horrific, alcohol-fuelled car crash that changed his life.

It was also the day he had his last drink.

The new Maple Leafs winger, the one that trouble used to follow, says he has been living sober for the last 347 days. (Toronto Star)
There's a culture in hockey that is built around the party after the game, and while that in itself isn't a bad thing, there certainly have been more than enough incidents to suggest alcohol abuse is a problem in the NHL.

These are, for the most part, young men with little responsibility (especially in the off-season) and a lot of money, and living a dream often includes overindulgences of all kinds.

"Now, every day I wake up I realize I'm living a dream. It's taken a while for me to understand that. Now that I have, I'm going to grab it. My fun now is at the rink."

Good for him.

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This page contains a single entry by Godd Till published on August 24, 2007 1:45 PM.

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