Tuesday, August 16, 2005

 

Manny Fernandez, and a Berger Fix

From a source, "Fernandez will be traded to The Phoenix Coyotes."

Also a reader sent this in... "Just heard on the local sports station, Team 1260, here in Edmonton, and they had Scott Howson (Assistant GM of the Oilers) on and he mentioned there was a press conference tomorrow and wouldn't say what it's for." Could this be Messier? or Cujo? Stay Tuned..

Now for the Ever Popular Berger Fix


BY HOWARD BERGER

The Fan-590 Radio, Toronto

While it’s clear there are many people hugely disappointed with the NHL’s reinstatement of Todd Bertuzzi, I believe it’s time for all of us to take stock of the Vancouver Canucks’ forward as objectively as possible.

This is not, in any way, an attempt to justify or explain Bertuzzi’s actions in that game against Colorado almost a year-and-a-half ago. By all appearances, it was a cowardly, premeditated attack from behind on Steve Moore that would have been deemed criminal in any other walk of life. The resulting anger and resentment from Moore towards Bertuzzi – given Moore’s severe injury -- seemed entirely justified, and the NHL acted swiftly and properly with an indefinite suspension of the offending player.

What I find myself struggling with right now, however, is why Bertuzzi seems unworthy of forgiveness. And why there is such innate skepticism in the hockey world that people cannot listen to what Bertuzzi is saying, and take him at face value. I don’t know Todd Bertuzzi, so I can’t pass any judgment on the type of individual he is. I would never do such a thing, anyway, based solely on what others feel about him. I judge people in my life strictly on the manner in which they interact with me. Even that may not truthfully reflect someone’s character, but I feel it’s the best any of us can do.

As such, I can only observe from a distance the caustic reaction to Bertuzzi, and try to understand why he seems to have no allies. To me, it doesn’t compute. As I read and listen to Bertuzzi’s words of contrition this week from Vancouver, I hear a man who appears to fully comprehend the heinous nature of his crime, but one who also understands – logically and intellectually – that there is nothing he can do to reverse what actually happened. Given the months that have passed, why can’t the overwhelming majority of us accept his apology on a level? What else can Bertuzzi possibly do to convince others that he has come to truly disdain his attack on Moore?

Perhaps it simply lies in the hearts of each person, and whether or not we – as individuals – have a forgiving nature. I believe that forgiveness is one of the most eminent virtues we can possess. Not in the absence of anger, and certainly not before the reasonable passage of time. But, ultimately, it’s something we should all be open to.

Why was just about everyone in the hockey world so overwhelmingly touched by the manner in which Dan Snyder’s parents reached out to Dany Heatley, after Heatley had accidentally killed their son? Ask yourself as a parent: If that had been your child in the passenger seat next to Heatley, would you have been so automatically willing to embrace the guilty party? I don’t believe, for a moment, that Mr. and Mrs. Snyder reacted the way they did solely because their son was a close friend of Heatley’s, or because Heatley clearly did not premeditate his act. I think it speaks, more so, to a truly wonderful and natural inclination the Snyders have in their hearts towards forgiveness. And I believe that’s why all of us who watched the saga unfold fell in love with these two remarkable people.

One of the most dastardly and notorious acts in hockey history occurred back in 1933, when Boston Bruins’ defenseman Eddie Shore ran at Maple Leafs’ counterpart Irvin (Ace) Bailey from behind, dumping the defenseless Bailey on his head in the Boston Garden and causing a brain injury that almost killed the Toronto player. Yet, once Bailey recovered, he embraced Shore at a hockey benefit in Maple Leaf Gardens that served as the forerunner to the annual All-Star game. Despite having his terrific career cut short by an inexcusable act, Bailey told Shore to forget it, and move on with his life. Was there nothing noble about that?

Whether or not you were fond of the late Pope John Paul II, did he not go beyond even his own capacity for forgiveness by meeting in jail with the fanatic who tried to assassinate him at the Vatican in 1981? Though he was clearly the purveyor of God’s work, would any of us have resented the Pope for stopping short of greeting Mehmet Ali Agca face-to-face?

On a less significant scale, don’t we all marvel at the way hockey players line up to shake hands and embrace one another after going to war during a seven-game playoff series? Or the way professional boxers fall into each other’s arms after 15 rounds of trying to beat each other senseless?

What I’m getting at is the fact that I think it’s natural to forgive, even in the most dreadful of circumstances. As such, I cannot identify with Steve Moore’s reluctance to at least meet with Bertuzzi; to look into the man’s eyes in a genuine, one-on-one setting and hear what he has to say. And I can understand Bertuzzi’s frustration at not being able to relay his emotions in such a manner.

That’s because I accept Bertuzzi at face-value when he conveys to the media how terribly he feels for Steve Moore, and how he wishes he could somehow reverse what happened at GM Place the night of the incident. Why wouldn’t a human being feel that way? I also have long been of the mind that Bertuzzi was the front man for an attack on Moore that was implicitly endorsed by the Vancouver club, and that coach Marc Crawford should be equally culpable. That’s not to condone Bertuzzi’s deed, in any way. I just don’t think he was acting independently.

I do believe, however, that he’s proceeding very much on his own in trying to appeal to Moore. Outwardly, he has nothing tangible to gain from seeking exoneration from the Colorado player; it was never identified as a condition for reinstatement by the league. Nor do I endorse the notion that Bertuzzi should not play until, or unless, Moore is fit to return. If adopted as a rule, that standard would then have to apply to every injury-absence that results from playing the game, even if caused by accepted practice (i.e. a clean body check). A front-line player, for instance, could cause injury to the fourth-line thug of a divisional rival and not be eligible to return until the thug has “recovered”. Imagine how gleefully a team would hold a part-timer out of the line-up if it knew it would prevent a superstar like Peter Forsberg, Scott Niedermayer or Chris Pronger from being reinstated. That’s no way to police the game.

To me, Todd Bertuzzi has done his time – under suspension, and in the court of public opinion. Though it disappointed me the way the league slid through his reinstatement on the same day Wayne Gretzky was announced as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, it was not the improper thing to do.

Bertuzzi deserves a second chance.

E-mail your comments to howard.berger@rci.rogers.com.



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