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The Usual Suspects

Nothing personal? Tell us another one, Gary Add to ...

Gary Bettman's relationship with the media has been … how you say? … tempestuous.

When the NHL commissioner adopted rules that have saved the game after the lockout, the traditional media sneered he was just a basketball guy. The liberal media painted him as a captive of his grandiose scheme to hockey-ize America.

The relationship hasn't been helped by Bettman's wafer-thin temper, which media folk like to poke like a pinata.

Fair enough. That's why he gets $6-million and the media makes do with Yoo-hoos and beer. But for the combustible commish, last Saturday's annual media chat took risible to a whole new level.

Even as The Globe and Mail broke story after story about the Coyotes' meltdown in Phoenix this past season, Bettman and his lieutenants denied the $40-million (loss) truth - a truth that soon leapt from the pages of court documents like Jack Nicholson's mug through the door in The Shining .

Ignoring a year's worth of his own denials about the Coyotes, a flushed and feisty Bettman accused the media of being manipulated by Jim Balsillie's public-relations machine.

"I know some of you get calls on a regular basis from PR people," Bettman said when asked by reporters if his fight with Balsillie was a personal one.

"… I know some of you - I have heard the rumours - are getting directions how to cover this story. I can't help that … from my standpoint, it's not personal … it's about league rules and doing the right thing in terms of the stability of this game and this league."

So the commissioner dissembles and denies the true state of the Coyotes, but it is the media whose credibility is an issue?

Bettman's under extraordinary pressure from NHL owners to quell the Balsillie insurgency.

Accusing the media of being puppets for the RIM co-chief executive officer, who wants to purchase the Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, is another indication of just how desperate the fight is - and how easily the veneer comes off Bettman's poise.

In case there's any doubt, Mr. Commissioner: It is personal.

Balsillie is out to kill your 17-year reign and your master plan for hockey hegemony. It will get a lot nastier before it ends, and you'll need all the help you can get.

You might want to remember that next time you slag the press corps for doing their job correctly.

Deception, Part Deux

You knew Coach's Corner was not going to sit still and let the NHL commissioner upstage him on bashing the media. So Don Cherry unleashed Drug Denial: The Sequel.

"We do not take drugs, we're the cleanest sport," Cherry said in the wake of the arrest of a Florida man who claims he supplied performance-enhancers to Washington Capitals players. "I resent the fact that, what people talk about, we're like the other sports. We're not like the other sports, and that's for sure."

That would be why the NHL had to remove Sudafed from the trainers' carts. Why former player Andrei Nazarov once alleged that "99 per cent" of NHL enforcers use steroids. Why the league itself wants stronger drug testing ("I acknowledge that our testing program could be more comprehensive," Bettman said). Why Ron MacLean - against protestations from Hockey Night in Canada 's NHL apologists - tried to point out that testing has its flaws. (After all, American sprinter Marion Jones and the BALCO bunch passed every test devised by the World Anti-Doping Agency until their own coach ratted them out.)

Cherry also got back in the grille of nemesis Dick Pound, the former WADA president, saying: "… He's the guy, after he said one-third of hockey players are taking drugs, then we find out he says, 'I just picked it out of the air.' And then he said, 'So call me a liar.'"

Contacted by Usual Suspects, Pound responded by e-mail: "There are none so blind as those who will not see."

Splittsville, pop.: You

Reporters forever lament the lack of candour from athletes. Then, along comes the slumping golfer Sergio Garcia talking to the Times of London about the breakup of his relationship with Morgan-Leigh Norman (daughter of Greg Norman).

"It hurt," Garcia said of the breakup. "It was probably the first time I have been really in love. It took me a while to get over it. … It was her doing, not mine. … It is unfortunate, one of those things. Do I still think of her all the time? No. It is pretty much back in the past now."

Uh-huh. Has Garcia's honesty won him sympathy from the fourth estate?

"Good grief, Sergio. Man up dude," wrote Mike Freeman of CBSsports.com. "A woman? A woman is ruining your golf game?"

Freeman then asks: "Is Garcia a stone-cold wuss …?" before suggesting Garcia retrieve his "testicles" from Ms. Norman. Other comments have been less extreme, but still uncharitable. One blogger called Garcia the ultimate emo kid.

If reporters want honesty from subjects, mocking their manhood over romantic relationships is hardly the way to encourage it.

You can rest assured Garcia will be in "Taking it one game at a time" mode from now on.

Gun Shy

Radio/TV jock Jim Rome is an acquired taste. Sort of like lutefisk.

Sycophantic interviews and lunatic callers get old very fast. But when Rome riffs on NFL receiver Plaxico Burress's fear of jail for rejecting a plea bargain on weapons charges, there's no one better.

Says Rome: "We're all deathly afraid of going to jail … it's jail! That's why they invented it! That's the idea! … This isn't some DB who's four inches shorter than you. This is the legal system. Of course you're afraid of jail, just the same way we're afraid of being in a night club with you with a [gun]jammed into the band of your sweatpants. The judicial system doesn't bite on double moves. … Take the deal. Had you done so when it was offered, you would have been clear of this whole ordeal by now."

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