Above the Law

Few things make life easier for media commentators and journalists than professional athletes in trouble with the law. O.J. Simpson, Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson and the entire Dallas Cowboys franchise always provide quick and easy copy for media types. And having spent the last week in Las Vegas, and most of that in Jimmy Buffet?s new bar; Margaritaville, your humble scribe is in less than an original mood and about to take the easy way out and jump on the bandwagon.

Which brings us, of course, to one Todd Bertuzzi ? the guy that cold cocks people from behind, rams their face into the ice and then with crocodile tears, explains that he is not a mean-spirited person and would never intentionally hurt anyone. God help us if this 245 pounder ever gets a mean streak and decides to start thumping people. Hell, I?d rather take my chances at a crosswalk with a martini soaked Gordon Campbell roaring down the road.

The incident has been the basis for much discourse regarding violence in sports, the state of the NHL and most interesting, the extent to which the Criminal Code should or should not apply to professional athletes. And in a strange sidebar, the Prime Minister commented that it?s time the NHL cleaned up its act. The Godfather of this country?s most infamous crime family, the Liberal Party of Canada; the most corrupt and crooked government-syndicate this side of Bangladesh, wants the sports world to conduct itself in a more honourable manner. It leaves one speechless.

But I digress. Much like the Marty McSorely incident a few years back, Vancouver police are investigating an on ice altercation to determine if criminal charges should be laid. Those who suggest the police should mind their own business and let the league deal with it with make a unique case that warrants analysis.

The rationale seems to be something along the lines of this; professional athletes realize and accept that violence and injury is part of the game, and by extension, consent to the possibility they?re going to be hurt. In other words, the world of professional hockey is one where muggings, swarmings and beatings are not outside the realms of what constitutes tolerable behaviour.

Interesting. Let?s see how portable this rationale is to other scenarios. Don?t those who choose to become involved in organized crime, drug dealing, extortion, etc. also accept that violence is part of their trade? Given that turf wars, drive by shootings, torture and revenge killings are all part and parcel of gang activity, perhaps the police should butt out and let these people settle their disputes and conflicts the way they always have.

And how about domestic violence? Many women knowingly stay in abusive relationships where violence is commonplace. Despite the inevitability of further assaults, both partners opt to remain together. Should this type of violence be sheltered from the scrutiny of police and prosecutors? Think about this ? the practice of men assaulting their spouses has, and in many cultures continues to be, considered not just normal, but just and appropriate. And this has been the case for a lot longer than sucker punches have been tolerated in professional hockey.

If we accept the common law principle that to be effective and have moral authority ? the law must apply equally to everyone, it?s difficult to make the case that professional athletes should have immunity.

And if someone in their twenties earning millions of dollars a year for playing a kid?s game is going to be excused for losing his temper, over reacting, attacking and injuring another person, why should the rest of us schmucks with bills and the threat of layoffs be expected to control our emotions?

John.Martin@ucfv.ca