Former NHL tough guy Ryan VandenBussche's legal team is contemplating a controversial defence during his assault trial in our former stamping ground, Simcoe, Ont.:
"(Defence lawyer Gerry) Smits has said he will call a psychologist who is an expert on the effects of concussions to testify that VandenBussche was notImagine the precedent. Think of how often athletes from contact sports where concussions are a reality (hockey, football) end up in court on assault charges, or legal raps that involved physical and/or emotional violence. If this legal argument helps VandenBussche, who's facing a string of charges including three counts of assaulting police officers (and a $10.2-million Cdn civil suit from OPP officer Hector Jibbison, whose nose was broken, among other traumas) after a Canada Day post-bar melee, it could have uses in other legal jurisdictions.
responsible for his actions that night."
Daniel Pearce, Simcoe Reformer
A defence lawyer could also point to how the stress of facing the end of one's career can impair a pro athlete's mental state. The transition out of the pro-athlete lifestyle is typically turbulent, since the player is often left to make a major lifestyle change (and adjust to a lower income) without much more than a "good luck" from the team and the league that coveted him for his body until he was used up.
VandenBussche, 34, can be seen as at that stage when he brawled with the cops outside the Turkey Point Hotel last July 1, jumping in after seeing two of his cousins were involved in a melee. He was less than five months removed from season-ending major back surgery. His playing prospects were further curtailed since the "new NHL" had rendered players of his ilk (10 goals, 702 PIMs across 310 career games) superfluous (he tried a comeback last season in Finland and in the low minors, neither of which lasted long). They probably should have been superfluous all along, but he certainly didn't create those conditions. He did what he had to do to stay at the highest rung of the hockey ladder and cash a NHL paycheque, which in his case was seldom much more than the league minimum. He knew being a finesse guy was a one-way ticket out of the NHL.
RACIAL AND MORAL ELEMENT
Now VandenBussche is in a legal imbroglio is part modern morality tale, part about small-town celebrity and with a dose of racial politics. With his case pending, a local hockey man named Darren DeDobbelaer, president of the Simcoe Storm of the Niagara Junior C Hockey League, hired Ryan as head coach. From the vantage point of a journalist who had good dealings with both men during his stint as sports editor at The Reformer, this doesn't seem totally wrong -- DeDobbelaer is trying to help a friend.
Besides, VandenBussche wouldn't get anywhere advocating goon hockey. The Niagara Junior C loop doesn't permit fighting. He also has a base of hockey knowledge that should be put to good use. Where better than in the area where he grew up?
(As if to illustrate nothing in this story is cut-and-dried, DeDobbelaer reacted to an article that detailed VandenBussche's hiring while facing charges by saying he would deny The Reformer access to Storm coaches and players.)
As well, Jibbison, who got his nose broken while on duty, is an African-Canadian who was posted in an area that hardly reflects the New Canada, notwithstanding the men from Mexico and the Caribbean (inexplicably called "offshore workers") who come to work on farms during the summer months. Jibbison's lawsuit was filed by the Selwyn Pieters, who seems to be without peer in Canada in arguing legal matters which involve race.
It's hard to see how you deliver justice for both men. VandenBussche needs some kind of restorative justice. He had a weak moment, but he's not a sociopath. Not to be all bleeding-heart, but both he and Jibbison are victims. It's mostly a matter of degree.
This might not be more than a local story, since it's a fringe player and it's not a murder trial, although apparently this goes to trial in August, when editors are often scrambling to find something to fill the news-hole. Still, to most people and probably most sportswriters, the old "live by the sword, die by the sword" serves as a good sum-it-all-up. The enforcer got pinched for using the same tactics that served him well on the ice.
There just seems to be more at play here.
It's understandable why Jibbison is seeking redress: He was suffered physical and emotional pain for just doing his job. An irony is that was a reality for Ryan VandenBussche in the NHL and that might have sowed the seeds for that regrettable night -- ergo, the possible use of the "concussion defence."
Perhaps the way pro sports treats players on their final bounce out of the game should also be on trial.
Bussche Party In Turkey Point (July 4, 2006)
OPP Claims Assault By NHL Player (CityNews, Sept. 8, 2006)
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