The situation was begging for a reasoned response by someone who brings a certain sensitivity to such matters. Mike Toth is not that guy, but at least he tried:
"...it should be pointed out that Emery definitely could have handled certain situations better and has, in fact, admitted making some mistakes. But there are lots of NHL'ers guilty of errors in judgement that had much more dire outcomes. Mark Bell, Todd Bertuzzi and Dany Heatley are just some of the players who have found themselves in various forms of hot water. However, they were all afforded a second chance in the blink of an eye and the last time I checked, none of them were receiving their mail in Moscow."For anyone who needs a reminder:
- Bertuzzi: Broke Steve Moore's neck in a game on March 8, 2004, was criminally charged. Now on his fifth NHL team since the end of the lockout. A civil suit is still tied up in legal wrangling.
- Bell: The Leafs traded for him last summer knowing he was facing two felony counts in a connection with a drunken hit-and-run crash. He's now serving jail time.
- Heatley: Actually a poor example. He was repentant and sorrowful over the 2003 crash which killed his Atlanta Thrashers teammate Dan Snyder.
With Toth, it's seldom clear if he really believes it or he's just playing devil's advocate. That's often tiresome -- it's as if having an argument 1% of the audience will agree with trumps actually having a good argument. This time, though, going with the old Lloyd Dobler, "I know that I don't I know," is pretty smart. Toth just put out there and let the sportsnet.ca crowd kind of prove his point by dragging out the "race card" catchphrase in about every second comment.
The mere fact that sentient people believe that race, for someone who's a visible minority, is just something you whip out of your wallet like a Platinum Visa or a card that gives you 10% off at Chapters, shows that racism does exist in Canada. That can't possibly describe the experience of being brown or black, or speaking with a foreign accent. It just can't -- and this is coming from a white male, a basically commoner-than-cowshit rural Canadian who will never know what that's like.
It's entirely possible that if Emery was white, there wouldn't be any ifs, ands and buts about his fall from grace landing him in Russia. Plenty of players wash out of the NHL each year and are forgotten quicker than a runner-up on Canadian Idol. It's possible that with Bertuzzi-Moore, people would have forgotten quicker if it was, say, Darcy Tucker or Jarkko Ruutu instead of a clean-cut, well-spoken Harvard graduate.
That's unknown. What is known is that no other player's lifestyles and taste got brought into this conversation quicker than Emery's. (You didn't hear any Senators fans wonder if Jason Spezza's playoff performances were linked to him listening to Coldplay.) Sean Avery can come right out and say that hockey isn't his main interest and people are like, "Oh, cool."
NHL executives aren't racist, but there is a double standard here that made it easier for the media and the public to buy why Emery is going away for a while. Good on Toth for kicking at the darkness, in his way.
For much better read on how something is framed differently with black athletes vs. white athletes, read this from Sports On My Mind. It's not like this in Canada, but just you wait.
Ray, Russia and Racism (Mike Toth, sportsnet.ca)
ESPN: Don't Hate the Journalist, Hate the Machine (Sports On My Mind)