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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ides of March: The Dog Days of Winter

Idus Martii, otherwise known as the Ides of March, is fast approaching.  Each year, it is a challenging time as the harsh winter shows signs of fading to the past as the snow melts and the sun shines later in the evening.  The winter sportsmen are tired, exhausted and frustrated - no matter what sport they play.  And, it shows.

In hockey, a rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens turned violent once again and a cool, calm, long and lanky defenseman, Zdeno Chara, known as one of the class acts in all of hockey, took an extra second or two to finish a hit that left his opponent, Max Pacioretti, immobilized on a stretcher.  The hit passed muster with the deans of discipline at the NHL office but is now the cause of investigation by the "La police de Montreal" after doctors announced that Pacioretti sustained a concussion and injury to his fourth vertebre.

Chara and the Bruins agreed with the NHL's determination that "it was just a hockey play" and no further penalty needed to be applied (Chara received a game misconduct at the time of the hit). But, the criminal investigation remains in the St. Catherine's Street air and to me, a police investigation for an NHL hit opens a very serious can of worms.  Visions of a police details at the Charlestown Chiefs locker room door dance in my head complete with Slapshot's Paul Newman and the Hanson Brothers.  The question that I pose to the NHL and the Quebec authorities is this, "If the Chara vs. Pacioretti hit is under criminal review, isn't every brawl, fight and violent check a call for police investigation?"  Why is this hit any different than the thousands of others that have caused serious injury?

On another level in the world of sports, we venture down south to the lower 48 and come upon a lost soul in Orlando who publicly compared the Commissioner of his league to the dictators of the Middle East such as Hosni Mubarek or Muammar Muhammad al Gaddafi.  Yes, Stan Van Gundy, the head coach of the Orlando Magic decided to compare David Stern (and his minions) to the lot of world leaders "that we've seen in the world lately, who don't really tolerate other people's opinions or free speech or anything."

After a day or two after that quote simmered on the world stage, Stern was scheduled as a guest on ESPN Radio and was asked about the issue.  His reply, a classic Sternism: "I'm going to engage in private discussions at this point with his franchise. And did it bother Stern personally? "It didn't bother me personally.  I see somebody whose team isn't performing, whose star player was suspended, who seems to be fraying... Whatever the pressures are that Stan is feeling, that he fell to whatever position he's in to say something like this, it made me sad."

When asked earlier in the ESPN Radio interview, Stern had been a bit more elusive: "I would just render a guess that we're not going to be hearing from him for the rest of the season," he said.

Then Stern elaborated on the powers of an NBA Commissioner, stating, "Oh, I have whatever influence the bylaws and league constitution give me, and they are substantial, but I have a feeling that some modicum of self-restraint will cause Stan and the team for which he works to rein in his abhorrent behavior."

Whew.  That, indeed,  is an annoyed Stern.

Of course, SVG is not the first coach to pop-off on the league, its rules , refs or a particular decision or officiating call.  Each year, especially in these dog-days of winter, someone seems to feel the pressure of the upcoming playoff stretch or an extended losing streak and do what all coaches are taught to do - bitch about the officiating.  It's a natural but, quite frankly, Stern has had enough of it after hearing the same old tune for some 25+ years.  The coaches cast doubt and negative viewpoint on the refs, the fans hear the comments and then echo the coaches statements and it goes on and on, like a Stephen Bishop album.

Stern blasted the coaches - in a group session - at the annual NBA coaches association meeting a few years back and more or less said: Enough is enough, we've heard it all and we've had it.  The fines will be substantial, and if you keep at it, the fines will escalate and be joined by suspensions.  The coaches were forewarned, no question about it.  Yet, near the Ides of March, strange things happen.

Yes, in these days of March, college referees take the last 1.7 seconds of a game off, then step down from officiating for the rest of the BIG EAST tournament in New York after St. John's was the recipient of about three flawless gems of calls, all going against Rutgers. 

Or, college football coaches stand at a podium and fess 'up to knowledge of a near BCS champion roster full of memorabilia salesmen dealing with the local tat-parlor owner looking to make an extra buck-eye. Then, suspensions and fines fly each way, like they did on I-91, near Storrs, Connecticut where Hall of Fame Coach Jim Calhoun will sit out a couple games, albeit on his timetable next fall.

In the entertainment world, we give you Bud Fox, err, Charlie Sheen who has gone absolutely ballistic before, during and after his interview with the esteemed Dan Patrick Show.  "The minute I laid eyes on you, I knew you were no good," seems to be the public opinion of Sheen after he nuked his hit CBS series, "Two and a Half Men," to the point where CBS had no choice other than to pull the plug and deal with the legal aftermath now unfolding.

All throughout the time of these many ordeals unfolding in the sports and entertainment pages near you, we hear the 'tick, tock' of the National Football League's lockout clock winding down to the extended deadline of March 11. As of tonight, March 10, the NFL and its players union have parted company without a deal.  Both sides say they are committed to a new deal, but after a week or so of federally mediated talks, the slinging of labor negotiating mumbo-jumbo again surfaced in the news today.  The players claimed that the NFL was committed to a lockout.

We'll see where it stands on the Ides of March.

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