Sunday, February 12, 2006

Fact finding or feeding frenzy?

With a few days distance between the initial shock of the Tocchet affair behind us, it’s interesting to look at how the media is handling this percolating issue.

While it’s correct to expose wrong doing upon its discovery, it also would be nice to perhaps collect all your evidence, before issuing the blanket condemnations. So far the only two persons, attached to the NHL to be identified as involved in the investigation are Rick Tocchet and Janet Jones-Gretzky, Tocchet as the alleged financier and organizer of the gambling ring and Jones-Gretzky as an alleged willing and apparent frequent participant.

Those first couple of days saw a flurry of news stories throwing out those two names in every release, yet the New Jersey State Police suggested that there were between six to twelve other names linked to the NHL involved. Yet none have yet to be named or leaked. How come we haven’t seen some hard proof come forward yet of other participants? Suddenly the media has decided to take a more balanced approach to the story and wait for more charges, having already thrown out the biggest name possible, it's as if the media feel they have done their job and that’s that.

How come, other than the obvious major impact of the surname, was Jones-Gretzky’s name released as being involved? She has yet to be charged with any crime, and is most likely going to be used more for leverage over the other participants, than to face legal charges. Why was her name not held back until all the other possible names were released as well?

While she is most likely in a most embarrassing situation for herself, other than trying to extricate his wife from an ugly situation, Wayne Gretzky has no apparent involvement in the actual betting circle. And yet it’s his name that now seems to be tied to every story about the betting ring. The media need to return to the main story, that of the betting circle and which other NHLers other than the now alleged Tocchet, are actively part of the situation. Now that would be the news story to follow, not the Gretzky name dropping festival that has followed since the issue first came to light.

Yes, Gretzky made an error in originally denying knowledge of his wife’s involvement and as subsequent media leaks have shown, he was in contact with Tocchet about the involvement of his wife. But, one suspects that was more a matter of concern over his wife and friend’s situation, than any sense of sweeping the issue away. Surely even Wayne Gretzky would realize that no matter how he may wish it not to be, once this information was released to the public, his family’s name would be splashed around the world. If he was involved other than as a spouse and friend, he must realize that he would have to come clean.The fact he has had nothing to say other than to support his wife and friend should be the end of his targeting by the media, unless they have proof otherwise.

His behavior at a league level is still to be examined. He most likely should have had his co-coach take the matter the NHL early on. It's an ethical problem for Gary Bettman and the league to determine. Gretzky may not have bet on the games, but he should have realized the damage the situation could cause his sport and acted accordingly. His judgment was wrong in that and will be the subject of much more debate. But again he broke no laws that we are aware of.

Those that did break the law should and will be identified and prosecuted by New Jersey law officials and those NHLers involved should be expelled from further league involvement. But perhaps we should wait for the actual indictments, witness lists and court testimony before we start to run a McCarthy like witch hunt.

The latest media storm revolves around whether Gretzky should be allowed to go to Turin to head the Canadian Hockey delegation there. It seems like a rather unfair call by some in the media. He has not been charged with any wrong doing, has stated that he is not a bettor and other than a friendship with one principal and a marital relationship with the other newsworthy name, Gretzky would seem for now to be not involved. Why should he then, not be allowed to take his team to Europe or not be wanted at the Olympic Games?

Unless his name appears on an indictment he is thus, just another citizen, one with family troubles but nothing that should preclude his involvement in any enterprise he should wish to take part in.

If the media has proof of his wrongdoing in this situation, then they should present it and then make their calls for him to step aside from his duties. Until then, idle speculation and rumour mongering will be an unwelcome addition to the debate.

We have a tendency in this country to tear down our icons when they get too big for us; however we need to tread carefully in these matters. Without evidence, without facts and without merit, we run the risk of tarnishing a stellar reputation and the many good deeds done by him in the past.

Canadian’s appreciate hard facts, if we’re proven wrong over time then shame on him and shame on us. But, all evidence thus far points to non involvement in the contentious issue of the day. With that in mind, Gretzky should be allowed to run his team. He was there at the start of the process, he should not be denied his place as the completion of the project unfolds on the ice in Turin.

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