They are not the same thing. Let’s start there.
Other than being professional athletes currently facing unemployment, Ray Rice and Todd Bertuzzi would appear to have precious little in common.
Rice may yet turn out to be the guy who brings down an entire NFL administration, depending on how this who-saw-what-and-when process plays out. That said, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t elected, isn’t supposed to actually wield moral authority, and, like all commissioners, is built to weather precisely this kind of storm.
Everybody went “ooooh” and “ahhh” on Monday when the Baltimore Ravens cut Rice loose and the NFL indefinitely suspended the running back in the wake of the release of a video showing him cold-cocking his future wife in an Atlantic City hotel elevator, followed by footage of him dragging her about like a burden he couldn’t possibly hope to safely lift despite all those long hours over all those years spent in weight rooms.
Disgusting and appalling, everyone agrees.
Still, Janay Rice, the only real victim here, sees herself not as a victim at all, and came out firing today in her defence of her husband. We can wonder and speculate, but only they know the nature of their relationship, and only they know what is forgivable and what is not for them.
Rice has appeared remorseful and will eventually resurface in the league, just as dog torturer Michael Vick did, and commentators will talk about Rice's courage and overcoming challenges.
Someone will obliquely reference “what happened to him” or “what he went through.” Someone will champion his cause just as Tony Dungy championed Vick (who was never the distraction, in Dungy’s confused mind, that Michael Sam was).
That’s just how these things play out.
Bertuzzi’s crime — and unlike Rice, he was tried in a criminal court and received a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to assault — happened during the the course of actual competition.
He was also suspended by the NHL, ultimately missing about 17 months of action and losing about $500,000 in salary, and, last week, lost his final battle when he and the Vancouver Canucks and their insurance companies were forced to cough up millions and millions of dollars in a settlement to his victim, Steve Moore.
There are still those, some of whom are still closely affiliated with the NHL, who will continue to argue that Bertuzzi was in the right and Moore got what he deserved. Many hockey people hated to discuss the issue after a while and expressed annoyance when the latest legal manoeuvre by either camp brought headlines one more time.
But Bertuzzi lost in every court at every step of the way because he was wrong, terribly and tragically wrong.
He stalked, assaulted and seriously injured a defenceless opponent, a union brother. From behind. The facts remain plain and clear.
The majority of those who were there that infamous night in Vancouver are gone from the NHL scene now, and Bertuzzi, it appears, may finally be gone, too. Ryan Malone is shaking off his off-ice misdemeanours for a tryout in New York, but at the moment, no one sees any value in hiring the 39-year-old Bertuzzi, who only scored 20 goals once more after hitting Moore.
His actions against Moore (was he frustrated even more that night because he was minus-4 in 14 minutes of playing time?) didn’t make him a pariah in the sport. He made millions and millions of dollars while playing for various teams and heard the cheers of the fans countless times over the 10 years that Moore didn’t get to play or even have the chance to scratch out any kind of career at all.
Wayne Gretzky, Pat Quinn and Kevin Lowe tried unsuccessfully to use the 2006 Canadian Olympic team to enhance Bertuzzi’s rehabilitation, but like all the teams who chose to employ and include Bertuzzi over his career, it didn’t result in winning. To me, the Detroit Red Wings stopped being the NHL’s most interesting and admirable team the day they picked Bertuzzi up.
A decade after the fact, nobody but the lawyers really won. Moore is now rich, we believe, but his dream was stolen from him, and his team and his union abandoned him, and maybe his ability to hold down a job and live a healthy life and trust that people will do the right thing are all gone forever, too. To many in the hockey industry, sadly, he became the reviled outsider, not Bertuzzi.
Bertuzzi, meanwhile, is rich, but now nobody apparently wants him as a player any more. Whether he’s happy is known to him, his agent, his family and his friends, and we’ll see if he resurfaces, either for one last shot as a player or in some other hockey capacity somewhere, some day.
But every mention of his name in the pages of hockey history will be linked forever to what he did to Moore. His achievements, such as they were, will be a footnote. No amount of wealth or whitewash will ever change that. Can’t imagine that’s easy to live with.
The owner of the Canucks has long since moved on. Brian Burke, Bertuzzi’s boss, went on to win a Stanley Cup in Anaheim, and then to Toronto, and now Calgary. Marc Crawford, who was to be sued at one point by Bertuzzi, has never had to answer for his coaching role that night, and while the NHL considered his conduct suspicious enough to possibly warrant a suspension, it didn’t happen. He now coaches overseas, far from the NHL.
Markus Naslund, the player for whom the Canucks wanted revenge, has been retired for five years. Trevor Linden played that night and is now president of the Canucks. On the Colorado side, Rob Blake is in the Hall of Fame now. Karlis Skrastins was on board the doomed Lokomotiv Yaroslavl flight three years ago.
The game has moved on, although this has dragged on for so long (Twitter wasn’t around the night Bertuzzi attacked Moore), maybe it has changed a bit. Few argue with any seriousness anymore that a “code” exists in the NHL that provides parameters within which players must compete. Thugs and cowardly cheap-shot artists still roam the ice, but not in quite the same numbers or brazen fashion, not with the same respect they once received or to the same applause. The reaction to Shawn Thornton last year was quite different than it would have been a decade ago.
Bertuzzi should have been banned from the league for life for what he did, but he wasn’t. Moore never really got justice; how could he? In the end, the game and the league skirted more careful public examination because of last week’s settlement, which is a shame, because shining light on the way in which all sorts of people were thinking at the time would have been a useful exercise.
Over time, the outrage has faded, which is what happens to outrage. Something more freshly outrageous always comes along.