Thursday, February 09, 2006

Gambling And The Court Of Public Opinion

While it is far too early to assess the impact of the Rick Tocchet gambling scandal because many of the details are still not known, it has already had an impact in popular opinions of hockey. In USA, most people are not hockey fans. They hear about the game when it makes the front of their newspaper (not the sports page). This gambling scandal made the front page of the paper. They see a scandal of unknown proportions that has ties to one of the few hockey people they have ever heard of (Wayne Gretzky) both in that it is his assistant coach being charged and in that his wife Janet Jones is alleged to have placed a large number of bets in this gambling ring. Regardless of how things actually are, that will be the image that gets stuck with them.

In order to try to distance themselves from the gambling problems, some Pittsburgh Penguin players who had been named as gamblers (Mark Recchi and John LeClair) are threatening to sue Philadelphia TV staion WPVI, the Delaware County Times and ESPN who all mentioned their names as probably gamblers in Tocchet's gambling ring. Here is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on this topic.

It is sad that in a rush to judgement, several speculations as to which players may be involved got published. Players who were not involved in gambling, but may have a professional tie to Rick Tocchet from his playing days are instantly seen as guilty in some eyes. That is not fair.

UPDATE: In a further blow to the NHL, the Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that the New Jersey state authorities have wiretaps of Wayne Gretzky and Rick Tocchet discussing the betting ring. There is no report at this time that Gretzky was involved in any gambling although his wife Janet Jones is alledged to have made over half a million dollars in bets.

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