Should we still be looking to professional athletes to serve as role models for our youth? Many would argue that such a time is long past, but if the Winnipeg Jets still place any value on the concept, this is not a great month for them.
Dustin Byfuglien, the giant from northern Minnesota, is finally answering charges of boating while impaired that were laid before he ever arrived in Winnipeg last year. Then came the bombshell about Ondrej Pavalec.
The 24 year old goaltending sensation from the Czech Republic was fined and suspended from driving for 20 months in his home country after registering a blood alcohol level of .20 following an accident in May.
It wasn’t until mid-July that the news broke, a couple of weeks after Pavalec had finalized a new contract worth almost $4 million a year. Oops !
The Jets say they were as surprised as anyone else when they heard. I find that a little hard to believe in this era when the world tweets every time a celebrity sneezes anywhere in the world.
The young goalie issued the predictable apologies, no doubt carefully scripted and lawyered by the team’s front office. But this is a public relations problem that may not go away very soon.
If Ondrej had been up front from the start, he might have done some good by starring in a media campaign about the dangers of drinking and driving. But it loses a lot of its impact if he also has to say “By the way, don’t keep secrets from your employer”.
There was a time when an athlete in such a predicament would have been dropped like a hot potato, as he would have violated the morals clause in his contract. But the unspoken closing message to this saga will be something like, ‘If we ever want to become a playoff contender, we need this hot goaltender, even if he is a bit of a screw-up’.
Some role model.
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What an interesting time for the man with two football teams. That would be me, the guy who grew up in Winnipeg in the glory days of Bud Grant and has now returned home. I can also declare proudly that my most enjoyable football moments have been spent at Taylor Field in Regina.
A deal has finally been struck to spend almost $280 million to build a new stadium for the Roughriders on the Exhibition Grounds, just west of the place where they have played for more than a century. There are many parallels to the stadium drama in Winnipeg.
The Blue Bombers were supposed to be strutting their stuff this season in a brand new playpen at the University of Manitoba. But the window to complete the project proved to be too small, and instead they are playing one more season in the House That Jack Built. Indian Jack Jacobs was the legendary quarterback who led the Bombers in the early 1950’s.
The new Investors Field in Winnipeg will be state-of-the-art in every way, but both it and the new Regina stadium will be built with relatively little private money. David Asper was the champion of a new Blue Bomber stadium, but he failed to realize his dream.
And despite the resource boom in Saskatchewan, none of the big multi-nationals like Potash Corp have been prepared to contribute major bucks for the Rider stadium.
The Green and White will not be playing their first game there until 2017, perhaps mindful of the Winnipeg experience. In both cases the community-owned teams and the football fans will be major funders of the projects.
On the field so far this year, the Bombers and Roughriders have gone in opposite directions, but it’s early yet. And from their skyboxes way up there, I’m sure that departed legends like Indian Jack and Ronnie the Little General will enjoy watching three down football where-ever it’s played.
Roger Currie is a writer, blogger and broadcaster. He lives in Winnipeg, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org