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Reputation on the line

Gretzky may need to distance himself from his wife

Posted: Friday February 10, 2006 3:18PM; Updated: Friday February 10, 2006 3:18PM
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Wayne Gretzky may have been put in a tough spot by wife Janet.
Wayne Gretzky may have been put in a tough spot by wife Janet.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Wayne Gretzky came before the media on Thursday night, this time to simply say: "I didn't bet." He seemed tired and drawn, the national floodlights and all the innuendo upon him, a world of troubles that overwhelmed the small but dismal matter of the night -- that the Phoenix Coyotes, the team he leads, had bowed without a whimper in a 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars.

And yet Gretzky retained his angular grace, that smoothness of movement that says "athlete" even when he is off the ice. His haircut looked good. He allowed himself to smile. At 45, Gretzky has a way of appearing at once worn and polished -- like old silver, that most precious of metals in the hockey world.

He has been known as the Great One for better than half his life, and he knows what rests upon his narrow frame. Not just his own name, but the name of the NHL, the name of Canada, the whole legacy that he has wrought.

No one embodies a sport so fully as Gretzky. Not Barry Bonds or Brett Favre, not Shaquille O'Neal or Tiger Woods. They are all bright suns in a universe with many stars. Gretzky is the sun around which, even now, a large part of public consciousness revolves. Gretzky means hockey to so many outside the game. Tony Hawk and skateboarding is something like this.

In this betting ring story, Gretzky remains innocent. Not just because he has not been convicted of anything,but because he hasn't been charged with anything. The most damning thing, by far, is his association with an alleged high-roller: his wife. As reports say, and as Janet Jones Gretzky's public statement -- "I have never placed a bet for my husband" -- seems to support, she is a sports wagerer. That's a really, really dumb thing to be if you're married to Wayne Gretzky.

Whatever Gretzky knew or did not know what Janet was doing, he is not getting anywhere close to her right now. Gretzky, perhaps wisely, is putting his position in the public universe ahead of the relationship with his wife of 18 years.

On Tuesday night, as the gambling allegations against Janet were emerging, Gretzky told reporters: "First of all, my wife is my best friend. My love for her is deeper than anything."

On Thursday night, he concluded his short news conference by saying, "There's nothing for me to talk about. And, if you have any questions for people who are involved in this, contact them." He didn't mention his wife's name

We have not yet seen Wayne and Janet out together publicly; the statements they release are separate. Wayne has reminded us that "she is her own person." He would have us understand that his association with this particular gambler is not quite as intertwined as nearly two decades of marriage and five children would lead you to believe.

One day, perhaps if and when he is called to testify, we may get a better sense of what Wayne Gretzky knew about any bets his wife may have been placed. For now he will soon pack his things and fly to Turin. And he will hold on to his still-good name, to his well-earned reputation, to his ambassadorship to the world, with everything that he has.