BOSS OR BULLY?
In his first year as president of the NHL, John Ziegler Jr. has been accused of in-decisiveness and waffling and tolerating hooliganism on the ice. Last week Ziegler took his firmest stand to date, but on an incident that occurred off the ice: he suspended New York Rangers Forward Don Murdoch for the upcoming hockey season and fined him $500, as a penalty for Murdoch's guilty plea last April in a Brampton, Ontario court to a charge of possession of 4.8 grams of cocaine, a not insignificant amount. Although the suspension has a proviso for Murdoch to return after 40 games if, in Ziegler's judgment, he is sufficiently penitent, Murdoch could be stigmatized for the rest of his career.
Protecting young people from such shame or discredit is why so many courts are lenient toward first-time drug offenders, especially 20-year-olds, which Murdoch was when he was arrested in Toronto last August 12. If he had been arrested in New York, for instance, he probably would not have been prosecuted. Even in Brampton, Murdoch got off with a $400 fine, a suspended sentence and, most important, a second chance.
Apparently Ziegler did not feel the punishment of the Ontario court was sufficiently harsh. More surprising, neither did the NHL's 18 player representatives, who voted unanimously not to support Murdoch's cause, despite pleas by Ranger teammates Steve Vickers and Phil Esposito, an NHL Players Association vice-president. "I think the penalty was severe," says Vickers. "He's gone through a very tough year since the incident happened. He was only 20. Sometimes it's difficult for a young player." Says NHLPA Executive Director Alan Eagle-son, "They talked of some problems he'd had and how he's helped his family. But it boiled down to a discussion of the issue, the plea of guilty and the offense itself being so difficult for the players to accept. If it had been only marijuana, I think he would have gotten full support."
It has been suggested that other NHL owners who are jealous of the Rangers pressed for the harsh penalty, that the other players have no great love for Murdoch. "I don't think the players' firsthand knowledge of him helped his cause," says Eagleson.
Certainly it behooves the NHL to reprimand a player who breaks the law, and no one wants to go on record as condoning the use of an illegal drug, even though the use of cocaine is fairly widespread among young professional athletes. But it seems rather arrogant that Ziegler can impose a more severe penalty than a court of law for a victimless crime and one that had nothing to do with the game of hockey. Many people are applauding Ziegler for finally getting tough. We only hope that he gets tough the next time a player whacks another over the head with a stick.
POINT OF ORDER
In Philadelphia politics is serious business. But sometimes it gets clear out of hand, such as last week when a City Councilman and a community activist nearly escalated a little disagreement to a three-round bout in The Spectrum.
Here's what happened: Councilman Francis Rafferty, enraged by remarks made by Milton Street at a Council hearing on proposed city charter amendments, advanced on Street in the City Council chambers. Police restrained the pair after an exchange of epithets. Two days later The Philadelphia Daily News columnist Larry McMullen ran into Rafferty, who said he wanted to take on Street in a ring. "You're serious?" said McMullen. "Damn right," said Rafferty, who had a dozen bouts as an amateur more than 15 years ago.
McMullen relayed the challenge to Street. "He's on," said Street. "You're serious?" said McMullen. "There's nothing I'd like more," said Street.