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Loose Change: Freedom of expressions

The story has grown both tired and redundant by now. New York’s resident juggling clown, Sean Avery, gets in a pre-game shouting and shoving match with Toronto’s own resident one-trick pony Darcy Tucker after Avery may or may not have said something offensive to Tucker’s teammate Jason Blake.

This really isn’t all that surprising as these types of allegations have followed Avery around like portly kids follow ice cream trucks. The mystifying part of this is not whether Avery in fact said something offensive, but what – I ask – actually constitutes “offensive?”

It would seem to be naturally and culturally verboten to pick on someone with a disease, or being from a specific ethnic group or some other issue the person in question had no control over. But if a player say, got caught with a hooker, is that OK, in the big scheme of things, to bring during the pre-game skate?

There is a long history in hockey for varied methods of intimidation – whether through on-ice violence or through the more-modern form of trash talk. The question remains though, where’s the line?

A player will yell obscenities at another, perhaps pontificating about the player’s mother; wife; sexual orientation or choice of SUV. Somewhere in the course of the discussion, the loud-mouthed player will either hit an emotional nerve or be forced to conduct an intensive Internet search for more effective zingers. This, of course, is an accepted part of the game.

But, when is enough, enough?

Take this: Player A tells Player B, “I’m going to rip your skin off in three inch rows and feed it to my dog.” This particular phrase – although graphic – is likely tolerated, since it has the all physical and macho element fans of the sport so dearly love (and frankly it’s rather colorful).

Now, let’s ramp it up a little:

“I’m going to rip your skin off in three inch rows and feed it to my French poodle.”

This is now borderline offensive since it possibly calls ethnicity into play. It could also be considered offensive to most dogs as well (although The Doggie Defamation Defense Fund is quite paltry and canines are historically not good on the witness stand).

And, we could take the trash talk one step further:

“I’m going to rip your skin off in three inch rows and feed it to my French poodle, who has an hereditary limp.

Now it’s picking on the physical, with a side order of genealogy. Aside from some profanity, this statement pretty much has it all. Would it be enough to (a) start a fight or (b) warrant a suspension? Probably not, since their canine disabilities are not great talking points and poodles are, well, poodles.

So, how does a player, in the heat of battle, know where to draw the verbal line? What’s OK to say and what’s not OK to say? No one really questions Avery’s intention at stirring the pot, just at what text he chooses to read from. Maybe we need to publish The NHL’s Big Book of Etiquette and distribute it as much as we do those DVDs on why it’s not OK to hit a player when his butt is clearly visible from an attacking player’s vantage point.

Perhaps Sean Avery could have said something a little more acceptable and saintly to Mr. Blake, like:

“Jason, that visor makes your eyes all buggy and you look like someone from the chess club.”

Except, now I guess the guys from the chess club would be offended.

Charlie Teljeur, creator of THN's hockeysockpuppettheatre, brings you Loose Change every Thursday only on thehockeynews.com. Subscribe to The Hockey News today to have Charlie's cartoon delivered to you in each issue.

Want to talk to Charlie about love, life, or Loose Change? Email him at charlieteljeur@hotmail.com.

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