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Gretzky Gambling Scandal Fizzles

By February 15, 2006

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We've all seen this movie; the one that gets off to a promising start, with a great cast and a decent premise and lots of twists and turns to ramp up the tension... only to lose its way in the middle and stagger to a lame ending.

It's too early to know for sure, but the Wayne Gretzky gambling imbroglio is starting to look like one of those movies.

For starters, the "Next Pete Rose" plot evaporated before it began. Nobody contradicted Gretzky's claim that he doesn't bet on sports. Nobody - not even "sources close to the investigation" - claims that he or anyone else in the NHL bet on hockey. (Of course, that hasn't stopped a few hopeful columnists from speculating on such a "worst case scenario.")

The "Wiretap" angle looked promising last week. Reports suggested a devious Great One ensnared by police recordings, chatting with Rick Tocchet about the alleged gambling ring that has landed Tocchet in so much trouble. This appeared to contradict Gretzky's assertion that he had no prior knowledge of the affair.

"Lies!" cried the headlines. "Corruption! The Tarnished Hero! The Disgraced Icon!"

Now it seems the wiretapped conversation didn't take place until last Monday, when the police dropped by Casa Gretz to interview his wife. When the story went public the next day, Gretzky pleaded ignorance. It would have been more honest to say, "I didn't know about it until the police showed up at the door yesterday."

Until further notice, this appears to be the extent of his malfeasance.

A half-baked drama, to be sure. But a few threads remain to keep this epic afloat.

Some doubt the man could be entirely ignorant of an operation allegedly run by his assistant coach and patronized by his wife. "Gretzky didn't know? What do they talk about at dinner?" asks Scott Soshnick at Bloomberg News.

Even if he's telling the truth, hockey's ambassador "cannot be seen as an associate of big-time sports gamblers, especially one who sleeps with him," writes Dave Kindred of the Sporting News. And especially when that gambling might have a mafia connection.

By stonewalling the media in Torino, even Gretzky himself is helping maintain the shroud of suspicion. And gossip about his high rolling in Vegas doesn't help either.

So the story continues, with our protagonist far from in the clear. But the comparisons to Shoeless Joe Jackson and the talk of a scandal that "could kill the NHL" are looking a bit foolish.

A backlash is underway in Canada, with the media taking a pounding for its handling of the story. At least some of it is deserved. While many reporters confined themselves to fair questions and reasonable suppositions, many others followed a cheesy script that relied solely on the shock value of a celebrity name and the delicious prospect of a fallen white knight.

(Thanks to James Mirtle for a couple of the above links.)

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