More than a decade after it began, the Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi saga has come to an end. You don’t want to call it a merciful end, because the story of these two players, whose names will be bound together for the rest of time, never had much mercy at all.
This case was about the individual vs. the collective, and the terrible consequences birthed by a revenge culture that over the years has jutted out its chest and preened about how great it was, but that turned tail and scampered into the darkness when it was asked to defend its existence. Hockey players are among the toughest athletes on the planet, but the settlement announced between Bertuzzi and Moore late Thursday proves the game’s power brokers have no confidence in justifying professional hockey’s more contentious elements in a public forum that’s beyond the NHL’s control.
If they did – if the stakeholders in this case truly believed they could convince the Toronto courtroom in which the case was slated to be tried this month that they were in the right and Moore was wrong – they could’ve stood up and fought passionately for themselves and the manner in which they do business. But that’s not what happened. In the end, they threw enough money at the now-35-year-old former Colorado Avalanche forward to get him to back off and stand down.
It’s unfair to criticize Moore for accepting a settlement. This is someone who’s struggled, as we all would, to deal with the cruelties that accompany having your childhood dream crushed under the weight of someone else’s over-the-top aggression. If he prefers to conclude his battle now, nobody should fault him for it. He’s earned the right to rest and live out the remainder of his life in peace.
But the manner in which this situation ended leaves the NHL and hockey with nothing to be proud of. They’ve dodged the bullets, Matrix-style, this time around. But they haven’t encased themselves in an impenetrable bubble for all the days to come. We’re seeing a steady increase in lawsuits from former NHLers suffering from symptoms associated with repeated concussions and making the same arguments Moore did before he settled his case. And if the day ever arrives that a player dies or is seriously injured on the ice, the league will be back in the crosshairs of the legal system, and undoubtedly will circle the wagons as it did with Bertuzzi/Moore.
Perhaps they’ll be able to shovel enough money toward future plaintiffs to convince all of them to settle prior to a trial as Moore has. But what keeps owners and league brass awake at night is the lingering fear lucrative payouts won’t protect them forever; that they’ll be called to account in public and under oath; and once that happens, all their empty chatter about “tradition”, “our game” and “the code” will be exposed for what it is: insular, anachronistic, indefensible bunk.
The biggest tragedy/irony of the Bertuzzi/Moore narrative is that both of its main actors were broken by it – Bertuzzi never was the same player – yet hockey and the NHL carried on unscathed despite creating and cultivating the conditions that led to it. The truth is, the game was broken long ago, and in a way that led directly to the events that took place when the Canucks and Avs squared off on March 8, 2004.
The money that’s been paid to Moore does nothing to fix that fissure. Sadly, all it does is leave open the possibility there will be more Todd Bertuzzis, Steve Moores and legal showdowns to come.