DENVER — If you are really good at playing dirty, you have a future in professional sports.
Cheat and then lie about it? Ryan Braun returned to a standing ovation at his home ballpark.
Top a Sports Illustrated poll as the NFL's dirtiest player? Hines Ward later got the cover of S.I.
Rack up six suspensions (and counting)? Minnesota Wild winger Matt Cooke can lean on the $15 million he's earned as a hockey player.
This just in: Cheaters often win. And if they don't, they still get paid.
Media as a whole aren't very smart. We try to justify the unjustifiable, explain away the most obvious of sins, portray athletes as gods even while they act like dummies.
So I guess it shouldn't be a surprise some hockey media leaped at the opportunity to rationalize Cooke's malicious hit on Tyson Barrie. It might have ended Barrie's season.
An expert from TSN suggested Cooke has changed the way he plays, that he's not the hit man he once was. He cited a decrease in Cooke's penalty minutes as evidence. A wire report noted Cooke has a history of punishments, but not in the past three years. A Deadspin column suggested that, when evaluating Cooke, "the shades of gray are more boring and closer to the truth."
Cool stories, bros. Make sure to pass that along to Barrie. He's the 22-year-old on crutches.
Sometimes things are just black and white. Sometimes there is no gray area.
Sometimes you are what your resume says you are.
I don't make it a habit to watch the Wild. So I don't have the sample size of those hockey experts. My sample size is a handful of games during the regular season and the playoff series that Colorado leads, 2-1. That's more than enough to identify Cooke's mission on a hockey rink: cheap shot the opponent until the ice becomes a level playing field.
Sometimes the truth is black and white. This is one of those times.
From a distance we view sports differently than when they are right on top of us. That's especially true when dealing with players who cheat the game, break the rules or play dirty.
The sports world celebrated an ESPN documentary on Detroit's Bad Boys as if those Pistons were heroes. They weren't. They were cheap-shot artists of the lowest order. They were a middle-of-the-pack offensive team that evened the playing field by holding, chucking and beating up stars. This is a basketball philosophy to celebrate?
Like any city, Denver has no self-righteous platform to stand on. Broncos fans rooted for Bill Romanowski, Avs fans cheered Claude Lemieux, the Nuggets needed Kenyon Martin screens to free Carmelo Anthony to a Western Conference final.
Here, they were valuable players. Elsewhere, they were viewed as different shades of dirty.
What Matt Cooke does, though? Even a Minnesotan emerging from a snow coma can see what's going on there.
Two things I'm sure of: there's nothing Wild about a Minnesota winter, and Cooke is as dirty today as he was four years ago when he delivered a nasty blow that gave Bruins forward Marc Savard a concussion.
(There was no penalty on the play. Does that count toward Cooke's decrease in penalty minutes?)
By paying Cooke a king's ransom during the course of his career, NHL teams enabled it. Now the Avs are paying for it.
The NHL is expected to rule Wednesday on Cooke's punishment. It should be a simple process.
He shouldn't play the rest of this series, for sure. If the Avs advance to the next round, add up the number of games missed by Tyson Barrie. Double that, and there's Cooke's suspension. The culprit's punishment should be twice as severe as that of the victim, at the least.
If the Avs are eliminated by the Wild, Cooke should sit for the rest of the playoffs. Because if Cooke plays again this postseason, it sends the message that the reward (removing a valuable opponent from the ice) is worth the risk (a light suspension).
Maybe you have a better idea. That's mine.
There's no gray area here. Sometimes it's all quite black and white.
Now if you will excuse me, Ryan Braun is up to bat.