The Malik Report
by George Malik on 11/27/12 at 06:29 PM ET
As Paul noted, the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner's FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the Grand Rapids police produced a rather worrisome arrest report indicating that Red Wings prospect Riley Sheahan was severely intoxicated and attempting to use Brendan Smith's driver's license when he was pulled over "super-drunk" after the Grand Rapids Griffins' team Halloween party.
Here's my take on the situation:
Regarding Riley Sheahan: He didn't just cultivate his drinking issues on his own--I believe he received a "Minor in Possession" equivalent ticket at Notre Dame, and the summer after he left the school to "turn pro" with the Wings, something like seven underclassmen were busted at a summertime party having joined their over-21 peers in imbibing heavily.
That doesn't excuse his behavior, but what I'm trying to say is that he learned from what was I understand was a hard-partying crowd of teammates at Notre Dame.
Sheahan clearly took his talents with him to Grand Rapids, and was probably spending his off days practicing what he learned.
This is why I worry about the Wings' prospects playing in a league with such a weekend-heavy schedule, despite the fact that the Griffins do an astonishingly good job of keeping the players busy during the middle of the week: when you're the most high-profile athletes in town, and you're young and upwardly-mobile, it's not surprising to find that some of the players are indulging in using their cachet to cash in on what is probably free and/or slightly underage carousing.
Especially given that the legal drinking age is 19 in most of Canada and that, "If you can see over the bar" is the drinking age in many European countries, it's not surprising that there are probably multiple under-21 players drinking alcoholic beverages, but it's simply unacceptable for having a beer or two after the game or on the bus to turn into a full-time hobby or default means of spending one's down time between games, practices and other obligations to the team...
And it's obviously completely unacceptable for anyone to get behind the wheel buzzed or drunk, never mind "super drunk" as Sheahan was after the team's Halloween party.
If the gents decide to party hard--which is going to happen from time to time (emphasis on "from time to time" as opposed to "every week")--whoever's in charge of the "party bus" must ensure that their teammates have alternate means of transportation home, and they must ensure that anyone who's taken more than a few sips of alcoholic beverages must adhere to the "take a cab" policy.
I'm sure that the Griffins and Red Wings have already addressed the situation, but incidents like this reinforce the fact that the coaches, management and especially the Griffins' players need to have a zero tolerance policy for any sort of "boys will be boys" issue, regardless of whether we're talking about carousing or canoodling.
These young men are a step away from the NHL, and while they're going to make mistakes, they must learn that discretion, self-control and a little healthy, "Don't act like you're hot shit because you're a professional hockey player, and don't make partying your priority" peer pressure are all necessary parts of the pro hockey learning curve.
The Griffins may be largely a group of 19-to-26-year-olds that are fallible young men with time to burn between weekend games and on long bus rides, but they and their Toledo Walleye bretheren are not just representing themselves, but also their communities, their organizations, and, to some extent, the Detroit Red Wings. They are public figures whose "rights and privileges" as professional athletes also come with the responsibility of punching way above their weight in terms of maturity and off-ice behavior.
They might also want to take a page from the Red Wings and Mike Babcock's book in this instance: the Wings' players and coach constantly talk about the fact that they need to be both physically and mentally prepared for games if they hope to perform to their own and the Wings' incredibly high standards of excellence, and none of the time the players and coaches spend preparing for games physically or taking care of their bodies and brains so that they can be 100% focused on doing their jobs has anything to do with showing up to practices, morning skates or even games nursing hangovers (or, to some extent, spontaneous amorous encounters).
The Griffins' coaches and management and the Red Wings' coaches and management clearly need to conduct something of an audit of team procedures here, sitting down with their Griffins and Walleye prospects both collectively and on an individual basis to review team behavioral policies and to emphasize the necessity to conduct oneself in a professional and publicly and personally repsonsible manner at all times.
No one is expecting players to act like monks or to refrain from having a good old time at bars, clubs, concerts or at events held by their teammates, but moderation, acceptance of personal responsibilities and understanding that succeeding as professional athletes on both on and off-ice bases tend to preclude them from pursuing carousing, canoodling or partying as hard as one possibly can as full-time hobbies.
And if they're going to get shit-faced every once in a while, they need to plan to have transportation home--if they don't start and end their night at home--prior to engaging in the drowning of one's sorrows that a solid majority of people indulge themselves in from time to time.
Just as importantly, the three organizations also need to ensure that the players have access to counseling or other treatment programs if the players do find themselves with more than a casual relationship with drinking, prescription painkillers (which represent the most common addiction problem facing society at large in the U.S. and Canada, never mind athletes who play through pain) or anything else. The organizations must also emphasize that the players can pursue these counseling or treatment programs on a non-judgmental basis. If anyone does have an issue, it's not a moral failing or something to deal with out of shame: we all have problems, and when we face personal difficulties that can be treated, they need to seek treatment in the same way that they would attempt to deal with a chronic injury. Their job is to "get it fixed," to use another Babcockian term, as opposed to worry about being judged as somehow "bad" or "inferior" or "shamed."
Most of us have had to deal with behaviors that have taken up too much time or energy for our own good, have gotten out of control or, in some instances, have become more than habitual. Our job as human beings is to avail ourselves of the options available to us through our friends, families, physicians, religious leaders, and in the case of the Red Wings' prospects, their coaches, fellow teammates and teams. That's what taking personal responsibility for one's behavior is all about.
And Brendan Smith, he clearly needs to have a talking-to as well.
When people ask me why the hell Brendan Smith hasn't already graduated to the NHL, and why I'm so hard on him in terms of his maturity given that he's so incredibly talented, so outgoing and so obviously enthusiastic about being a professional athlete and a Wing-in-waiting, finding out that somebody who had a couple of alcohol-related arrests in college was lending his driver's license to someone underage is a good example why I worry about him.
Smith tends to have a Jeremy Roenick-like personality--emphasis on the "JereME"--and the fact that one of the team's leaders has been caught playing the enabler's role instead is quite worrisome. His MiP's and DUI-via-moped issues should be far behind him now, and if he does plan on driving the "party bus" as well as the leadership bus, then his main off-the-clock job should be ensuring his teammates' health and safety.
When I do hear reports about Smith from those "on the inside" (and gossip is not what I pursue; as far as I'm concerned, players' private lives are their own, so part of my job as a professional is to understand that players are human beings, too, and that some of the things I have access to are neither your nor my business when they do not have journalistic or on-ice-related value), I do not hear positive things about his "JereME Roenick" outlook--instead, I hear expressions of exasperation and impatience with the glacially slow pace of his maturation--and while he's just a young man and human being who's still growing and learning, he can't let his God-given on-ice talents translate to a sense of entitlement or standing above off-ice rules of conduct.
Now Smith has to thank the hockey gods that Sheahan was arrested before he could do more harm to himself, and Smith has to continue to learn lessons regarding conducting oneself professionally when away from the rink. Given his energy, enthusiasm and intellect, I fully expect that he knows that realizing his potential as the team's top prospect clearly involves some more maturation off as well as on the ice.
Put bluntly, these kinds of pratfalls, as much as and if not more than issues like injuries and earning, "In the right place at the right time" playing opportunities, tend to determine how far athletes go in terms of climbing the professional hockey ladder. These days, hockey players have to commit themselves physically to incredibly strenuous off-ice training regimens, they have to work astonishingly hard to stand out against an ever-increasingly-near-equal set of opponents, peers and teammates, and they simply cannot expend the kind of time, energy and attention to detail regarding off-ice pursuits involving indulging onself based upon their statuses as professonal athletes and upwardly mobile young men with time to kill between heavily weekend-scheduled games.
There is no small irony in the fact that one of the best players in terms of getting away with somewhat self-indulgent behavior early in his career in Chris Chelios is now interacting with the Griffins' players on a weekly basis, and if anyone can remind the young men that professional hockey today ain't what it was in the 80's or 90's, or that the secrets to long and prosperous hockey careers at any and every level of play involve a combination of phsyical and mental commitments to preparing oneself to play--commitments of time, energy and effort which include indulging in any off-ice pursuit in moderation and with high levels of self-control and awareness of one's public, organization-representing status--which add up to what is essentially a 24/7/365.25 job these days. Half-assing it and showing up with a half-hangover on a regular basis won't cut it, plain and simple.
As for Sheahan's punishment, the letter of the law spells things out, and he did place himself and the general public in incredible danger given his ridiculously dangerous level of intoxication. He clearly should have known that he was unable to drive, and there's neither an excuse for him to get behind the wheel nor any explanation that would suffice to justify how his teammates let Sheahan behind the wheel.
I don't believe that jailing or deporting Sheahan would really accomplish much of anything, however, and other than suggesting that he should be heavily fined, placed on probation, no longer allowed to drive for an extended period of time and especially required to attend treatment, counseling and/or AA meeetings, this is an instance where his cachet as a Grand Rapids Griffin and a Detroit Red Wings prospect could be put to better use educating regarding and informing the public about the dangers of drunk driving and especially the potential consequences thereof, including the severe penalties being "superdrunk" that one faces, as opposed to incarcerating him for the sake of incarcerating him.
Sheahan got off incredibly luckily thanks to the alertness of the Grand Rapids Police Department. He and perhaps some of his teammates should spend some of their future free time informing the public in both Grand Rapids, Western Michigan and statewide that the humiliation of being arressted while driving the wrong way, using someone else's license and wearing a Tinky Winky costum is, by far, the best possible outcome of getting behind the wheel when "superdrunk" to the point of hospitalization being necessary to ensure that one doesn't slip into a frickin' coma from alcohol poisoning.
Sheahan lived, and now he, Smith and their fellow Red Wings prospects in both Grand Rapids and Toledo must learn from Sheahan's mistakes, all while displaying commensurate amounts of public and private contrition.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.