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Free speech one thing in hockey, another in golf

Sean Avery is out of a job, at least for the time being, as he ponders the wisdom of saying nasty things about fellow players who had the nerve to date his ex-girlfriends.

Steve Williams is still employed, though what he said about Phil Mickelson was just as bad.

Debate the wisdom of either opening his mouth all you want. What’s more interesting is the reaction from two sports that used to have nothing in common besides “Happy Gilmore.”

Hockey, which tolerates muggings on a nightly basis and has never felt the need to be politically correct, was so offended by a few words that Avery was sent packing after playing only 23 games of what was supposed to be a four-year stint with the Dallas Stars. When last heard from, he was at an undisclosed location undergoing treatment for anger management issues.

Golf, which regards itself as the ultimate gentleman’s sport, has apparently left it up to Tiger Woods to decide the fate of his caddie. That’s perhaps appropriate because Woods yields far more power in the sport than PGA commissioner Tim Finchem.

Not surprisingly, Woods didn’t seem terribly distressed by his caddie’s remarks, though he did release a statement calling them inappropriate. It’s basically the same reaction he’s had any time Williams causes a commotion — which the looper seems to do on a regular basis.

There’s a difference, though, between throwing a $7,000 camera into a pond at the Skins Game because your employer doesn’t like pictures being snapped in his backswing, and calling the second biggest name in golf a name that won’t be repeated here.

Just why Williams felt it necessary to unload on Mickelson isn’t really clear, though his distaste for Lefty certainly is. It’s an open secret on the PGA Tour that Woods and Mickelson aren’t exactly dinner pals, but if Williams’ comments are any indication, it runs deeper than that.

To Williams’ credit, he didn’t do a Terrell Owens and claim that he either didn’t say what he said or that the media was simply making it up.

“I was simply honest and said they don’t get along,” Williams said. “I don’t particularly like the guy myself. He pays me no respect at all and hence, I don’t pay him any respect. It’s no secret we don’t get along, either.”

The problem with that reasoning is that Williams seems confused about his role in a sport that has likely made him a millionaire several times over. He’s been in Woods’ reflected spotlight so long that he’s forgotten that Woods is the talent and he’s merely the hired help.

Williams is a caddie, a vocation that doesn’t require a lot of special skills. I know that because in a previous life I caddied for the winner of a PGA Tour event, and I had no special skills.

Caddies basically need to know how to walk and carry a big bag at the same time. They need to know how far it is from one spot to another on the golf course, and they need to know how to clean clubs after their player uses them.

That’s about it.

Woods hits the drive, Williams puts the headcover back on the driver. Woods hands him his putter, Williams puts it in the bag. If it rains, Williams pulls out an umbrella and holds it over Woods’ head.

Save the jokes about Mickelson’s physique for the caddie barn. Don’t worry about your relationship with him because it’s not your place to have one anyway.

Woods issued a statement Monday saying the entire matter had been discussed and “dealt with” — whatever that means. Finchem hasn’t said anything, but he could make his own statement that this kind of talk won’t be tolerated by banning Williams from a tournament or two. That’s not likely, though, because doing so might run the risk of offending his tour’s biggest star.

Contrast that to the NHL, which wasted no time in handing Avery a six-game suspension after he called reporters together to utter a line that will live in hockey infamy. When that suspension was up, the Stars wasted no time in declaring themselves done with an agitator who last year was voted the most hated player in the NHL by his peers.

Hard to imagine, but hockey finally got one right.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for golf to do the same.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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