Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hesitant to hand out congratulations

On Sunday, the Saint Mary’s Huskies won their first CIS men’s hockey championship, defeating the Alberta Golden Bears 3-2 in an overtime thriller.

The success of the Huskies, though, has often been overshadowed by the story of a particular player on the team: Mike Danton.

Some of you may remember Danton from his brief stint in the NHL, an uneventful 87-game career with New Jersey and St. Louis that abruptly ended in 2004 when he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Danton later pled guilty for his actions in a murder-for-hire plot that saw him hire an undercover police officer to kill his agent, David Frost, a man with whom Danton shared a suspicious relationship.

Details of the conspiracy remain somewhat vague due to Danton’s unwillingness to speak in detail about the case. It was later reported that Danton’s target was not Frost, but rather, his own father. In an unrelated, yet equally puzzling matter, Frost was also charged and later acquitted of 12 counts of sexual exploitation with young males and females between the ages of 14 and 16 during his time working in junior hockey. Frost has always been known as a controlling and mysterious agent, with his relationship with Danton arguably being the most troubling of all.

The details of the Danton-Frost incident have been written about at length – both in newspapers and on the internet – and make for very interesting reading that I would recommend to anyone.

Danton spent 63 months in the American and Canadian prison systems before being paroled in September 2009. In January, the 29-year-old forward became a full-time student at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) and began playing for the university’s varsity hockey team.

Huskies players, head coach Trevor Stienburg, and athletic director Steve Sarty all stood behind the decision to bring Danton into the league.  But I’m hesitant to offer congratulations to a player with Danton’s baggage.

I have written at length about the purity of Canadian university sport and its refreshing absence of gossipy dramas, salary issues and egos. And sadly, Danton’s participation in the league works against everything that I believe is right about CIS athletics.

Danton’s crime was very serious; it was not petty theft or speeding. He was convicted and incarcerated for a lengthy period of time for trying to have someone killed. Regardless of the fact that he has served his time, is this the kind of individual that should be representing Canadian university sport? At 29 years of age with a serious criminal conviction to his name, a league of 18 to 23-year-old university athletes is not his place.

Other writers and supporters of the Huskies have applauded SMU for its benevolence in helping with Danton’s rehabilitation; however, it is also worth noting that prior to when Danton joined the team, the team struggled to attract fans. Following his addition, ticket sales skyrocketed, suggesting that administration looked at the opportunity to add Danton as a chance to draw attention to a struggling program, regardless of his background.

I recognize that life is about second chances, but there is a time and place for these examples of one’s character reinvention, and this is not one of them.

I have spoken to numerous varsity athletes in the past two years and I can confidently say that these are some of the most passionate, committed individuals of high character that you will ever meet. To think that Danton took the roster spot of one of these athletes is deplorable. The decision of the athletic department at SMU to allow a player of Danton’s status to take the place of a student-athlete with a similar level of talent and far higher level of integrity is truly sad.

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