New York Rangers left wing Sean Avery was placed on waivers Tuesday and is now probably bound for Europe or at least the AHL after going unclaimed by any team. It’s very possible that he’s played his last NHL game and while I never thought I’d say this, I’m actually going to miss him a little bit.
It won’t be because of his playing ability; he never scored more than 15 goals or even 39 points in a season and he’s only scored 87 goals in his nine years in the NHL. Goalies and defensemen aside, that’s not exactly Hall of Fame material for a forward.
He was known more than anything else for being the ultimate hockey “pest”, a player whose sole purpose was to annoy and provoke the other team into taking stupid penalties. He was let go in 2009 by the Dallas Stars, partly because his teammates didn’t like him and partly because of some fairly crass and obnoxious comments he made to reporters about his ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert.
But here’s the thing about Avery: he had a conscience, he was a unique individual and he wasn’t shy or ashamed about it. Despite playing the macho, high-testosterone sport of ice hockey, Avery subverted the stereotypes of that sport by freely and openly admitting to playing with dolls as a child and who during the NHL offseason interned with Vogue magazine and guest edited the website for one of its spinoff magazines.
But what’s really made me respect Sean Avery, far more than anything he’s ever done on the ice, is his support of the LGBT community. Avery has been especially prominent in lobbying for gay and lesbian rights and was very prominent in his support for this past summer’s successful struggle to legalize same-sex message in New York State.
However you feel about that issue, it’s very rare for athletes of any prominence to speak out about controversial political and social issues. Because of his behavior as a hockey player, Sean Avery had a reputation as someone who would say tasteless, obnoxious things just to gain attention. Yet because he was willing to use his outspokenness to fight for something larger in a sport where that doesn’t always happen, it’s a little harder to say he didn’t make a difference on the game.