From deep in the heart of Texas where football long ago replaced cotton as king, here's a hearty cheer for professional hockey. I'm not a hockey fan, but that's merely a consequence of geography. If you don't grow up on skates, it can be as difficult to understand the blue line and icing as it is to follow that little puck on a television screen.
I've always, however, admired the athletes. My closest connection to hockey is that a neighbor in Washington dated NHL Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens. And Stevens, from Canada, was as big and tough as any guy who ever strapped on a football helmet in the lower 48.
So I was overjoyed last week when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stood up for the honor of his players and the integrity of his game. Bettman suspended Dallas Stars forward Sean Avery for six games without pay.
Avery's transgression? He didn't shoot himself in the leg while illegally packing heat in a nightclub, as New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress did. He didn't add a fight with a bodyguard to an already considerable criminal record, as Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones did.
No, Bettman sidelined his player for making "inappropriate public comments, not pertaining to the game." Avery delivered a misogynistic remark about other NHL players dating his former girlfriends, actresses Elisha Cuthbert and Rachel Hunter.
Granted, Avery has developed a well-earned reputation as a bad boy with a big mouth. And on the day in question, he sought out a television camera to offer his crude comment, unprompted.
But Avery didn't have a gun, didn't use drugs, didn't even break the law. He earned a six-game suspension for using locker room language ... in the locker room.
You may be thinking this is outrageous. Yes, and let's have more of it.
When I was a kid, I had two football idols: Calvin Hill was a graduate of Yale, Roger Staubach a graduate of the Naval Academy who fulfilled his three-year military commitment before joining the NFL. Both were gentlemen on and off the field.
I use the word "idol" deliberately. Heroes devote their lives sometimes give their lives to something greater than themselves. Idols are admired for doing something well and, one hopes, at least not serving as a negative role model.
How many of today's professional athletes are worthy of being idolized by children? How many, instead, are themselves treated like overgrown children by doting coaches, indulgent owners and mollycoddling commissioners?
Tom Hicks, the owner of the Stars, said that if the NHL hadn't suspended Avery, the team would have. "We hold our team to a higher standard," ESPN quoted him as saying.
"Mr. Avery has been warned repeatedly about his conduct and comments, which have too often been at odds with the manner in which his more than 700 fellow players conduct themselves," commissioner Bettman said in a statement. "Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, requiring a high standard of personal behavior."
Can anyone imagine Jerry Jones or Roger Goodell making similar statements in a corresponding situation and meaning it?
Bettman's actions came as the Dec. 5 issue of Science magazine summarized a new study that found hold on to your hockey sticks punishment enhances socially beneficial cooperation. This is news in the scientific world because previous studies suggested the costs of punishment may outweigh the gains from cooperation.
Maybe too many team owners and commissioners in professional sports subscribe to those older studies, especially the parts about costs. Maybe Hicks and Bettman are just more current in their scientific reading.
Or maybe they just decided to put a decency marker down in a world of professional athletes run amok. You can crack heads on the ice all you want, they seem to be saying, but don't trash the ladies.
It may not seem like much, but it's a start.