We don't have to like it, but Milbury can speak his mind

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Fire Mike Milbury? NBC Sports should give him a big raise.

Make Milbury apologize? For what? For offering strong opinions that bring attention to a sport that always can use it, especially with the Stanley Cup playoffs approaching and the games to be televised by NBC?

Please.

I feel the same way about Milbury's rants Monday on Philadelphia radio about Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and star Sidney Crosby as I did about the Osama bin Laden tweets from Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall in May. I disagree with his comments, but I have great respect for his nerve in making them publicly. It's a shame the many gutless, anonymous tweeters and bloggers out there don't share his strength.

Milbury did issue an apology of sorts Tuesday through NBC to the Penguins organization and their fans, almost certainly at the urging of the network, the NHL or his agent. "In hindsight, I realize what I said was inappropriate and wrong." I'm not sure that was necessary. NBC and the NHL should be thrilled that Milbury added to the hype surrounding the upcoming Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers playoff series or, as he called it in the same interview, "great TV" and "great theater." All good business people know that any kind of publicity is good for business. As for Milbury's agent? All this will help his career, not hurt it. He's paid for his opinions -- the stronger the better -- even if they are objectionable to some of his audience. He did his job well.

Of course, it would have been a lot better if Milbury hadn't made light of Crosby's history of concussions, flippantly referring to his "35th concussion." That was cheap and went beyond fair comment and criticism, especially now when concussions and their long-term impact on athletes are in the news every day. In hindsight, Milbury owes an apology to Crosby for that specific remark. "If it was an attempt at humor, it falls real short," Penguins general manager Ray Shero told ESPN.com Tuesday.

But the rest of what Milbury said?

Really, what was so offensive?

Most of it was more humorous -- even hysterical -- than hurtful.

About Bylsma, who was challenged by Flyers coach Peter Laviolette late in the game Sunday at Consol Energy Center after a big hit by Joe Vitale on the Flyers' Danny Briere, Milbury said, "I thought Dan Bylsma should have taken off his skirt and gone over there." Instead, Penguins assistant Tony Granato did most of the yelling back at Laviolette. "I thought it was pathetic," Milbury said.

It's outrageous for anyone to promote that kind of violence and mayhem in any sport. But, sadly, Milbury is hardly alone with that thinking in the hockey world. Sometimes, it's hard to argue with those people. The fans Sunday seemed to love the brawl after the Vitale hit. I didn't see anyone sitting down.

Milbury called Crosby "little goody-two-shoes" and said "there's a little punk" in him. "I'd say screw him, hit him."

Unfortunately, Crosby's image around much of the NHL isn't quite as pure as it is here. He's especially despised in Philadelphia where the fans haven't forgiven him for having the audacity to complain about no penalty call after having three of his teeth taken out by a high stick by the Flyers' Derian Hatcher during a game in his rookie year. They have been calling him a whiner ever since. "Cindy Crosby." They think that's cute and creative. It's funny, those same fans probably see nothing wrong with Briere's absurd assertion Tuesday that Vitale was targeting him and trying to hurt him even though Briere called the hit clean. Talk about a whiner.

Milbury is no dummy. He was playing to his audience with that radio interview.

Most of the anti-Crosby hatred is based in jealousy. That's understandable in Philadelphia. They've never had a player as skilled as he is or, for that matter, as skilled as Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux. They do have Jagr now, but he's long past his prime.

But the Crosby jealousy isn't just in Philadelphia and it isn't just among the fans. There are players who are envious because Crosby is the face of the NHL. Remember what Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals said in 2008? "What's so special about him? I don't see anything special there."

I'd say that's absolutely ridiculous, but Crosby doesn't need me to defend him. He can handle himself on and off the ice.

Crosby acknowledged Tuesday that Milbury is right in one sense, that he isn't always a "perfect gentleman" during a game. He said he gave out more hacks with his stick Sunday than he has in a long time. "That's hockey."

Milbury's comments, Briere's accusation against Vitale and Laviolette's description of Bylsma as "gutless" might just work in the Penguins' favor in the playoffs. Crosby, in particular, has been known to play his best hockey when his critics are howling the loudest. He has been torching the Flyers and their fans since that game when Hatcher took out his teeth. He scored the winning goal that night in overtime.

As for now, though, the Penguins are handling the hysteria perfectly. Shero expressed the proper outrage over Milbury's concussion remark. Bylsma and Crosby largely have avoided the fray and are focused on their team playing winning hockey. Clearly, they have moved on.

Milbury's critics would be wise to do the same.

roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published April 4, 2012 12:00 AM


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