First and foremost, we are extremely supportive of Willie. I have communicated with him and have emphasized that he can't possibly let the League influence his love for the Mammoth and the game and he should know that the Mammoth and its fans have a great love for what he does in Pepsi Center. I think ultimately he knows we love him and need him at our home games, we will talk more through the offseason.
Because there has been much discussion about the issue, let me clarify what happened and what is happening. Willie is considered during our games as a "minor official" with his place in the timekeepers area. He has been in the same spot for 8 seasons, he has been a fixture at more Mammoth games than anyone except maybe me and many of you!!!
We have never had an incident with Willie there in 60 or so games. Most of the opposing players know him and like him a lot.
Contrary to some bloggers incorrect post, Willie was fined $150 by the NLL League office, for engaging in derogatory or disparging remarks towards a player. He was seen on the DVD of the game with a somewhat disgruntled look and a few choice words for a player that had physically and verbally abused him. The words were not heard on DVD but clearly it was a short, heated exchange.
The rule that he was fined under was written specifically so that announcers don't make derogatory or disparaging remarks over the PA system to the entire crowd. This was a very unique application of rule 20.1 in the NLL rule book. I was somewhat shocked by the ruling as the previous game for us in Calgary had their PA announcer call Rich Catton, over the PA system, an "eFFing reject" with no fine or recourse.
Nonetheless, Willie was fined by the League. And while I agree with the League to a certain extent that the announcer should not engage players in the penalty box, I beleive that a full investigation of the incident would have, and should have, resulted in further discipline towards other parties.
Willie was hit by the penalty box door, with force, was spit at and was sprayed with a water bottle. I would have gotten heated as well, and I am not sure if I would have restrained myself as well as Willie. The tape actually shows the referee in the penalty box talking to Willie while a Boston player reaches around and sprays water on his leg, the official doesn't see this but it is shown on DVD.
My opinion is that the League has a duty to protect our team's bench officials. Willie was fined immediately, the player has not been fined as of yet. I have no idea what is happening at this point with the incident. Multiple email questions posed by me to the League office have thus far gone unanswered.
We have been informed by the NLL that our PA announcer should be removed from the opposing penalty bench area and moved to the home bench area. He was there for a reason, logistically it was challenging based on the technical configuration of the box area. The NHL configuration is exactly the same with no incident. I do liken this to removing a referee from the floor and putting him up in the press box if he is abused by a player. The mentality that "he should not have been there" strikes me as peculiar especially after 8 years with no incident. At what point is the player equally responsible for his instigation of the event??
Again, I beleive that $150 is a small fine and probably warranted in this case for our announcer, after my discussion with Willie, he probably agrees. What I disagree with is that there was no equal application of justice in this case, there was no discussion with Willie to find out what happened, he wasn't asked for a statement, and in my opinion, as a representative of the Mammoth, he wasn't protected from harm in this case, regardless of his reaction.
There is no question Willie is a valuable member of the Mammoth family and a very important fixture in the entertainment at our games. Regardless of your opinion of what happened, I don't think anyone wants him to go away. Calmer heads will prevail over the off-season and I hope our fans will reach out to Willie and let him know they want him back, I know I do.