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Madden: Tibbetts did time, so set him free

Saturday, March 31, 2001

Earlier this week, Sally Kalson wrote a column in this paper about the case of Penguins forward Billy Tibbetts. Kalson wrote that because of his 1992 rape conviction, Tibbetts should not be allowed to enjoy the "paycheck and the cheering fans" of the NHL.

Kalson believes a portion of Tibbetts' salary should be given to his victim or to a rape crisis center.

I have a better idea. Let's draw and quarter Tibbetts. Or maybe lynch him.

The idea of society forever punishing a criminal even after he serves his penance as prescribed by a court of law is positively Draconian.

Kalson quoted a brace of rape counselors in her column, and they all had two things in common: They used shameless hyperbole based on the blind assumption that Tibbetts' victim has been a helpless wreck since 1992, and they seemed to truly believe -- as did Kalson -- that their philosophies and opinions should somehow supersede the law.

They don't. The law is the law.

The judge in Tibbetts' case made a decision and meted out a sentence. If we assume anything, let's assume the punishment fit the crime.

Tibbetts served 39 months for the rape and for assaulting a man with a BB gun. He originally received a suspended sentence and probation for his rape conviction. The judge called Tibbetts' rape case "brutal," but he sure didn't sentence him accordingly. Tibbetts is now on parole, one violation away from being back inside.

I don't mean to trivialize the crime or the victim. What Tibbetts did was horrible.

But Tibbetts did his time. He has shown remorse. Why shouldn't he be able to rebuild his life in unfettered fashion?

If Tibbetts wasn't a hockey player, Kalson would never have addressed his situation. If he worked at McDonald's, everything would be OK. As long as he was struggling to get by -- as long as he was still symbolically serving his sentence -- no one would have a complaint. I doubt Kalson would want Tibbetts' meager paycheck from the golden arches garnisheed.

Kalson also mentions Tibbetts' "affluent family in Massachusetts." Is that relevant? Would Tibbetts get Kalson's sympathy if he was a poor, black dude from the 'hood instead of a rich, white boy from the 'burbs?

Prison is supposed to rehabilitate criminals and make them productive members of society. Tibbetts has been out of the joint for only 17 months. It's tough to truly know if he has been rehabilitated.

But so far, so good. Sure, Tibbetts loses his temper on the ice and gets into some scraps. But that's what hockey players do. Off the ice, he has been fine, living by the terms of his parole.

Hockey gives Tibbetts a reason to stay out of trouble. It's his given skill, so he should practice it. But like I said, Kalson and her ilk would be happier if Tibbetts toiled in the fast-food industry. Or, better yet, if he sat in a dark room crying remorsefully the rest of his life.

Tibbetts' problems are certainly of his making. But they're problems nonetheless. Parole is no picnic and, by Pennsylvania law, he has to register as a convicted sex offender where he resides. His sordid past is frequently rehashed in the media. Tibbetts endures his share of humiliation. True, it doesn't match the humiliation of being raped. But Tibbetts will never escape his past. Nor should he.

But Tibbetts' past shouldn't forever cripple his future. It shouldn't take money out of his pocket. It shouldn't keep him from pursuing his chosen profession.

Kalson's attitude toward Tibbetts is unrealistic. It's unfeeling. It's unfair. Most of all, it's hypocritical.

In 1994, Kalson was close friends with a Squirrel Hill woman, "Jo Elliot." "Jo Elliot" turned out to be fugitive Donna Jean Wilmott, an alleged terrorist who was then on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. Kalson wrote a letter to a judge attesting to Wilmott's good character. Wilmott was accused of acquiring explosives and transporting them as part of a plot to break a Puerto Rican radical out of a federal prison in 1985.

Curiously, Kalson's letter didn't suggest that Wilmott's future wages be garnisheed on behalf of prison employees who could have been injured had the plot succeeded.

What an absolutely outrageous double standard. Better the criminal you know, I suppose.

In the world according to Kalson, a rapist should never be allowed to fully function in society. But an explosives-toting extremist is worthy of a break.

Sorry to bring it up, Sally. But you're the one who believes a person's past should follow him/her around every second of every day.

I've met Sally Kalson. She's a nice person and an excellent writer.

I've met Billy Tibbetts. He's a good guy and a hockey player with a ton of potential.

Sally, keep on writing. Billy, keep on playing. Compassion and understanding all around.


Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM 1250.

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