When retired NHL agitator Sean Avery reached out to his 136,000 Instagram followers Sunday night and all-but-threatened to put an Ancaster dentist out of business for making an online racial slur, the predictable response arrived.
By Monday morning, social media had erupted with many people labelling the dentist a racist, calls to his office offering opinions on him were flooding in and online review platforms were being swamped with scathing feedback of him and his work.
Just one problem. The dental practice isn’t owned by Raymond Fortino, who wrote the comment, but by his brother, Joseph.
“Joseph was not affiliated at all with this,” their mother, Ivana, says. “He is suffering, but this is not him at all.”
Want a glimpse into the worst of modern social media? Here you go.
Not long after a particularly physical and highly charged Game 2 between Boston and Toronto, Avery posted a not-suitable-for-family-viewing Instagram video criticizing some of the actions of Bruins’ winger Jake DeBrusk and defending Nazem Kadri, who’d been kicked out of the game for a cross check to DeBrusk’s head.
Longtime Bruins fan Raymond Fortino responded to him through a direct message that included a comment with a racially insensitive epithet. To which Avery responded, “Bro if I put you on blast you go out of business with your racist b-s-” and said Fortino had 30 minutes to send proof of a donation to a charity of his choice to avoid having his words made public.
When Avery then posted @fortinodental to show the business of which he was speaking, Fortino wrote “It’s my brother. Not his fault.” It’s unclear how Avery tied the business to the writer.
“Tick Tock,” Avery responded. “Clock is ticking. Try me.”
“I will do it for sure,” Fortino responded.
“You have 22 minutes.”
By this point, the 25-year-old had let his parents know what was going on, apologized profusely for his actions and quickly made a donation using his father’s credit card. Then posted proof.
End of story? Not close.
“I changed my mind,” Avery wrote moments later. “F- you.”
He then posted the whole exchange online for public view.
You want a mess. Here’s your mess.
Raymond Fortino screwed up. His mother makes no bones about that. She calls the comment derogatory and racist. She says it was stupid. She says it was “a grave error in judgment.” The passion of the game and Avery’s commentary got to him and he responded poorly. He’ll be sending an apology to Kadri somehow.
“It’s absolutely not acceptable,” she says. “We don’t condone it in our home. It was just a glaring, glaring mistake.”
You have to know that’s tough for a mother to say publicly about one of her sons. Good for her for speaking plainly and not dodging the issue.
While her boy’s comment was indeed improper, Avery’s response — exposing a business and its innocent owner to ruin without properly checking to see if the writer of the comment was connected to the practice he calls out — is no better. It’s reckless, colossally shameful and plain wrong.
By Monday morning, after Ivana Fortino says the family spoke to their lawyer and Joseph sent Avery a text explaining that this post had nothing to do with him, the post was taken down. Still, damage done. Nothing ever disappears in the social media world. Screen grabs of the exchange were easy to find and were being reposted.
Meanwhile, the one-year-old dental clinic was still taking an online pounding with a number of the commentators pointing out this was the brother of Team Canada women’s hockey star, Laura Fortino. Who also had nothing to do with this.
“Fortino Dental has no involvement or association with any of the comments made,” said a statement from the dental office issued Monday afternoon. “Fortino Dental has been wrongly and inappropriately targeted. Dr. Joseph Fortino and all those at Fortino Dental work tirelessly to maintain a commitment to providing a safe, inclusive and respectful environment. Fortino Dental has been misrepresented on social media, to its detriment.”
Ivana Fortino says they aren’t talking about a lawsuit against Avery at this point, but will likely be looking for a public apology.
Avery didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Ultimately none of the direct participants come out of this episode looking good. Worse, an innocent bystander who did absolutely nothing wrong has found himself caught in the crossfire and now has to fight to save his business.
Scott Radley is a columnist with The Hamilton Spectator and thespec.com.