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How Dany Heatley became the most controversial EA Sports Cover Star of all time

Updated: Oct 2, 2023



For many NHL players, becoming the cover athlete for an EA sports game is an incredible career accomplishment. In 2003, EA had to replace two of its selected athletes following incidents that rocked the hockey world.


Dany Heatley was not initially selected as the cover athlete. Joe Thornton was supposed to be the cover athlete for NHL 2004, but things took a drastic turn.


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Thornton (after being selected for the cover) was accused of assaulting two police officers while resisting arrest, so the EA cover torch was then passed on to Dany Heatley, following an impressive 41 goal, 48 assist campaign with the Atlanta Thrashers.


The cover with Heatley was mass-produced, and eventually released by EA Sports on September 23, 2003.


Just days later on September 28, 2003, Heatley (accompanied by teammate Dan Snyder) drove his Ferrari at approximately 130 km/hour (81mph) down a narrow, two-lane Atlanta road when he spun out of control and smashed into a brick fence.


Snyder was ejected from the vehicle and suffered a fractured skull. He underwent two hours of emergency brain surgery but never emerged from his coma.


Snyder, 25, died Oct. 5, 2003, from massive head trauma sustained in the high-speed accident.



Dan Snyder (pictured) before his death


On December 2nd, 2003, following some fallout from the accident, EA quietly removed Heatley from the cover and replaced him with Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche.



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"We decided it would be inappropriate to bring any more attention to Dany by featuring him. ... This has been a tragic event for everyone." EA Sports spokesperson David Lee noted on December 2nd, 2003 that the company made its first-ever post-production change of a cover athlete as a "gesture of respect and sensitivity," adding, "This wasn't a sales decision. We wanted to do what's right."


In February 2005, Heatley would plead guilty to four of six charges laid against him in the vehicle homicide case, and was sentenced to 3 years probation.


Snyder's family didn't want Heatley to go to jail, something the judge took into consideration in the sentencing.


As an extension to his punishment, he had to deliver 150 speeches about the dangers of speeding, and could not drive except for work, medical purposes, going to the grocery store or attending speeches.


Below you can see the differences between the two covers of NHL 2004. On the left is the updated version with Joe Sakic, and on the right is the original with Dany Heatley.



A large number of NHL 2004 games with Heatley on the cover were initially shipped out, and as a result there are still many copies floating around in circulation.


Both players would go on to have impressive careers leading up to their retirements. Heatley would score his back-to-back 50-goal seasons in 05-06 and 06-07 with the Ottawa Senators, while Sakic would later enter the Hall-Of-Fame as one of the all time greatest players.




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