April 13, 2019 § 4 Comments
I was reading a sports column (the link is to The Athletic, which is behind a pay wall) about the soap opera that has been the Green Bay Packers’ offseason. The author, Jay Glazer, was commenting on the drama and relationship breakdown between now former coach Mike McCarthy and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The subtext was that Rodgers is at fault here, but that’s not what struck me. What struck me was Glazer then went on to state that McCarthy has ‘absolutely zero politics to him.’
Quite simply, I call bullshit. It is simply not possible to be a human being and have ‘zero politics’ to them. Politics, at its most base form, is concerned with power and status. We all negotiate power in human relations on a daily basis, we are all members of larger groups which are themselves engaged in power relations with other groups.
And McCarthy, as the long-time coach of the Packers, one of the oldest, most storied franchises in North American professional sports, had to engage in politics on a daily basis. It is impossible that McCarthy had ‘zero politics to him.’ Every single day, he had to negotiate his relationship with Ted Thompson, his general manager; his assistant coaches; his players; the media; Packers’ fans. And in his drama with Rodgers, McCarthy was the boss, the coach of the team. But given Rodgers’ stature, it wasn’t cut and dried.
In short, all relationships are power. All relationships are about status. To declare that someone has ‘zero politics to him’ is flat out stupid. Aristotle was right. Glazer is wrong.
November 6, 2018 § Leave a comment
There is a disturbing trend in Toronto sports for the franchises of the self-proclaimed ‘Centre of the Universe’ to brand themselves as the ultimate Canadian franchise. Of course, this should not be surprising, since Toronto hasn’t realized there is a huge country out there, and that, in reality, it only makes up around 16% of the population of the nation. But don’t tell Toronto that.
The Toronto media has a long history of denigrating the rest of the country. I stopped reading the Globe and Mail about 10 years ago when I realized that about the only time there was news about Vancouver, Calgary, or Montréal was when it was bad news or something to mock the cities about (this, of course, coming from a city that once called out the military to deal with a bit of snow and had Rob Ford as mayor).
But to suggest the Toronto sporting franchises as the Canadian teams is, well, ridiculous and insulting. The NBA Raptors a few years ago used the slogan #WeTheNorth as part of its marketing campaign. This, though, feels the least insulting to me in that the Raptors are the only Canadian NBA team, and the only other Canadian NBA team, the Vancouver Grizzlies died an ignominious death in 2001.
And, to be fair, the CFL Argonauts and MLS TFC haven’t seemed to get the memo, but that’s probably because no one cares about either one anyway.
But it’s the MLB Blue Jays and the NHL Maple Leafs who take the cake. The Blue Jays have created a cap that features nothing but the Canadian maple leaf on it. The message here is that any good Canadian must cheer for the Blue Jays. But the thing is, it’s not this simple. Until 2004, Montréal had its Expos. The Expos were killed off by MLB and moved to Washington, DC., so this remains somewhat of a sore spot. But Down East, Canadians are just as likely, if not more so, to cheer for the Boston Red Sox than the Jays. And out West, the Seattle Mariners and the Bay Area teams are also popular. And in Montréal, the Red Sox are the most popular team.
Then there’s the Maple Leafs. Sure, their name and their logo. But those go back nearly 90 years. So they get a pass on that (as an aside, the Canadiens de Montréal are so-known because the peasants of French-era Québec were called Canadiens, or Habitants, thus, the Habs). But EA Sports, Adidas (which makes NHL uniforms) and all of the so-called Original Six teams created interesting new jerseys for EA Sports’ NHL ’19.
They almost all suck and are pointless, but you just know that they will eventually be the third jerseys of the teams, though the Chicago Blackhawks jersey looks like their third jersey already. The Maple Leafs’ however, is a blatant rip off of the legendary Team Canada jersey, made famous by the victorious Canadians in the 1972 Summit Series.
The difference, of course, is that the Maple Leafs’ version is blue instead of red:
So, yeah, this is for a video game and it’s not realty. Yet. And sure you’re thinking I’m getting worked up about something that isn’t important. The thing is, it is. Jerseys, caps, hoodies, etc., these are all part of the marketing campaigns of the franchises and the leagues they play in.
And when Toronto clubs monopolize and capitalize on Canadian images and icons for their marketing campaigns, they are doing several things. First, they are cheapening our national symbols and icons (as an aside, remember when the RCMP licensed its images to Disney for marketing purposes and the outcry it created?). Second, they are changing the national discourse about what it means to be Canadian, just as Molson attempted to in the 90s with the Joe Canada commercials, which suggested to drink Molson Canadian was to make oneself Canadian. That’s what the Raptors, Jays, and Leafs are doing here: to cheer for them is to be Canadian.
In the case of baseball, again, we have divided loyalties. We do for basketball, too. All my friends in Montréal cheer for the Boston Celtics, and out in Vancouver, it’s the LA Lakers, Chicago Bulls or Golden State Warriors. But hockey is something else. There are seven NHL franchises in Canada. Three of them have variations on Canada and our nationality in their names (Canucks, Maple Leafs, Canadiens). One shamelessly ripped of the Royal Canadian Air Force in its marketing and logo (Winnipeg Jets). But none of this reaches the ridiculousness of the EA Sports Maple Leafs’ jersey.
And so we’re back to the idea that to be in Toronto is to be Canadian and to hell with the rest of the nation, you know, the 84% of us who don’t live in Toronto.
March 30, 2018 § 1 Comment
Rusty Staub died yesterday. ‘Le Grand Orange’ was the first franchise icon for the Montreal Expos. The Expos, in hindsight, were a star-crossed franchise from the getgo. Staub arrived in Montreal in the winter of 1969, just before the Expos inaugural season. He was dealt away in 1972, to the New York Mets. Social media today in the United States remembers Staub as a long-time Met. In Canada, he is an Expo.
Staub was before my time, he was traded away before I was born. But I grew up knowing the story of Le Grand Orange, the greatest player in franchise history when I was a kid. He did return to the ‘Spos, as we called them, in 1979, though he left again in 1980 for Texas. His #10 was the first number retired by the Expos.
His death got me to thinking about the sad history of my first baseball team. The Expos lasted from 1969-2004, before moving to Washington. They weren’t a great team, to be honest. They had their ups, but had more downs, and they left town with an historic losing record. They won the NL East once, during the 1981 strike season, but then they lost a playoff to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rick Monday hit the homer that crushed my childhood dreams of a World Series for the ‘Spos. That day is still called Blue Monday in Montreal.
The Expos were a decent team in the early 1980s. But they peaked in the mid-90s. In 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series. In 1994, the Montreal Expos were the best team in baseball, with a 74-40 record on 12 August 1994, when the players went on strike, and were well ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The Expos were the favourites for the 1994 World Series. Alas, it was not to be. The 1994 players’ strike was disastrous for Nos Amours, as the Expos were called in French. And over the next 10 years, they died a slow and painful death due to a horrible stadium, worse ownership and MLB.
In thinking about Staub yesterday and today, I realized that the Expos do not even own their own franchise icons. All of the icons of the Montreal Expos are famous for, or even more famous for, their play in other cities. Like Staub, Gary ‘The Kid’ Carter went to the Mets, where he also won a World Series. André ‘The Hawk’ Dawson (my childhood favourite player) went onto Chicago, which had a grass field, easier on the Hawk’s knees. Tim Raines went on to play for a handful of teams, winning two World Series with the Yankees. Pedro Martinez, perhaps the Expos’ greatest pitcher, is more famous for his exploits in ending the Boston Red Sox’ long World Series drought. Larry Walker, Canada’s first superstar, became a batting champion in Denver. And the Expos’ last great player, Vladimir Guerrero, is more famous for playing for the California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels.
It’s a depressing tale. Of these greats, all but Walker and Staub are in the Hall of Fame. The only consolation is that Carter, Raines, and Dawson went in wearing their Expos caps.
March 26, 2018 § Leave a comment
Last Thursday night, the Montreal Canadiens hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. They lost 5-3. The Canadiens are having a miserable year, this loss, their 48th of the year (including regulation and overtime losses), officially eliminated them from playoff contention. The mood in the city is dour and angry. Fans are upset at management for mismanaging the Franchise, Carey Price. He had some mystery ailment he said was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome bothering him earlier in the year. It wasn’t team doctors who noticed it; it was his wife, Angela. Big defenceman Shea Weber played through a nasty foot injury before being shut down for the season and having surgery.
Then there’s the mistakes General Manager Marc Bergevin made in the off-season. He traded away promising defenceman Mikhail Sergachev for moody, sulky, but very talented forward Jonathan Drouin. And then the team put Drouin at centre, a position he hadn’t played for years. Why? Because the Habs haven’t had a #1 centre since the peak of Saku Koivu’s career in the late 90s/early 00s. Drouin, not surprisingly, has been a bust. Bergevin also let iconic defenceman Andrei Markov walk after he insulted Markov in contract negotiations. Bergevin then had the gall to tell us that the defence was better this year than last. I could go on and on.
Something stinks in the City of Montreal and it is the hockey team. It is a laughing stock.
And, not surprisingly, the Twitter wars have been epic. During last Thursday’s game, a prominent Montreal sportswriter made an idiot of himself. This is also not an uncommon occurrence when it comes to the Habs. He was in a discussion with a blogger, who noted that we Habs fans forget that the team has had 3-100 point seasons in the past 5. This sportswriter noted in response that “Germany had three really strong military years in WWII.”
And then all hell broke loose, as it should. When his interlocutor noted this stupidity, he dug in deeper, noting that “They [meaning Nazi Germany] were winning until they weren’t. It’s not that deep.” Another Twitter user called him out, and our intrepid journalist got his shovel out again: “Notice I said military. Only an idiot would stretch that into anything more.”
Well, maybe I am an idiot. As the second interlocutor noted, this is Nazi Germany we’re talking about. Not some random war. This is a régime that murdered 6 million Jews in cold blood, to say nothing of Roma, LGBT, and disabled victims. The Holocaust is, to paraphrase Elie Weisel, an event that cannot be understood, but must be remembered. There have been other genocides, particularly in the last half of the 20th century (after we, the West, declared “Never Again!”). But, the Holocaust remains beyond the pale in our collective consciousness.
And when this was pointed out to our journalist, that he essentially compared the management of the Montreal Canadiens to the Nazis, he got out his shovel and kept on digging: “No, not every soldier was a Nazi, not every German believed the Nazi ideology. But that’s beside the point, because we all know what I was saying, and it had nothing to do with Nazis.”
To put it bluntly, this is epic stupidity. According to the United States Holocaust Museum,
The German military participated in many aspects of the Holocaust: in supporting Hitler, in the use of forced labor, and in the mass murder of Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis.
The military’s complicity extended not only to the generals and upper leadership but also to the rank and file. In addition, the war and genocidal policy were inextricably linked. The German army (or Heer) was the most complicit as a result of being on the ground in Germany’s eastern campaigns, but all branches participated.
And sure, maybe the journalist didn’t mean to bring up the Nazis. But words have meanings, and someone who works with words on a daily basis should know better. The Wehrmacht was by-and-large Nazified. Period. And his comparison of the Habs 3-100 point seasons with the Wehrmacht includes the Nazis, whether he meant it or not. And he should know better. I did hit the unfollow button, by the way.
February 1, 2018 § 4 Comments
The Canadian Football League has long sought to add a 10th team in the Maritimes. To do so would be to make the CFL actually national. But, the CFL has also had to deal with some serious instability with its franchises in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, especially, over the past 30 years. Ottawa is currently on its third (as far as I can count) franchise since the 1980s. The Rough Riders folded in 1996. They were replaced by Ottawa Renegades; this franchise only lasted from 2002 to 2006. Currently, the REDBLACKS play in the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, down the 417 in Montreal, the original Alouettes folded in 1982; they were replaced by the Concordes, who only lasted until 1986. After that, Montreal was devoid of Canadian football until the Baltimore Stallions were forced out of that city by the relocation of the original Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995. The Baltimore team moved to Montreal. Meanwhile, the Argonauts have never ceased operations, but they have been a basket case in terms of stability and presence in the city most of my adult life. So, in other words, expansion to the Maritimes has not exactly been on the front burner. But that’s changed recently, and reports state that not only is there an ownership group in Halifax, but there is will at CFL headquarters.
Personally, I’d love to see a Halifax CFL team. This would both make the league truly national, it would also speak to the deep popularity of Canadian football in the Maritimes. The universities of the Maritimes have a long and deep tradition of Canadian football. And just like the Alouettes and the REDBLACKS (in French, the ROUGENOIRS) have offered a professional career to many French-Canadian football players emerging from Quebec’s college teams, a Halifax team could do the same.
It is unclear what the team would be called, and so, social media (as well as Halifax’s media in general) is full of speculation, and a bevy of names have been proposed. Last week, a fan art Twitter account, dedicated to this proposed team, suggested that perhaps the team could be called the Explosions, in a tweet:
Uh, yeah. No. The Halifax Explosion occurred on the morning of 6 December 1917, when a Norwegian ship collided with a French cargo ship, the Mont-Blanc, in the Halifax Harbour. The French ship was carrying explosives and war munitions (this was the middle of the First World War, after all) and caught fire after the collision. The fire ignited the cargo, which then exploded. It devastated a large chunk of Halifax. Nearly every building within a kilometre radius was destroyed. A pressure wave accompanying the explosion snapped tress, grounded vessels in the harbour, and devastated iron rails. The remnants of the Mont-Blanc were found several kilometres away. Nearly every window in the city was broken. The city of Dartmouth lies across the harbour from Halifax. It suffered extensive damage. The Mi’kmaq First Nation, near Dartmouth, was destroyed by a tsunami caused by the explosion.
The blast was the largest human-made explosion prior to the advent of nuclear weapons. It released the equivalent of 2.9 kilotons of TNT. Think about that for a second. Of all the blasts of bombs and munitions in war prior to 6 and 9 August 1945, the Halifax Explosion was the greatest one ever caused by humans. It killed over 2,000 people and injured nearly 10,000 more, out of a population of around 95,000.
In short, the Halifax Explosion destroyed the City of Halifax. So suggesting a CFL team be called the Explosions is flat out disrespectful and idiotic. Shame on @CFLinHalifax for even suggesting it. Since this initial tweet on Monday, the people behind the account have doubled down in their idiocy.
Meanwhile, the CFL and the proposed Halifax ownership group have had to put out press releases distancing themselves from @CFLinHalifax.
January 30, 2018 § Leave a comment
The Cleveland baseball team took a positive step this week. It announced on Monday that it was going to remove the deeply offensive Chief Wahoo from its caps and jerseys for the 2019 season. This is an important start. Chief Wahoo is an offensive caricature of an indigenous chief, drawn in a cartoonish, stereotypical manner. Note that not only is he grinning, he is actually red. Like, you know, ‘redskin’. (The Washington football team is a whole other problem, for another day).
Chief Wahoo has a long genesis. The Cleveland baseball team was originally founded in Grand Rapids, MI, in 1894, and known as the Rustlers. It moved to Cleveland in 1900, calling itself the Lake Shores. Seems pretty obvious how that name didn’t stick. Up to that point, the Grand Rapids/Cleveland team was a minor league team, in the Western League. In 1900, the Western League evolved into a major league, rebranded as the American League (the National League dates back to 1876, hence, it is sometimes called ‘the senior circuit’). The Cleveland baseball team is a charter member of the AL, and for the launch of the new league in 1901, it also rebranded itself as the Bluebirds. In 1902, they were the Barons (this name was revived by the sad sack NHL team based in Cleveland from 1976-78; they didn’t last long, in 1978, they merged with the Minnesota North Stars, which is now the Dallas Stars franchise). From 1903 to 1914, they were named after their star player, Nap Lajoie. But, in 1914, Lajoie left Cleveland to go play for the Philadelphia (now Oakland) Athletics. So, the Naps needed a new name.
And so, we ended up with the Indians. This was meant to be a nod to Cleveland baseball history. The original major league team in town was the Cleveland Spiders of the National League; they folded in 1899, precipitating the Rustlers’ move to the big city. The Spiders had had an indigenous player, Louis Sockalexis, who played his whole career with the team Thus, the Indians. So, in a way, the name came about as a tribute both to the defunct baseball team and to one of its star players. But, of course, this is one of those historical obscurities that got lost, it has become anachronistic over time.
In 1932, the Cleveland Plain Dealer used a cartoon precursor of Chief Wahoo as a logo to stand in for actually using the full name of the team. This version became known as ‘the little Indian,’ and the Plain Dealer used the logo in its coverage for the next several years. In 1947, the team’s owner, Bill Veeck hired a graphic design firm to create a new logo for his team. And thus, we got the original Chief Wahoo. He wasn’t called that at the outset, in fact, he had no name. Also, while a cartoon stereotype, he wasn’t red-skinned. A red-skinned version appeared in 1948, but was not the official logo of the team until 1951.
The name Chief Wahoo eventually came from Cleveland sports writers. The guy who created the original, in 1947, Walter Goldbach, was only 17 years old at the time. Goldbach has noted several times since that he didn’t mean to offend anyone, and that he actually had a hard time to render an indigenous man as a cartoon. He also has argued that Chief Wahoo isn’t actually a chief, he’s a brave. He only has one feather. (That of course, brings us to the Atlanta baseball team, another issue for another day).
Chief Wahoo remained the primary logo of the Cleveland baseball team until 2013, when it decided that perhaps it was time to start rethinking Chief Wahoo. At that time, the team unveiled a new logo, a stylized C, for Cleveland. It’s actually the superior logo. I much prefer it.
The Clevelands have not, of course, won a World Series since 1954, the longest running drought in professional sports (now that the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series). Cleveland sports writers have wondered if Chief Wahoo is actually a curse.
So the announcement this week that Chief Wahoo is being retired next year is welcome. Except that’s not entirely the case. You can believe there will be a run on this offensive cartoon logo as this season and year progresses. And, in order to maintain the trademark, the team will continue to sell Chief Wahoo-branded gear in the Cleveland region after banishing the logo from the uniform.
So this isn’t a total victory. But it’s an important start. The next thing is to get the Cleveland baseball team to change its name, perhaps to the Spiders. And then there’s the Washington football team, and the Atlanta baseball team. But, baby steps?
January 24, 2018 § Leave a comment
I watched both the AFC and NFC Championship games last weekend. I haven’t watched as much football or even NHL hockey this year and I’ve been trying to figure out why. In terms of hockey, my team sucks, but, I’ve remained a fan of hockey in general when the Habs have sucked in the past. When it comes to the NFL, to be a Chicago Bears fan is to know misery. They’ve sucked almost continually for the past 35 years. So I’ve watched a lot of football, despite my team being in last place.
But this year, something has changed. I have long had issues with football, the injuries, the concussions. I played football when I was younger. I have lingering injury issues, and I don’t want to think about how many concussions I’ve had. No one cared about head injuries in the late 80s/early 90s. And then there’s the question of football and CTE. I wrote about this a few months ago, when the Commissioner of the Canadian FootbalL League, Randy Ambrosie (a former CFL player) insisted that we don’t know if there’s a connection between CTE and football. Funny, the NFL has admitted there is a connection.
Hockey isn’t doing much better. We have been subject to a steady stream of stories about ex-NHL players being caught up in drug addiction, depression, and early death. This has happened to stars like Theoren Fleury and Mike Richards, and it’s happened to former enforcers, like Chris Nilan, Derek Boogard, and so on. Earlier this month, I read an article about former enforcer Matt Johnson, who was in jail in Los Angeles after vandalizing a Denny’s restaurant on New Year’s Eve. Johnson claimed to be homeless and refused legal help, at least initially. His dad reported how worried he was about his son, and how much he’s tried to help him in recent years. Or how about Kevin Stevens, who was one of the greatest power forwards of the early 90s, who devolved into addiction to painkillers?
To me, it seems that these athletes are sacrificing their bodies, their brains, and their futures to play. And, yes, part of that is their own choice. But, there are also structural issues here. Teams have historically pushed their players to play injured or not. Teams have pushed painkillers on players. And then there’s brain injuries. The NFL has come to an agreement with a group of former players for payouts for concussion damage, though there are problems there.
But that doesn’t do much for the current game. Think of Houston quarterback Tom Savage continuing to play after appearing to convulse after hitting his head on the ground. Or how about Rob Gronkowski in the AFC Championship game, when he was knocked silly by Barry Church of the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the hit on Gronkowski, the Jaguars celebrated, and the commentators, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo (a former NFL quarterback), just carried on as if nothing major happened.
Then there’s the NHL. A group of former players has brought a class-action suit against it. The league’s response? To challenge the science behind the linkages between hockey and brain injuries. Seriously. It is otherwise doing next to nothing, beyond a ‘concussion protocol’ that is as much of a joke as the NFL’s. This week, TSN in Canada reported that former NHL star Eric Lindros, whose career (and that of his brother) was ended by concussions, and Montreal Canadiens’ team physician Dr. David Mulder, approached the NHL last year and challenged the league to donate $31 million (or $1 million per team) to fund research in brain trauma. The league has ignored them.
And so, ultimately, I am finding it increasingly difficult to watch NFL or CFL football or NHL hockey. Watching 200+ pound men smash into each other at full speed, in many cases purposely targeting the head is nauseating. And wondering about the long-term effect of concussions is equally nauseating.
Both hockey and football are brutally physical sports. Hockey is also played at incredible speeds on ice. That’s part of the game. Hitting is central to both. I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem with blatant head shots. I have a problem with pumping players full of painkillers to get them back on the ice/field. I have a problem with professional leagues denying a connection between concussions, head shots, and CTE. I have a problem with commentators and fans acting like these kinds of hits are acceptable.
And until fans and advertizers really do question these forms of brutality against the bodies of professional athletes, nothing is going to change.