The Centre Of The Universe?

December 2, 2016 § 2 Comments

An interesting thing has occurred in the realm of Canadian sports journalism in the past few weeks.  For those of you who don’t know, the English-language Canadian media is centred in Toronto, which every media outlet will remind you is “Canada’s largest city.”  The much smaller French-language media is centred in Montréal, which is Canada’s second largest city.  Toronto’s got a population of around 4.7 million, compared to Montréal’s 3.8 million.  Vancouver is third, closing in on 2 million.  And Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa are all around 1 million.  So we’re not looking at the situation in the UK, where London is the largest city and about 5 times larger than the second city, Birmingham.

But, reading Canadian sports media these days, and you’d be convinced that Toronto is the only city in Canada and that its sports teams are all wondrous, virtuous conquering heroes.  Never mind the fact that Toronto teams don’t really win much of anything ever.  The basketball Raptors and soccer Toronto FC have never won anything.  The hockey Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.  And the Blue Jays last won in 1993.  The Argonauts of the Canadian Football League are the really the only continually successful Toronto sports team, having last won the Grey Cup in 2012 (but, the CFL is a 9-team league, so law of averages…).

Toronto FC was engaged in a tense two-leg Eastern Conference final in the MLS Cup Playoffs against the Impact de Montréal, or IMFC.  An all-Canadian conference final should be one of those things that grip the nation, or at least get the media to recognize its import.  And while Sportsnet, the second of Canada’s sports networks, largely has, TSN, the largest sports network and MLS rights holder, has not.  It has openly and blatantly cheered for a TFC victory, and its coverage has exclusively treated IMFC as an interloper in TFC’s eventual, wondrous assent to the top of the North American soccer world.  On Wednesday afternoon, in advance of the second leg of the series, to be played at BMO Field in Toronto, TSN posted this article about the five keys to the match as its headline on TSN.ca.  Note that it’s all about what TFC needs to do to win.  This is just the most egregious example.  The rest of the coverage on TSN.ca Wednesday afternoon was all slanted towards TFC: its mindset heading into the match, which players it needs to excel, and so on.  Not a word from IMFC’s perspective, except for a feel-good story about the club’s 38-year old captain, and Montréal native, Patrice Bernier.

In the aftermath of the TFC’s victory Wednesday night, in a tense 5-2 match that went to Extra Time, allowing TFC to advance 7-5 on aggregate, TSN’s homepage was a torrent of TFC.  And while this is a good thing, and deserved, TFC won, it’s also still one-sided.  This was especially true of the headline that said “TFC MAKES CANADIAN SOCCER HISTORY.”  Factually, yes, it did.  It made the finals of the MLS Cup for the first time and is the first Canadian club to do so.  But, it did so after making history in an all-Canadian conference final.  And there was not a single story about IMFC and its own very improbable run to the conference finals.  TSN has continually picked against IMFC all season.  It predicted the Montréal side would miss the playoffs.  Then it wouldn’t get past DC United in the first round, or New York Red Bulls in the second round.  And so on.

On Thursday morning, TSN.ca’s home page featured no fewer than 12 features and stories about TFC out of the 28 in total.  Of the remaining 16 stories and features, 10 were about the Maples Leafs (7), Raptors (2), and Blue Jays (1).  One story was about how the Calgary Flames pummeled the Maple Leafs Wednesday night and another mocked Montréal Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw and his bad temper.  There’s a reason why Canadians in the Rest of Canada tend to dismiss TSN as Toronto’s Sports Network.

Meanwhile: Hockey.  The top team in the NHL right now is the Montréal Canadiens.  But, TSN’s coverage is almost exclusively about the amazing, wondrous Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a collection of burgeoning young stars and actually look like they might be a good team again one day.  There are also, you might note, five more Canadian teams in the NHL.  Sucks to be a fan of one of them: TSN just doesn’t care, other than to note the ways in which they’re failing.

And then Sportsnet.  Sportsnet is the rights holder for the NHL in Canada.  And while its coverage tends to be more national in nature, in that it notes that there are indeed teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montréal, besides Toronto, how about them kids in the T-Dot, y’all?  But Sportsnet can even out-do TSN.  On Wednesday, the American-based Forbes published its annual list of NHL teams ranked by value.  As always, the New York Rangers are the most valuable hockey team.  The Rangers are worth $1.25 billion USD.  But Sportsnet’s headline reads: “Maple Leafs Rank Third in Forbes’ Annual Most Valuable Team List.”  So, you think, well, that makes sense.  But, wait, what’s the second most valuable team in the National Hockey League?  Chicago?  Los Angeles?  The New York Islanders?  Nope.  It’s the Montréal Canadiens.

Now, I know we Quebecers had ourselves a couple of referenda on leaving the country, and we still harbour a pretty strong separatist movement; at any given time, around 35% of us want out of Canada.  But, in both 1980 and 1995, we chose to stay.  And 65% of us at any given time want to stick around in Canada.  And we keep giving Canada Prime Ministers.  In my lifetime, five of 9 prime ministers have been Quebecers.

So, in other words, my dear TSN and Sportsnet, Québec is part of Canada.  And Montréal remains one of the largest cities in North America, and also remains a major centre of global commerce.  And its soccer team isn’t that bad, even if its appearance in the Conference Finals is a surprise.  And its hockey team, which is, after all, the most decorated hockey team in the world, is the most valuable Canadian team.

And, if you just so happen to be one of those provincials from the rest of the country, well, as we say back home, tant pis.

The Cubs Win the World Series?!?

November 4, 2016 § 2 Comments

I grew up as a fan of the Montreal Expos, or ‘Nos Amours,’ as they were known.  I went to my first game with my dad in 1978, not long before my sister was born, when I was 5 years old.  I was transfixed by the experience at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.  It was still new, it had not yet become the albatross hanging around the neck of the franchise. It was glorious.  So were the hot dogs, consistently ranked amongst the best in Major League Baseball.  I don’t remember who the ‘Spos played that day, I don’t remember the score.  But I remember the centrefielder, Andre “The Hawk” Dawson.  He quickly became my favourite player.  Others loved Gary Carter, the charismatic catcher. Or Tim Raines, the left fielder.  And eventually, ‘Le Gros Chat,’ first baseman Andres Gallarraga.

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In 1987, Dawson left the Expos. His knees were bad and the notoriously horrible artificial turf at Olympic Stadium made them worse.  He signed with the Chicago Cubs.  For a brief moment, I shifted my allegiances.  It made sense to me, I was a kid.  Plus, I was a Chicago Bears’ fan, and had been since I first discovered the beauty that was Sweetness, the Bears running back, Walter Payton, 4-5 years earlier.  So I got a Cubs cap.  And I was a Cubs’ fan. But old allegiances die hard, and in my heart, I remained an Expos fan.  Imagine my disappointment in 1994.

But, underneath, I remained a Cubs partisan, and experienced heartbreak after heartbreak.  But then Major League Baseball colluded and Nos Amours were stolen from Montreal in a skeezy deal that saw them move, eventually, to Washington and the horrible owners of the Expos, Jeffrey Loria, get the Miami franchise, while the owner of the Miami franchise, John Henry, moved up to Boston to take over the Red Sox.  I was angry and devastated.  I swore off baseball. Even today, I refuse to recognize the validity of the Washington team.

And then, in 2012, we relocated from Montreal to Boston.  And I needed to cheer for at least one Boston team.  See, the problem is this: I hate the fucking Boston Bruins. Hate them.  The only thing on God’s Green Earth I hate is that team. Cheaters. Liars.  Dirty SOBs.  Hate them.  And that deep, abiding hatred for the Bs seeped out to the other Boston teams, especially the Patriots.  But, when I was a kid, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox tended to be the two teams that rivaled each other for the AL East title. And I always cheer against the Jays, so, by default, I kinda cheered for the Sox.  So, I took up a fandom for the Boston Red Sox.  The fact that they play in Fenway Park helped. I love that stadium.  And, they also won the World Series in 2013, which I appreciated, it being my first full year in Boston and all.

But I always kept an eye on the Cubs.  In 2015 I tuned into a baseball game and watched it start-to-finish, without doing something else, but actually watched it, for the first time in forever. On 30 August 2015, the Cubs, beat the LA Dodgers 2-0.  And pitcher Jake Arrieta got a no hitter.  The last time I watched a complete baseball game was on 28 July 1991, when those very same Dodgers were victim to another no hitter, this time a perfect game, against the Expos and the brilliant pitcher, Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez.  So I felt I had come full circle.  I was still a Red Sox fan, but my affection for the Cubbies remained.

I enjoyed the 2016 baseball season.  Both the Red Sox and Cubs were contenders, both won their division.  Both made the post-season, though the Sox crashed out in the ALDS to Cleveland (I will not use that team’s nickname, as it is racist).  The Cubs, on the other hand, made it to the World Series, against Cleveland.

On Wednesday night, the Cubbies won the World Series for the first time in 116 years.  The last time they won was 1908.  The last time they even made the World Series was 1945.  In my lifetime, since Dawson signed there, they had met heartbreak after heartbreak.  In 1989, they won the NL Central, but were easily defeated in the NLCS by the San Francisco Giants.  They made the playoffs a handful of times between 1989 and 2015, and each time came up short.  And let’s not get into that Bartman incident.

I was at a concert in Nashville Wednesday night, but kept checking my phone for the score.  I was really caught up in it.  I thought they had it in the bag when it was 6-3 in the 6th.  But then, all of the sudden, it was 6-6, after Aroldis Chapman gave up a homerun.  And it went to extra innings. And then there was a rain delay.  All of this meant that by the time we got back to the car for the drive home, the game was still going on.  We found it on the radio, and caught the final out and the victory.  And it happened.  The Cubs won the World Series.

I was down in Atlanta yesterday running errands.  Wearing my Cubbies hat. And had all of these conversations with people.  Everyone kept asking how it felt.  I felt a little bad, not being a die-hard Cubs fan, but, I still found myself saying that it didn’t feel real.  It doesn’t.  It doesn’t feel real. I can only imagine what a real Cubs fan feels.

The Point of Privilege

September 1, 2016 § 2 Comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem last weekend.  Asked to explain himself, Kaepernick said:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder…This is not something that I am going to run by anybody.  I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.

It is moments like this where I very much do feel like a stranger in a strange land in the United States.  Where I come from, I have seen the ‘O Canada’ booed, cheered, ignored, and everything in between.  We do tend to stand for our anthem, some of us sing it, some of us sing in both official languages.  But not always.  But here, in the US, everyone is expected to stand, hand over heart, and belt out ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’

Critics have been all over Kaepernick like Von Miller.  They have said he’s grandstanding.  That he’s trying to attract attention to his failing career.  That he’s privileged.  That he is disrespecting veterans.  That his protest doesn’t count because he is biracial and was adopted by white people.  And so on on and so on.  Kaepernick is not the first black athlete to refuse to stand for the anthem.  Jackie Robinson refused, for much the same reason.  And, of course, so did Muhammad Ali.  And Kaepernick is only the latest African American professional athlete to comment on the plight of black people in this country, following Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James.  The most famous protest came from the WNBA, where a number of players, both black and white and including the entire Minnesota Lynx, wore Black Lives Matters t-shirts during warmups.

As for the criticism of Kaepernick, I can’t help but feel it rings hollow.  The First Amendment guarantees us the right to freedom of expression.  Critics say that Kaepernick lacks patriotism. But what’s the point of enforced patriotism?  Doesn’t that just make it hollow and knee-jerk?

The fact that Kaepernick is biracial and was adopted by white parents when he was a small child has not been lost on critics. Former NFL safety and current NBC analyst Rodney Harrison claimed Kaepernick isn’t black.  I’ve seen worse on Twitter.  The argument here is that because of his upbringing, Kaepernick has no idea what it’s like to be black.  This is specious logic.  Of course he knows what it’s like to be black.  He’s long since figured out that due to his skin colour, he can never be white. He has had police pull guns on him and a friend in college when moving out of an apartment.  He has seen inequality in the world around him.

As for his declining career and the argument he is not Robinson or Ali.  Sure, no one is Robinson or Ali. But Kaepernick is still a former Pro Bowl QB, who carried his team to the Super Bowl.  Some argue that this makes it harder for the 49ers to cut him.  I doubt it. The NFL is a business and its mercenary.  The New York Giants’ kicker Josh Brown has acknowledged he beat his ex-wife, to the point where she called the police over 20 times for over 20 separate instances.  Think the Giants care? Of course not.  Teams have also cut players for supporting marriage equality and medicinal marijuana.  And even if the 49ers cut him, maybe they’ll get a bit of flack, but life will go on.  Levi Stadium is still sold out.  Fans will still buy 9ers gear.

As for his privilege: Of course he’s privileged.  That’s the whole point. Kaepernick has made something like $20 million in the NFL.  He’s a very recognisable player.  So he has a platform upon which to make a statement.  Privilege works in many different ways.   And the only way the world gets better is if those with privilege use it for good.  And Kaepernick is using his to point out American hypocrisy regarding African Americans.  Kaepernick refusing to stand for the anthem and then explaining his motivations clearly and patiently is a much bigger deal than the average punter refusing.  Kaepernick’s privilege here is what allows the statement.

And that, gentle reader, is how privilege should be used.

Rue Shamrock, Montréal

August 24, 2016 § 1 Comment

When I was in Montreal in the spring, I was interviewed by Tricia Toso, a PhD candidate in Communications at Concordia University/Université du Québec à Montréal, about the Montreal Shamrocks Lacrosse Club.  Tricia is a multi-media practitioner and does some pretty wild stuff, and this particular interview was for a podcast on rue Shamrock, which is up next to Marché Jean-Talon in the north end of the city.  The market is on the site of the old Shamrocks LC grounds.

Tricia posted the podcast last week on Soundcloud, and it’s turned out brilliantly. You can listen to it here.

 

The Sartorial Fail of the Modern Football Coach

January 13, 2016 § 2 Comments

As you may have heard, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide won the college football championship Monday night, defeating Clemson 45-40.  This has led to all kinds of discussion down here in ‘Bama about whether or not Coach Nick Saban is the greatest coach of all time.  See, the greatest coach of all time, at least in Alabama, is Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary ‘Bama coach from 1957 until 1982.

Bear won 6 national titles (though, it is worth noting the claim of Alabama to some of these titles is tenuous, to say the least).  Saban has now won 5 (only 4 at Alabama, he won in 2003 at LSU).  I don’t particularly give a flying football about this argument, frankly.  But as I was watching the game on Monday night, everytime I saw Nick Saban, I just felt sad.

EP-301129814Nick Saban is a reasonably well-dressed football coach, so there is that.  But, he looks like he should be playing golf.  Poorly-fitting pants and and a team-issued windbreaker.  He could be worse, he could be Bill Bellichk of the New England Patriots, who tends to look homeless on the sidelines.the-real-reason-bill-belichick-is-always-wearing-those-cutoff-sweatshirts But that’s not saying much, is it?

Saban and Bellichick are a far cry from Bear Bryant and Tom Landry, the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach.  Bryant and Landry both wore suits on the side lines. Bryant did have an unfortunate taste for houndstooth, of course. But Landry stood tall in his suit and fedora.nfl_landry_01

There’s something to be said for looking sharp on the sidelines.  I miss these well-dressed coaches.

Sports Journalists and the English Language: #Fail

December 18, 2013 § 4 Comments

I just read an article on Sportsnet.ca about the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I don’t like the Leafs, and I enjoy it when they lose, something they’re doing a lot of right now.  But, something about this article seemed unfair, like it was piling on.  Chris Johnston starts off his article by saying “The word “crisis” is now being attached to the Toronto Maple Leafs and after just seven wins in the last 22 games it really isn’t much of a stretch.”  Right away, my eyebrows go up when I see language like this.  The passive voice.  The word is being attached to the Leafs.  By whom? In what circumstances?  When?  Why?  Johnston isn’t interested in answering any of that.  It turns out, the word “crisis” was pitched at Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle by another Toronto journalist, Steve Simmons.  And Carlyle wouldn’t commit to the word.

So it turns out “[t]he word ‘crisis’ is now being attached to the Toronto Maple Leafs” by another sports journalist.  So two guys who cover the Leafs think this (I’m sure many of the fans do).  It reminded me a lot of the hullabaloo swirling around the Chicago Bears last week when news broke that starting quarterback Jay Cutler was ready to return from injury.  This would normally be a good thing, except that his backup, Josh McCown, was the reigning offensive player of the week.  One blogger for ESPNChicago began arguing that McCown should be the starter and, suddenly, all of ESPN was making this claim, arguing that “voices” had been calling for McCown.

The Leafs and Bears examples are reflective of a general shift in sports journalism I have noticed of late.  Journalists are desperate to reach readers and viewers, so the coverage gets more and more shrill.  In the case of the Bears and Leafs examples, journalists are attempting to create stories, to give themselves traction so that they can later claim they were the ones who ‘broke’ the story.  A classic example of the tale wagging the dog.

This general shift has also lead to a loose relationship between the English language and events the journalists are attempting to describe.  For example, last weekend, the Boston Bruins played in Vancouver and were hammered by the Canucks 6-2.  After the game, Bruins forward, Milan Lucic, who is from Vancouver, went out to blow off some steam.  For his efforts, he claims he was punched in the face twice by some idiot, which led to a lot of shouting and masculine preening in front of some guy who filmed it on his phone and the Vancouver police.  A Bruins journalist, Joe Haggerty, called this a “street brawl” in an article on-line.  Some idiot throwing a couple of punches is many things, a brawl it is not.

In watching highlights of the Montréal Canadiens’ game against Phoenix last night, a TSN commentator on SportsCentre claimed the Habs couldn’t “buy a goal,” about a half second before showing highlights of the Canadiens’ first goal in a 3-1 win.  Obviously, they didn’t need to buy a goal, they scored three of them.  This is like the football commentator I saw this weekend reporting that the Dallas Cowboys had scored 24 unanswered points before showing us how the Green Bay Packers came back to win the game.  Obviously those points were answered.

These are a wide variety of recent examples in the world of sports journalism of writers and broadcasters having a loose grip on reality and a dodgy relationship to the meaning of the words they use.  While I realise that we live in a somewhat post-modern world, but words do still have meaning.  But in the world of sports journalism, at least, editors and producers seem to have forgotten this.  And more’s the pity for it.

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