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.
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.
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.