Wednesday, November 30, 2011

There's no accounting for accountability

There's a new buzzword making the rounds in the National Hockey League. It's "accountability," and it means...nothing.
Kirk Muller was talking about accountability Monday at his first news conference as the new head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, and he might as well have been reciting the Moose Lodge oath of allegiance or whistling Dixie. Bruce Boudreau talked about accountability right up until he was fired Monday as head coach in Washington because the Capitals quit on him. Boudreau's fate was sealed when he held Alexander Ovechkin accountable by benching his best player in the late stages of a tie game earlier this month. Ovechkin paid lip service to accountability at the time but continued to tune out the coach and perform well below his pay scale, and Boudreau paid the price.
Accountability means something in the real world and even to the low level grunts among professional athletes, but the nature of the business is such that players of Ovechkin's status are not accountable. Scott Gomez is another glaring example. If Gomez were held accountable for his shortcomings, he'd be playing on the third line for the Toledo Walleye of the East Coast Hockey League.
Muller and Boudreau and the rest of the coaching fraternity can talk all they want about accountability, but they should understand that they're the only ones who will ultimately be held accoutable - not just for their own failures, but for the failures of fat cat prima donnas whose God-given ability insulates against accountability, whether or not they're carrying their weight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Habs fans put "h" in fine "whine"...again

The already overdone persecution complex among Montreal hockey fans became even more exaggerated yesterday when the NHL suspended Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty for three games for a hit on Pittsburgh's Kris Letang this past Saturday at the Bell Center.
How, wonder hard-done-by Habs supporters, can Pacioretty get three games when Boston's Milan Lucic got nothing for running Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller earlier this month, and Bruins captain Zdeno Chara escaped suspension after literally breaking Pacioretty's neck last March? After all, Pacioretty only broke Letang's nose.
Well, here's the thing: none of the three incidents has anything to do with each other. Pacioretty's hit on Letang was a textbook example of what the league has stated it wants to eliminate: a blindside hit to the head. The Lucic and Chara incidents were both different in nature and more open to interpretation, at least among those of us who aren't the Amazing Kreskin or don't claim to be gifted with the power to read the thoughts of others. Also, Pacioretty doesn't get a freebie just because he was once victimized, or because he had the decency to apologize to Letang.
Rather than play the persecution card and trot out the tired old anti-Canadiens conspiracy theory, maybe Montreal fans should take some pride in the fact that Pacioretty saw fit to man up and admit he was in the wrong, which gives him an element of class and dignity that Lucic and Chara sorely lack.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Credit where credit is due (and other Monday morning musings)

As much as it pains their critics, coach Jacques Martin and general manager Pierre Gauthier deserve at least some credit for helping get the injury-riddled Canadiens to the one-quarter mark of the season a game over .500 and well within striking distance of a playoff spot. Gauthier's ability to uncover useful replacement players and Martin's management of the limited resources available to him bode well for the Habs when and if they get back to something resembling full health...The depleted and relatively inexperienced and undersized defence corps gets its toughest test to date tonight at the Bell Center against the Bruins, who've won eight in a row after a slow start and haven't become any smaller or less belligerent...The long-awaited return of Sidney Crosby means at least as much for the NHL as it does for his own team. After it was announced that the Pittsburgh captain will play his first game in close to a year tonight, the Versus network in the US announced it was pulling the plug on the Boston-Montreal game to show the Penguins and Islanders in hopes of doubling hockey ratings on American television from 1.3 to 2.6 - people, not share points...Formula One might be the world's most glamorous sport, but it can't match NASCAR for drama. While Sebastien Vettel clinched the F1 championship with nearly two months left on the F1 calendar, the Sprint Cup title came down to yesterday's season finale in Homestead, Florida, where Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished 1-2 in the race and 1-2 in the Chase for the Championship, which went to Stewart on the basis of a tiebreaker after he and Edwards ended the season tied in points...A lot of President's Cup onlookers might have been disappointed, but no one should have been surprised that Tiger Woods and Steve Williams exchanged nothing more than a perfunctory handshake in their first public encounter since Woods fired Williams as his caddy. It's still golf, not roller derby.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tebow of Nazareth

Maybe there is something to this God thing, because there's no logical explanation for how devout Christian Tim Tebow keeps coming up with miracles on the football field.
Tebow has one of the worst ratings among starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but is 4-1 as a starter after leading the Denver Broncos to yet another surreal comeback win. Tebow was entirely ineffective for 54 minutes last night before engineering a late scoring drive that culminated in a 20 yard Tebow touchdown run for a 17-13 victory over the visiting New York Jets. Tebow's latest heroics came four days after an even more improbable Broncos win in Kansas City, where pro football's least conventional quaterback completed two - count 'em, two - passes, but made one of them good for 56 yards and a touchdown, and added a rushing TD of his own.
He has been dismissed as a one-dimensional quarterback with no long-term professional upside and openly ridiculed for his faith in Christianity, but all Tebow has done so far is find ways to win, while sticking steadfastly to the high road despite the mockery and criticism. He was dismissed as a poser for kneeling in prayer after beating Miami in overtime a few weeks ago, but really, what was Tebow doing other than honoring and emulating his Lord and Savoir? I haven't read the New Testament word for word, but I'm pretty sure Jesus never broke into the Riverdance after healing the lepers or did a Sea of Galilee version of the Lambeau Leap after walking on water.
Tim Tebow is - for the time being, at least - a winner, and will always be a Christian gentleman, whose honesty, humility and gratitude are a blueprint for the peace of mind that comes with having faith in a Higher Power, while sparing him the burden of a God complex.
His detractors should be so blessed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Here's Howe (and other Monday morning musings)

If yesterday's CFL Eastern semi-final was Anthony Calvillo's last game - and there's no firm indication that it was - the 39 year old Alouettes quarterback went out in style, even in a losing cause. Passing for 513 yards and three touchdowns, Calvillo did everything in his power to prolong the Als' pursuit of a Grey Cup three-peat. With Montreal and Hamilton combining for 96 points, the respective defensive coordinators might argue with the description of the game as an instant classic, but nobody came to the Big O hoping to see a punting duel, with the possible exception of the close friends and immediate family of the punters...Due process took another beating Saturday at Penn State, where 120 thousand people took part in a prayer service on the assumption that everything that's been alleged in a child sex abuse case is a matter of fact. The mad dash to the moral high ground has already precluded anyone in the case from getting a fair trial...Stand by for the usual bellyaching from Canadiens fans about NHL favoritism towards the Bruins if Boston's Milan Lucic isn't suspended for Saturday's hit on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, and there's no reason Lucic should be suspended. Miller was playing the puck well out of his crease and Lucic didn't deliberately target Miller's head when the two players collided, so the two minute penalty Lucic was assessed for charging is where it should end. And that's coming from a Canadiens fan...Sometimes, it takes someone other than Don Cherry to explain why fighting has a legitimate place in hockey. Mark Howe, a highly-respected, newly-minted member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, says that putting the onus on the referees over letting players police each other is an open invitation to the kind of cheap shots that routinely show up on the nightly highlight reel (see Lucic versus Miller). When Cherry argues the point, he's dismissed as a dinosaur, but coming from Howe it's perfectly credible...Speaking of Howe, did you see his father, Gordie, at Saturday's Hall of Fame festivities? Even at age 83, the elder Howe resembles Mark's slightly older brother more than he looks like his father. Mr. Hockey also looks like he could still break your nose with a well-placed elbow if you tried to cut the line at Tim's.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The rush to judgement at Penn State

Anyone who lives within a hundred miles of Penn State University should exercise extra caution in crossing the street these days, lest they get run roughshod by the stampede to the moral high ground.
Some judicial and journalistic fundamentals have already been trampled in the scandal at Penn State, including the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The grand jury report accusing former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexually abusing eight young boys and charging two former high-ranking university officials with perjury in an alleged coverup is a damning indictment, but the premature rush to judgement is more than a little unsettling. Media commentators who should know better aren't even bothering to put the charges in their proper legal context anymore. The term "alleged" has become optional, insinuating that the guilt of all parties is a given even though due process has yet to run its course.
What's equally unseemly is that the media crosshairs are fixed more squarely on legendary Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno than they are on the the guy who's actually accused of raping children. There's absolutely no evidence of legal wrongdoing on Paterno's part, but because he's by far the biggest name in the big picture, the scandal has become all about him.
I'm not sure when or how we got to the point where the legacy of a football coach - no matter how iconic - became more of a priority than justice for the victims of a heinous crime, but here we are. Maybe I'M jumping to conclusions, but in this instance, that wouldn't make me any different than anyone else.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gone fishin' (and other Monday morning musings)

Spare me the sob stories about the officiating in the Canadiens' loss in New York Saturday. Aside from the phantom interference call on Michael Blunden, the Canadiens got everything they deserved from the referees. Between a smart game plan with solid execution by the Rangers, at least one goal that Carey Price would probably like back, and four goal posts by the Canadiens, there was a lot more to that hockey game than penalties...Boston's 7-0 blowout of Toronto exposed the Achilles heel that's going to eventually bring the Leafs back to earth. The absence of a proven, quality goaltender is going to be Toronto's undoing, unless general manager Brian Burke uses his blue line depth to trade for help from outside the organization...

In the context of a hockey broadcast, Don Cherry's tributes to the military are frequently awash in maudlin cornball, but the double-breasted Canadian Legion blazer and regimental tie combination Cherry wore on Coach's Corner Saturday marked the first time in recent memory that he looked like a distinguished elderly gentleman and not a creepy old carnival barker...Worst hockey analysis ever - Ottawa color commentator Denis Potvin on Senators forward Jesse Winchester: "If you put a fishing rod in his hands, he'll do whatever it takes to catch a fish, and he brings that same attitude to hockey." Fishing as a metaphor for hockey? Sounds like Denis put the wrong mushrooms on his pre-game steak...

(photoshopping by Josie Gold)

So, Kyle Busch deliberately spins Ron Hornaday Jr. into the wall at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race in Texas and gets suspended for the weekend. For the weekend. In most jurisdictions, what Busch did qualifies as assault with a deadly weapon, if not attempted homicide. In NASCAR, it gets you a two day grounding and a stern talking-to...Stranger things have happened, but it's difficult to imagine the slumping, injury-riddled Alouettes turning things around in the playoffs on the heels of three consecutive losses, including Saturday night's 43-1 debacle in BC. Anthony Calvillo might still be the best quarterback in the CFL, but unless he adds blocking, tackling and faith healing to his repertoire between now and next Sunday, the three-peat dream is dead...One thing about Bill Belichick - no matter what the score is, you can always tell he's an asshole.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tweet this

The most contentious element of Winnipeg Blue Bomber Johnny Sears' helmet-to-helmet hit on Toronto quarterback Steven Jyles last Friday isn't the hit itself or the one game suspension the CFL handed Sears yesterday. The infraction and the subsequent suspension and fine are cut-and-dried, done-and-done.
What's dubious is whether the league was acting within its limits of authority when it fined two Toronto players for their comments about the hit on social media. Argos offensive linemen Rob Murphy and Taylor Robertson, both of whom were injured and didn't play in Winnipeg, went on Twitter after the game to say that Sears is fortunate they weren't playing, and that they'll settle the score with him next season. Murphy and Robertson were fined an undisclosed amount by the CFL, and Murphy has indicated (via Twitter, where else?) that he will appeal, as well he should.
Social media is here to stay and like most of the rest of their generation, professional athletes are all over it. Finer legal minds than mine will be required to decide whether an athlete is answerable to his team or league for what he posts on Facebook or Twitter, and Murphy's appeal could go a long way towards determining whether players are liable to censure under the terms of their playing contracts and the collective bargaining agreement.
It would seem to my not-so-refined legal mind that as long as they're not uttering death threats, promoting hatred or dabbling in libel or slander, what anyone says on their personal social media account is their own business.