Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hockey in the Star Wars age and Erykah Badu's moo moos

  Last week in this segment, I wondered which elements of today's NHL game the older generation will pine for in 50 years.  With growing evidence of permanent and potentially fatal brain damage from sports-related head trauma, I'm starting to wonder whether there will come a time when the nostalgic whimsy will be for the game itself.  As preposterous as it sounds today that there might one day be no  NHL or NFL or UFC, it's worth noting that there was a time when kings and emperors couldn't conceive of a society in which knights and gladiators didn't duel to the death strictly for the amusement of others.  The economic stakes in professional sports suggest it won't happen in our lifetime and probably not for several lifetimes, but cultural evolution could eventually take us to a place where we no longer accept profit and entertainment as rational justification for gratuitous violence and the associated health risks. 
   Or maybe hockey in the 24th century will be played with lightsabers, death rays and atomic vaporizers.  Tough to say.

  For now, it's all about money.  The 765 million dollar out-of-court settlement for concussed former NFL players is even reverberating in sports in which contact is minimal and incidental, although Major League Baseball's move towards banning home plate collisions is a lot more about protecting against similar legal action than it is about player health and safety.

  That said, baseball has a recent history of showing more signs of brain damage at the ownership and executive level than it does on the field.  I hate to play the starving-kids-in-the-Third World card, but Robinson Cano's 10 year, 240 million dollar contract with the Seattle Mariners is literally worth more than the gross domestic product of some small countries.  That might make sense in baseball's economic landscape, but it's devoid of common sense.
   Meanwhile, if Grammy Award-winning R&B artist Erykah Badu was adopted by former NHLer Christian Ruutuu, married Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, divorced Carew to marry Detroit Red Wing Jordan Too Too, moved to the capital of Burkina Faso and opened a shop specializing in designer oversized Hawaiian dresses, the mail order address would be "Erykah Badu Ruutuu Carew Too Too's Moo Moos by J. Crew, Ouagadougou."
   I'll let myself out.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Deciphering the hockey code: good luck with that.

   The notion of an unwritten code implies a standard of personal conduct based on honour.  There was nothing honourable about what Shawn Thornton of the Bruins did to Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik this past Saturday in Boston. 
   And spare me the claptrap about mitigating circumstances, like Orpik's refusal to fight Thornton earlier in the game or Pittsburgh's James Neal fanning the flames by kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand in the head.  Neal was penalized at the time of the play and subsequently suspended for five games without pay, meaning he'll forfeit $128,000 and change from his $5million annual salary.  I don't care how much money you make - 128k is a hit for anyone.  You could argue that Neal deserved a stiffer suspension and heftier fine and you might be right, but it's not relevant to the Thornton-Orpik scenario.
   Which brings us back to "the code".  According to hockey's old guard, Orpik owed it to the code to drop his gloves and fight when challenged by Thornton after Orpik leveled Boston's Loui Eriksson with a devastating bodycheck.  Where that argument goes off the rails is that there was no penalty on the hit.  I understand the part of the code that says you have to answer for cheap shots, but since when does the code dictate that you have to entertain the local cementhead's dance invitation because you laid out his teammate with a clean hit?  Thornton's post-whistle, blindside attack on Orpik is inexcusable under any circumstances, and the suggestion that Orpik brought it on himself because he violated the code simply doesn't hold up - unless the code has been rewritten to hold players responsible for hard but clean bodychecks, which would suggest to me that honour is no longer part of the equation.
   There's another time-honoured element of hockey - more axiom than code - that preaches "keep your head up."  The Orpik hit marked the second time in six weeks that Loui Eriksson paid the price for being caught unaware of his surroundings on the ice.  I know what you're saying: "That's blaming the victim!"  Indeed.  Not unlike saying it's Brooks Orpik's fault that he was criminally assaulted by Scott Thornton.
   I'll leave the last word to Don James, who said it best on Twitter:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thornton vs. Orpik: plus ca change...

The Shawn Thornton-Brooks Orpik incident has a chance to be a seminal moment for the NHL, but it won't be.  Wayne Maki pole-axing Ted Green didn't stop Dale Hunter from ambushing Pierre Turgeon, which didn't stop Todd Bertuzzi from bushwacking Steve MooreThornton mugging Orpik won't prevent the next round of thuggery, because the league won't do the right thing, which is send the message that criminal conduct on the ice is intolerable.  That would mean kicking Thornton out of the league, which will never happen, because the NHL doesn't have the stomach for the legal battle that would inevitably ensue with the Players Association.  If there's ever going to be real change to hockey, it's going to have to come from outside the game - specifically, from elected lawmakers with the resolve to legislate changes to a game that's lost the ability to govern itself.

Not to harp on Ron MacLean, who's done a credible job for a long time, but the veteran hockey host has been coming visibly unglued since the announcement that Rogers would assume creative control of Hockey Night in Canada.  Last night, MacLean congratulated colleague Rob Pizzo on being "very smooth" in Pizzo's Hockey Night studio debut, but then added, "it's irritating" - an apparent reference to the much younger Pizzo's polish and poise.  I can understand MacLean's insecurity over potentially being usurped by younger talent in a time of transition, but referencing it on the air was as unprofessional as it was bizarre.

I read a letter to the Montreal Gazette sports editor yesterday from an elderly gentlemen who noted that there were far fewer head injuries in the NHL when the overwhelming majority of players didn't wear helmets, in no small part because of a much greater mutual respect than exists among today's players.  The letter didn't give me pause for thought on concussions as much as it made me wonder what element of the game today's generation of hockey fans will pine for in 50 years.  Younger generations who condescend to their elders for pining for the good old days would do well to remember that these are their good old days, and 50 years hence they'll be derided for their long-held convictions, unless they set an example of courtesy and respect for the voice of experience.

Speaking of which, when I read that Jacoby Ellsbury had bolted Boston for a 153 million dollar free agent deal with the Yankees, my first thought was that Yaz would never have signed with the Yankees, nor would Fisk nor Dewey Evans and especially not Bill Lee.  Thirty-five years ago, voluntarily jumping from the Red Sox to the Yankees was the closest thing in baseball to high treason.  Today, it's business as usual. 

I'm Old Man Bird.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ron MacLean tries too hard. Again.

One of the fundamental differences between Don Cherry and his Coach's Corner sidekick, Ron MacLean, is that when Cherry says something outrageous, it's usually calculated.  Cherry is many things, but stupid is not one of them.  MacLean, on the other hand, has an earnest naivete that sometimes manifests itself in misguided attempts at being profound.  His suggestion Saturday night that the involvement of  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed in a multi-billion dollar television deal was a glowing example of how Jews and Muslims can get along was next-level cringeworthy, and proof enough that MacLean didn't learn his lesson from the time he clumsily compared hockey players to first responders in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  MacLean is a solid hockey broadcaster, but he'd do well to leave the global geopolitical punditry to the experts.

On the surface, at least, the concussion lawsuit filed by former NHL players is a transparent attempt to piggyback on the success of their retired football counterparts, who got a 765 million dollar out of court settlement after suing the NFL.   There are, however, significant factors that point to this looming battle taking a different path.  The NFL didn't admit culpability as much as it paid its former players what was tantamount to a nuisance fee when the settlement is taken in the context of current and projected NFL revenue, which is about five times what the NHL generates.  Also, if Gary Bettman's labor relations history is anything to go by, the NHL commissioner will practically delight in a protracted court battle aimed at wearing down his adversaries psychologically and financially.  The former NHLers might eventually get a settlement, but it's not likely to be nearly as easy nor as lucrative as the NFL payout.
I was willing to give Winnipeg Jets winger Evander Kane a pass when he posted a picture of himself flashing wads of cash in Las Vegas because it had context, but Kane crossed a line when he Instagramed himself getting handcuffed by a New York City police officer against the side of a patrol car.  There's unavoidable symbolism in the image, and the smile on Kane's face makes light of an ongoing social stigma facing young black men who are too often assumed to be suspect because they're young and black.  Someone needs to have a talk with Kane, and the smirking police officer in the picture could benefit from a few days off without pay.
It occurs to me on a semi-regular basis that if sports teams and leagues want to get around the all too frequent butchering of pre-game national anthems, they should have a policy of playing recorded versions if they can't hire polished  professionals.  I'm not talking BeyoncĂ© or Placido Domingo, but a guy like Canadiens anthem singer Charles Prevost Linton, who has solid professional chops and can get through both anthems - one bilingually - without kicking it around the block like the dingbat on Long Island or the dope in Lethbridge, Alberta this past week.  Better still, just play the damn thing on the organ and let the fans take care of the singing, like the crowd did in spectacularly uplifting fashion at the Bell Center last night.  You get what you pay for - and sometimes what you don't pay for.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Show them the money: Canadian sports TV talent set to cash in

     It's impossible to overstate the enormity of the NHL's new Canadian television deal, and not just because of the dollar figure - although 5.2 billion is a pile of dough, even in the era of multi-trillion dollar government budgets (and - more ominously - public debts and deficits).
    The most staggering number in the new hockey TV contract is the term: 12 years.  Twelve years for exclusive rights holder Rogers/Sportsnet to shift and consolidate the balance of Canadian sports broadcasting power against Bell/TSN.
    When the new television deal expires, Sidney Crosby will be 39.  Connor McDavid, the heir apparent to Crosby as the next "best player in the world", will be pushing 30.  Chris Chelios will be 64 and considering a comeback.  But here's the clincher: the next time Canadian television broadcasting rights for the NHL are up for grabs, Bob McKenzie will be 70.  Canada's best and most influential hockey journalist and analyst will spend the rest of his career working the beat for a network with no substantial skin in the game - unless he crosses the street, and that's where things get interesting for the country's handful of prominent hockey broadcasters and the millions of people who hang on their every word, whether spoken or delivered via social media.
    TSN's talent pool is significantly deeper than Sportsnet's, which puts guys like McKenzie in the enviable position of being targets in a potential bidding war.  That's not to say Sportsnet is devoid of talent, but off the top of my head, the only guy I can think of in McKenzie's class as both a broadcaster and an analyst is Scott Morrison, whose star will definitely ascend to even greater heights if he's given the prominent role he deserves.  Sportsnet doesn't have studio hosts or play-by-play announcers on the level of James Duthie, Chris Cuthbert, Gord Miller or Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman, all of whom should benefit from the seismic shift in the hockey broadcasting universe, whether through offers from Rogers to join the in-crowd or equally (or more) lucrative counteroffers from their existing employers to keep them in the fold.  My spider senses, honed through 35 years in the broadcasting business, say Don Cherry's goose is cooked, because Rogers executives refused to give Cherry a vote of confidence when the deal was announced, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in full bobblehead mode whilst vomiting insincere platitudes about the iconic Coach's Corner carnival barker.  Ron MacLean's wagon is so firmly hitched to Cherry's that he's probably on the outs as well, although CBC will probably keep him around to carry the mail on the network's other sports broadcasts - especially if Friedman makes the jump to Sportsnet.  Cherry and MacLean had a tremendous run and made a nice chunk of change along the way, but with Sportsnet assuming full creative control over Hockey Night in Canada, they'll probably want to hang a new set of grapes, er, drapes.  There will be other job losses at HNIC as Rogers moves its own people into place, and at TSN, where hockey-specific production staff will become significantly less relevant, but premium talent on both sides of the camera should land on their feet and be compensated according to their worth. 
    At a time when the industry generally eschews experienced talent that commands a good salary in favor of cheap, disposable labour, it's enormously gratifying from an individual broadcaster's perspective to see talent get its due, and even more gratifying that it's happening because the corporate overlords who've been busy devaluing real broadcasters came out of the biggest deal in Canadian sports television history looking like the north end of a southbound horse.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hanks for the memories

There wasn't a dry pair of pants in the house last night as the drunken denizens of Rider Nation celebrated a Grey Cup victory in their own backyard.  As insufferable as they can be as a travelling circus, there's something oddly endearing about legions of grown adults wearing hollowed-out watermelons on their heads when they do it in the relative privacy of their own home stadium. Either way, there's no currency in begrudging the CFL's most fanatically faithful fans their moment in the OH MY GOD IT'S TOM HANKS!  TOM HANKS IS AT THE GREY CUP!  TOM HANKS!  IN REGINA!  HE MUST LIKE CANADA!  AND THE CFL!  And that's what I brought away from the 101st Grey Cup: an appropriate result for the unswervingly loyal (if moderately batshit crazy) Saskatchewan fan base, and widespread Canadian self-validation because Forrest Gump showed up at our national football hootenanny.  Canadiana at its finest. 

Talk about not being in Kansas anymore: members of the Hamilton Tiger Cats suffered frostbite while practicing outdoors in Moose Jaw, despite the availability of indoor practice facilities.  I'm as enured to the northern elements as the next ski-doo suit wearing hoser, but there's a time and place when common sense comes into play.

Much has been made about Stephane Waite and the wonders Waite has worked with Carey Price, but as the Canadiens goaltending coach, Waite's fingerprints are also all over the early season work of backup Peter Budaj.  Like Price, Budaj has lifted his game to another level: 4 wins in 5 starts, a .942 save percentage and a sparkling 1.58 goals against average.  With George Parros and Douglas Murray in the press box more often than not and Daniel Briere pulling substantial fourth line minutes, Twitter associate Tony Braca isn't far from the truth when he calls Stephane Waite general manager Marc Bergevin's best off-season acquisition.

Disgraced New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez's grandstanding at a grievance hearing last week was an act of desperation, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  Demanding to face his accuser in the person of baseball commissioner Bud Selig was effective spin control.  Perception is everything, and Rodriguez  left the impression that he's being denied due process.

Note to kids in Sierra Leone: everybody line up in an orderly fashion - there are plenty of "Hamilton Tiger Cats 2013 Grey Cup Champions" hats and t-shirts to go around.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Homers, hitters and hand jobs

I threw up in my mouth a little bit listening to Toronto media mouthpieces feign outrage last week at the three game suspension for Leaf center Nazim Kadri.  I'll grant you that the Montreal media campaign to get PK Subban on the Canadian Olympic team smacks of blatant homerism, but at least it's a credible case.  There's no credibility in blaming Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom for getting steamrolled by Kadri in Backstrom's crease.

People who argue the merits of Carey Price based on his won-lost record this season automatically disqualify themselves as contributors to intelligent hockey discourse.  Price has completely turned his game around from last season, when he had a more respectable winning percentage but was at best a middle-of-the-pack NHL goaltender - and that was on his better nights.  To watch him on a game in, game out basis so far this year is to recognize that this at long last is the elite goaltender the Canadiens hoped and believed they drafted fifth overall in 2005.  That he's presently not getting any goal scoring support is an issue, but it's not his issue, and as long as Price plays to the level that was all along expected of him and that he's finally attained, the Canadiens will ultimately reap substantial benefits.

Miguel Cabrera was a physical wreck in 2013 but still flirted with another Triple Crown en route to his second consecutive American League MVP Award and third straight batting title.  With due respect to other multiple batting champions like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Rod Carew, it's not even a debate: the additional element of Cabrera's game-breaking power makes baseball's best pure hitter since Ted Williams, hands down.

It's a shame the Toronto Argonauts didn't win the CFL Eastern Conference final, just for the outcry that would have ensued when Rob Ford put a kilo of crack and a hand job up against a side of western beef in the traditional Grey Cup mayors' bet.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mayoral cheap shots, root causes and other Monday musings

It was shitty of Montreal Mayor-elect Denis Coderre to go on Twitter and publicly humiliate David Desharnais by recommending a one-way ticket to Hamilton for the embattled Canadiens forward.  I can fire brickbats at Desharnais with the best of them, but that's my bailiwick as a marginal media figure, and elected officials need to be held to a higher standard than internet blowhards.

We didn't learned anything new about the Canadiens during their recent tailspin as much as we've been forced to acknowledge pre-existing realities.  In particular, the losses to San Jose and St. Louis provided a window into how the Canadiens are still a level below the NHL's elite teams.   With a solid core of talented players in their early to mid-20s and blue chip blueline talent developing in Hamilton, the potential is there for the Habs to reach the elite level within the next two or three seasons - contingent on how the front office and coaching staff handle the assets, which is more critical than ever in the era of inside media access, salary caps and restricted free agent offer sheets.

It hasn't been a banner season for the National Football League's public relations department.   With the league already in full damage control mode over traumatic head injuries, a second front flared up when Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin quit football rather than endure the incessant bullying of teammates - in particular Richie Incognito.   It's easy to vilify Incognito - and he certainly has a lot to answer for after allegedly harassing a younger teammate to the point where Martin walked away from a lucrative, high profile living - but even the most cursory look at Incognito's personal background and pro football's locker room culture reveals Incognito himself is a tortured soul who was placed in an environment that enabled him to lash out.   Root causes aren't always a popular topic (see Islamic jihad) but credible conclusions and effective solutions are impossible without an honest examination of the complete picture.

I don't care that it smacks of jingoistic bias: if Calgary running back John Cornish's numbers compare favorably to co-nominee Ricky Ray's (and they do) the BC born-and-raised Cornish should be honoured with the CFL's Outstanding Player award.   It's the CANADIAN Football League, and there's nothing unseemly about seizing a rare and legitimate opportunity to celebrate a Canadian player above all others.

I'm not sure if it speaks more to stress, genetics or the lottery of life when seemingly fit former pro athletes like Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapse and get rushed to the hospital, while human train wrecks like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford careen from one personal disaster to the next with no apparent ill effects.  Meanwhile, has it occurred to anyone that if Ford was actually addicted to crack, he probably wouldn't weigh 350 pounds?

Friday, November 1, 2013

The elephant in the room: racism and PK

  Well-meaning people with honest agendas might reject racism as a factor in the debate over PK Subban's suitability as a potential Team Canada Olympic defenceman, but in the absence of a logical explanation, what else is there?
   Subban was honored last season with the Norris Trophy as the best defenceman in the best hockey league in the world.  That alone should make him a slam dunk for the Olympic team, but Subban's detractors are quick to trot our a parade of half-baked arguments against him, including but not limited to:
- the Norris Trophy is awarded on the basis of offensive statistics
- Subban is a defensive liability whose own NHL coach won't play him in crucial situations
- Canada is already loaded with right-handed defencemen who are better than Subban
- his personality makes him a potentially disruptive force in the dressing room
   I've watched Subban on a regular basis since he joined the Canadiens, and while I've seen him make mistakes - like all defencemen do - for anyone who watches and knows the game to call him a defensive liability is intellectually dishonest.  Coaches make mistakes, too, and one of Michel Therrien's shortcomings is his bullheadedness when it comes to using Rafael Diaz instead of Subban on the penalty kill or in the closing minutes of close games.  The very idea of Diaz being defensively superior to Subban is the stuff of fairy tales, and Therrien needs to get off the pixie dust.
   The left vs. right-handed defenceman argument is the lamest of them all.  With all due respect, the notion of Dan Hamhuis, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Karl Alzner or Jay Bouwmeester making the Olympic team ahead of Subban solely on the basis of dextrality is beyond preposterous.
   So where does that leave us?  Ah, yes: Subban's personality - his flamboyance.  When was the last time you heard a white athlete referred to as "flamboyant"?  White athletes with Subban's outgoing personality are inspirational leaders and sparkplugs.  Give a black man the same personality and he's a "potential problem in the room".  Flamboyance is code for "uppity", and Subban should "know his place".  Want another example?  When New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady loses his shit on the sidelines and screams at coaches and fellow players, he's hailed as a fierce competitor who's motivating his teammates with his unbending will to win.  When Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant does the same thing, he's vilified as an immature prima donna and an embarrassment to the franchise.  Same scenario, but the difference is Brady is white and Bryant is black.
   None of this racism is necessarily overt.  It's a product of centuries of social conditioning.  It's only been two generations since the last vestiges of institutionalized racism against black people went by the wayside, and in the context of human history and social evolution, two generations is the blink of an eye.  Much of the residual racism is implicit, latent or subconscious, but it's racism nonetheless.
   Lastly, there's this: ample precedent exists for racism in professional sports.  The examples are numerous and well documented.  There is no precedent for a Norris Trophy winner being left off an elite hockey roster, or for such an omission even being a consideration. 
   Do the math.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Picking on PK (and other Monday musings)

Whether or not it's true, there's a perception that Canadiens defenceman and reigning Norris Trophy winner PK Subban is targeted by NHL referees.   Ample anecdotal evidence exists to suggest officials are more inclined to call penalties on Subban or overlook infractions against him because they don't appreciate being shown up his vocal and demonstrative demeanor.  In the same way that hockey sinks to the carnivalesque standards of pro wrestling by interpreting the rulebook differently at different times of the game or the season, there's no credibility in applying the rules in a vindictive context designed to satisfy a referee's ego.   For the sake of its own integrity, the NHL has a moral and ethical obligation to remind its on-ice officials to place principles before personalities - even larger than life personalities like PK Subban.

It's a difficult concept to wrap your head around given their decade-long domination of the CFL East, but the Alouettes are officially in transition.   There's no other way to describe a team that's used two head coaches - one of whom isn't even a coach by profession - and trotted our four different starting quarterbacks en route to a 7-10 record.   That said, the CFL's open house postseason format and the one-and-done nature of playoff football mean even a team in transition can win the Grey Cup.

Forty years after its introduction, the designated hitter rule remains anathema to most baseball purists, but without it, whither David Ortiz?   On his own, Ortiz doesn't represent a slam dunk case for the DH, but there's no denying it extended the career of a guy who has provided some of the most dramatic and memorable October moments of the past decade.

America's love of patriotic fervor and abiding respect for military tradition were on full display prior to Game 1 of the World Series in Boston, where pre-game ceremonies included the introduction of three recent recipients of the Medal of Honor - the country's highest award for battlefield heroism above and beyond the call of duty.    Meanwhile, there weren't enough Medals of Honor to go around for a capacity crowd whose conspicuous gallantry was sorely tested during Mary J. Blige's roadside bomb version of the Star Spangled Banner.

If 1980s pop singer Juice Newton married former major league baseball pitcher Burt Hooten, left Hooten for Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Fedor Tyutin, won the lottery, became a cheerleader and went on a gluten-free diet, she'd be high-falutin' rootin' tootin' Juice Newton Hooten Tyutin, sans gluten.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The case for Koivu and retiring #11

   It is a never-ending source of bewilderment to me that many of the same people who so reverentially embrace Saku Koivu when he returns to Montreal as a member of the Anaheim Ducks recoil at the thought of the Canadiens ever honoring Koivu by retiring jersey number 11. 
   The standard argument against raising Koivu's jersey to the rafters is that he doesn't have the personal statistics or Stanley Cup rings to warrant elevating him to such elite company.  If you want to play the comparison game, Koivu has 300 more career points than Bob Gainey, whose number 23 is retired, but Gainey had much better timing, having joined the Canadiens when Sam Pollock was putting the finishing touches on the CH dynasty that dominated the latter half of the 1970s.  Koivu's first season was the same year Rejean Houle and Mario Tremblay were handed the keys to the franchise and promptly steered it into an abyss of mediocrity from which it's still struggling to emerge.
   But this isn't about tearing down Gainey or anyone else to build up Koivu, because when it comes to Koivu, there are no comparables.  On their own, neither his statistics nor his successful battle against life-threatening illness justify retiring Koivu's jersey, but the combination makes for an argument as powerful as it is improbable.  He's the second longest-serving captain in team history after Jean Beliveau.  That alone is testament to Koivu's place in the Canadiens pantheon, even before you factor in goals, assists and disease.  Summarily dismissing the notion of honouring him because of his record as a player is not without statistical merit, but it pays short shrift to someone who was dependable, productive and a stabilizing leadership presence in the locker room during an extended period of mismanagement by the front office. managing editor Arpon Basu needed fewer than 140 characters to accurately express what Koivu represented even without taking his illness into account.

   Koivu is not just a hockey player who got cancer and beat it.  He was already a franchise fixture and fan favourite when he was diagnosed.  His strength and courage during his health struggles and the commitment to community born of that battle provided moments of emotion and drama unprecedented in the history of a franchise already awash in legend and lore.  No Stanley Cup championship celebration was as powerfully uplifting as Koivu's first public appearance at the Bell Center after his diagnosis, or his return to the lineup after his recovery.  No one - not Beliveau, not the Rocket, not the Flower - has represented the Canadiens on and off the ice with more honour and dignity.  No one.
   When most former Canadiens players return to Montreal in another uniform, they hear at least a smattering of boos.  The unanimous and unequivocal admiration and respect the Bell Center crowd showed for Saku Koivu last night is reserved for players whose legacies transcend petty competition because of what they meant to the CH - the Lafleurs, Robinsons, Savards and Roys.
   Their jerseys hang from the rafters.  When the time comes, so should his.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Price books early and often for Sochi

Even without knowing the subtleties of goaltending technique, it's abundantly clear that Carey Price is playing with much greater efficiency early this season than he did for most of last year.  To my eye, one difference is that if he's not actually going into butterfly mode less often, he's at least spending less time on his knees before popping back up into a more tenable position.  What's certain is that his body language bespeaks the confidence of someone who's finally found his comfort zone.  And while it's far too soon to start talking about a Vezina Trophy, it's not premature to tout Price as the early favorite to start for Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics.

People who think Don Cherry is a buffoon have every right to that opinion, even if it is out of step with the greatest player in hockey history.  Bobby Orr's new autobiography devotes an entire chapter to Cherry, whom the legendary defenceman says belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  That's not an empty platitude from a Don Cherry crony.  It's a ringing endorsement from a universally respected icon whose hockey credentials dwarf the combined credibility of all of Cherry's media critics.

Outside of doctors and immediate family members, it's no one's place to tell Anthony Calvillo whether to give up football, but neither is there a good reason for anyone to urge Calvillo to return to the Alouettes next season.  He's a proud man, but having overcome more personal adversity in the past several years than most people face in a lifetime, Calvillo is also humble enough to recognize and accept circumstances beyond his control.  If this is the end, it might not be the end Calvillo was hoping for, but it doesn't make him any less of a champion.

Apropos of nothing in particular and because the commercial keeps playing during the sports highlight shows, if you ever see me wearing a pair of Zoomies, wrap me in my Snuggie and transport me to the nearest in-patient psychiatric facility, posthaste.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gibson schmibson

Sorry to crash the Kirk Gibson 25th anniversary love-in, but I wouldn't be true to myself as a baseball fan if I didn't address the longstanding illusion that Gibson authored one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history on October 15th, 1988.

Not that it was without drama.  Gibson was nursing hamstring and knee injuries when he hit a pinch hit, two run homer off Dennis Eckersley to give the Dodgers a 5-4 win over Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener.  That's Game 1 of an otherwise forgettable Fall "Classic" that the Dodgers would take in 5.   Thanks to the game's willing media mythmakers, baseball lore practically preaches that Gibson won the Series with that one swing of the bat while playing with two broken legs, multiple gunshots wounds and advanced leprosy. 

Never mind one of the sport's most dramatic moments - it wasn't even one of the 15 greatest home runs in baseball history.  That list, in no particular order, includes:

Bill Mazeroski's World Series-winning walkoff HR . October 13, 1960.
Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world".  October 3, 1951.
Carlton Fisk waves it fair.  October 21st, 1975.
Bernie Carbo setting the stage for Fisk's heroics. October 21, 1975
Joe Carter "touch 'em all." October 23, 1993.
David Freese Game 6 walkoff . October 28, 2011
Dave Henderson 9th inning stunner. 1986 ALCS. October 12, 1986
Kirby Puckett Game 6 walkoff.  October 26, 1991
Blue Monday. October 19, 1981
Bucky Fucking Dent. October 21, 1978.
Chris Chambliss walkoff wins ALCS. October 14, 1976.
Aaron Boone walkoff wins ALCS. October 16, 2003
Mickey Mantle puts the Yankees ahead in Game 7 WS. October 7, 1952
Henry Aaron career HR 715.  April 8, 1974
Roger Maris 61 in '61. October 1, 1961

I respectfully submit that each and every one of the home runs listed above had a greater impact on events at the time or more historical significance than Gibson's Game 1 clout in 1988.  What they didn't have was a "crippled" hero and a Hollywood backdrop.

I'm not here to denigrate Gibson or the highlight of his career.  It was truly historic.  But in the annals of the grand old game, greater achievements and more dramatic moments have been afforded far less attention.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Therrien pushing all the right buttons

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien takes a lot of fan and media grief - some of it good-natured, some more visceral - for his forward lines and defence pairings and how he distributes ice time.  While some of his past tendencies have been puzzling, Therrien's personnel changes in the wake of a 3-2 loss to Calgary last Wednesday provided the Habs with a spark in every phase of the game.  Splitting up the team's best line seemed dubious at the time, but putting Tomas Plekanec between Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher got Plekanec out of his early season funk, and moving Lars Eller with Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere roused Pacioretty (though not Briere) from his slumber.  On the blue line, pairing Andrei Markov with PK Subban has reinvigorated Markov, who looks less like the leadfooted liability of last season and more like the former All Star of previous years.  Saving Carey Price for a Vancouver homecoming and giving Peter Budaj the start in goal in Edmonton was a no-brainer, but Therrien still deserves a nod for not out-thinking himself.  It's only October and slumps and injuries will necessitate more adjustments on the fly as the season progresses, but for one week, at least, Therrien made all the right moves.

It was great to be behind the mic again as host of the Merson Drive/Week in Review on Montreal Hockey Talk.  Don Scary seemed to enjoy being freed from the shackles of mainstream corporate radio, and I even got to use my favorite John Malkovich clip from "Burn After Reading" in the show intro.

Nice to see Opie from Sons of Anarchy get some at bats for the Red Sox in the ALCS.  Not bad for a guy who was beaten to death in prison last season.

With the New York Giants suffering from stage 4 incompetence, I need to find a secondary team to cheer for to keep my NFL interest alive.  My son, Sam, developed an affinity for the Chiefs a couple of seasons ago and his loyalty has been rewarded with a 6-0 start. but I'm loathe to be a bandwagon jumper.  I've always had a soft spot for long-suffering also-rans, so I've got it narrowed down to the Cardinals, Lions and Browns, which is a bit like deciding whether to take my own life by clorox poisoning, self-immolation or giving Mom Boucher a wedgie in the exercise yard at Ste-Anne-des-Plaines

Rob Ryan is what Jesus would have looked like if he were middle-aged, overweight and out of miracles.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where were you, Dad?

At this point, I have more questions than I have sympathy for Adrian Peterson, whose two year old son died after allegedly being beaten by the boyfriend of the child's mother.

What was the nature of the relationship between Peterson and the mother?
How long has Peterson known he had a two year old son in another city?
What moral and financial commitments did he make when he found out the child was his?
Was Peterson aware that his son was living under the same roof as a man who has a documented history of physically abusing women and children, and if not, why not?

Early indications are that Peterson only recently discovered that the boy was his son, and some of his comments since the toddler's death suggest there was little or no emotional bond between the two.  No loving, doting father I've ever met would show up for work two days after his son was allegedly beaten into a coma, and pronounce himself "ready to roll" for a football game.  Neither his words nor his demeanor spoke of a father in deep distress or mourning.

Peterson is not the criminally guilty party in this case, but as the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly apparent that he was resting on the rich athlete's sense of entitlement to being a non-custodial sperm donor and/or ATM machine.  That's not child abandonment according to criminal law, but it is an abdication of a father's moral responsibility. 

An absentee father cannot protect his son, and Adrian Peterson's son clearly needed protection. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Joe Thornton's cock

There was a time - perhaps as recently as five years ago - when I would have fallen off my chair after reading Joe Thornton's quote on how he would celebrate were he to ever duplicate San Jose teammate Tomas Hertl's four goal game.  It wouldn't have surprised me that Thornton said it.  The shock would have been that something of that nature was actually reported.

There's long been an unspoken understanding between athletes and sports journalists about what is and isn't on the record.  Historically, profane dressing room banter from a player who's not the one being scrummed by a group of reporters would never see the light of day in a mainstream media publication or broadcast.  But the lines between traditional and "new" media are becoming increasingly blurred, as newspaper writers and sports broadcasters jostle for press box and clubhouse elbow room with officially accredited internet content providers.  The comparative absence of regulation allows internet media to go places traditional media won't or can't go, and when social media picks up the scent, a relatively innocuous quote or incident quickly goes viral and becomes a cause celebre.

Ironically, it was a traditional media journalist who first put the Thornton quote out there, although Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province reported it on his blog, lest Uncle Basil or Aunt Effie suffer a coronary reading about Joe Thornton's masturbatory ambitions in the morning paper.  Botchford later defended himself on Twitter, saying Thornton made the comment to a group of 20 reporters, so if he (Botchford ) didn't report it, he'd be called onto the carpet by his editor. 

Few of Botchford's peers have waded into the debate on an ethical level, although one of the deans of Canadian sports journalism, Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun and National Post, says a line was crossed.  That might have been true a few years ago and there's nothing wrong with old school journalistic ethics, but in the Internet age, they no longer apply.  Botchford recognized that and made a judgement call, and by 21st century media standards, he got it right.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Was ist los mit der Olympic jerseys?

I already knew we were a nation of self-proclaimed hockey gurus. I had no idea that our collective armchair expertise extended to hockey haute couture. 
 The considerable distress that greeted leaked photos of Team Canada's Olympic hockey jerseys a few weeks ago and was echoed when the design was officially unveiled today is at once puzzling and predictable. It's no surprise that any element of something as crucial to the Canadian identity as Olympic hockey should be fodder for national debate, but the criticism of the 2014 jersey design almost seems gratuitous. If the designers had invoked tired stereotypes with a logo of a moose in a Mountie hat or pandered to political correctness by incorporating a multicultural melange of Mandarin collars, harem pants and turban-shaped helmets, that would be legitimate fodder for debate. But an understated red and white pattern with a simple maple leaf logo is strongly representative of the way Canadians traditionally like to see themselves: quietly proud and confident without the arrogance that comes with excessive jingoism.  If less is more, the main Canadian Olympic jersey design is a fashion metaphor for infinity. 
As for the black-with-red-stripes third jerseys, they're a bit over the top, but I'm not comfortable with comparisons to SS uniforms - at least not until Himmler, Heydrich or Sepp Dietrich make the team. Then we'll talk.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Eller is the real deal (and other Monday musings on a Sunday night)

It's disappointing when people who know better downplay Lars Eller's terrific start for the Canadiens because it doesn't suit their personal agenda.  That Eller has been the Canadiens best forward to open the season shouldn't be eye-opening to anyone who's been paying attention for the past three years.  His development as an NHL player has been solid and consistent, and taking it to the next level this season is part of a natural progression.  Eller's skating ability and willingness to go to the dirty areas were never in question, and with added muscle on his 6 foot, 2 inch frame and the confidence and poise born of experience, Eller will be a pillar of strength down the middle for the Canadiens for years to come.  Pretending otherwise because you didn't like the Jaroslav Halak trade at the time is disingenuous, self-serving and lacking in credibility...I've been watching hockey for the better part of 50 years, and only this week did I learn than there's a "code" that forbids NHL coaches from chirping opposing players.  What a crock of shit.  This isn't peewee.  If Colorado coach Patrick Roy objects to his star rookie getting run in a 6-1 game, good for him for giving the other bench an earful - even if he did come unhinged, but that only added to the entertainment value.  Besides, he's Patrick Fucking Roy.  He doesn't have to abide by a code dictated by guys who couldn't carry his lunch when it comes to championship credentials.  Carry on, Patrick...The ability to single-handedly control the universe can be an awesome burden, as I learned this weekend when I recklessly used my Twitter account to jinx Carey Price's shutout, Justin Verander's perfect game and Tony Romo's valiant but ultimately ill-fated showdown with Peyton Manning.  The Twitter backlash from the high priests of irrational folklore was sufficient to remind me that with great power comes great responsibility.  Henceforth, I'll confine the use of my mystical powers to more trivial and inconsequential endeavors, like sowing mutual mistrust between nations and manipulating the global economy...I was supposed to be at yesterday's Eagles-Giants game with my son, but we had to cancel the trip and sell our tickets after I lost my job last month.  If the benevolence of my former employers in arranging to spare us the embarrassment and humiliation of watching our favorite football team fall to 0-5 isn't shining testimony to the corporate culture's limitless compassion for the working man, I don't know what is.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Canadiens poised for...what?

The official mantra for the 2012-13 Montreal Canadiens, as per freshly re-minted head coach Michel Therrien, was "no excuses".  An even more significant philosophical commitment that didn't make it onto the dressing room wall was the braintrust's stated aim of being a harder team to play against.  While the jump from 15th to 2nd place in the NHL Eastern Conference suggests they achieved that goal, come the playoffs, Therrien's charges were easy pickings for the Ottawa Senators.  Mind you, by the time the Sens were done manhandling the Habs in 5, Lars Eller, Carey Price, Brian Gionta and Alexei Emelin were gone with season-ending injuries, Max Pacioretty was reportedly playing through a separated shoulder and Brandon Prust was being held together with baling wire.  But hey, no excuses.

Fast forward to the precipice of the 2013-14 season, and general manager Marc Bergevin has addressed the team's most glaring needs - even if not to the complete satisfaction of a rabid fan base and an unforgiving local media.  Among off-season acquisitions, veteran enforcer George Parros and hulking defenceman Douglas Murray make the Canadiens bigger, tougher and smarter (both players are Ivy League graduates), but they're both 33 and not exactly fleet afoot or given to wizardry with the puck.  In the short term, however, they represent much-needed size and toughness and give Prust a break from having to fight most of the team's battles.

Seven seasons after spurning Montreal in favor of Philadelphia, Daniel Briere is finally in the fold - better late than never, at least through the myopic lens of the hopelessly politicized French hockey press.  Bergevin is betting that Briere still has a couple of decent seasons left in him, even if he perpetuates the team's well-earned reputation for relying too heavily on undersized players.  With Briere, Gionta, David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher and Francis Bouillon on board, the Habs only need Sneezy and Doc and they'll have the full set.

Briere, Parros and Murray should make the Canadiens better, but their's are only supporting roles in a cast headlined by a core of players who were still cutting their teeth in minor or junior hockey when the three newcomers broke into the NHL.  Price, Eller, P.K. Subban Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk are the main building blocks for the future, and there's no reason they shouldn't all lift their game to another level - yes, even Subban, whose potential upside is that much more remarkable when you consider he won the Norris Trophy in just his third full season.  The one player is that group who's past the point of expectation and needs to deliver on demand is Price, who actually regressed last season.  It's enough already.  He's been in the league for six seasons, he's got the big money, long-term contract, and the fact that there's an ongoing debate over whether he's an elite goaltender is proof enough to me that he isn't - yet.  If he's the goalie his supporters insist he is, anything less than Vezina-calibre consistency is unacceptable.  Not when he's 28.  Not when he's 30.  NOW.

I see the Canadiens finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the new Atlantic Division.  On paper, I actually have the Bruins, Senators and Leafs all ahead of the Habs.  That's giving myself plenty of room for error, but pre-season predictions are a mug's game at the best of times because so much depends on injuries and other intangibes - like whether Carey Price is finally going to put it all together. 


On another note, thanks to everyone who reached out after I got the bum's rush from TSN 690.  I've received at least as much moral support from regular listeners as I did when I left CHOM - and CHOM has significantly higher ratings than TSN.  As I said on Listener Appreciation Night at Hurley's, I've never worked at a radio station with listeners as loyal as the TSN 690 audience, and I thank you for that.  The next chapter awaits.  Details to come.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Marsh belongs (and other Monday musings)

There are bound to be growing pains for Tanner Marsh, and the Alouettes rookie quarterback learned some hard lessons in yesterday's loss to Toronto at Molson Stadium.  Three interceptions - including a pick-six - were instrumental in the outcome, but there was more to it than Marsh's mistakes, and he's the one who engineered a last minute drive that almost produced the tying touchdown.  Experience is a great teacher but emotional resiliency and the will to win can't be taught, and those are assets that Marsh has in spades...Historically, the difference between Eli Manning and Tony Romo has been Manning's ability to find ways to win and Romo's uncanny knack for stumbling onto ever more creative ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.   Those traditional roles were reversed last night in Dallas, where Manning was responsible for half the Giants six turnovers but still had his team in a position to rally before his third interception of the night was returned for a fourth quarter touchdown.  In that sense, Manning had the same sort of day as Tanner Marsh, but for the 10 year veteran to cough up it in the clutch is inexcusable...I thought San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was blowing smoke last week when he accused Green Bay's Clay Matthews of intimidation and targeting, but Matthews' out of bounds hit on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was as cheap as it gets and unworthy of a player of Matthews' stature...If there was any doubt the NFL hasn't gone pass happy, consider this: there were only two hundred yard rushers in the first 13 games of Week 1, and one of them is a quarterback...So, former Vikings receiver turned Fox football commentator Randy Moss thinks it's disrespectful that Minnesota rookie Cordarelle Patterson is wearing Moss's old jersey number because Patterson hasn't accomplished anything in the NFL - kind of like the way seasoned, professional broadcasters might resent a high-paying network job going to an unproven former football player.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My hateful, insensitive blog post about mascots

The quest for athletic dignity suffered a crushing setback recently when Pachi the Porcupine was unveiled as the official mascot for the 2015 Pan American and Parapan Am Games in Toronto.  Among the animal kingdom's representatives of grace, power and majesty, the porcupine ranks right up there with the sloth and the blowfish.  About the only positive I can find in Pachi is that he at least breaks the predictable Canadian mascot mold of a beaver with a hockey stick or a moose in a Mountie hat.

The entire mascot concept has run its course and then some.  When London, Ontario native Ted Giannoulous debuted as the San Diego Chicken in the mid-1970s, he not only pioneered a new entertainment genre, he embraced the role as a professional, and turned the Chicken into brand before "brand" became an overused word in the business lexicon.  Giannoulous put thought and preparation into his public appearances and was actually entertaining, as opposed to the legions of oversized pretenders who careen around ballparks and arenas like escaped mental patients, with no apparent rhyme or reason to their so-called antics.  I reluctantly include Youppi in that group, if only because he's never been the same since the Expos left town, and you can almost see the sadness and confusion in his googly eyes as he wanders aimlessly around the Bell Center. 

If Pachi the Porcupine brings some redeeming entertainment value to the Pan Am Games, I will stand corrected.  In the meantime, having a mascot for its own sake serves no purpose, beyond scaring small children and blocking your view of the game.   

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Twitter wars - the debrief

Aside from being emotionally draining and costing me precious nap time, yesterday's Twitter backlash against my blog on Sochi and gay rights was a fascinating exercise in social media, political correctness and the mindset of  "journalists" in 2013.

The internet in general and Twitter in particular represent the best and the worst of everything. It's at once an invaluable tool for information gathering and instant communication, and a cesspool of hyper-aggressive and all-too-often anonymous trolls whose dialogue is void of the common courtesy supposedly mature adults extend to one another when they have to look each other in the eye. My only regret yesterday was that I allowed myself to be sucked into that pigsty of online puerility. I should have held myself to a higher standard of behavior, both personally and professionally.

When I wrote the blog, I knew there would be a backlash, but that was part of my point. Gay rights is a polarizing issue. What's unnerving is that one side in the debate has decreed that the only opinion anyone has a right to is THEIR opinion, and anyone who doesn't share it unconditionally is shouted down as a bigot and a homophobe. I defy anyone to explain how honest moral misgivings - faith-based or otherwise - automatically translate into fear, hatred and bigotry. That's exactly the kind of sweeping generalization the moral high ground crowd claims to abhor. The great irony is that the same people who preach tolerance are stridently intolerant of dissenting opinion.

Which brings us to the emerging breed of "journalist". Of the dozen or so people who called me out on Twitter yesterday(and who knew a dozen people could create such a din?), all but a couple described themselves as journalists, and most of them are in the early stages of their media careers. Two have fulltime jobs as Montreal Gazette reporters, and they were the only two who engaged me with courtesy and respect. The rest are self-styled social crusaders who do real reporters a disservice by misrepresenting themselves as journalists. Anyone who approaches a current events issue with pre-conceived notions and a fixed social agenda has checked their objectivity at the door and by definition is not a journalist.  It was also telling that they attempted to discredit me by denigrating my day job as a sports talk show host, as if that makes me unqualified to have an opinion on anything other than where the Habs are going to finish this season.  The presumption that they're the only ones intelligent and informed enough to comment on issues that "really matter" speaks volumes about a pomposity born of insecurity, and reaffirms that the only people they're talking to is each other - hardly the skill set required in an industry where success and relevance hinge on connecting with a broader audience.

It's a different media world than the one I came into 35 years ago. I've tried my best to keep up with the changes. One thing that never changes is the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts. Put a band-aid on it.


I'd also like to thank everyone who stepped up for me - publicly and privately - and especially those who said that they didn't agree with my blog but were unsettled by the smug sanctimoniousness of some of my detractors.  Interestingly, most of the support tweets and e-mails came in after 5pm - when people got home from their jobs.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gay rights in Sochi: good intentions meet a bad idea

It wouldn't be the Olympics without a cause celebre, and the mouvement du jour ahead of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi is gay rights.
LGBT groups are clamoring for an Olympic boycott because of Russia's official ban against what the state defines as homosexual propaganda, including gay pride events and public demonstrations of affection between same sex couples. On the scale of human rights abuses, it doesn't compare to Chinese-occupied Tibet, yet the 2008 Beijing Games were boycott-free, in part because of the lessons learned from 1980, when the western boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow had no discernible effect on the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and only served to provoke Eastern Bloc countries to snub the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
Beyond the futility of a boycott, there's this: gay rights have evolved into a political issue in North America, but in many parts of the world it's still a moral issue, and it's no one's place to impose their moral standards on someone else's culture. Russia's anti-gay legislation is repressive by North American standards, but the law has support across the political spectrum in Russia - and it's the law, enacted by members of a supposedly democratically-elected parliament.
Russia will evolve at its own pace. It always has, and always will. In the meantime, calls to boycott all things Russian from vodka to nesting dolls to Olympic Games because Bill can't hold Bob's hand at the Olympic Village in Sochi are as dubious as they are impractical.

Monday, July 15, 2013

We're doomed. Doomed, I tell you(and other Monday musings)

If baby steps count for anything, the Alouettes offence is at least inching in the right direction, based on Friday's loss to Calgary at Molson Stadium. Limited efficiency is an improvement over gross incompetence, even if it's only a marginal improvement. The good news is that defence and special teams, which were last season's problem children, are pulling their weight so far in 2013, so if the offence can get itself sorted out, the Als should be a contender. The challenge lies in sorting it out before they fall too far off the playoff pace, which sooner than later will require a greater length of stride than baby steps...Not quite sure what to make of Impact owner Joey Saputo calling out his team on Twitter after Saturday's 4-nil loss in New York. It resonated with the fans, who were overwhelmingly in Saputo's corner, but it remains to be seen whether the players appreciated their employer putting them on notice on social media...Watching the crowd in San Diego stand and cheer San Francisco pitcher Tim Lincecum during the 9th inning of his no-hitter against the Padres got me to wondering: is there any other circumstance in sport besides the no-hitter or perfect game bid where fans so readily reverse loyalties and support the visiting team? If there is, I can't think of it...A week after America saluted professional glutton Joey Chestnut for eating 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes, a guy named Zack Hample is basking in national acclaim for setting a world record by catching a baseball dropped 1200 feet from a helicopter. On their own and at face value, hot dog eating contests and helicopter baseball seem innocuous enough, but when they're celebrated as major societal accomplishments, it's bleakly symptomatic of the increasingly imminent collapse of western civilization.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Nice poocutter, Grampa

Seventy-seven year old Gary Player is naked in the new issue of ESPN The Magazine, and I blame the internet.
A generation ago, Playboy tried and largely failed to pass itself off as art. Nudity and pornography were widely considered to be one and the same, but that perception has changed dramatically with the proliferation of hardcore porn on the world wide web. When virtually every sexual proclivity, no matter how bizarre, is instantly accessible to anyone with a credit card and a password, a picture of a naked woman or man with their arms or legs strategically crossed becomes a lot less objectionable but no less provocative. ESPN, to its credit, has recognized that change in the social landscape and exploited it with an annual magazine issue called the Body, featuring photo layouts of well-known athletes in various stages of undress. It's actually not a whole lot different from what Playboy used to be for several decades, but in the modern day context, it's much easier to pass off as artistic and tasteful.
Except for Gary Player. Good for him that he's in great shape at 77, but have some dignity, Grandad, and put your pants on.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Welcome to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Geraldine, Heaney

If you had asked me before 3pm yesterday who Geraldine Heaney is, I would have guessed a character in a Flip Wilson skit, the actress who played Esther in Sanford and Son or the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland. I now know that Geraldine Heaney is an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, which strikes me as enormously ironic, considering her notoriety doesn't extend much beyond her family, friends and closest associates.
This is not an anti-Geraldine Heaney diatribe or an exercise in misogyny, but it needs to be said: the induction of Heaney and of Cammie Granato and Angela James before her while infinitely more deserving candidates are rebuffed time and again is a stain on the Hockey Hall of Fame's reputation. Putting expediency ahead of integrity through a transparent sop to political correctness detracts from the Hall's credibility, which has already suffered from an open door policy that caters to too many borderline candidates. That hockey icons and household names like Paul Henderson, Pat Burns and Eric Lindros are turned away while obscure players from a still-marginal segment of the sport are embraced as honoured members of the Hockey Hall of Fame is an injustice. Worse than that, it's not even a heartfelt gesture as much as it's a paternalistic pat on the head from an old boys network that mistakenly believes that patronizing women contributes to gender equality.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mickelson, muttonchops and other Monday morning musings

If I could have picked my own Father's Day gift, it would have been a barf bag for dealing with the television commentary at the US Open. Zero gravity astronaut training couldn't possibly be any more vomit-inducing than listening to overwrought golf announcers lament "another crushing second place finish" for Phil Mickelson and heap sappy praise on Mickelson for being "gracious in heartbreak and defeat". I can appreciate that Mickelson was disappointed, but treating privileged sportsmen like characters in a Greek tragedy doesn't resonate much beyond the country club gates...Let the festival of second-guessing begin after P.K. Subban won the Norris Trophy in the first season of a two year bridge contract. The I-told-you-so crowd is reveling in the smug assumption that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin now regrets not signing Subban to a long term deal when he could have had him on the relative cheap, but Bergevin's reckoning made sense at the time and it's still the right call. Subban will only be a restricted free agent when his existing contract expires, giving the Canadiens the option of matching other offers or being compensated handsomely with high round draft picks. It also remains to be seen how the free-spirited Subban manages the enhanced accolades, distractions and expectations that come with a Norris Trophy this early in his professional and personal development. Time is still on Bergevin's side, and using it to his advantage is smart business...To my eye, 41 year old Jaromir Jagr was the best player on the ice in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, and if not the best player, certainly the best player who looks like a Civil War general, as first noted by TSN 690's Conor McKenna...So, Lindsey Vonn resents being pigeonholed as Tiger Woods' girlfriend because she's got a life and career of her own. Since when does someone who publicly hitches their wagon to a confessed serial adulterer care what anybody else thinks?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On soccer and turbans: stand by for the humiliation card

The Canadian Soccer Association's decision to suspend Quebec for rebuffing a directive to lift a ban on turbans in youth soccer is an overdue shot across the bow of intolerance and xenophobia, and you don't need a degree in political science to recognize where it's going to go from here.
This is perfect fodder for the very people it's meant to expose. Hardcore nationalists, including the PQ government, will spin it as an attack on Quebec's identity at a time when the government is trying to push through discriminatory legislation under the guise of something called "reasonable accomodation." That Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenny and Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau have both praised the CSA for taking a hardline will feed the nationalist fallacy of Quebec-bashing and humiliation, but every fair-minded Quebecer knows that dog don't hunt no more, and when the pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth subsides, the difference between right and wrong over excluding children for no good reason other than that they're different will remain abundantly obvious.
In the meantime, how delightfully and deliciously ironic that the Quebec Soccer Federation has been told if it doesn't want to conform, it can go play in its own backyard.

Monday, June 10, 2013

F1 spotlight puts the shine back on Montreal(and other Monday morning musings)

At a time when it's all too easy to get down on Montreal for becoming a corrupt and decaying monument to narrow-minded provincialism, it's gratifying to hear and see the praise still heaped the city by the Formula One entourage, even if they only see it through the prism of thousand dollar champagne bottles for three days out of the year. Perception is everything, and if the perception among the well-heeled and widely-travelled F1 glitterati is that Montreal is a desirable and worthwhile destination, then we're still relevant on the international stage, which brings us to this: the relative pittance that the various levels of government are being asked to contribute to extend the race contract beyond next year will do infinitely more to enhance the city than any number of rigged paving contracts, language inspectors or vote-buying federal grants with no tangible social or economic benefits...They live a charmed life, but no one knows better than Formula 1 drivers that life can be fleeting, and no one is more appreciative of the risks assumed by trackside workers who volunteer their time for the sport they love. Former world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were among the drivers who went beyond lip service in expressing condolences on social media yesterday after a track worker suffered fatal injuries when he was run over by a crane. Said Alonso, "Today, there is nothing to celebrate"...Watching the French Open tennis finals, I couldn't help but wonder whether Fred Perry grunted like a rutting warthog or Helen Wills Moody shrieked like a howler monkey in heat when they were dominating the sport. Whatever tennis has gained in competition and athleticism in the modern era has been lost in dignity and decorum...Judging from the surge in Twitter props for oft-pilloried Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play announcer Bob Cole during Saturday's double overtime in Chicago, Don Cherry might only be the second most polarizing figure on sports television. Whether the subject is Cole or Cherry, how one viewer's inarticulate blowhard can be another's indispensable legend is a uniquely Canadian dichotomy rivalled only by the country's internal struggle over whether Justin Bieber is a source of national pride or embarrassment...And I think I've finally figured out the right comparable for Los Angeles Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig: he's Roberto Clemente in Bo Jackson's body.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Good for you, Sydney Leroux

That Sunday's Canada-US women's soccer friendly in Toronto was marred by cheap jingoism is beyond dispute. The debate lies in whether the culprit was Canadian-born American striker Sydney Leroux or the significant portion of the partisan crowd who booed Leroux throughout the match and taunted her with chants of "Judas". Passions were further inflamed when Leroux drew a yellow card for flaunting her US jersey crest and sarcastically shushing the crowd after scoring the third goal in a 3-nil win for the Americans.
Under the circumstances, I applaud her reserve. An even more demonstrative reaction on her part would have been entirely understandable. Even before she revealed post-match that she was subjected to racial taunts in her hometown of Vancouver last year, Leroux was the sympathetic figure in this scenario. A dual citizen deciding to represent one country over another is not treason or betrayal. It's a legitimate choice, and judging by the cretinous behavior of Canadian soccer fans, Sydney Leroux chose wisely.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Messier skepticism ill-founded

If it wasn't so maddening, it would be amusing to read, watch and listen to lesser mortals than Mark Messier summarily dismiss Messier as a credible candidate to coach the New York Rangers. We're not talking about brain surgery or splitting the atom here. We're not even talking about repairing a refrigerator, which also requires a degree of professional training. Coaching a hockey team is about leadership above all else, and there's no greater leader in the game's history than Mark Messier. Insulated by capable, experienced assistants, he would be no worse an option than anyone else and a better choice than most...Well, that didn't take long. The ill-conceived coincidental minor penalty call that almost changed the course of the Stanley Cup playoffs is yesterday's news, as the NHL grapples with the aftermath of Matt Cooke face-planting Adam McQuaid into the boards in Game 1 of the Boston-Pittsburgh Eastern Conference final. This time, though, the NHL got it right. Cooke's 5 minute major and game misconduct are justifiable, and so is the league's decision not to suspend him. Call it blaming the victim if you want, but McQuaid saw Cooke coming, knew he was going to get run, and turned his back to the hit anyway. When you deliberately put yourself in harm's way, you're at least partly responsible for the consequences...The Quebec Soccer Federation has shown its true colors - or, more appropriately, true color - and that color is white. Quebec is the only province refusing to abide by a Canadian Soccer Association directive to lift a ban on turbans in youth soccer. The Quebec federation cites safety concerns but doesn't or can't explain how turbans are more dangerous here than they are on soccer fields in the rest of the country. But what do you expect in a province where fear-based ethnic discrimination is official state policy?...My son Charlie had a rugby jamboree yesterday in NDG. No banjo, no fiddle, no homemade alcohol in a moonshine jug and everybody had eyebrows and fingernails. Worst. Jamboree. Ever.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Crisis averted

The NHL didn't just dodge a bullet last night. It dodged an intercontinental ballistic missile with a thermonuclear warhead capable of blasting the league the rest of the way back to the Stone Age to which it apparently aspires.
The thickheadedness of the coincidental minor penalty call that negated Chicago's tie-breaking goal late in the third period cannot be overstated. It embodied everything that's wrong with NHL officiating in the playoffs, from the blatant inconsistency in the application of the rules to the ill-conceived obsession with equal opportunity penalty calls. Only in the NHL - and maybe on the pro wrestling circuit or in a corrupt Third World police state - can a guy get absolutely bushwhacked and be adjudged as guilty as the perpetrator.
The collective hot dog and coffee-scented sigh of relief from the NHL hierarchy after Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook's overtime goal could have knocked a buzzard off a manure wagon - the same wagon that would have dumped its load on the league's doorstep if Detroit had won the game in overtime. A Wings win would have embarrassed the NHL and its apologists into finally addressing the elephant in the room, but fate decreed that they can continue whistling through the graveyard, when they're not either swallowing their whistles or blowing them at entirely inappropriate times.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shuttle diplomacy with John Daly

Proving once again that the best stories are true stories that can't be made up, noted PGA train wreck John Daly has taken to Twitter to urge a truce between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia. While he's not on the short list to be appointed as a roving UN ambassador to any of the world's hotspots anytime soon, Daly's unlikely stab at diplomacy inspired the following list of sports figures in improbable second careers:

John Tortorella as a pre-school educator - how long would it take before Tortorella chastised a roomful of four year olds for being terrible drawers before making half of them healthy scratches for swim gym and telling their parents to kiss his ass? My guess is first day on the job.

Bob Cole as a librarian- aside from the irony of a guy who has trouble putting a coherent sentence together overseeing a book depository, Cole's baritone bellowing would routinely shatter the calm of one of society's few remaining tranquil retreats.

Ilya Bryzgalov as a Baptist preacher - they say God has a sense of humour, but even the Almighty would be taken aback by a pulpit-pounding pastor belting out "hallelujahs", "amens" and "can-I-get-a-witnesses" in a thick central Russian dialect.

Rick Ankiel as a gangster - if Ankiel's organized crime endeavors mirrored his baseball career, he'd start out as a promising hitman who suddenly and inexplicably loses his ability to kill people, but reinvents himself as an adequate getaway driver or money launderer.

Travis Moen as a neurosurgeon - you've seen his hands around the net. Imagine Moen trying to apply the deft touch required to carry out a successful ventricular endoscopy. If nothing else, he'd provide steady employment for the medical malpractice firm of Urbina, Schlichter and Strawberry.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Subban snub corrected(and other Monday musings)

Following an apparent three day bout with temporary insanity, Hockey Canada came to its senses today and added P.K. Subban to the Canadian roster at the World Hockey Championships in Sweden. Just two days ago, general manager Steve Yzerman said he was happy with the existing roster and had no plans to add any more players, which was perceived as a snub against Subban, and why wouldn't it be? What kind of general manager automatically rules out a Norris Trophy finalist who's on record as being ready to represent his country at a moment's notice? Better late than never that he relented on Subban, but Yzerman comes out of this looking disingenuous at best...So, Carey Price claims the public scrutiny that comes with being the goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens is so suffocating that he doesn't even go to the grocery store. Well, there's your problem right there: malnutrition...Meanwhile, Price says he still believes he has the ability to win a Stanley Cup, but that he has to take his game to the next level, which according to my calculations makes him a Carey Price hater...The Hockey Night in Canada studio crew's Toronto favoritism is understandable because the Leafs are their hometown team, but as national broadcasters they're duty-bound to consciously check their bias at the door. Burning Don Cherry's blue and white wig would be a good place to start....One of these days, Gregg Zaun is going to be swallowed whole by his suit, and Jamie Campbell isn't even going to notice.