The best thing about Toronto Blue Jay Edwin Encarnancion’s home run against the Miami Marlins on June 9th wasn’t the swing. It wasn’t the look. It wasn’t the trot. It wasn’t the celebration at home plate of the walk-off winIt wasn’t even the high five with BJ Birdie. It was the moment when this Sportsnet reporter got shrugged off.Oh, the desperation! The indignation!“Edwin?! Edwin, please!!”
Phil Kessel is to be admired for more than his stick work and scoring touch. He’s also good at saying it like it is, even in the face of harsh criticism. “I’m embarrassed for you (sports writers). It’s disgusting the way people treat (Dion Phaneuf).” The sports writers surrounded him, and he stared them down. “I’ve had it. I think this city is a great city. I love Toronto. I love playing here. but I’m just tired of it. I’m sick of it. I don’t think it should go on any more. I think it needs to stop.” The likelihood of Kessel’s advice being heeded is as good as as seeing snakes fly.
Or maybe it’s less likely than that.
Steve Buffrey of The Toronto Sun did his best to spin Kessel’s words: Dumping on the media makes for great copy and sound bites on sports radio. And don’t kid yourself, media types love it when players dump on the media.
The truth is, no matter how Buffrey and his cohorts try to smirk it off, these rumor-mongers are none too pleased. Cathal Kelly, of The Globe & Mail, tried to take the challenge head on: “Once (a player treats reporters with respect), you’ll never rip that guy in print. You’ll criticize, but the ripping days are over. He’s not just someone you cover any more. He’s someone you know.”
The irony here is that Kelly admits to ripping people, which is Kessel’s exact point. The job of a reporter is not to rip, but to report. (Stunning as that may be.) And the idea of Kessel of becoming invested in the personal lives of those looking to attack him just to make them write good stories about him is foul indeed.
Indeed this hubris of the sportswriter is pathetic because they have nothing to have hubris about. They lack skill, ability, insight, empathy, in fact any of the characteristics that make one human. All they seem to know how to do is stand in a clump and rip people – and maybe eat a donut at the same time. They give nothing back. Whereas, Mr. Kessel does give something back with his skill, talent and straight-forward demeanor. Phil Kessel is right. Sports writers are embarrassing. They should all be put on waivers just so they can see what they are actually worth for themselves: nothing at all.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have sunk into a terrible morass from which there seems to be little escape. The players are adrift, the coach at a loss, while the media metes out blame and the fans cry in dismay. Rather than plunge into some sort of Robespierre frenzy, I suggest the following:
Problem #5: Vitriolic Toronto Sports Media. The Toronto sports media, as eager to deify as they are to condemn, is comprised of knee-jerk simpletons who make as many bad judgements as they do unintelligible puns. These clown are stupid enough to seriously suggest that Kessel be traded – Are they nuts?!? Solution: Change the channel and watch highlights of the 1993 Playoffs instead.
4. Ineffective Coaching. Ron Wilson (2008-12) and Randy Carlyle (2012-15) provided no direction for the players, beyond yelling and making snide remarks. While Horachek struggles to implement a system, it appears that his time will also be limited behind the bench. Solution: Mike Babcock needs to be hired, and Brendan Shanahan is the man to do that.
3. Infantile Fan Base. Sports fans are not known for a generosity of spirit nor intelligent analysis. For a market like the Leafs, where hockey is religion, it is all the worse. The symbolic throwing of team jerseys is emblematic of these childish reactions. Solution: Encourage your neighbor to give his jersey to a kid and maybe yell at the Flyers/Canadiens/Bruins/Rangers instead.
2. Lack of Team Leadership. Being captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a heavy burden to bear. It is not as much a matter of talent as it is of a confident, under-stated personality such as Dave Keon, Wendel Clark and Mats Sundin all had. Dion Phaneuf is not like these men. As skilled as he might be, he talks too much, often out of turn. Solution: Trade Dion Phaneuf and appoint a new captain in the off-season. James Van Reimsdyk is a good option to consider.
1. Team Management in Disarray. The ownership is weighed down by a bureaucratic board of governors, focused on making too much money, burdened by a history of poor management practice. This problem is the trickiest of the lot. Hopefully these suits can be swayed by Brian Burke’s wisdom: “They’ll name a street after whoever brings the Stanley Cup to Toronto.” Solution: Remind the board that they hired Brendan Shanahan to be president, and to let him do just that.
As is readily apparent to anyone reading this blog, I am an avid fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a kid, I kept a scrapbook of every Leaf game. I remember exactly where I was when Wendel Clark was traded for Mats Sundin – looking down at a sad-looking plant on a small wooden table in a tiny Roman hotel. My mood shifts from win to loss and win. I look forward to absolutely every game and get anxious for the season to start over the summer months. However one thing I never miss in July – in fact abhor – is the way so many of the Leaf followers use the Leafs to vent and criticize. It’s one thing to have to listen to moronic sports reporters dribble and spew – after all they get paid to write stupid things – but entirely another to hear supposed supporters spout their vitriol.
As much as these people claim to be fans of their teams, the truth is they’re not. Their anger has nothing to do with support, but instead reflects their pathetic isolation and bitter self-reflection on lives ill-led. Nothing more.As frustrated as I might get with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I always support them, yes, through the six-game losing streaks, the disappointing seasons and the 47-year Stanley Cup drought. While I can be critical, the Leafs are my team. It’s not a complicated thing. Go Leafs Go. (And to you fickle fans, I say “Go away.”)
Not I: What? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing . . . dull roar . . . in the skull . . . and the beam . . . ferreting around . . . painless . . . so far . . . ha! . . so far . . . then thinking . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash Footfalls: Not enough, what can you possibly mean, May, not enough? May: I mean, Mother, that I must hear the feet, however faint they fall. Rockaby: So in the end/close of a long day/in the end went and sat/went back in and sat.
The public’s recent kangaroo court ruling on Ray Rice reminds me of one of the greatest scapegoats in memory: Ben Johnson. For years, Mr. Johnson was seen as Canada’s great hope in Track and Field. He was watched by millions as he trained for the 100 meter dash, sprinting, flexing and smiling day in and day out. He went on to set a world record in the event. Canada had the world’s fastest man.
He arrived at the 1988 Seoul Olympics with a country’s hopes on his back and won the gold medal – annihilating the competition, including hated rival Carl Lewis, and setting another world record. He was immediately coronated by the country, as much a Canadian sporting king as Paul Henderson or Terry Fox. And then…Mr. Johnson tested positive for steroids. Suddenly there was no medal, no record and no coronation. Mr. Johnson was transformed – in less than 9.8 seconds – into an immigrant Canada never should have allowed in. He was branded a traitor. In due course, the critical eyes turned to the doctors and coaches. However the spotlight lost focus when it came to the real problem, on why Mr. Johnson was on a mission to win at all costs. Whose idea was all that? The coaches? The Canadian Track and Field Association? The media? The public? As odd as it seems to me, even today, 25 years later, Mr. Johnson is considered with a collective shame. Even now. As guilty as Ben Johnson was, as guilty as Mr. Rice may be, the real crime committed here is not by these individuals, but by a society that craves blood, the crime of reveling in a public execution.
Click the image below to see him nail Tractor Rape Chain. True, he got so drunk that he not only told the audience to “Fuck off” more than several times and played I am a Scientist twice, but also fell down in a heap at the end. But I stick to my theory, based not only on his out-spoken, sardonic nature and belligerence, but Bob as an exhaustive, creative force. And he drinks a lot too.
Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers is an intimidating work not only from its physical weight (3 pounds of text) but more from the iconic burden of the man. Mark Twain, as he himself wrote, lived “in the midst of world history”, charging through an epoch of change, realizing many of his dreams, and yet suffering through as much misery. He captained steamboats at the outset of the American Civil War, mined for silver in Nevada during the Comstock Lode, and went on speaking tours world-wide, all the while developing the “American” voice in literature, a life famously beginning and ending as Haley’s Comet appeared in the sky. He was a witty, demanding man and deeply reflective, offering rebukes to governmental policies that would ring true even today. “I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” But most interesting of all, he had plans for many unrealized books, including a follow-up to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain wrote in his journal: Huck comes back, 60 years old, from nobody knows where & crazy. Thinks he is a boy again & scans every face for Tom and Becky.
Tom comes, at last, 60 from wandering the world & tends Huck & together they talk the old times; both are desolate, life has been a failure, all that was lovable, all that was beautiful is under the mould. They die together.
Sadly, Twain outlived much of his immediate family, surviving his wife and three of four children.
I admit that I went to Boston with an attitude. As a fan of Toronto Maple Leafs, I do not think kind thoughts of anything Bruin, and so donned my Leafs cap to represent the true blue and white. I didn’t have to wait long for a reaction. “You guys have been losers since 1967.” The guy stared at me deadpan at the bus station.
My comeback wasn’t a classic. “At least I don’t live in Boston.”
It was going to be a long weekend, but I was up to it, and went straight into a bar called The Tam to watch the Bruins-Canadiens game, now in overtime. I received a few glares and just one muttered comment – “I think this guy is messing up my karma” – but that was it. I almost felt bad when the Bruins lost the game.
The startling silence continued over the next day – perhaps because I was at a writer’s conference? It wasn’t until I arrived in Cambridge that things picked up again. A square-jawed, almost pleasant-looking man leaned out from an alley. “Leafs are the only Original Six team that didn’t make the playoffs. Did you know that?”
I wasn’t sure if he was right. It took me a couple of blocks to think it through and another few to think of my comeback. “Now I know I’m in fucking Harvard.”
I continued on to The Sinclair, preparing for the next attack.
“Love the hat, man.”
I wanted to detect a tone but couldn’t find one.
“Got to wear your colors,” said another. “I respect that.” It wasn’t until I ran into an old friend at the show that the antagonism returned. “I looked up, saw the Leafs hat, and thought what an asshole. I knew it must be you.”
The trial and execution of Donald Sterling has been swift and sure, leaving the talking heads crowing about doing the right thing. The problem is, just like Police Chief Bull Connor in the ’60s, Sterling is an easy target; it takes no effort to decry overt racists, the kind who mutter racist drivel or point fire houses at the innocent.
What would be interesting – perhaps even civilized – is if these same talking heads took aim at the insidious racism that permeates American society, the kind of racism that is shrugged off, such as the fact that while the majority of players are black (78%), the majority of coaches (53%) and general managers (60%) and vast majority of owners are white (96%). While many of these owners might be vaguely beneficent, none are looking to surrender ownership of the plantation any time soon.
This capitalistic wall is the very same issue that grounded Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 when he switched his sights from the blatant racism of the south to the economic racism of the north. It wasn’t a direction that the white politicians and business leaders took kindly too but was a problem quickly and violently solved.When the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies joined the NBA in 1995, the U.S. media was startled to learn that both organizations hired black men as managers – Stu Jackson (Vancouver) and Isiah Thomas (Toronto). This wasn’t much of a story in Canada because these guys knew basketball – one came from the NBA’s Head Office, the other from the championship Detroit Pistons – and that was all there was to it. However the story in the U.S. ran, sadly, like the Sterling story runs today: NBA Serves Justice. Too bad the same can’t be said everywhere else.