Friday, December 24, 2010

*The Great Canadian Hockey Monopoly

I love hockey. I revel in the Canadiana it represents. I love the in-depth coverage, I love the rabidness of the reportage we have here north of the border, and I love the extra lengths our sportscasters go to give it to us. I also hate it. I am a beard sporting, lumberjack jacket wearing, beer swilling Canadian stereotype, but I'm also a sports fan. I love football, baseball, basketball, MMA, and even footy (I love footy so much I actually call it footy), and for people like me there are not alot of options on the big three Canadian sports networks.

On a given night in the Canadian sports broadcasting landscape an average of 50% of the coverage we see involves NHL hockey. This leaves the other 50% to cover every other event under the sun, and most of these stories get grossly under reported. The popular argument for any network executive working at either TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, or The Score would be that they are simply giving the public what they want. This begs the question: at what point do they stop giving us what we want and start telling us what we want?

Example: The other night Dwight Howard put up 26 points and 23 rebounds against the Mavericks, one of the top 3 teams in the entire NBA. It was Howard's third straight game of 20+ rebounds. This amazing stat was not mentioned once in Sportsnet's recap of the game, they instead chose to take a "Hedo Turkoglu" narrative in their coverage. For the record Turkoglu put up an underwhelming 9 points in the loss to the Mavs, but because he is a half season removed from a messy breakup with the Toronto Raptors, the brilliant minds at Sportsnet chose to tell us what aspects of the game we were interested in. And here I thought objectivity was the golden rule in Sports broadcasting. (I won't even get into the droning, emotionless personalities that Sportsnet chooses to prop up in front of their telepromters day in and day out. That's another gripe for another day.)

TSN on the other hand is Canada's oldest, and most respected Sports network. They are also one of the most biased. Every day Sportscentre leads off with ten to fifteen minutes of NHL coverage, complete with post-game scrums from each game, and on-site reporters for each of Canada's franchises. TSN boasts an armada of hockey insiders and analysts, but have nobody who specializes in baseball. No NFL insider. No NBA segment. They outsource this coverage to their ESPN cohorts. Not a bad idea when you have no one on staff who knows anything about these sports, but if your slogan is "Canada's Sports Leader" shouldn't you have at least one person designated to cover each of these? At least The Score and Sportsnet each have some random British guy who talks about the EPL so we can at we can trust in his sophisticated accent, even if he is only covering one of the many top-end soccer leagues in the world. The last time I checked Canada's national sport was Lacrosse. I don't remember the last NLL game I saw covered on any of the big three networks, including "Canada's Sports Leader". 

They don't even cover "Hockey" per se, they cover the NHL, because the NHL are the ones who have the lucrative broacasting contract with TSN and Sportsnet. I don't see any OHL highlights on a daily basis, no WHL or QMJHL (although I do get extensive coverage of the World Junior Championship, because it is conveniently broadcast on TSN). There is no mention of the European elite leagues in Germany, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republc, or Switzerland etc. The Kontinental Hockey League is the next biggest hockey league in the world and I can honestly say I have never once seen a single KHL highlight on Canadian television. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the KHL doesn't seem to get along with the NHL? Wouldn't wanna burn that Bettman bridge I guess. Hell, they don't even cover NCAA hockey.

I know nothing about NCAA sports and I place the blame squarely on the major sports networks in my home country for indoctrinating this love of hockey that lives inside me, and the indifference to everything else that comes with it. I didn't know who Cam Newton was until he won the Heisman. I read it in a footnote of a newspaper. That's what the NCAA is in Canadian media: a footnote.  

The Score does a fantastic job of trying to bring the NCAA to the forefront of the Canadian media, but they have neither the resources nor the clout to make a big enough impact on the national sporting psyche. They are also responsible for being one of the first to offer comprehensive coverage of Mixed Martial Arts, and of European soccer, in particular Italian Serie A. They offer coverage of CIS football, something neither of the two heavyweight stations can say. Grassroots stimulation of the homegrown product. They even have the basics down: their ticker doesn't go anywhere during commercials. Little things like that actually do matter.

Despite all of these things, I've still got a deep passion for the sport of Hockey. I love it with all my being, and I embrace the Canadian stereotype that it makes me. What I would appreciate though is having the option to watch something else from time to time, and having that something get the same attention as Hockey. There is alot more to the sporting landscape than just puck, and maybe if we gave our kids the option to fall in love with something different, our other national teams might not suck so badly, so consistently, while our hockey team perennially spanks the planet. Just a thought.

Monday, December 20, 2010

*Michael Vick: Role Model

Over my first three blog entries I have not shied away from using the term "Douche" (make that 4, the streak is still alive!). There are many a douche in the world of sport. In a world laden with massive paychecks with egos to match, who can really blame these babied primadonna's for thinking their lives and opinions hold so much weight? There are womanizers (Ben Roethlisburger, Tiger Woods), gun toting gangsters (Gilbert Arenas, Plaxico Burress), drug abusers (Michael Irvin, Theo Fleury, 20 years of Major League Baseball) and even a few murderers (OJ Simpson, Rae Carruth) in the mix. Amid all of these horrid creatures one man seems to be standing tall as a beacon of hope and redemption:

Michael Vick.

Too soon? Fuck it.

After spending close to two years in a federal penitentiary for bankrolling and participating in an underground dog fighting ring, a pastime that saw Vick murder unfit dogs in a multitude of creative and disgusting ways, Michael Vick has torn down the road to redemption at an unprecedented pace. The mere mention of his name only a year or two ago meant all types of nasty reactions. There was a time when animal rights groups were lighting torches and tying lynch ropes in the wee hours of the morning to bring him to swift and decisive justice. 'This sick fuck must pay for his crimes against humanity!'. Now, in his second season since returning to the NFL, Michael Vick is the most popular player in the league. He currently holds a head and shoulders lead in pro-bowl fan voting. Even opposing players are approaching him on the field for autographs.

'What has the world come to?' one might think, but upon closer investigation we may actually discover that Vick has genuinely undergone a personal transformation. That, or he has one hell of a P.R. rep pulling the strings like some sort of diabolical puppet master. It's probably a bit of both, but either way it is a story that deserves all the attention it has received. Vick is saying and doing all the right things and is a poster boy for the 'everybody deserves a second chance' attitude that left-leaning North America fights for, and almost unanimously seems to resent any time it actually works out. How dare this heathen dog-killing bastard learn from his mistakes and become a better person for it?! The gall!

Vick's personal growth off the field has been mirrored by a comparable level of growth on it. He is currently enjoying a career season in which he has morphed from a one-dimensional running quarterback into one of the league's finest passers. Anyone arguing the contrary need only reference the fact that it took more than half a season before Vick threw a single interception. That's no random-sports-fact to sneeze at. His accolades are not only personal either, the Eagles are tops in the NFC East division, solidifying that position after a monumental comeback win against the Giants this past weekend. Wins and losses are the stat that truly measure a player's worth to his team, and Michael Vick has proven his worth with as much class and selflessness as the Mannings, Brees', and Bradys of the world. Michael Vick is the real deal.

Couple Vick's amazing on-field success with his (strategically well-publicized) charitable work and you have the recipe for a role model. Yeah, I said it. Micheal Vick is a role model, somebody we should emulate and aspire to be like (particularly Tiger, Big Ben, and other disgraced athletes of their ilk). Who would have ever thought we would see the day?

Vick's post-game thoughts after engineering an amazing fourth quarter comeback versus the Giants: "I have to thank God for the opportunity"...

WOW, AND he's a christian? Somebody get this guy a campaign manager; "MICHAEL VICK FOR PRESIDENT". At the pace his image has been changing I wouldn't rule it out. Vick currently has a higher approval rating than Barrack Obama anyways. The only thing that could possibly screw it up for him would be saying something stupid like "I'd love to own a dog". ...Wait, what? "It's an important part of my rehabilitation". Yeah, and an important part of Lindsay Lohan's rehabilitation comes with a mirror, a razorblade, and a late-night visit from a local rapper named "Sir Pack Slingington". I guess he really screwed the pooch on that one.

Too soon? Fuck it.

 I guess some things in the world of sports never change, even when other things do. No matter how good a guy Vick has become, he will always be a star athlete, which means he will always have this misguided idea that his shit doesn't stink. Slow it down, Mike. Don't push your luck.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

*Troubled Teams Trade Toronto's Trash

A proverbial stink arose this Saturday as the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic traded assholes in a swap of two of Toronto's most hated former Raptors. Orlando sent Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and a first-rounder to Phoenix for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. The Magic, sensing that Gortat would get little playing time behind the freakish, super-human Dwight Howard, initiated the move in the hopes of adding some mobility and outside shooting to their lineup by bringing in the two-time slam dunk champion Richardson, and a familiar face in Turkoglu. The Magic were also apparently unhappy with the douche quotient of their club, because on the same day they acquired the much-maligned Gilbert Arenas from the Washington Wizards for Rashard Lewis.

The unexpected mid-season house cleaning can only be perceived as an attempt to keep up with the Jones', or in this case The James'. On a more basic level, this was a move made out of sheer panic. The Magic's grip on the division has been slipping away over recent weeks as inconsistent play, coupled with the apparent jelling of the super-friends in Miami has seen the Heat take over as leaders. Get used to it, Orlando. 

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, The Orlando magic are no joke. any team with a ferocious animal such as Dwight Howard, who can go off for 20 rebounds on any given night, must be taken seriously. The fact of the matter is that the evil empire that is afoot in Miami will not be held at bay for long, but it does make the battle of Florida that much more interesting. Making the moves now signals to the fan base, and to the rest of the league, that Orlando is not ready to relinquish it's spot as genuine contenders, and that they will not be out-douched on the road to victory. The Magic now boast one player who skips games to go clubbing, and another who is willing to threaten his own team mates at gun point. And they call Lebron the villain...

On the flip side of the coin, Washington and Phoenix have to be seen as the winners in both of these deals. Off-loading an overpaid egomaniac such as Agent Zero (or Glock 9 as I now call him) is an epic win for the The Wizards franchise. They've shed a major P.R. and locker room burden and replaced it with a solid and reliable piece to move forward into a new era. Phoenix are also big time winners here. The Suns needed help in the paint, and have gotten just what the doctor ordered in the previously under-utilized Gortat, plus added a veteran (in age, not attitude) piece in Vince Carter. Both players should presumably flourish within a Steve Nash-run up-tempo offence, although neither player will replace J-Rich's athleticism. Add to this the fact they further bolstered their front court with a solid bench forward Mickael Pietrus and the future dividends to be paid through the acquisition of a first round pick, and the Suns have seemingly solved problems for both the short and long term.

Orlando have really jumped the gun in their attempts to match assholes with the Miami Heat. The team that wins a trade is the team that winds up with the better player, and on paper the Magic gave up the better players in both moves. What can't be told yet is the effect the move will have on Turkoglu, Richardson, and Arenas, as the change of scenery, and a winning atmosphere could see all of these players flourish. Personally, I think they've dramatically altered the chemistry of their team at a time when continuity should be shining through. Now instead of pulling together, they will be forced into a feeling-out period in which their new core grows adjusted to one another, right as their biggest division rival already has. 

Orlando Magic: EPIC FAIL? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

*Brett Favre is America

    If Brett Favre were born 15 years later he'd be the guy in the bar with the popped collar talking to an uninterested female about the new cold-air intake in his F-150 (stay with me, this is going to make sense). With the end of Favre's monolithic 297 consecutive games started streak we saw the culmination of what has truly become a circus of self-indulgence. It began with his first 'retirement' several seasons ago and has continued right up until this past weekend, when after sitting out and watching his team get trounced, he proceeded to spend an entire press conference talking about himself. This begs the question: at what point did Brett Favre stop caring about his team? Did he leave his heart in Green Bay? Or did he simply begin buying into his own legend? 

    Between his constant waffling over retirement, his cell-phone-penis-picture scandal, or his insistence on constantly trotting himself out to start games all season despite being in no condition to help his team win, Favre has, in my eyes, tarnished his cherished legacy. 

    This draws an obscure parallel; Brett Favre has become a living metaphor for the United States of America. Bear with me here...The United States began a war for all the wrong reasons, and marched into the Middle East several years ago with no definite plan for victory, but by god, they're American and they're going to kick ass. Why? Freedom, that's why. Their real motive? Oil and global economic control. 

Freedom = another shot at the Super Bowl. 
Oil = the padding of an already unattainably large record and the stroking of an apparently out of control ego.

    In both instances things did not turn out exactly as planned. When George Bush landed in a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier with "Highway to the Danger zone" playing in his helmet and proclaimed to the world "Mission Accomplished" it somewhat mirrored the emotion we were supposed to feel the first time Favre proclaimed he'd be back for one more season. In both instances the novelty wore off a little more every time they tried to sell us a polished turd, and the grimness of reality stunk that much worse.

    Granted, Favre did have arguably the best season of his career last year, despite coming up short in the conference championship, and the war on (and/or of) terror has not seen a comparable feel-good moment, but Favre's antics have become the epitome of American self-absorbency. "Hah', I'm Brett Favre, ah' wear Wrangler jeans, and I'm the greatest of awl tahme. Ah' been buryin' mah' team awl yur, but hoo-ie, mah record sure is sumthin', ain't it?". That quote is, for the record, less than verbatim, but he did answer questions in the post-game press conference with an aloof sense of self-accomplishment that was borderline laughable. Hey Brett! Guess what? Your team is basically eliminated from playoff contention, care to comment? I guess not, considering they may have had a much stronger record by this point had they not placed all their hope in a broken down 41 year old.

    Don't get me wrong. Brad Childress allowed this to happen with unprecedented malaise, and the Vikes have been battling the injury bug all season long, so the poor record is not entirely Favre's fault. My problem is the lack of accountability he has chosen to exhibit while playing in the one position in all of pro sports that demands the absolute highest level of it. I am not going to dispute that Brett Favre could quite possibly be the best of all time, but when you take a close look at the current state of affairs in Minnesota, he just seems like kind of a douche.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

*The business of bloodlust (and so it begins...)

The world of mixed martial arts is a sick and debaucherous spectacle. Bright lights, loud music, women in bathing suits paraded about, men in tights pounding each others faces into oblivion and twisting limbs into unnatural positions, all to the soundtrack of the drunken masses screaming uncontrollably for more. Montreal is a sophisticated market.

 Ironic however is the fact that a massive contingent of last night's crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal was from Ontario, and other neighboring  provinces (as exemplified at one point with a hearty chant of "Go Leafs Go" from within enemy territory). Trains, and buses flooding in from all over packed full of fight fans ready to let loose the primal instinct within all of us; The insatiable blood lust that conservative North America likes to deem as taboo. Waiters and hotel concierges begrudgingly unfazed by the aloof obnoxiousness of the glossy-eyed anglophones who had, for one weekend, invaded their city.

The UFC is like sex on steroids, meaning if nothing else, it is extremely marketable. People love violence, pain, and competition. They love a good guy to place on a pedestal and love a bad guy to condemn to a beating within an inch of his life. They love victory. It only makes sense that the UFC has found their niche by exploiting these basic human traits by turning their event into a one-stop shop. Hell, they even have near-naked women, just to give it that edgy undertone of smut.

The only thing differentiating these events with the battle-to-the-death clashes in the old coliseum is the option to order on pay-per-view (and of course the privilege of retaining one's right to live should one lose). The knowledge of these facts doesn't sway anyone's interest in the slightest. Who doesn't like to embrace humanity on it's lowest, most animalistic levels? Not this guy. No good people, I fancy myself one of the unruliest of the hordes.

UFC 124 offered one of the best opportunities to see all of these aspects on display at their finest. Georges St-Pierre: the indomitable hometown champion of the people. Josh Koscheck: incorrigible uber-douche of the decade. Vince McMahon wishes he could write 'em this good. Don King wishes he could (still) hype 'em this big. Although the card for the night was fairly impressive, with top-end talent like Thiago Alves , Joe Stevenson, and Stefan Struve being showcased, it all seemed like a distraction. A side-show, or precursor to what everyone was truly there to see. Good versus evil. Right versus wrong. Canada versus the world. 'Fuck Josh Koscheck and the arrogant horse he rode in on'.

Every fight leading up to the main event was overshadowed by chants of 'G.S.P.', and when the moment had finally arrived, the crowd had been whipped into a raucous frenzy. In true sporting cliched fashion the building was electric. St-Pierre might as well have made his entrance on a fire-breathing white steed. For all of the hype surrounding the encounter there really were no surprises. The good guy has to win. And how. The champion rode the wave of adoration to yet another annihilation of a sub-par contender, and the crowd was sent home feeling like they had all reached a simultaneous orgasm. And in some crazy, semi-metaphorical sense, they had.

Somewhere Dana White is laying on pile of money with several beautiful women, cackling with victorious joy at the monster he's created. No other result could have been better for business. An unstoppable champion, a battered villain, a satisfied fan base, and a venue three times that size to showcase his next Canadian spectacle. His business is blood lust, and business is very, very good.