Saturday, November 05, 2011

Blogs Take Manhattan: The Women Talk Sports panel, and women in sports media

Back in September, I headed to New York for another Blogs With Balls conference. The two I’d attended before, in Vegas and Chicago, were amazing experiences, and this one was no different; it was a great time, an excellent chance to get some intelligent perspective on where blogging’s going and a chance to hang out with some awesome people. I was just going through my files and realized I had a lot of notes from the BWB4 panels that I’d never posted, so here they are. First up, the first panel, Women Talk Sports. Note on the notes: these are in chronological order (as much as possible), but I couldn’t write down every comment from every panelist, so this is more of a "Highlights" piece than a full transcript.

Panelists: Sarah Braesch , BlogHer/Draft Day Suit, Richard Deitsch, Sports Illustrated, Jemele Hill, ESPN, Tina Cervasio, MSG, Jane McManus. Moderator: Megan Hueter , Women Talk Sports.

The panel started with a discussion of why women’s sports aren’t shown more prominently on television, and Deitsch had some interesting comments about that.

"A lot of it has to do with economics and dollars," he said. "A lot of women’s sports don’t really rate on television."

The Olympics are an exception, but Deitsch thinks that has more to do with the flags involved than the genders of the athletes.

"Olympics, nationalism trumps gender," he said.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Death of A (Google) Reader, and the problem with the mutable web

They moved the curious back, the rain falling faster now, and they moved the reader over close to a pile of dead products. Brin had the halter and Green had the gun, shaped like a giant plus symbol. This symbol he placed, the crowd silent, on the reader's forehead, just between the eyes. The colt stood still and then Green, with the hammer in his other hand, struck the handle of the plus. There was a short, sharp sound and the reader toppled onto his left side, his comments unread, his friends gone, the free feeds quivering.

"Aw, ----" someone said.

That was all they said. They worked quickly, the two techs removing the broken comments as evidence for the insurance company, the crowd silently watching. Then the heavens opened, the rain pouring down, the lightning flashing, and they rushed for the cover of the internet, leaving alone on his side near a pile of deceased products, the rain running off his sharing settings, dead an hour and a quarter after his first start, Google Reader, son of Gmail, full brother of Google Docs.

Apologies to the great W.C. Heinz (who none of us damn bloggers have read anyway), but it felt appropriate. Google's bizarre decision to kill off the social functions in one of its best products has led to outrage from Tehran to Washington, for excellent reasons. Whether you use it for undermining a totalitarian state, exchanging political or social commentary or merely just hanging out with friends and laughing about DogFort or 3eanuts, Reader's an amazing tool and one that be can adapted to just about any purpose. It's much more than simply an RSS feed of blogs; it's one of the best things on the web.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

BWB4: Rising Stars/In praise of Josh Elliott

We're going to be running plenty of panel recaps from Blogs With Balls' fourth edition (which I'm in New York City for) here this week, but the best moment actually came in the final panel of the day yesterday. Thus, to borrow from a famous quotation, "the last shall be first and the first shall be last". The most newsworthy moment of the whole day came from Josh Elliott, former ESPN SportsCenter anchor and current ABC Good Morning America co-host, who was on the final BWB panel ("Rising Stars") and candidly responded to my question about how he handles criticism of ESPN (along the lines of what I've delivered in a couple of pieces at The Good Point).

"I absolutely understand why people criticize ESPN," Elliott said. "It’s so pervasive and there are certain decisions it makes that are so terrible it sets itself up."

Elliott was particularly bothered by his colleagues' reactions to his GChat interview with Deadspin's A.J. Daulerio, shortly before he left to work at sister company ABC.

"I did an interview with AJ, but I got a torrent of criticism when I walked into the newsroom the next day," Elliott said. "It spoke to the knee-jerk response of this 1000 pound gorilla. They’d trust me to go on live TV for three hours but they wouldn’t trust me to GChat with somebody."

Elliott also criticized ESPN for its decision to start putting Chris Mortensen "reports" that were reworkings of other organizations' football stories on their ticker.

"They just started stealing scoops," he said. "It was a practice I never agreed with. ... I felt horrible."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conference expansion: Mike Slive gets his Aggies for nothing

BIRMINGHAM, AL—The world of college football is going nuts at the moment with realignment, expansion and potential superconferences that could exacerbate the divide between the haves and have-nots. Other NCAA conference commissioners are raiding opponents, desperately trying to keep their conference alive, desperately trying to save their own job, lurking quietly or plotting world domination, but SEC commissioner Mike Slive has been rather quiet lately—despite extending an offer to Texas A&M and reportedly (or maybe not) to Missouri as well, allowing the ACC's raid on the Big East to dominate the headlines. Slive chose to break his silence at a Birmingham bar Tuesday night, walking out on stage with rock legend Mark Knopfler and debuting a new song the two of them have been secretly working on. Unfortunately, video cameras were not allowed, so to get a sense of what went down, watch this video of Knopfler's original (now permitted in Canada!) and substitute in the transcript of Slive's new lyrics below.

I want my, I want my, I want my ESS EEE CEE.

Now look at them Aggies, that’s the way you do it!
They’ll play their football in the ESS EEE CEE.
Conference expansion? That’s the way we do it!
Get our Aggies for nothing and our Tigers for free.

Conference ain’t working? That’s the way you do it
Let me tell you, them guys ain’t dumb
Maybe get a Baylor on your little finger
Maybe get a Baylor on your thumb.

We gotta install Missouri Tigers
Custom contract delivery!
We gotta move these threats of lawsuits
We gotta get more cash from TV.

That little AD with the beer sales and the couches?
Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair.
That little coach with the skullet and the Red Bull
He won’t fit in with our millionaires

We gotta install A&M Aggies
Top-ten fanbase delivery!
We gotta build our superconference
We gotta get more cash from TV

Look at that, look at that
I should have learned to play the tennis racket
I should have learned to play them bums
Look at that conference, cash sticking in the cameras
Man, can we have some?

And them out there, what’s that, Hawaiian noises?
Man, they just lost to UNLV!
That ain’t working, that ain’t the way to do it
No place for them in my ESS EEE CEE.

We gotta install new divisions
New big market delivery!
We gotta move these outdated contracts
We gotta get more cash from TV

I want my, I want my, I want my ESS EEE CEE
Get your Aggies for nothing, and your Tigers for free
I want my, I want my, I want my ESS EEE CEE
Destroy the Big 12 for nothing, get your cash for free.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick Rypien, depression, The Toronto Star and Mike Woods

Rick Rypien's death at 27 is a tragic story, and one that's resonated with a lot of people. Hundreds headed to Rogers Arena for an impromptu memorial Wednesday, while his teammates in Winnipeg mournedtreatment programs and the role of fighting came to the surface. Information on what exactly happened to Rypien is still scanty, but for many of us, his death brought back memories of athletes who battled depression and wound up taking their own lives, such as Kenny McKinley and Dave Duerson.

We don't know yet if depression led to Rypien's death, but it's played a major role in the deaths of others. Before Rypien's death, Sports Illustrated's Pablo S. Torre wrote an excellent piece in this week's magazine on the suicides of Duerson, former San Jose Shark Tom Cavanaugh, former New York Yankee Hideki Irabu, American Olympic skier Speedy Peterson, former Duke basketball captain Thomas Emma and Austrian Olympic judoka Claudia Heill, and how they raise larger issues of how we look at depression in sports. Bruce Arthur had a great column on the same subject, but expanded it to life in general, and that's a conversation we absolutely need to have as a society. Depression is still heavily stigmatized, but it's hit more people than you think. I've had my own struggles with depression in the past, and it's not an easy monster to lick at all. It's a problem we have to take seriously, and it's something where we have to figure out a way to support the people affected.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the Canucks, hatred, and why I want no part of the riots

I'm a fan of the Vancouver Canucks. I have been for most of my 23 years on this planet. The team's had some tremendous highs in that time, including runs to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 and again this year, but they've also had some tremendous lows (the whole Mark Messier and Mike Keenan era, for one). Still, if anything's more likely to make me abandon my fandom than an awful team struggling under the mismanagement of Keenan, it's a few entitled idiots who take a loss in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals as an excuse to start destroying property. I'm watching the images on CBC right now, and it's absolutely horrifying. It's that sort of hatred and destruction that's the worst part of sports, and for it to show up here sickens me.

If I could do away with one thing in this world, it would be hate. Hate not only leads to suffering, but it blinds us, convinces us to think irrationally, and tells us that whatever disgusting feelings we have are just fine, because whoever they're aimed at isn't worthy of consideration. It's hate that spawns hyper-partisanship, where fans blindly clothe themselves in their teams' colours and ignore whatever happens on the other side. It's hate that leads to messes like the football hooliganism we've seen over in Europe, or the reported attacks on Canucks' fans out in Boston (which probably happened in Vancouver too).It's hate that leads us to believe that sports are more than just a game, more than just a fun diversion, but rather some divinely-ordained way of determining that one group of people is better than another group. That's not acceptable with races, religions, political beliefs or anything else, so why should it be the case in sports?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mad Libs, Tom Scocca, Tommy Craggs and why everything doesn't suck

It's a pity Leonard B. Stern, creator of Mad Libs, died earlier this week, as he's not around to see how his invention is still being used in the media. The most persistent offender on this front is Slate, the remarkable Internet outlet that seems to largely thrive on finding things people like and writing contrarian pieces on why they're really awful. In the past, they've taken bold stands against such horrors as pie, criticism of Creed and hand sanitizer. As Jonah Goldberg once wrote (in a piece for Slate itself, which must have set off some sort of contrarianism loop), "Freelancers especially seem to have figured out how to get through Slate's editorial defenses: Pitch a story, any story, that's counterintuitive, and someone on the receiving end will say "brilliant!" The idea seems very Mad Libs-inspired: "[Group of people] likes [noun], therefore it is [derogatory adjective]".

This approach is now spreading thanks to former Slate type Tom Scocca's new role as the managing editor of Deadspin, where he's already brought over the Mad Libs approach. In the crosshairs this time? Famed former New York restaurant Elaine's, a writer's hangout praised by the likes of Chris Jones, Kevin Van Valkenburg, Jeff MacGregor and now Grantland's Wright Thompson. If that many prominent people like something, it must be awful, right, Scocca? Right.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Taiwan makes the NHL a little more exciting

The people from Taiwan's Next Media Animation have their own take on who to root for in the Stanley Cup finals, plus how to make them more interesting. Check it out:

Best use of a tiger since John Cleese's classes in self-defence against fresh fruit:

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Canucks' version of A New Hope

It is a period of cold war. The Vancouver Canucks, striking from a hidden base, have won their first, second and third series victories against allies of the evil Galactic Empire. Now, they must confront the Empire itself, which has taken on the new name of the "Boston Bruins" but kept its old logo (with slight revisions). By watching footage of Boston's most recent battles, Vancouver coaches managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, TIM THOMAS, a clogging-up-space station with enough padding to deflect an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Henrik Sedin races home aboard his starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save his hockey team and restore freedom to the galaxy…



HENRIK SEDIN as Princess Leia (a twin, a key figure in the Rebellion)

ZDENO CHARA as Darth Vader (tall, violent)

DANIEL SEDIN as Luke Skywalker (a twin, capable of hitting small targets)

RYAN KESLER as Han Solo (cocky, shows up unexpectedly)

MANNY MALHOTRA as Obi-Wan Kenobi (called back into action from the sidelines)

ANDREW ALBERTS as C-3PO (tall (6'5'') and awkward)

KEITH BALLARD as R2-D2 (short (5'11''), importance underrated by many)

GARY BETTMAN as Grand Moff Tarkin (he'll blow up a rebellious market from time to time)

ALAIN VIGNEAULT as Jan Dodonna (he's picked out Vancouver's target)

CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF as Wedge Antilles (no one talks about him much, but he's crucial to the Rebellion's success)

MIKAEL SAMUELSSON as Biggs Darklighter (knocked out by the Empire, but important to getting them this far)

TIM THOMAS as the Death Star (dangerous, seemingly-impenetrable defences, but not really)



ANDREW ALBERTS: "Their forwards are heading in this direction. What are we going to do? We'll be sent to the penalty box formerly reserved for Phil Kessel or smashed into who knows what!"


HENRIK SEDIN: "Zdeno Chara, I should have known. Only you could be so bold. The NHL's discipline committee will not sit for this, when they hear you've attacked Max Pacioretty..."


DANIEL SEDIN: "What is it?"

MANNY MALHOTRA: "Your father's hockey stick. This is the weapon of a Sedin twin. Not
as clumsy or as random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized time."


HENRIK SEDIN: "General Malhotra, years ago you almost served this franchise in the Bure trade. Now they beg you to help them in their struggle against the Empire. ... This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Manny Malhotra, you're my only hope."


GARY BETTMAN: "The NHL discipline committee will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently."


ZDENO CHARA: "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a franchise is insignificant next to the power of my elbows."


HENRIK SEDIN: "The more you tighten your grip, Bettman, the more franchises will slip through your fingers."


RYAN KESLER: "I ain't in this for your Stanley Cup victory, and I'm not in it for you, Henrik. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money!"


ALAIN VIGNEAULT: "Tim Thomas' goal is heavily shielded and carries pads larger than half the star fleet. Its defenses are designed around a direct large-scale assault. A small one-man breakaway should be able to penetrate the outer defenses. ... The target area is only two inches wide. It's a small hole in the padding, right below Thomas' glove. The opening leads directly to the net. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the Bruins."

CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF: "That's impossible, even for a computer."

DANIEL SEDIN: "It's not impossible. I used to bullseye targets in my NHL All-Star Game appearances. They're not much bigger than two inches."


MIKAEL SAMUELSSON: "Sir, Daniel is the best sniper in Sweden's outer rim territories."


MANNY MALHOTRA: "Use the Force, Daniel!"


ZDENO CHARA: "I have you now."


RYAN KESLER: "You're all clear, Sedin! Now let's blow this thing and go party!"


RYAN KESLER: "Well, I wasn't gonna let you get all the credit."


Stanley Cup Finals preview: myself on the Canucks

Here's the conclusion of this point/counterpoint setting up the Stanley Cup Finals. Earlier, my old Queen's Journal colleague Mike Woods made the case for the Bruins. Here's my take on why I think the Canucks will win.

The NHL playoffs are a funny thing, and the best team doesn't always win. In fact, as I've written before, contrary to the demands of narrative, the best team probably wins about 55 per cent of the time. That leaves 45 per cent of the time where upsets happen, and the odds may be even higher in a series like this that looks like it should be close. Thus, anything could happen here. If you're a betting man or someone making predictions, though, you want that 55 per cent chance over a 45 per cent one, and that's why I'm going with the Canucks.

What Vancouver accomplished this regular season was nothing short of historic. They finished first in the NHL with 117 points, 10 ahead of their nearest competitor (Washington) and 14 ahead of the Bruins. They scored an NHL-best 262 goals and conceded a NHL-low 185 (if you're not entirely convinced of the predictive value of goal differential, it's notable that Boston's +51 was second-best in the league, but miles behind Vancouver's +77). Even an 82-game or 162-game (as in baseball) regular season may not be enough to really give us a solid indication of who the best teams really are, but it's a pretty good sample size, and it suggests that these Canucks are a pretty incredible group.

Special teams also look like a particular advantage for Vancouver. The Canucks put up a NHL-best 24.3 per cent mark on the power play during the regular season, an area where Boston particularly struggled; the Bruins were 20th with a 16.2 per cent mark. Those trends have continued in the postseason, where Vancouver's third with a 28.3 mark (behind only first-round exitees Anaheim and Phoenix), while Boston is 14th with a miserable 8.2 mark (ahead of only the Rangers and Pittsburgh). Postseason penalty killing has also been an edge for Vancouver, where they've put up a 80.6 per cent mark against Boston's 79.4 per cent; that advantage was even more stark in the regular season, where Vancouver's 85.6 per cent mark (third in the league) was notably better than Boston's 82.8 per cent (16th). As close playoff games often come down to what you can do with the man advantage, it's hard not to like the Canucks there.

Vancouver's roster is strong throughout as well. Despite criticism of goaltender Roberto Luongo, his playoff save percentage is a sparkling .920, eighth-best all time. Boston's Tim Thomas may hold an even better .928 mark, but Luongo is no goaltending slouch, and he's got plenty of support. The Canucks' defining characteristic is their depth, as in addition to superb production from Henrik Sedin (a playoff-best 21 points), Daniel Sedin (16) and Ryan Kesler (18), they're also getting key contributions from the likes of Mason Raymond (eight points) and Chris Higgins (seven points). Their defence is also deep and consistent, with everyone from Christian Ehrhoff to Alex Edler to Kevin Bieksa having tremendous playoffs. Moreover, this year has been proof that bruins can be defeated by prominent B.C. products. I think it's going to be close, as Boston's a great team too, but I think the Canucks have enough edges to take this series.

Prediction: Canucks in seven

Stanley Cup Finals preview: Mike Woods on the Bruins

To get you set for the Stanley Cup Finals, myself and former Queen's Journal colleague Mike Woods are running one of our traditional point/counterpoint pieces predicting who will win. First up, here's Mike to make the case for the Bruins. My piece on the Canucks will follow later before the series kicks off at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific today. Take it away, Mike!

After the Boston Bruins’ nail-biting 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last week that got them a berth in the Stanley Cup final, my first thought was that the series would be evenly-matched and picking a winner would be a toss-up.

Instead, most people outside New England seem to be casting the Bruins as underdogs by a wide margin.

It’s hard to blame them. The Vancouver Canucks are rolling; they tamed the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final’s first four games, then relied on show-stopping goaltending from Roberto Luongo in Game 5, who stopped 54 of 56 shots when his team faltered. A President’s Trophy-winning team that has hit full stride heading into the final is hard to pick against. Even EA Sports’ NHL ’11, which is 13-for-14 so far this postseason, is picking the Canucks.

But don’t count Boston out so fast. The Bruins, who seem perfectly happy playing the underdog role, bring a number of things to the table the Canucks haven’t seen yet. How Vancouver responds to them will determine who takes the cake (or, if you will, the pizza).

The series’ most important match-up is Zdeno Chara lining up against the Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Sedins thrived, of course, against the Sharks last round, who eventually resorted to using Kent Huskins and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to shut down Vancouver’s top line, which didn’t work at all.

The Sedins had the most trouble these playoffs against Nashville. Against a strong shutdown defensive pairing in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the twins combined for just seven points in six games—hardly top line numbers. They were also a combined minus-16 through the first two rounds.

Chara usually plays with Dennis Seidenberg, but the Big Z by himself is as good as any shutdown pair in the league. He’s likely to disrupt the Sedins’ cycle game, which is their bread and butter.

With the Sedin twins neutralized in Round 2, Vancouver beat Nashville largely due to a superhuman effort from Ryan Kesler. The Bruins and Predators are similar teams – both feature Vezina-calibre goaltending and stifling 5-on-5 defensive play. The difference, of course, is while Nashville could barely put together one scoring line, Boston’s forward depth is on par with Vancouver’s.

Boston’s top line has been as clutch as Vancouver’s, and even their third line features goal-scoring threats Michael Ryder and Tyler Seguin, who are more of a threat to score than the Canucks’ third unit. Vancouver hasn’t had to look beyond their top two lines for goal-scoring, but that could change against Boston.

Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo are Vezina nominees who have both experienced blips. Luongo’s came in the first round, when he was the backup goalie in Game 6 against Chicago before an injury to Cory Schneider forced him back into action. Thomas’s have been less significant: a couple of games against Tampa where he let in five goals, and that’s about it. Questioning Luongo’s playoff credentials is kind of tacky at this point, but unless he wins a Cup, those questions aren’t going away.

Thomas is a wild card in net, which is just the way he and the Bruins like it. Thomas’s flopping around in the net, reminiscent of Dominik Hasek in his prime, could prove to be an asset against the Sedins; it could also be a hinderance. Not to read too much into regular-season stats, but it’s worth noting that Thomas has won his last two games against the Canucks, stopping 96 of 97 shots in the process.

The biggest concern for the Bruins heading into the final, as it has been all playoffs, is their atrocious power play. It’s a disastrous 5-for-61 in the playoffs, and it took until Game 6 of the conference finals for them to score a power-play goal on the road. The Canucks’ penalty killing was third-best in the league this season, which also doesn’t bode well for the B’s.

On the other hand, it can be said that the Bruins’ five-on-five play has made up for their awful power play. After all, they’ve made it this far while firing blanks with the man advantage the whole way. If they can pick things up on the power play, they could have the Canucks on the ropes early in the series.

These teams are evenly-matched five-on-five squads, and this series has great potential to be the most compelling Stanley Cup final in years. It’s right to call Vancouver the favourite, but writing Boston off is a huge mistake. If Chara effectively contains the Sedins and the Bruins’ special teams get back on track, look for the Bruins to be hoisting the Cup later this month.

Prediction: Bruins in 7.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Winnipeg, Phoenix, Seattle and why relocation is awful

It looks like the Phoenix Coyotes are going to be around Glendale, Arizona for at least another year. TSN's Dave Naylor writes that the city council there voted 5-2 to give the team a $25 million subsidy if they haven't found a buyer by the end of the 2011-12 season. As Joe Yerdon writes, that subsidy should keep them there for at least another year, if not longer, and that means Winnipeg probably isn't getting a team this summer. Of course, that won't make everyone happy; it was only decided after a hilarious council meeting (described perfectly by friend of the blog Dennis Tarwood) that featured plenty of comments both for and against the idea, and it's sure to meet with criticism from the Goldwater Institute, many Canadian hockey fans and media outlets, economists and others. However, while there are substantial issues around hockey in Phoenix that still need to be addressed, keeping the team there is a good thing from this perspective.

It's not that economic arguments should be written off entirely. Having a league directly subsidize a team (as the NHL has been doing with Phoenix over the last while) is very problematic for the perception of that league, and it's also troubling from a financial point of view. Having a city council potentially hand out that kind of money to what's supposedly a professional, for-profit sports franchise isn't necessarily a great idea either; I can't speak for the taxpayers of Glendale, but they can decide if that's the best use of their money or not. It's certainly not the greatest long-term solution. However, there are positives to keeping the team in Phoenix, and those need to be recognized.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When narrative goes too far, and inequalities fail

Regular readers will know that I'm pretty interested in how narratives shape our perception of sports. One of the most significant ones lately has been in the Vancouver-Chicago series in the NHL playoffs, where the Canucks led 3-0 before the Blackhawks won three straight games to force tonight's seventh game. Of course, that's led to plenty of pieces on how this is a defining moment for Vancouver, a historic occasion and all the rest. Those stories aren't necessarily wrong, as there certainly is a significant mental aspect to sports, and that mental element will be involved tonight; I give it more credence than Joe Posnanski does, even if I share some of his other opinions on storylines. What's happened in the series so far does have a bearing on tonight's game in my mind, so it's perfectly relevant to talk about the pressure, the situation and the rest.

What I don't like is when that analysis takes the next step, though, and ascribes narrative reasons to why one team lost and another won and narrative solutions as to how to remedy this in the future. We've seen this plenty of times before, with certain teams or players being labeled simply as "chokers" for poor performances in small playoff sample sizes, or authoritative declarations that there was some clear flaw in the team that lost; they didn't have enough depth, enough grit, good-enough goaltending or anything else. None of those claims are necessarily wrong or problematic on their own, as it's certainly worthwhile to try and analyze what went wrong and think about how it could potentially be solved. What bothers me is more along the lines of the shades of grey discussion; in essence, any particular claim about size, scoring, goaltending or the rest isn't necessarily wrong and could in fact be right, but pointing to one of those things as the definitive cause of a team's downfall and something that has to be remedied if they're going to win in the future is generally inaccurate.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Subdivisions, exclusion and communities in sports

I was reading Gary Smith's fantastic, tear-jerking piece entitled "The Wheels of Life" in my most recent Sports Illustrated magazine today, and it got me thinking. The piece is a superb tale of Dick Hoyt and his paralyzed son, Rick, and how they've worked together to compete in everything from marathons to triathlons for over 30 years. On one level, it's a great story of two people who have overcome incredible adversity to do things that many able-bodied people never will be able to, but I think there's a broader point there as well, and one that applies to our current sports world. Read this paragraph and see if you can figure out where I'm going with this:
Race day came a few days later. So closeted were the disabled in 1977 that many people, including Dick before the birth of his first son, had never laid eyes on a wheelchair or a quadriplegic, let alone one in a five-mile race. Dick's two other sons, Rob and Russ, wisecracked that the Hoyts' race number, 00, summed up their chances of making it to the finish line. Most people figured Dick would shove the kid as far as the first corner and peel off. None had a clue what happened inside Dick Hoyt's head when it bumped against a task.
What I take from that is that Dick and Rick's racing career isn't just a man-versus-himself conflict (them trying to overcome their physical limitations), or a man-versus-nature one (them trying to overcome the racecourse), or even man-versus-man (them trying to beat other racers), but also contains a profound element of man-versus-society. For them, racing is a way to prove that Rick in particular belongs and has value, despite the world's attempts to say that he doesn't. That point is emphasized more prominently in a later section of the piece, describing what happened after Dick experienced severe medical issues following their first race:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Canucks - Blackhawks Game IV live blog

The last one of these was a lot of fun, so we're doing it again! Join me and a cast of Internet types for a live blog of tonight's Vancouver - Chicago game. Will the Canucks sweep the series, or will the Blackhawks live to fight another day? Find out in the live blog below, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern (5 p.m. Pacific). All are welcome to join!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Canucks - Blackhawks Game II live blog

I'll be live-blogging tonight's Canucks - Blackhawks clash with an assortment of interweb friends, including Beau Brace and Josh Koebert. Vancouver's up 1-0 in the series after a 2-0 win Wednesday night, but Chicago certainly can't be written off yet.  Everyone's welcome; drop in and give us your thoughts on the game, the series and the rest of the playoffs so far. The puck drops in Vancouver at 7 p.m. local (10 p.m. Eastern), so swing by and join us then!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NHL playoff preview: setting up the first round

The NHL playoffs get rolling tonight, with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins going head-to-head in one early game, the Phoenix Coyotes and Detroit Red Wings facing off in another clash and the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals in a third. There are also a pair of late games, featuring the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks. There should be some excellent hockey on display tonight, and hopefully for much of the rest of the playoffs as well. Here's a preview of each first-round matchup, organized by game time (broadcast info from The 506):

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins - (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

First game: Wednesday, 7 p.m. Eastern, CBC (Ontario east, except Windsor)

This is an interesting one. The Penguins have a stronger defence and better goaltending (I'll happily take Marc-Andre Fleury over Dwayne Roloson), but their offence doesn't look as promising without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (at least to start). Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is deep up front with the likes of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, but their depth is an issue just about everywhere else. I like Pittsburgh in this one, but the Lightning shouldn't be an easy out.

Prediction: Penguins in six

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Writing, competition, golf and basketball: a response to Chris Jones

I'm really enjoying Esquire writer Chris Jones' Son Of Bold Venture blog and his take on writing. There isn't enough dialogue about the art and importance of writing out there, and Jones adds a lot to the conversation, particularly with his interviews (notable recent ones include ESPN's Wright Thompson, the Boston Globe's Charles P. Pierce and Glenn Stout, series editor of The Best American Sports Writing. With that said, though, I have to take issue with his two most recent posts, on awards and motivation.

To be clear, this isn't to say that Jones is wrong or that his arguments are invalid. Both of those posts deal heavily with his own feelings and his own approach, and that approach has obviously led to a lot of success for him over the years, so it can't be all that bad. It's not necessarily bad advice for young writers, either; everyone's different, and Jones' approach, involving writers "keeping score" and competing will undoubtedly work very well for some people. The only reason I'm writing this is to express my own feelings that while those may be valid ways to succeed as a writer, they aren't the only ways out there. That may not fit with Jones' avowed attraction to black and white, but it's reflective of one of the things I feel most strongly about; the shades of grey.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bob McCown doesn't stand for all of us

[Image: Prime Time Sports host Bob McCown]

Dear Mr. McCown,

I'm writing to inform you that your statements (go to 1:37) on yesterday's nationally-syndicated Prime Time Sports radio/television show are not only offensive and inaccurate, but are also potentially defamatory and libelous. 

For the record, you said, "The sole motivation for a man to watch any woman's sport is are they half-naked? Are they good-looking?" You then went on to say "Other than that, I don’t care if it’s a world championship or your next-door neighbour playing somebody. Guys are only interested in woman’s sport if it’s good-looking chicks."

Of course, it's mind-bogglingly stupid for a nationally-broadcast radio host to make those kinds of remarks on International Women's Day, but that's your own affair. What I'm more concerned with is that you're making a "statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individualbusinessproductgroup,government, or nation a negative image", that this statement is false, and that it was communicated to a large group of people coast-to-coast. I can inform you that your comments definitely have the potential to give a group (men) a negative image, and that they are untrue. There are many of us who watch and appreciate women's sports for the sport value, just as we do with men's sports. We appreciate the sports on their own merits, not just how attractive the players are. 

This isn't meant to seriously threaten a lawsuit, as I certainly don't have the time or inclination to bother with that, and I'm generally not a fan of trying to restrict speech. In my mind, you're perfectly welcome to express your troglodytic views on women's sports on your national platform; maybe that will help diminish your undeserved prominence. However, please don't claim to speak for all men while doing so; when you do that, you're ascribing your own misguided views to the rest of us and damaging our reputations in the process, and I don't think that's particularly fair. While you're stuck in the darkness and talking about leering at suggestive cave paintings, some of us have managed to move out into the light. It would be nice if you came to join us some day, but I don't expect that to happen any time soon. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lisa Olson lists all the wrong reasons for FanHouse's end

This piece from Dave Kindred, which relays the thoughts of FanHouse's Lisa Olson on the forthcoming demise of that institution, has been gnawing at me for a few weeks; this is a delayed reaction to it, but I think it's still worth writing about. Kindred's article begins in promising fashion, eviscerating Bleacher Report for the lack of interest they've historically shown towards quality control, and I don't really disagree with the general theory that it would be nice to see quality material rewarded with more pageviews. However, it goes on to arbitrarily draw the line to blast all bloggers, and uses Olsen's words to do so:

She thought of FanHouse that way, a gathering of veterans on a journalistic adventure. "We were all experienced and qualified, not some 25-year-old bloggers," she said. "The motto was, ‘Go, go, go. Grow, grow, grow.' And we did. Then, this. It's devastating."

If you believe Olson, it was the mainstream journalists who made the bold move to jump to FanHouse who were involved in making that site something new and exciting before it was tragically sold by AOL. I don't buy that, though. Yes, FanHouse was making a lot of progress and had some great people, but I think that was as much in spite of the "big names" they recruited as because of them.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Super Bowl prediction and articles

After weeks of waiting, it's finally time for the Super Bowl. As I wrote earlier, I love this matchup; the spread's 2.5, and there's a good argument that it should be a pick-em. It's one of the closest Super Bowl games I've seen in some time, and that's what I emphasized in my predictions; as usual, I have a complete breakdown of the game over at The Good Point with Mark Milner, and I also have a shorter pick posted over at Robert Carnell's blog. For those just looking for a score, I'm going to go with Pittsburgh 24, Green Bay 21. I also have a rundown of the CFL figures involved in the game over at 55-Yard Line. Finally, let's carry on from the conference championship games with a theme song for each team!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Setting up the Super Bowl: a tale of two solid teams

As a diehard football fan, I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday's NFL conference championship games. Both the Packers-Bears and Jets-Steelers games offered some compelling drama, with both looking out of range early on and then getting close down the stretch thanks to solid comeback attempts. In the end, Green Bay and Pittsburgh prevailed, and that sets up a very intriguing Super Bowl matchup Feb. 6 between two of the NFL's most storied teams. The early indication is that the Packers are three-point favourites according to the Super Bowl spread courtesy of BetUS, and that line also carries plenty of stories with it.

It's interesting to me that Green Bay's coming into this as a solid favourite. Their performance was perhaps the more impressive one of the weekend, as they never really let Chicago get too close, but Aaron Rodgers wasn't up to the incredible standards he'd set earlier in the postseason (the ones that motivated me to pick the Packers last weekend). Rodgers finished a respectable 17 of 30 for 244 yards, but he didn't throw a touchdown pass and was picked off twice. If the Bears hadn't had plenty of quarterback issues of their own between Jay Cutler, Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie, this might not have been a Green Bay triumph.

Granted, Pittsburgh wasn't all that impressive Sunday either, and they were outscored 16-0 in the second half. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger's performance under centre was even worse by the numbers (10/19,133 yards, 2 picks). Still, the Steelers did a much better job on the ground, and their defence reinforced the plaudits it had received all year. Based on what both squads have done so far, I don't necessarily think there's a huge advantage one way or the other. To me, everything sets up for a very close contest and a fascinating game.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

NFL conference championship predictions, metal-style

Just a note that Mark Milner and I have our conference championship picks up over at The Good Point. There should be a couple of great games today; I'm looking forward to seeing how the condition of Soldier Field affects the Bears - Packers matchup, and the Jets and Steelers should be a perfect clash for those of us who like hard-hitting defence. The above link has my full breakdown of each game, so rather than write the same stuff over again, here's a song for each team to get you ready for the games:

Pittsburgh: Judas Priest - Metal Gods

This classic track from the British Steel album seems thoroughly appropriate for a team from the Steel City. Also, it isn't tough to imagine James Harrison and the rest of the Pittsburgh defence ripping men apart.

New York: Iron Maiden - Aces High

The best non-crappy aerial song I could think of (and yes, there was no way in hell we were going with Benny and the Jets or Jet Airliner here). Besides, Rex Ryan's blitz-happy defence definitely lives by a do-or-die philosophy.

Chicago: Dio - Holy Diver

I've got a feeling Jay Cutler has been down too long in the midnight sea. Life with him as your starting quarterback is definitely riding the tiger, and there's always the chance of a sudden interception knocking you off. (Also, as a rivalry game, this might get as violent as the Hot Fuzz/Killswitch Engage version of this).

Green Bay: Dream Theater - In The Presence Of Enemies, Part I

As everyone has reminded you this week, Packers - Bears is the NFL's oldest rivalry, so that definitely qualifies as enemies. Moreover, though, Aaron Rodgers' incredible draft-day fall definitely qualifies him as forgotten, a body scorned and broken. He may have been initially rejected, but right now, he's looking like a pretty good chosen one.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Divisional round playoff predictions

The NFL playoffs are always one of my favourite times of year, and if last week's games are any indication, we're in for a good playoff season. My picks for this round are up over at The Good Point, so go check those out! The game I'm most interested in is the Steelers-Ravens clash, which gets under way shortly. From an impartial perspective, it's one of the NFL's most interesting divisional rivalries, featuring two teams that have been quite good for the last decade and more. They play similar styles, and for those like me who enjoy great defence, they're some of the best franchises to watch. Of course, I'm not entirely impartial, as I've been a Steelers' fan for most of my life, so I'm definitely decked out in my black and gold today as you can see below. Feel free to hurl insults, but the B.C. chapter of Steeler Nation is reporting for duty.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Oregon carries its own ethical questions into BCS title game

Tonight’s BCS national championship game between the Oregon Duck Star and the Auburn Tigers is about more than just the action on the field. There are rumours of shadowy background figures, stories of vast sums of money, and questions about undue influence floating around—and that’s just on the Oregon side!

I’m obviously exaggerating for effect there, but it does bother me a bit that all the questions people are raising about ethics and morality are surrounding Auburn, and particularly Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton. I’m not here to defend Newton or the NCAA’s convoluted decision to declare him eligible despite finding evidence of a pay-for-play scheme that’s certainly against their rules as they currently stand. Whether those rules are right or not is another question entirely, and whether it’s possible to change them in a way that’s fair and equitable to all athletes is yet another issue, but I understand where the people who want to put black hats on Auburn are coming from. I don’t necessarily agree, but I understand it.

What I don’t get is the corresponding desire to paint Oregon as the good guys, the cavalry that are going to come charging over the hill to save amateurism from the evil Cam Newton. To me, the Oregon program comes with just as many questions, and yet few of them have really been talked about much. The Newton story revolves around a reported demand of $200 thousand; Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight has reportedly given $200 million to the Oregon athletics department over the last 25 years. Here’s what Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated recently wrote:
Knight's influence on Oregon is so great that calling him a booster is like calling the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a concerned citizen. Without Knight, Oregon would be thrilled to go to the Holiday Bowl. Without Knight, Oregon would be asking for money instead of printing it.
Without Knight, Oregon would be ... (gasp!) Oregon State.
Knight holds the key to Oregon athletics in his wallet, and everybody there knows it. The new basketball gym -- Matthew Knight Arena, named after Phil's late son -- is his project. The school's uniforms, more than any other team's, are a billboard for his company, Nike. There is a sense that every new building and every important hire needs Knight's stamp of approval.
And John Henderson, in The Denver Post:
How do you go from one of the pack to one of a kind? How does Colorado go from the bowels of the Big 12 Conference to battling Oregon at the top of the Pac-12? Find a booster like Phil Knight.
They aren't found at the local Elks Lodge. No Colorado alumnus is worth $11 billion, is a former athlete at the school and is one of its most rabid fans. But the power of one wealthy, loyal booster can change the course of an entire athletic department and, thus, a university.
What has Knight meant to Oregon?
Said Bellotti, "What is the sun to life on Earth?"
The main difference seems to be that Knight and Nike are playing by the NCAA’s rules. In an athletic environment that claims to value amateurism but is really about big bucks, they aren’t daring (at least not that we know of) to go around actually giving money to the players who do the real work and sacrifice their bodies. Instead, they’re dumping money into swanky new facilities, highly-regarded coaches and fancy uniform designs that turn those unpaid players into walking, talking advertisements for an apparel company that carries its own set of ethical concerns. All of that appears perfectly fine with the NCAA, which wants amateur players but professional quality in everything else. Meanwhile, the NCAA sees Cecil Newton’s reported scheme and others’ similar moves as the real problem. There is some merit to that, as Newton’s scheme directly contravenes the rules while Knight’s works within them. All I’m saying is from this corner, the shadow Phil Knight casts over Oregon is just as ominous as Cecil Newton’s over Auburn. Root for either, but let’s not reduce this to a good guys-bad guys story.

[Meanwhile, on the yes-there's-an-actual-game-going-on front, here's my prediction:  Oregon 31, Auburn 24. Things should go well for Auburn initially, but Oregon’s conditioning might give them the edge in the second half. I think Darron Thomas can move the chains against Auburn’s struggling secondary, and that could open running holes for LaMichael James. For more detailed analysis, I point you to Matt Hinton, Chris Brown and Spencer Hall.] 

Friday, January 07, 2011

Sebastian Bach's Oregon power ballad

Like many other college football fans, I'm looking forward to the BCS championship game on Monday; it's a lousy way to determine a champion, but hey, it should be a good football game at least. Oregon's high-powered offence goes head-to-head with Heisman winner Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in what should be a thoroughly entertaining show. However, Oregon has one advantage Auburn may not be able to top. That advantage? Canadian metal star Sebastian Bach performing a school power ballad {lyrics NSFW}:

I don't know if it can compete with some of his earlier work, but what can?

The gauntlet for Canadian rock stars has been laid, Auburn, so you might want to give Geddy Lee a call. It's possible he could be impressed by Cam Newton's mean, mean stride.

[Via Dr. Saturday]