Athletes or Entertainers?

It’s been almost an entire week to the minute that I personally learned about the death of Dan Wheldon. Every young karter dreams of winning the Indy 500, Wheldon did it twice. The most recent this season when it was handed to him as JR Hildebrand crashed out of 1st on the final turn. Save for the 500, Las Vegas was Wheldon’s only race this year.

I don’t know why deaths of athletes hits me as hard as it does. Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, the Lokomotiv hockey team, Wade Belak, they all hurt. Yes, they’re all hockey, a sport I love, but Dan Wheldon, an auto racer, seems odd man out in this group, yet, a week later, I’m still in shock.

When it comes down to the bottom line, athletes are nothing more than paid entertainers. They play hockey, baseball, or race around a track to paying fans to allow them to cheer and get excited and forget reality for a few hours. Much the same way as actors in movies do.

Unlike actors though, it’s somehow tragic when athletes lose their lives, especially in the act of entertaining. It’s often been said of late athletes, they perished ‘doing what they loved’. Entertaining isn’t a job for them, it’s fun. As Ricky Henderson was quoted saying, “there’s a reason the umpire doesn’t yell ‘work ball’, he says ‘play ball’ because you’re supposed to have fun.”

Perhaps the worst part of this tragedy is that it took place at the IndyCar season finale. Fans, racers and officials will have an entire off season to dwell on it before the green flag drops on a new race. It’s often the inability to get past a tragedy which causes it to magnify. Not that death during a sporting event isn’t tragic, or it can be toned down or forgotten, but the truth is, one day we’ll have to race again. No one likes to admit this is a reality, but frankly, it is. It’s almost better to drop the green flag again and continue racing as soon as possible following an event such as this.

I’ve seen every angle of Dan Wheldon’s crash, and I’ve read almost every interview. Thinking he was truly doing what he loved (it was his own money, not a sponsor, which entered him in the race) and he was doing it so I could get a small thrill, is what makes his death so tragic.

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Bolt a True Star

At last weekend’s World Track and Field Chanpionships, something amazing happened. Usain Bolt won a bunch of races. Ok, I know what you’re saying, who?

If we’re being honest with each other, the fact he won shouldn’t be a surprise given his resume. The wins this weekend were special because of what proceeded them.

Bolt was disqualified from the 100 meter dash finals as a result of a false start. Let me go on record here saying a single false start resulting in DQ has to be the dumbest rule in all sports. Yes, even worse than the penalty for shooting a puck over the glass or the trapezoid rule.

When the rule was put in place, did no one in that meeting ask “well what if the face of our sport false starts?” Did nobody think how bad it would look for sprinting? As Donovan Bailey said, the winner of the 100 is the star of the meet, world championships, Olympics or otherwise.

But nevertheless, Bolt false started and was DQed this weekend. Any lesser man would’ve blamed the crowd, the sport, his shoes, his mother or anything else he could think of. Bolt’s response was simply “if you’re looking for tears, you won’t find them here.”

True professionals rebound after losing to adversity. Bolt couldve cried foul to his sport. But in stead of sulking, Bolt returned and set a world record in the 200m race, destroying the field. Not only that but he anchored the 4x100m relay team to another world record gold medal.

True professionals respond in the face of adversity. After a DQ, Usain Bolt returned with a vengeance to set 2 world records. Let’s not forget, amongst everything he’s already accomplished, this man is only 25 years old.

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Escaping Reality – Remembering Wade Belak

When the chips were down and the season was on the line, Wade Belak wasn’t the guy the coach threw on the ice. If I’m being honest, in those games I watched, many times here in Toronto, I didn’t miss the big man. But now that he’s gone, I do. Desperately.

When reality hits, and I don’t know why, I find myself turning to writing, blogging often, and today was one of those days. I can’t believe Wade Belak is no longer with us. Why his death has impacted me so much is confusing. I’ve never met him, I wasn’t a fan really.

Maybe it’s the fact he was smiling in every interview and always made those around him laugh. Maybe I have a soft spot for tough guys. Maybe it’s the fact his death follows those of Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien. Maybe I feel for his wife and two young daughters.

Whatever it is, I find it very hard to believe Belak ended his own life on purpose. He was always upbeat and happy. He was about to compete in Battle of the Blades and be the colour commentator for the Nashville Predators.

We’ll learn more in the next few days about what happened but what we do know is, another tough guy in the NHL is gone. His family will suffer but the NHL will go on.

Who cares what happened? Who else needs to die before the NHL steps up and admits they have a problem?

Until the NHL realizes there’s more to these top athletes than the money they bring in on the ice – they have lives and issues and circumstances, and families off it – and they start taking care of what happens off the ice, sadly, these posts and thoughts are far from over.

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Rome Shifts Series on Dirty Play

The blog has been quiet for a bit since Devon started a new job, my Blackberry has been on the fritz, and I’ve been undergoing a fast of playoff hockey. Without watching, I don’t feel right in commenting about it and the rest of the sports world stops when the NHL playoffs are on, I’m sure.

There is one thing I need to address which is a growing concern. In my mind, it is the reason concussions are on the rise. It is players cutting through the middle of the ice. Last night Nathan Horton cut through the neutral zone and was KOed by Aaron Rome early in the first. The hit was late, it was to a vulnerable opponent, and yes, it was the type of scene the league has been trying to remove. What concerned me most was on the ensuing power play, not three minutes after his teammate left the ice on a stretcher, Milan Lucic carried the puck into the neutral zone and danced sideways through the trolley tracks. At least two players are in the same shot in position to land the same hit, which would’ve been legal, but thankfully they didn’t.

Back in the day, cutting through the neutral zone meant a big hit. Scott Stevens was one of the first players to police the area to the point of injury. The problem with today’s game is, everyone is as big and strong as Scott Stevens was. Which means, every hit in the middle of the ice is going to be as punishing.

This is the Stanley Cup finals and guys are going to finish their checks. Make no mistake, Rome’s was bad and he deserves the 4 game suspension. But he’s now been labeled with the likes of Donald Brashear, Marty McSorely and Todd Bertuzzi for being a “thug”. He’s not! He was doing his job and the adrenaline took over. Yes it was late, yes it was wrong. But let’s be honest, if Horton bounced up and rejoined the play, we wouldn’t even be talking about Rome today, late hit or otherwise.

There is only one way in my mind to keep this from happening again and that is to increase the ice size. The players are too big and too fast now for the rules of 1967. The game needs to slow down. I don’t mean make the seconds tick slower, I mean make the plays slower so the players can react faster. The only way to do that is give them more room to skate. Or institute a “speeding” penalty. Or, of course, make the ice softer.

There’s a serious problem with that recommendation though. It will mean the league owners will have to put up money to renovate their buildings, and lost money to seats that are no longer there. We can’t spend money. What is the price of an athlete’s life? Because it’s going to take someone dying on the ice for a drastic solution to be made.

The saddest part of this story is still Nathan Horton. The Boston Bruins have traded one of their top scorers for the remainder of the season, in Horton, for a third pairing defense man in Rome. If there’s any consolation it will be that Rome won’t be around to hold the Stanley Cup when, and if, Vancouver wins. Sadly, he will get a ring though. If Vancouver does win there’s no telling what could’ve been had Horton been in the lineup. Effectively, on an illegal play Aaron Rome shifted the series tides in the Canucks favour.

My only hope is that Boston uses it as fuel like they did in game 3.

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A Quarter Done, We Know Nothing

The fun thing with predictions is going back to see how well you did. Or in our case, how poorly. We’re about 1/4 of the way through the MLB Season and we thought it would be fun to return to our Pre-Season Predictions post and see how close we are to the real standings. Devon, get the kleenex out. This isn’t pretty.

(games played accurate including May 17th games)

Devon’s picks Matt’s picks Actual
West 1. Giants (92-70) 1. Giants (93-69) 1. Rockies (22-18)
2. Rockies (89-73) 2. Padres (91-71) 2. Giants (22-19)
3. Dodgers (87-75) 3. Rockies (85-77) 3. Dodgers (20-23)
4. Padres (86-76) 4. Dodgers (72-90) 4. D-Backs (18-23)
5. D-Backs (79-83) 5. D-Backs (63-99) 5. Padres (18-24)
Central Devon’s Picks Matt’s Picks Actual
1. Cardinals (93-69) 1. Cardinals (94-68) 1. Reds (25-17)
2. Brewers (90-72) 2. Reds (90-72) 2. Cardinals (24-19)
3. Cubs (84-78) 3. Brewers (84-78) 3. Brewers (20-22)
4. Reds (81-81) 4. Cubs (77-85) 4. Pirates (18-23)
5. Astros (79-83) 5. Astros (71-91) 5. Cubs (17-23)
6. Pirates (54-108) 6. Pirates (61-101) 6. Astros (15-27)
East Devon’s Picks Matt’s Picks Actual
1. Phillies (95-67) 1. Phillies (99-63) 1. Phillies (25-16)
2. Braves (89-73) 2. Braves (89-73) 2. Marlins (24-16)
3. Marlins (84-78) 3. Mets (81-81) 3. Braves (25-19)
4. Mets (72-90) 4. Marlins (80-82) 4. Nationals (20-21)
5. Nationals (69-93) 5. Nationals (66-96) 5. Mets (19-22)
West Devon’s Picks Matt’s Picks Actual
1. Angels (87-75) 1. Angels (95-67) 1. Athletics (22-20)
2. Athletics(83-79) 2. Rangers (93-65) 2. Rangers (22-20)
3. Rangers (81-81) 3. Athletics (85-77) 3. Angels (22-21)
4. Mariners (72-90) 4. Mariners (59-103) 4. Mariners (17-24)
Central Devon’s Picks Matt’s Picks Actual
1. Twins (90-72) 1. Twins (96-66) 1. Indians (26-13)
2. White Sox (87-75) 2. White Sox (87-75) 2. Tigers (22-19)
3. Tigers (85-77) 3. Tigers (84-78) 3. Royals (20-21)
4. Indians (80-84) 4. Royals (74-88) 4. Chi-Sox (18-25)
5. Royals (75-87) 5. Indians (64-98) 5. Twins (13-27)
East Devon’s Picks Matt’s Picks Actual
1. Red Sox (94-68) 1. Red Sox (101-61) 1. Rays (24-18)
2. Yankees (89-73) 2. Blue Jays (91-71) 2. Yankees (21-19)
3. Rays (87-75) 3. Yankees (89-73) 3. Red Sox (21-20)
4. Orioles (84-78) 4. Rays (81-81) 4. Jays (21-20)
5. Blue Jays (79-83) 5. Orioles (57-106) 5. Orioles (19-21)
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Timber! Woods Continues to Fall

This weekend will mark a historic event in the sport of professional golf. It will pass without fanfare, it will not include a Sunday playoff hole. In fact, most golf fans won’t even notice. Monday morning, Tiger Woods will wake up out of the top 10 world rankings for the first time in 14 years.

Tiger’s downward spiral saw him drop from #2 to start the season, to at least #11 after this weekend’s tournament. It will be the lowest spot in the rankings since he sat #6 on April 6th, 1997. That was the weekend before winning The Masters, his first career major. To put it in perspective, this blogger who is married with a kid, has been graduated from college for 4 years, was in Grade 7 and still thought girls had cooties. Quite the run!

It appears Tiger’s rank won’t rise, or even stop falling, for at least a month. Tiger pulled out of this weekend’s Player’s Championship with knee/Achilles problems and announced on his website this week he hopes to return for the US Open June 16th. How far will Woods fall before then? Timber!

Tiger Woods gained the #1 ranking in 2005, and held it until last November (2010), a span of 623 total weeks, smashing all records before him. Despite not winning a tournament in over a year and a half, and only really only competing in one, the fact Tiger still holds a card should be testament enough to his abilities as an athlete.

Where did it all go wrong though? Many will point to his divorce/tabloid affair/car crash/side show gone wrong almost 2 years ago. Some will say he’s never bounced back. But let’s not forget, Tiger missed almost an entire year due to knee surgery back in 2008, which I believe was the beginning of the end for him.

Is it really the end though? I think Tiger may have had his day. His determination doesn’t seem to be there. When he was winning everything under the sun, he could barely squeak past the cut on Friday night and win by 5 or more strokes on Sunday. Now, he draws applause for hitting the fairway. His red Polos have to be wondering if he’s cheating on them too.

People point to Tiger’s divorce and the emotional strain that put on his game. Don’t forget though, Tiger played an entire tournament following his father’s passing, and blew away the field before letting the grief get to him. We know he can handle pressure. What we’ve never seen is him rebound from an injury.

Golf is a game which requires incredible mental and physical stamina. Four hours (or more) per day, for four days in order to win. That’s 25 hours of golf, over an entire day’s worth of man hours, in a weekend. It takes a tremendous person, let alone athlete to block the world and play golf.

We know Tiger isn’t a great man. Disagree? Ask Elin! Perhaps his time at the top weakened him. Perhaps he couldn’t really overcome the emotional strain. Perhaps his knee is still wonky. Is it possible Tiger Woods simply isn’t the man we thought he was? Is it possible he’s (*gasp*) part human?

Is it possible he may never be the #1 again? Ladies and gentlemen, I believe Tiger’s best days are behind him. It’s time to celebrate the greatest, if shortest, career in professional golf and select a new favourite.

Sorry red, but I have a “Value Village” on the phone. He says it’s not urgent now, but could be shortly.

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Green Men Blue

There are some people in the sports world who become known for being crazy fans more than players themselves. When 2 men in green unitards showed up beside the visiting penalty box in the playoffs a few years ago, another one of such legendary fans was born.
Except now the NHL has decided the Green Men, who have made a name by taunting players in the sin bin, need to tone it down. And this has some fans, including yours truly, seeing red.

The Green Men taunts aren’t your usual “you suck”s or “yo momma’s ugly”. Rather, these fans point through the glass, get as close as they can and even do handstands outside the box.

The NHL claims the behaviour is “disruptive” and “distracting”. Sorry, but I thought the fans job was to distract the opposition. Hence: home ice advantage.

If these overpaid, overhyped, underskilled divas can’t stand the heat, they should be in the NHL. And if you don’t like the Green Men, well, you’re the moron who took a penalty.
Enough player bashing. The guy really at fault here isn’t the one in the box, nor is he the “tard in the unitard” outside the box. Its the sorry excuse for an average height male of a commissioner, Gary Bettman.

I ask the commissioner here and now, where do you get the right telling fans how they can act at a sporting event? Ok, there are rules, but when they’re not being broken, where do you get off? Furthermore, why do you see yourself above the gameday staff at Rogers Arena in Vancouver? If this posse were causing trouble, would you not think building security would say something?

I do not envy the position of the Green Men. They’ve paid their money to be there and they are following all the rules.

“But what about the fans who can’t see the game?”
Tell you what, I’ll let everyone pick on the Green Men for heckling during play when, and only when, dingbats on their phones stop standing in the crowd when the play passes to see if they can get caught on camera. At least the Green Men are creative.

Fans pay a lot of money to attend games. If they’re not breaking a rule, why punish them? The NHL needs to back off here.

I give full credit to the Green Men though who, when the NHL said must tone it down “at Rogers Arena”, showed up in Nashville. Well done!

But just continue to do what you do in your home rink. The only thing wrong with it is you’re drawing more face-time than Gary Bettman.

If he was tall enough to be seen over the boards, or could himself pull off a handstand, there’d be no issue.

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The Novelty Will Wear Off

Dana White couldn’t wait to host a UFC card in Toronto. And when he was given the opportunity he took the chance, and created history. All while saying he can’t wait to come back again.

Of course not. Why would a guy leading a business want to stay away from a city that set an attendance record and posted a 12 million dollar plus gate? Why stay away from a city that brought more fans to the weigh-ins than some cities have brought to the main card?

Because Toronto is a city notorious for jumping the bandwagon to see what the hype is about.

Ask the Toronto Blue Jays who attracted 47000 fans to their season opener and only 23000 the following night. Ask the Toronto Rock who used to pack Maple Leaf Gardens for home games but can barely make 10000 at ACC since their last championship 6 years ago.

And you can bet the trend will continue when the Toronto Triumph come to town. A sellout for their opening season, and sections closed off with team banners for the following years despite the team record. Know what I’m saying Argos?

Tonight was the first UFC event in Toronto, and only 2nd MMA card in all of Ontario. Don’t get me wrong, the UFC has fans in Toronto and events attract international attention. But will those fans and travellers spend $1500 a pop next time to sit ringside again? I’m guessing not.

My best guess is there were 30000 die-hard UFC fans at the Rogers Center tonight. But there were 25000 more who were there just to see what the hype was about. (roughly a 50 50 split) No doubt they became fans tonight but big enough fans to spend the money again? Even if the headliner isn’t Canada’s most popular athlete? (Let’s be honest, St Pierre can’t headline every fight in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal)

The UFC wants to come back to Toronto as many times as possible. As Dana White said Friday in a Q&A session at the fan expo, “we’d hold a card here every weekend if we could.” I caution the UFC to be careful of the bandwagon fans in this city. Eventually, the novelty will wear off and fans will stop paying to come see the spectacle.

The true fans will always be there. But in this city, they’re few and far between. For your own good, come back in a year or more. Let us want you before you return. Or people will go see another sport they don’t really care about.

I can hear the skeptics telling me I’m wrong. Oh yeah? Go ask any Maple Leaf player how many fans are in their seat with 5 minutes to play in a game. I rest my case.

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LFL is coming to Toronto

So, we have had news in the Toronto area over the last little while that I was supposed to blog about but, I figured today was the best time to do it.

A few weeks ago it had been announced that the LFL was coming to Toronto as an expansion franchise and would be looking at launching a country wide league to begin play in 2012.

Now, what is significant about another football team coming to Toronto you may ask? For those who are unaware the acronym LFL stands for Lingerie Football League, and the league is just as you would expect- women in lingerie (as well as shoulder pads and helmets) playing full contact football.

The game is played using an NFL down system which is 4 downs as opposed to the Canadian style of 3. There are no field goals or punts but there are still kick offs to start each half and after a scoring drive. If you are to score a touchdown you can either go for  a one point (from the 2 yard line) or two point conversion (from the 5).  The field is 50 yards long and 30 yards wide with end zones 8 yards deep and is played inside an arena. With teams having a roster of 20 and 14 dressed for games it requires some of the players to be on both offence and defence. The standard offensive formation features 1 QB (Quarterback), 2 RB (Running Back), 1 C (Centre/ Offensive Line), and 3 WR (Wide Receivers). The standard defensive formation features 2 DL (Defensive Line), 2 LB (Line Backer), 2 CB (C0rner Back), and 1 S (Safety).

The LFL began operations in 2004 as a Pay-Per-View alternative to the Super Bowl Half Time show. Funny side bar- I bought this PPV and watched in inaugural game, but this was the Half Time show with the now infamous Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake  “Wardrobe Malfunction”- in essence more provocative skin was shown on CBS than on the PPV.

The Toronto Triumph as they are called will be playing only two home games this season at Ricoh Coliseum (Saturday September 17th and Friday October 28th), this is all any team gets. So if you are interested in attending a game you will need to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale May 2nd- Be sure to vote first if you are Canadian- and can be purchased through Ticketmaster by phone at 1-855-985-5000 or online at

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Open Letter to Leafs Nation

Another year, another painful end to Maple Leafs season. (if you’re name is Devon, for the sake of word count replace “Maple Leafs” with “Calgary Flames”. You’ll see this post is synonymous with both.) The NHL season is now in the books and for these 2 Canadian teams, it’s been another rough ride.

Toronto finished 4 wins out of the postseason (4 that didn’t happen in March but should be easy to pinpoint earlier in the schedule) and for Calgary, a mere 3 points keep them from April hockey. If this were San Francisco they’d call the playoff “drives” torture.

In both cases, 2 things happened that caused the demise. Firstly, the entire team was thrown on 1 players’ shoulders. James Reimer for Toronto and Jerome Iginla for Calgary.

Secondly, expectations and late season pushes created a false sense of security in both cities. Fans became excited as games meant something. But let’s be honest, neither team was ever going to make it.

I’ve often heard in Toronto the pre-season goal is 90 points. There once was a time when 90 points comfortably got you into the playoffs. Not this season. 90 points landed teams 10th and 11th in the East and West respectively.

The other goal I heard often was to simply make the playoffs. I’ve always said though, if a team can’t win the championship of their given sport, they have no business being in the playoffs. Again, being honest, neither Toronto or Calgary were winning the cup this season. So why bother setting a post-season goal?

Short answer, playoff teams make money (outside Phoenix). Long answer, as we saw down the stretch, fans want tickets, jerseys, TV packages, $$$$$ ……

Owners LOVE money. And we, as fans love drama. The kind of drama a playoff run, or even hopeful stretch drive will bring. Ask any true fan, they’ll tell you they’ll pay whatever the have to to get in on the action.

So here we are, 2 bloggers in April, watching baseball and not our teams playing playoff hockey. Until the money stops flowing, it will be the same story. We may make the playoffs some day, but even then we’ll have our hearts ripped out with a brutal playoff collapse.

Personally, I want a high draft pick or a championship. Don’t give me anything else and don’t try and sell me on anything but these two outcomes.

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