Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Monday, September 24, 2012
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Anyone who thinks that a public outcry and three game suspension against a baseball player for a homophobic slur represent a societal turning point might want to dial back their expectations. In the bigger battle for acceptance, it's not enough for social and mainstream media do-gooders to satisfy their own consciences with fish-in-a-barrel lip service against a hapless target like Yunel Escobar.
The gay athletic community needs a Jackie Robinson. The dynamics are different and the struggle is no less daunting in many ways, but men's professional team sports are more ready for an openly gay superstar in 2012 than America was prepared for a black major league baseball player in 1947. In breaking baseball's color barrier, Robinson exposed himself to enormous hostility and abuse but never wavered, and in time became an accepted and respected American icon. Robinson couldn't hide the fact that he was black the way a gay or lesbian athlete can fly under the radar if he or she so chooses, and that's the choice the overwhelming majority have made. Up to and even into this century, that was the expedient and even prudent course, but the past 10 years have been a watershed - socially, politically and legally. The Escobar episode demonstrates that there is not only support for but PRESSURE to support same sex equality, to the point where even the most moderate adversaries are summarily branded as bigots.
Jackie Robinson changed history with a handful of advocates at his side. An openly gay baseball, basketball, football or hockey star in the existing socio-political climate would be an instant hero to tens of millions of people. If ever there was a time for a team sport athlete of significant stature to come out publicly and do for their community what Jackie Robinson did for his, it's now.
So where is he?
Monday, September 17, 2012
With the third hockey lockout in the past two decades now officially on the books, it's more abundantly clear than ever that the overwhelming share of the blame and responsibility is on the owners. Whatever the players' ulterior motive in offering to start the season without an agreement, it can at least be construed as a gesture of good faith. The same goes for the players' willingness to amend the previous CBA at their own expense, if not to the extent that the league is demanding. And whatever valid business reasons exist for the flurry of player contract signings before the lockout deadline, they are dwarfed by the owners' hypocrisy. Their frenzied, last minute use of a system they claim is broken blows gigantic holes in the league's credibility...Not that the players can lay complete claim to the moral high ground: the fact that NHLers who've signed with European clubs are taking jobs from players overseas suggests there is a selective solidarity among members of the NHLPA, and that they have no compunction about taking food off someone else's table for their own benefit...Even in the violent world of professional football, there are such things as etiquette and protocol, and Tampa Bay rookie head coach Greg Schiano breached both yesterday when he ordered his defence to fire through the New York line as the Giants took a knee on the last play of the game. Schiano's "it's not over 'till it's over" and "that's how we did it at Rutgers" rationalization was beyond lame, and if you think I'd feel differently if the Giants were on the other side of the ball - well, you're probably right...After spending most of last week calling former NHL defenceman Normand Rochefort "Leon" Rochefort, it did my heart good yesterday to hear someone of Troy Aikman's stature repeatedly refer to Jake Ballard as "Hank" Ballard. At least I confused two hockey players with one another. Aikman had a deceased R&B singer playing tight end in the NFL...I suppose it's fun to play spoiler when you're so far out of contention that there's nothing else to play for, but there's something undignified about baseball also-rans celebrating September walk-off wins like they just clinched the pennant. Are you listening, Red Sox and Royals? Have some humility. You've earned it.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
While it provides fresh fodder for the time-honored recreational pursuit of Toronto-bashing, a new ESPN survey ranking the Leafs as the worst sports franchise in North America doesn't stand up to real world scrutiny.
The fundamental flaw is in the survey's methodology. It's based on fan perception, which incorporates the mistaken assumption that what the fans think actually matters. Based on eight criteria including bang for the buck, fan relations, stadium experience, affordability, past championships and championship prospects, and quality of ownership, management and players, the Leafs are dead last among the 122 NHL, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball teams. The Phoenix Coyotes, meanwhile, are ranked as the seventh best franchise despite being in a chronic state of financial turmoil and ownership uncertainty. So much for credibility.
What the survey doesn't take into account is that the Leafs are the NHL's biggest cash cow; that despite their unmatched run of competitive futility, their's is hockey's most lucrative brand with a franchise value well north of half a billion dollars. Success in professional sports in 2012 isn't measured on the scoreboard or in the standings. It's measured on the balance sheet. Championships are incidental to the bottom line. It's a credit to their organization's business acumen and marketing savvy that no matter how bad the Leafs are on the ice, their fans can't get enough of them, whether it's in ticket sales, media content or merchandise.
ESPN got it backwards. Far from being the worst modern franchise, the Leafs are the envy of the corporate sports business world as the template for making massive profits off a mediocre product.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
This is a defining week in the NHL labor dispute, and not just because the deadline for a collective bargaining agreement to avert a lockout is this weekend. A union meeting in New York today that's expected to draw upwards of 250 players and is being touted as a show of solidarity could also end up being an early test of player solidarity.
While their united front under veteran sports labor negotiator Donald Fehr appears to be stronger than it was under the turbulent leadership of Bob Goodenow during the last lockout eight years ago, the fact remains that the players are going to suffer more and sooner than the owners will hurt from a work stoppage, which is why photo ops with star players standing shoulder to shoulder behind Fehr is a bit disingenuous. Those players have substantial monetary reserves and/or enormous earning potential. They don't represent the majority of players who have shorter careers at lower salaries, and whose window of earning opportunity would take a more critical hit from a lockout of any significant duration. Time is money, and the owners have more of both than the players have.
The players caved in last time, and with no real leverage, there are more reasons than not to suggest they'll eventually fold again, and the sooner they acquiese, the quicker they can get back to earning more money than most of them will make in their post-hockey lives, even under the terms of an agreement favorable to the owners. With that stark reality in mind, keeping his membership from wavering during a lockout could ultimately be at least as great a challenge for Donald Fehr as negotiating a settlement.
Monday, September 10, 2012
I saw a lot of terrific performances and intriguing developments in Week 1 of the NFL season: RG3's phenomenal debut, Peyton Manning's triumphant return and the Jets serving up some crow to the haters, to name but a handful of compelling plot twists. What I didn't see was substandard officiating cost anyone the game, their job or their health. I'm not saying it didn't happen. I'm saying I didn't see it, and I watched some of the games and most of the highlights. You'd have to catalogue every missed call in every game to say with certainty whether the replacement officials were better or worse than the locked out referees, and it seems to me that anyone who would go to those lengths is looking for a reason to complain...The case to be made for the Alouettes as the best team in the CFL fell apart Saturday in Vancouver, where the BC Lions schooled the Als and served emphatic notice that the Grey Cup will not be easily relinquished. The good news is that the 2012 Grey Cup game is in Toronto, meaning if the Alouettes get another crack at the Lions this season, it won't be at BC Place, which has consistently brought out the worst in the Als during a 10 year span that they've otherwise pretty much dominated...He's not as typically unprofessional as John Tortorella, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi is starting to share the Rangers coach's open disdain for certain media members. After a loss in Baltimore Saturday, Girardi went nose-to-nose with the New York Post's Joel Sherman, who reportedly gave as good as he got in the exchange, which would represent a rare moral victory for sports reporters routinely subjected to psychological bullying by self-important athletes, coaches and managers...If she didn't already belong, Serena Williams is now a legitimate part of the conversation about the greatest woman tennis player of all time, alongside Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. On the cusp of 31 in a young woman's sport, Williams is on one of the best runs of her career, adding yesterday's US Open title to the Wimbledon and Olympic championships she won earlier this summer..Meanwhile, I would conservatively estimate that men's professional tennis is at least 30 percent faster than the women's game - not necessarily better or more entertaining, but played at significantly greater speed and with correspondingly more power. It might not be politically correct to say so, but pointing out the obvious doesn't make me sexist. What makes me sexist is that Anna Kournikova is still my favorite tennis player.