Thursday, February 21, 2013

No hurt feelings, please

The touchy-feely police are at it again in Ontario, where the provincial soccer association is eliminating the practice of keeping scores and standings in leagues for players under the age of 12. They're spouting the predictable mealy-mouthed platitudes about fostering fun and self-esteem without the pressure of competition, but the usual arguments against this brand of mollycoddling also apply. Life is a competition, whether it's for a sports championship, a plum job or the heart of the best-looking girl in school. There are winners and losers, we are not defined by one win or one loss, and it's important to learn how to win with honour and humility and lose with grace and dignity.
None of this is lost on the proponents of no-score/no-standings. They acknowledge it. Their spin is that keeping competitive results brings out the worst in parents, whose win-at-all-costs mentality creates undue pressure, inhibits the learning process and takes most or all of the fun out of it. No argument here, but if the problem is with the parents, why shortchange the kids? It would make more sense to have mandatory seminars for parents and implement a no-tolerance policy against abusive and otherwise inappropriate behavior in the stands or on the sidelines. Call me madcap, but that seems to me to be eminently more logical and meritorious than using the immaturity of grownups as a reason to stunt the emotional growth of children.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jinx schminx

The Twittersphere was a bit too subdued for my liking last night, so I decided to mention with about 10 minutes left in the third period that Canadiens goaltender Peter Budaj was working on a shutout. Most people took this blatant breach of superstition protocol for what it was: a bad joke.
Predictably, however, there was a vocal minority whose reactions ranged from annoyed to outraged, including one guy who said I was being disrespectful. Disrespectful to whom? To Peter Budaj? My understanding of the superstition is that you don't mention to the goalie that he's got a shutout going, just like you don't talk to a pitcher who's working on a no-hitter or a perfect game, and I'm pretty sure Budaj wasn't packing an iPhone in his blocker and checking my Twitter feed during stoppages in play. Maybe if I were a player or coach I wouldn't mention the shutout, primarily because I'd be too focused on how to add to a 1-0 lead while at the same time being defensively responsible.
If there's an unwritten rule about not mentioning a shutout, its application stops at the bench. It's not on anyone else inside or outside the building to cater to superstition - sailors, wizards and Italian grandmothers notwithstanding. Even Vin Scully mentioned that Sandy Koufax was perfect before Koufax completed his perfect game in 1965. VIN SCULLY. If the greatest sports broadcaster of all time can break with perceived mystical convention on the Los Angeles Dodgers radio network, it shouldn't sink anyone's ship when the blowhard from the local all sports morning show does the same thing on Twitter.
By the way, Budaj got the shutout, so you can come out from under the covers, put away the garlic and take the horseshoe off the door.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Are we there yet? (and other Monday morning musings)

Remember Wayne Gretzky's 50th birthday? Me neither. How about when Joe Montana turned the big five-oh? I got nothin'. They were the greatest champions of their generation in their respective sports, but they reached the middle-age milestone in relative obscurity. Not so Michael Jordan, whose 50th birthday yesterday was the culmination of an entire week saturated with media retrospectives celebrating an athlete who hasn't played competitively in nearly a decade. Despite a private life marred by scandal and a petty, bitter Hall of Fame induction speech that arguably tainted his legacy, Jordan was and remains a global phenomenon without equal in the world of sports. Tiger Woods is the only other athlete who comes close to Jordan's stature, and even Tiger is playing catch-up...For the sake of certainty, news of Canadiens rookie Brendan Gallagher's concussion could hardly have been worse if he'd suffered torn knee ligaments or a dislocated shoulder. There are specific medical remedies and defined recovery periods for nearly every other major injury, but the science of sports-related brain trauma is still fraught with guesswork, and it seems the more the medical community learns about concussions, the bleaker the prognosis for anybody who sustains one...Not that it makes any difference in my life one way or the other, but wouldn't the NBA All Star slam dunk contest be more challenging as a one-on-one competition? The current format is akin to a hockey shootout without a goaltender...Danica Patrick made NASCAR history by becoming the first woman to win pole position for the Daytona 500 in only her sixth career Sprint Cup race. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the first time she didn't stop to pee and ask for directions during qualifying.

Monday, February 11, 2013

PK's color the elephant in the room(and other Monday morning musings)

If there was something - ANYTHING - overtly mean-spirited in P.K. Subban's makeup, it might stand to reason that he was named Sports Illustrated's "Most Hated Player in the NHL," but there isn't, so it doesn't. Subban is neither arrogant nor spiteful. At worst, he's cocksure, and he's got the talent to justify his confidence. His larger-than-life personality is perceived as bespeaking a lack of humility that rubs the ultra-conservative hockey establishment the wrong way. None of that is enough make him the most hated player in hockey, which by process of elimination leaves a lingering white society bias that says Subban should "know his place"...Short attention span syndrome will probably prevent it from getting the exposure it deserves, but the famiy of the late Joe Paterno has commissioned an investigation challenging the Freeh report that was used to discredit the former Penn State football coach and destroy his legacy. Among other credible experts recruited by the Paternos, former US Attorney General Dick Thornburgh calls the Freeh report flawed and incomplete. That's powerful testimony from a prominent figure, and provides a measure of the balance and perspective that was almost non-existent at the height of the Paterno witch hunt...There's still no confirmation that Ray Lewis will join ESPN as a football analyst next season, although Lewis says he'd like to take a stab at it...It'll be a busy Monday for Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski, who's got an 11am NHL disciplinary hearing for biting Max Pacioretty, followed by de-worming and a flea bath.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Code schmode

There's a fundamental legitimacy problem with unwritten codes. Being unwritten, they offer no hard and fast rules by which to abide or which to cite as indisputable evidence that the code has been upheld or violated.
Philadelphia Flyer Zac Rinaldo was widely criticized last night for continuing to throw punches after scoring a knockdown in a fight with Tampa Bay's BJ Crombeen. Rinaldo was chastised on mainstream and social media for dispensing with the hockey code in favor of the street fight and bar brawl code, which dictates that once you have the other guy down, you do whatever it takes to make sure he stays down. There was a measure of payback when Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier delivered a couple of extra shots after taking down Max Talbot.
Let's be honest - as gentlemanly pursuits go, hockey fights are no more credible than street fights or bar brawls. In none of the aforementioned scenarios do the Marquis of Queensberry rules apply. Hockey fights are unsanctioned, beneath the established societal standards of civilized behavior and against rules of the game. It's difficult to invoke the notion of chivalry without an existing precept of honor, and there's nothing honorable about two guys beating the living daylights out of each other, whether it's on a street corner, in a tavern or during a hockey game, and no matter how much you try to dress it up as noble warriors adhering to an unwritten code.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Boo f***ing hoo(and other Monday morning musings)

It'll be a victory for excuse-making and poor sportsmanship if a single disputed play is allowed to define Super Bowl 47. Armchair referees armed with hindsight and the benefit of super slow motion replays from multiple angles have decreed that the 49ers were robbed by a non-call on a hold on Michael Crabtree on 4th and goal and the game on the line. The truth is it was a bang-bang play, the interference call - had it been made - could have gone either way, and Crabtree would've had to morph into Elastic Man to catch it inbounds. No less an authority than former NFL head coach and defensive back Herm Edwards says you're not going to get that call in the Super Bowl, and that San Francisco's red zone play-calling was more to blame than the officiating was for the 49ers demise. The Ravens didn't win the game on a debatable non-call. They won it by dominanting the first half, returning a kickoff for a touchdown to open the second half and responding with a scoring drive each time the 49ers got within striking distance. Baltimore was the better team, by a margin more substantial than the final score indicates...In his first two games of the season with no training camp, PK Subban looked like PK Subban in his first two games with no training camp, which is to say his timing was a little off but he was still a difference maker every time he touched the puck. Regardless of how he's perceived in the room, the Canadiens are a better team with Subban than they are without him, and winning has a way of trivializing in-house bickering...The Canadiens need to take the three stars vote back from the fans if they want the process to have any credibility. When all three stars in a 2-1 game are from the same team, it's clearly nothing but a popularity contest and only a matter of time before Youppi gets to take a post-game spin around center ice...Allow me to be the umpteenth sportscaster to say Phil Mickelson "cleaned up" at the unfortunately-named Waste Management Phoenix Open, which isn't the catchiest or most distinguished name for a PGA tournament, but still has a better ring to it than the Magnitigorsk Slagheap Invitational and the Bangalore Open Air Sewer Pro-Am.