Appeared in Business in Vancouver – November 19, 2013
Hail, Canadian Football League fans, and the plague take you if you pay a pigskin’s worth of attention to the inferior product south of the border.
I leave to double-domed football experts the stats and strategies preceding the Grey Cup game next Sunday, and host city Regina’s monetary benefit to the business pages – but then how many have evergreen memories of the first postwar battle for the mug, 1945, Toronto Argonauts 35, Winnipeg Blue Bombers zip, and the Argos’ two successful matchups (28-6, 10-9)? As happens with unnerving frequency these days, I am the only active newspaper guy left standing with such memories.
But that was then. Take my word, this item was left on the cutting-room floor: on September 13 this year I predicted that a lethal curse would afflict the BC Lions. The Geroy Simon curse. The Lions traded Simon to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Who proceeded to tame the Lions in the Western semifinal.
Simon’s multiple records you can look up. They don’t chronicle his scorn for the show-off stuff that poisons the game – that ego-strutting after no more than a workmanlike tackle or turnover. (Compare baseball’s culture of nothin’-to-it shrug after a balletic catch or toss.)
But Simon is more than his great skills. Example: Montreal Alouettes’ talented Rob Bragg suffered an early-season injury to an already wonky knee. Said Simon, quoted by Province reporter Brad Brown: “I feel so bad for the guy. I’m a fan of Rob Bragg, even when I played for B.C. all those years.”
That’s Simon, talking about an opponent. That’s grace, intelligence, character. And B.C. traded him away. Curses!
More grimly, concussions are persistently edging into both hockey and football stories, an uncomfortable subject for media that cover, not to say hype, the sports.
The NFL – playing that fourth-chance, shrunken-field American game – paid $765 million in August to settle a lawsuit by 4,500 players and their families who claimed the league covered up facts about long-term effects of head injuries. (Small change. NFL annual revenue touches $10 billion.)
Cam Cole examined this in a superb Postmedia column. It is an ugly tale. Not just detailing some ex-players’ long-term fuzziness and worse. But also media complicity.
Big example: ESPN, which is paying $15.2 billion for the TV rights to NFL games through 2021 – and, candidly, who wouldn’t hesitate to throw the first stone with that much bread at stake? – nervously pulled out of co-operating with the PBS documentary League of Denial, based on a book by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru titled League of Lies, Fraud and Moral Depravity.
But read on. John J. Miller, director of the American journalism program at Hillsdale College, Michigan, said in a speech in September: “Football’s problems today are nothing compared to what they were about a century ago. In 1905, 18 people died playing the sport … the inevitable toll of a violent game.”
Punches, elbowing, eye-gouging – routine. Miller defended today’s game: “Football isn’t a contact sport – it’s a collision sport that has always prized size, strength and power.”
Cam Cole doesn’t let Canada’s national obsession off the hook: “Who could ever watch a staged hockey fight again – let alone stand up and cheer – if we really thought very hard about enforcers like Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien and Wade Belak dying young? But we do.” Now we’ve had Philadelphia goalie Ray Emery’s disgraceful – and barely penalized – unprovoked assault on Washington counterpart Braden Holtby. The referee watched.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman blandly dispensed blame. To the media.
I’ve stopped watching our “Canadian” game. It’s a disgrace to the nation.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013