photo credit: Sportsnet
Good morning sports media watchers. Not a lot of big media stories on the front burner but there's some stuff brewing in the back on which to keep our eyes. I'll be using this post to clear out the queue so forgive me if some of these items are out of date.
Programming Note: I'm taking an extended break from writing. I'll be back at you in one form or another before too long. Follow me on Twitter for sports media observations (and nothing else). Retweets are sometimes sincere.
Suggested Soundtrack: Leonard Cohen – Waiting For the Miracle
For most of Gary's tenure as NHL commissioner he was widely regarded to be the worst of the leaders of the big 4 sports. This was at a time when noted buffoon Bud Selig was running MLB. A few years ago Gary's fortunes started to change as Roger Goodell started his slow descent into incompetence. Now there is a good argument to be had about which of the two is doing a worse job as the top dog in his sport. This week Gary made a strong pitch to reclaim his title. The NHL filed a 24 page response to a Senate inquiry about the league's stance on CTE. In it Gary casts doubt on a "link" between CTE and concussion:
“The science regarding C.T.E., including on the asserted ‘link’ to concussions that you reference, remains nascent, particularly with respect to what causes C.T.E. and whether it can be diagnosed by specific clinical symptoms. The relationship between concussions and the asserted clinical symptoms of C.T.E. remains unknown.”
Gary goes on to cite the case of ex-NHL player/fighter Todd Ewen, whose brain was examined after his suicide at age 49. Ewen's brain showed no evidence of CTE. According to Gary,
"This, sadly, is precisely the type of tragedy that can result when plaintiffs’ lawyers and their media consultants jump ahead of the medical community and assert, without reliable scientific support, that there is a causal link between concussions and C.T.E. Certainly, a more measured approach consistent with the medical community consensus would be a safer, more prudent course.”
This is precisely the kind of disingenuous argument that makes the NHL look foolish. Rather than addressing the number of cases where there is evidence of CTE, Gary chose to pick a case where there isn't to try to reach the conclusion that there is no "link" between repeated concussions and CTE. This is like saying "I knew someone who smoked a pack a day and lived to 90, so there is no link between smoking and lung cancer." James Mirtle did a great job critiquing the NHL's argument.
And finally, here is Gary providing a quote that will likely not reflect very well on him in the years to come:
"The bottom line is that none of the research to this point in time has established a causal link between CTE and concussions in team sports generally, much less in NHL hockey. No medical scientific study has ever concluded that concussions suffered by players who have played hockey at the NHL level can or do cause degenerative ‘brain diseases.’”
"Nevermind the concussions"
As I have written before, someone at the NHL should be tracking the extent to which the league and its loudest voices comes across as anti-science and anti-player safety. We've seen this before with Don Cherry's public feud with Dr. Charles Tator. We have also seen this with Brian (I'm going to rent a barn and kick your ass) Burke talking about the "rats" taking over the league if you eliminate fighting. The NHL's recently released emails show the retrograde culture that dominates amongst senior execs like Colie Campbell. Finally, we saw how some in the NHL blamed Steve Moore when Todd Bertuzzi caved in his skull from behind.
One question over which I have been mulling is this: to what extent is Gary just speaking on behalf of his constituency?
The NHL has never been accused of being a progressive league. It has been historically slow to adapt to technology, social issues, and the like. And it could well be that behind the scenes Gary is trying to his best to drag the owners and GMs into the 21st century, and failing. Whatever the facts are, this was a moment the NHL could have free-ridden on the NFL's recent admission of a CTE-concussion link, and taken a bold step in favour of protecting the health of its players. That they didn't is unsurprising, but still disappointing.
Gary is widely viewed as a talented lawyer. He has also spent a lot of his time as commissioner in court defending the league against lawsuits, fighting relocation, and locking out the players. Right now the NHL needs a lawyer less than they need a leader.
Gary has a lot on his plate. He is dealing with 2 years of declining playoff ratings in 2 countries, as well as a growing sentiment the game is boring. His prized rights deal with Rogers is not going well in Canada. At the same time, the deal is providing his owners with 20% less value than when it was signed due to his mistake of making the deal in Canadian dollars. As TSN reports, he is going to be back in court to talk about his concussion comments as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by suffering former players. He also has an expansion team joining the league in a completely unproven sports market.
As mentioned, the NFL is finally trying to get it together on CTE. The NBA took a big step in moving the All-Star game out of North Carolina's due to that state's legal endorsement of discrimination. MLB is looking good under Rob Manfred's leadership. The NBA got some new energy when Stern retired and Adam Silver took over. The NHL owners should start thinking about life after Gary and whether they are prepared to promote someone who will lead rather than follow.
One of the topics we discuss the most around here is the lack of a farm system in radio. It is very hard for people to work their way up from lowly intern to underpaid producer to fill-in host to full-time host. There are a few such success stories but none of them are recent.
Summer brings with it a crop of hard-working fill-in folks, as the big time hosts retreat to their summer homes. One of the good things about this is that the lesser known guys get a chance to get their reps in running a radio show. As we all know, radio is about comfort and familiarity. You can make several good points for a whole segment but if you fumble around for the last 30 seconds throwing to break then it reminds the audience you're not really up to prime time just yet. Fixing that takes time and practice, and it is very hard for people on the way up to get that practice.
This summer has brought a slew of new, newish, or evening voices into the daytime slots. Here are some polls to see how readers are finding the fill-ins.
With some major contracts expiring in the next 12 months in Toronto it will be interesting to see if any of these names successfulyl leverage their summer work into promotions. Aternately, it would be nice to see some of these guys hired into major timeslots in smaller Canadian markets.
On the topic of radio, Sporting News Radio is rebranding again, this time to SB Nation radio. This gives the corps of writers at SB Nation up to 500 radio stations on which to make appearances. This is an exciting new model. Let's see how it goes. In the U.S. there are several national radio networks: ESPN, FOX, CBS, and now SBN. That's quite a lot compared to the 7 TSN all-sports stations and the 2 Sportsnet ones. More on this topic down the road.
With the Olympics starting shortly all eyes will soon turn to Rio. Both Bruce Arthur and Stephen Brunt have quality pieces on the fallout from the Russian doping scandal. (Aside: I really don't get what determines when people comment on stories on SN. Brunt on Shapiro = 500 comments. Brunt on the Olympics = 40 comments)
Cord cutting is continuing at a careening clip, according to this report by CBC. The cable companies have a plan though: charge existing customers more.
Amid news that the investigation into the culture of the Star is being put on hold, the financial picture at the paper remains uncertain. Here's hoping all these losses lead to stability down the road. It would be nice if Canada's biggest newspaper were healthy.
In a somewhat unconventional move TSN sent Rick Westhead to do a feature on Jays prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr. Nice to see them following a sports story even if it means promoting a Rogers property.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)