Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Toronto Sports Media; Getting Personal


It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

It was easy to write stories about the Maple Leafs when they were toiling around the basement of the NHL. Good news doesn’t really sell these days (see RIM), so what’s one to do when things seem to be going okay?

The flip side to that, and this must be scaring the hell out of sports PR people, is what the hell happens when they lose control of the message. In the past GM’s and coaches would do interviews, host scrums etc. there was always a PR person around to kind of assist, to help with the message. With team personnel now taking to social media, the tables seem to have turned. There’s no more controlling the story, they now can lead the story or even better (worse?) instantly respond to it.

That brings us to what has become a deliciously interesting relationship between the biggest team in town and those in the media with the biggest names/followings. Patt Quinn refused to go PTS with McCown. Cito hated a few select media members. Things would be said on air and the discussion was always one sided. Suddenly there’s a response, and it’s direct to the fans. No intermediary needed. The result? Things are starting to get personal. Delicious for those of us who care about or follow this type of stuff.

First there was the exchange maybe not so direct between Damien Cox and Ron Wilson. If you haven’t seen it the fine folks over at PPP have captured it well here. It’s not a conversation but you can tell it’s most certainly reactionary. The highlight to me is Cox’s brillaint “All I can tell you is JP Ricciardi’s road outta town started with one ridiculously obvious lie.”

Things have turned up lately though in the feud between the Toronto Sun and Brian Burke. The bird cage incident last season seemed to kick things off. You remember, “”The Sun has great value if you own a puppy or a parakeet”.

Next came free agency day when Simmons wrote a pointed column that included :

“You don’t, if you’re running the Leafs, if you’re struggling to make a lousy team better, if you haven’t been in the playoffs yet under your watch — even if it is a Canada Day trip for the Canadian troops — go to Kandahar on July 1. You just don’t.”

Then there was the twitter exchange between Steve Simmons and Burke and Wilson on twitter:

“Simmons: Is Twitter big enough for Brian Burke? We’ll find out soon. You can follow him @LeafsBB20 Wonder who gets blocked first.

Simmons: So here’s the question: Is it really @LeafsBB20 Brian Burke on Twitter or is a team PR flak doing what he thinks is the right thing?

Burke: @simmonssteve And who on earth is Steve Simmons?

Simmons: Thanks to @LeafsBB20 for the morning mention. Now I’m over 17,000 in followers. Didn’t expect to be there.

Simmons: I feel special. Both @LeafsBB20 and @coachrw63 have blocked me on Twitter. #howsmallisthat?

Simmons: A Hall of Fame reporter told me years ago: If you get along with the people you’re covering, then you’re not doing your job.

Wilson: Amazing, I have not blocked Simmons, but I certainly don’t follow him, nor do I care if he follows me. #arrogance

Simmons: @coachrw63 If that’s true. explain why I don’t get YOUR Tweets. I get tweets from everybody else I follow.

Burke: To set the record straight, I have not blocked anybody. #getyourfactsstraight.

Which brings us to today (it’s only 10pm on the West coast).

“Burke’s becoming an embarrassment”

That’s the headline in today’s Steve Simmons story (which we know Simmons didn’t write).

This is from the story:

“And in this season of hockey revival, where all should be smiles and chuckles, he is becoming something of a local embarrassment.”

So, the story goes, as told by Simmons, Ron Wison tells the media that, “Jonas Gustavsson would start in goal against the Bruins on Saturday night. Then he started James Reimer.”

Ahhhhhhhh JP how we miss you so!

Personally I think this is much to do about nothing. I don’t really see how Burke is an embarrassment and if he is to whom? Who is embarrassed by him or his actions? The fans don’t care. Hell, most love that he takes on the MSM. Those who don’t hate him anyways.

Simmons and others have called Wilson out for lying. Perhaps, things would have been ok if Wilson just admitted it, in their eyes. Burke, in defending Wilson has thrown the gas on the fire, he’s made things worse; that’s the argument.

Now, if anyone in the USA bet on hockey, if vegas cared at all about NHL hockey we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The only reason we have complete transparency in the NFL on injuries and lineup changes is 100% due to betting on the games. No one cares about hockey so this matter is left up to the teams. Somewhere I read a quote from Bill Daly where he said something along the lines of we don’t like our teams to lie. We all know that the NHL policy on announcing injuries is about as serious as the long term viability of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Burke has said publicly that he has a great deal of respect for most of those in the Toronto Sports Media. He told me directly in our audio interview for this website that he thinks that vast majority do a great job covering the team. Like everything else in life, there are those in the minority who ruin things for the majority. While I don’t know this, I suspect that Burke would put Simmons in the small group of reporters who “ruin” things for those for whom he has respect. I asked Burke what he thought about the media reaction to being called out on Twitter for what they write, the response I got was short and to the point:

“What a disgrace that they think they are beyond criticism! They are way out of step with the fans.”

It’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. Both sides are going to have to live with each other and in some cases perhaps for quite a long time. Quinn lasted a relatively long time without going on PTS.

Cam Cole of the National Post has a great perspective on this whole thing:

“Oh, good grief. You think they need urging? Wailing about it only makes us look kind of petty and whiny, as a species.

Anyone who works as a reporter and has not been lied to, routinely — or simply misled, or misinformed, or had half the story given to him/her and the important part left out — is clearly covering something other than professional sports.”

All four of the parties here are bright, articulate men. Wilson, Cox, Simmons and Burke. Each knows exactly what they are doing and the ramifications of their actions. Burke and Wilson have to win. They have to meet the media and tell a story. Wilson tries to protect and motivate his players. Burke Will do the same with not only his players but also his coaches. Simmons and Cox battle to get the scoop. They work to get the angle, the scoop, the opinion; truth is it’s about one thing and one thing only; eyeballs/ears. No one cares what a boring scribe has to say. When news breaks we want to know what Cox and Simmons have to say. When either guys breaks a story there’s a degree of trust because they have earned the reputation. I don’t believe that any of the four men say or write anything without fully contemplating the ramifications. How many blogs, stories, hours of talk radio have been and will be spent talking about this story? The liar story is bigger than the Leafs losing two to Boston. Instead of some other news story tons of people are reading Simmons in the Sun to see first hand what he wrote. Orchestrated? No, I don’t think so. Calculated and premeditated by all parties independently? You better believe it. A sucker born every minute! Everyone is a winner. Especially us the fans.

Take a listen to Simmons with Cybulski and Co. Great stuff

Story you must read is from the New York Times on Derek Boogard. I thought the article in the first edition of the Sportsnet magazine was good; this is a great, must read.

So, you don’t have cable but want to watch the Leafs, Raptors or TFC on TV? Just buy an xbox; how cool

Haven’t seen this too often, ESPN, on ESPN’s firing of Matthew Barnaby. If only we knew his new cell number!


About the Author
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
December 6, 2011 6:52 am

I had the misfortune of meeting Steve Simmons before. The guy is a self righteous arrogant prick. He knows nothing about ANY of the sports he claims to follow. Hes by far the biggest bandwagon jumper in this city… Its good to see Burke put him in his place… Pathetic that TSN gives him such a big profile. I dont know if anyone remembers a few years back when The Sun took him off the sports beat and moved him to be a “Political Columnist”. He was a disaster. Was always surprised they didnt terminate him with all the cuts Sun Media has made over the years.

December 6, 2011 7:15 am

I agree with Mike totally on his views on Simmons… Why TSN gives him a platform is beyond me..But I will say this for him he has writen some good investagative articles….Put him back in the news room…

mike (in boston)
mike (in boston)
December 6, 2011 7:53 am

TSM says: When news breaks we want to know what Cox and Simmons have to say.

What’s this “we” white man? I don’t read anything by either person unless someone here recommends it. If i care about breaking Leafs news then i read it on blogs. The commenters at PPP had a nice analysis of the state of the hockey media in Toronto. To paraphrase: they used to be the the gate-keepers, but their control has all but vanished. Now if we want to hear from the athletes we can follow them on Twitter. If we want analysis we can read blogs. What value does a press pass really bring anymore? The struggle not to be boring has led some media members to make themselves the story. That is pretty transparently a substitute for having interesting opinions.

TSM also says: I don’t believe that any of the four men say or write anything without fully contemplating the ramifications.

Disagree about this too. Cox’s Twitter meltdowns are well-documented. The impression i have is that he is quick to anger, and not terribly measured in his thinking.

December 6, 2011 8:01 am

Steve Simmons is an embarrassment to sports writers everywhere, and he showed it once again with his petulant and name-calling article in the Toronto Sun.

I think the writer of this article is giving way too much credit to Simmons – I don’t think he’s that intelligent at all. If he was, he could be plying his trade for a publication that isn’t the sports equivalent of bush league. Instead, he pretends to be this savvy truth teller of a dying rag, trying to invent huge controversies and make cardboard cutout villains out of honourable people.

I have zero respect for a guy like Simmons. He is a reminder of the reason why newspapers have become irrelevant . . . and a reminder of how small and petty people can be. I believe the other comments here about him being arrogant in real life, as it certainly fits with the tone he uses throughout his articles.

Simmons is a clown, and an embarrassment to his profession.

Ami Angelwings
December 6, 2011 8:59 am

I’m so amused by how immature and trollish many adults can be online. Esp adults who you think would understand that given their position, they should be the “bigger man”, like journalists to site comments, authors to fan criticism online, media personalities on twitter, and sports executives to, everybody lower than a sports executive. xD The truth is a lot of kids and young people are actually more able to handle this stuff because we grew up on this medium, we get that you can’t get mad at EVERYTHING said online, or that there’s always going to be people online who disagree with you, and if you get mad every time it happens, you’re going to be angry forever. xD (not that it helps to know this sometimes) But adults who didn’t grow up on this, especially ones who were used to a world where being a professional, being a journalist, being an executive, or an author, etc etc meant you had a bigger platform and ability to get your voice heard over joe shmoe, get bent out of shape when they suddenly are immersed in a world where basically, they can hear everybody’s thoughts. No longer can you go through life saying stuff, and at most, you get some angry hand written letters, now you get to know what everybody thinks of you, and if you don’t understand this is just basically like being able too overhear every coffee shop conversation in the world, you’re gonna get angry and take it personal… and act like a troll.

Everybody says its the “anonymity” of the internet, but it’s not that, if it was then people like Burke, Simmons, Cox and Wilson wouldn’t be acting like a troll who made up a random handle. (I also hate the “anonymity” argument… I’m not anonymous… you don’t know my real name, but I use the same e-identity for everything, so I’m not “anonymously” trolling ppl, the only thing you don’t know is my real life identity and the only reason THAT would be useful is if you wanted to take real life revenge on me, and that’d be kinda petty xD and say scary things about you xD )

I actually think it’s the whole “in front of the crowds” thing. If you get called out in private email by somebody anonymous, it’s not going to make you so angry, or make you lose your sense of reason. Like how critical mail in the past to celebrities or media personalities felt to them. Sure it might hurt a little, but you laugh it off, think “what a little person” and dont’ respond and nobody will know. But when somebody calls you out or talks about you online, that’s DIFFERENT, because suddenly you feel like EVERYBODY is watching, EVERYBODY read it, and they all agree UNLESS YOU SAY SOMETHING… you can’t back down in front of the school yard can you? And there’s SO many logical fallacies right? You can’t let them stand! Nobody else might notice them! You have to point them out!

And thus a flame war between otherwise rational adults begins. xD

These 4 have lost all right to lecture their kids on immaturity. If they calm down and realize how petty and silly they’re being though… it could be a great teaching example! 😀

mike (in boston)
mike (in boston)
December 6, 2011 9:22 am

nice analysis Ami “Tolstoy” Angelwings — most people learn pretty quickly that you can’t win an argument with an idiot, and so you have to pick and choose which comments are worthy of a response. (google “fuckwad theory” for a visual representation of this principle)

The complicating factor here is that the media and the coach/GM have a professional relationship that binds them together. That’s why coaches get fired (in part) for not being able to get along with the media. That’s also why writers should get fired or reassigned if they can’t keep themselves out of the story. This is, i think, the most plausible interpretation of what happened with Berger.

Aye Eye
Aye Eye
December 6, 2011 9:41 am

No surprise, but I disagree with Mike (I wish he really was in Boston). The problems with bloggers is they have no accountability and they have no access. It’s very easy to stay in Mom’s basement and write about the Leafs or whatever else you want to, but where is the credibility? It’s very easy, even fashionable, to dump on the MSM and a lot of it is deserved. This latest kerfuffle about Wilson’s lying is a great example. Most people see it as no big deal and that the media is overreacting, but it’s really not about one incident, it’s about a significant difference of opinion. The MSM sees itself as representing the fans, Leafs management sees them as a pain in the butt, one they have to deal with but they don’t have to like. In truth, it’s all pretty petty. Part of the reason it’s a story at all is the competition in the media, and the fact that 4 daily newspapers, 2 all sports TV and 2 all sports radio stations have to have content every day, as do the countless non-sports stations. Stuff ends up getting magnified that really shouldn’t.
As for Simmons and Cox, personal taste is a great thing. But don’t be stupid by suggesting they don’t know what they’re talking about. What you really mean is, you disagree with them.
One last thing. Mike ( I really really wish you were in Boston). That’s the second time you’ve used the expression, ” What’s this we, white man?”.
Even a blogger would know once is too much.


[…] Bruins defenseman Joe Corvo fight in the third period of their NHL hockey game i more… Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Toronto Sports Media; Getting Personal – Toronto Sports Media – 12/06/2011 Toronto Sports MediaToronto Maple Leafs vs. Toronto […]

December 6, 2011 10:22 am

“Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.”

Management would be wise to follow these words. The Press can’t, because they’re the Press, and they’re paid to tell people what they’re thinking.

Management/coach is paid to manage/coach.

I believe that nobody is forcing Burke, Collangelo, Wilson, Anthopoulos, Farrell, et al, to give away all of the state secrets. Try to say “I choose not to answer that question and here is why…”.

And close your Twitter accounts. If you want to speak to the fans directly, use the team website. That’s what it’s there for.

December 6, 2011 10:38 am

You hit the nail on the head “No one cares what a boring scribe has to say” unless it’s a scoop and Simmons is just plain boring re Burke. It must be a slow news day! I guess being the only team to beat the Rangers at home this year isn’t interesting enough.

December 6, 2011 10:49 am

What struck me most about the electronic diarrhia that ensued following Reimer-gate was the entitlement issues displayed by certain members of the TSM. These guys think they’re entitled to every Nueron in the coaches brain, and that any misinformation they get is a slight against humanity. They could really use a good dose of perspective. I would think the average leaf fan could care less that Wilson lied. I in fact found it quite entertaining. Cox’s reaction was so over the top you would think that public safety was put at risk by Wilsons fib. Cox on Twitter is that 12 year Xbox 360 fanboy troll who, once you realize what they are, can only stop and laugh at as the fool in the room.

As a 32 year Leafs fan for the better part of my life, I’ve grown tired of some of the “old guard” in the MSM. Their prized opinions and viewpoints are stale and their ignorance of Internet culture confounding for supposed “top media personalities”. The articles coming out of the Mirtles, Seigels and Arthur’s of the world are actually worth the paper they are written on or the keyboards they are typed on. Their points of view are fresh and current.

Don Mandrie
Don Mandrie
December 6, 2011 11:33 am

I have a difficult time listening to Cybulski. He’s not without value but seems over matched by drive slot.

December 6, 2011 11:42 am

No doubt Simmons is arrogant and self serving but he’s no comparison to Burke in those departments. I like Burke’s candor (unlike so many other hockey people who simply recite the careful, boring clichés) however, Burke is a control freak who knows how to use the media. It’s always under his terms and now that Simmons is calling him on it, Burke will be in attack mode.

And is it just me or has Burke aged like 20 years since he took the job with the Leafs? He’s moving up my death pool – with a bullet.

Oh and another thing – Twitter is for fairies.

design guy Paul
design guy Paul
December 6, 2011 12:08 pm

The 4 “gentlemen” tweeting at each other like prepubescent little boys all have some same things in common. Those being; arrogant, self-righteous, condescending, self-serving and all think they are the smartest guy in the room.

Their collective bosses should tell them all to STOP their antics on Twitter, and just do the job they are paid to to. It is no wonder all four of these guys have more enemies than friends both professionally and in the court of public opinion.

December 6, 2011 12:27 pm

Online pissing matches don’t look god for either side. Grow up guys.

Steve from Waterloo
Steve from Waterloo
December 6, 2011 1:07 pm

Maybe all four could rent a barn…

December 6, 2011 3:25 pm

I predicted before the Leafs even hired Burke that it would be just a matter of time before the arrogant bully Burke got into a war with the Toronto Media paparazzi…and i was right.

Ami Angelwings
December 6, 2011 8:37 pm

“Steve from Waterloo
December 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Maybe all four could rent a barn…”

This is the best idea here xD

I’d watch.

We’d even allow them to bring in foreign objects. Like Damien can have a tennis racket, Wilson can have a hockey stick… etc…

I wonder if any of them can shoot a fireball >_>

Gerry (Burlington)
Gerry (Burlington)
December 7, 2011 7:33 pm

@Steve Waterloo, very funny. Interesting that Kevin Lowe himself had never heard of that invite by the way….

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x