by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail
The end of the baseball season means the beginning of winter, and right on cue it snowed in most of Ontario overnight. It also means that I will be listening to less radio since my appetite for hockey is smaller than your average Canadian’s. Hopefully some more issues arise that cross the boundary between sports and society so we have things to talk about for the next few months.
Also, I appreciate the people who send me anonymous tips about industry news. I can’t just publish rumours though. If you want me to go with something, we need to have some back and forth.
NHL player Derek Boogaard died of a drug overdose in May 2011. His father Len, a retired RCMP officer, is currently suing the NHL due to their failure to get him the help he needed. You can read about the details of the lawsuit here. Len appeared on PTS with Bob and Stephen Brunt this week to detail the results of his own investigation into the events and contributing factors surrounding his son’s death. The interview is the best thing I have heard on PTS in a long long time.
The interview is riveting. Len speaks with equal parts poise and devastation about the loss of his son. The key findings are that Derek was receiving copious amounts of opiates from team doctors, as well as through other sources. This flow of drugs continued unabated even after he spent two weeks in a treatment program for addiction. In the most egregious instance, he was given prescriptions by a doctor for a team he no longer played for. He was never suspended by the team or by the league despite multiple violations of the terms of his aftercare treatment. He could literally just text a doctor for a prescription for pills he was not supposed to be taking.
The question at the centre of this issue is whether the NHL’s drug program failed Derek or whether Derek managed to circumvent the safeguards the NHL put in place.
I went in to the interview with an open mind, but the facts as presented are damning. Bob put it well when he stated that the drug program is “not worth the paper it is written on.” Brunt continued his recent hot streak by pressing for clarity on several points, which greatly enhanced the interview for the audience.
The most confusing, and heart-breaking, part of the interview came when Bob asked Len who he blames for his son’s death. Len replied that his son “fell through the cracks” of a fault in the system. I wonder if the NHL and the PA will seize on these words and claim that no system is fool-proof and that they are not to blame.
One thing worth noting is that the NHL’s editorial control over Rogers’ hockey coverage clearly has not extended to PTS. Shining a light on the league’s joke of a drug system is not compatible with Moore’s mandate to “celebrate the game” yet the interview was free of pro-NHL bias. Bob and Stephen served the audience very well and deserve a lot of praise for this interview. A huge amount of credit should also go to PTS producer Ryan Walsh for getting the interview and for preparing the hosts. If I’m TSN, I’m wondering how we were beaten to the punch on this one.
Final thought: both the NFL and the NHL have recently been taken to task for essentially treating their players as disposable commodities. Len Boogaard’s findings confirm the theory that the NHL and its PA don’t care much about the long term health of the players. I wonder if the players will step forward and demand better from their representatives.
More CHL lawsuits
TSN’s Rick Westhead and the Star both reported this week on new lawsuits against the CHL and its leagues relating to player compensation. The lawsuits allege that teams have been giving players tax and immigration documents that are consistent with an employer-employee relationship. The suit alleges that the total compensation falls below minimum wages and thus exploits the players.
I wrote about this last week and many people commented that players and parents are more or less happy with the status quo, and that these suits are brought primarily by players who failed out of the league. I regard this line of response as a red herring. It doesn’t matter who brings the suit; what matters is whether the suit has legal merit. That said, I think there is room here for a hybrid system: players (and their parents) can decide whether they want to be treated as employees or as students. If the latter, then they should be entitled to future scholarships. If the former, then they should be entitled to at least minimum wage for time spent on hockey related activities.
CHL president David Branch keeps repeating the following claim: “97 per cent of our players are represented by agents, in addition, the players and their parents are required to sign the SPA and to either provide a certificate of independent legal counsel or a waiver of such.”
Essentially he is saying that the players agreed to the league’s terms under the guidance of legal counsel, so they have no basis for a lawsuit. This makes the league look bad. He is saying that it is not the league’s responsibility to look after the best interests of the players. This would be mostly true if we were talking about professional sports where the players have a powerful union to bargain on their behalf. But we are talking about junior hockey where most players will never make it any further. The league is taking advantage of the fact that most players will work for free for a chance to pursue their dream of an NHL career. Branch should stop drawing attention to this fact if he wants to convince a jury that the league is not exploiting its players.
Mike Toth thinks the Rogers Game Centre ads are anti-family. Lots of people hate these ads, but this is the first time I have read this specific criticism.
Rogers has teamed up with Vice Media to build a production studio in Toronto. It will be interesting to see what kind of content comes out of this venture. As we have learned in recent days, independent media can break pretty huge stories when they have the backing of major media partners.
Lots of Jays media were smugly talking about how smart AA was not to trade any of the young talent for a chance at the playoffs this year. The fact that two wild card teams made it to the World Series shows how simplistic that analysis is. I don’t like one game playoffs either, but you need to be in the playoffs to have a chance at winning it all.
Low Hanging Fruit
- Keith Fink, the lawyer representing Varlamov’s ex-girlfriend in her domestic violence lawsuit, appeared on Naylor’s show (Oct 29, hour 1). He came across as a complete idiot. The lowlight was when he asked whether NHL stood for “national hooligan league.” She should seek better counsel.
- Dan Shulman was also on TSN Drive in advance of Game 7 and said that he wouldn’t be surprised if Bumgarner pitched 2 or even 3 innings. Nice prescience there by Dan. I could listen to him talk baseball all day.
- Cox is apparently still writing for the Star.
If the Star had a sports editorI would ask for clarification on his role at the paper. He’s a full-time Rogers employee now and Feschuk has been bumped up to Cox’s old role. In addition, the Star is trying to establish Bruce Arthur as their flagship writer. What purpose is served by allowing Cox to write for the Star? As of yesterday Cox’s Twitter made no mention of his affiliation with the Star. This is a confusing situation. (Thanks to @ekoreen for clarifying that Jennifer Quinn has been named sports editor at the Star. I, along with the Star’s web person, missed that announcement).
- Someone last week claimed that Sid Sexeiro is the biggest star at Sportsnet. Do people agree with that? Suppose you had to fire everyone at each of SN and TSN but could keep one person per station to rebuild around. Who do you keep?
thanks for reading and commenting,
please link or mention what you’re reading or listening to this week.
until next time …
mike (in boston)