Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo credit: the internet

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by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail

 

Believe it or not I actually start out each week looking for positive things to say in this space. Great reporting, broadcasting, and writing are a true pleasure and I’m always excited to be able to talk about these when they occur. Another thing that might not be obvious is that I try to keep an open mind about all of the sports media, even those I don’t think are very good at their jobs. Just because someone has a bad track record doesn’t mean he or she can’t have good insights. So, each week I look for ways to challenge and revise my current perceptions of the people I cover.

 

Then weeks like this one come along and all I want to do is throw my computer in the lake. So without further fanfare let’s embrace the dark side and get to work dissecting the train wreck that unfolded after the Carlyle firing.

 

The Idiot

 

Randy Carlyle was fired as head coach of the Leafs. Phil Kessel called the Star’s Dave Feschuk an idiot after the latter asked Kessel if he was uncoachable. The full transcript can be found here and here.

 

As you’ll recall, Feschuk wrote a widely criticized article back in September in which he quotes several anonymous sources talking about how Kessel is uncoachable. The comments mostly trace back to Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott, who was not quoted directly in Feschuk’s article and has since claimed that those comments were mostly in jest. Feschuk also made news in the past for calling James Reimer’s mum to find out about the player’s health. This made him the object of several insults from ex-Leafs GM Brian Burke. (side note:  I had no problem with Feschuk calling Reimer’s mum)

 

So that’s Mr. Feschuk’s recent track record, and that is clearly an essential component of Kessel’s reaction to the question. It’s not just anyone asking him if he’s uncoachable; it’s that guy who wrote that article 4 months ago trying to stir things up and vindicate what he wrote.

 

Here are my 2 cents. It’s an objectively bad question. Furthermore, it’s an atrocious question for Feschuk to ask given his background. Let me expound on both of these points.

 

1) It’s a bad question — how can you tell whether something is a bad question? Well, for starters, if there is no good answer to it then it’s probably a bad question. What can Kessel say? Here are some plausible answers: “No”, “Ask the coach”, “We all have to take responsibility for our bad play”, “I don’t think so”, “I have played for lots of great coaches” …

 

There’s just not much to be said by the player because “coachability” is in the eyes of the coach, not the player. The question is a dud, and there’s a reason why no one else in the media has asked Kessel that question since Feschuk’s article. It’s not a question worth asking. It’s not a tough question; it’s a bad one. Good reporters don’t ask bad questions.

 

2) Consider the source — It’s not a stretch to think that no one other than Feschuk would ask that question in that way. Feschuk has to know that he is perceived as lacking credibility by the Leafs organization, as well as by observers of the team. His reputation precedes him when he walks into the dressing room. Rather than using that as motivation to refine his question to Kessel, he clumsily barrels ahead with the very same question he put on the table back in September. In so doing he is flagging to everyone that he’s still on the same bent. This is not smart. If he’s out to vindicate the story then a much better strategy is available to him: talk to Randy.

 

Feschuk comes across as someone who is out to get Kessel. From the audience’s perspective, this makes him lack credibility. When I read his work I have to ask myself whether he has an axe to grind with someone, and if what he is saying is really true or just a narrative that Feschuk wants to be true. Why would I bother putting in all that work? I’ll just go read someone else.

 

This is a pivotal career moment for Feschuk. People don’t become bad journalists overnight. It’s a slow process where you take the easy way out, try to convince people that you didn’t, and then convince yourself that you are still a credible journalist. But when the next time comes, you’ve lowered the bar and it becomes easier to take other shortcuts. By the end of the day you’re just throwing stuff out and saying “gotta ask the question” as a justification.

 

Winners & Losers

 

Feschuk seems to be mostly respected by his media brethren. This was apparent in the flow of support that appeared after Kessel called Feschuk an idiot. Here’s a brief summary. (note: I am reporting what I heard and read, but this list is far from complete. Please let me know of any relevant additions or clarifications.)

 

DamiEn Cox said that, actually, there was nothing wrong with what Feschuk asked.

 

 

Bruce Arthur, confessed friend of Dave, said this in a Star article: “(Wilson also said Kessel is hard to coach, echoing Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott in a coaches’ talk last summer. This makes all the carping about the Star’s Dave Feschuk asking Kessel if he is hard to coach confusing to me, to be honest.)”

 

He followed that up with this on Twitter

 

 

also, this:

 

 

Cathal Kelly had this to say:

 

“Upon opening the dressing room, Phil Kessel – who never talks – decided he wanted to talk first. Dion Phaneuf wears the C. He was supposed to go first. But Kessel was getting antsy and couldn’t wait. […] At the end, he wigged out when asked a tough question by Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk. “Phil, it’s been suggested within the organization that you’re a difficult guy to coach. Is there anything to that?” This is entirely fair, not least because people within the organization do say that. At best, management thinks of Kessel as a Coca-Cola-swilling Holy Fool. Kessel brushed Feschuk back, channeling De Niro – “You think it’s my fault? Is that what you’re saying? Is that what you’re saying? Is that what you’re saying?” That was also fair. But as he turned to stomp off, he once again could not help himself. “This guy’s such an idiot here,” Kessel said, laughing mirthlessly. “He’s always been like that.”

 

After claiming that Kessel usurped Phaneuf by speaking first, Kelly goes on to say:

 

[K]essel sets the tone for the entire room. He’s the only star, and as such the de facto alpha. His public numbskullery is a corrosive example to other incipient knuckleheads in the room. And like any locker room anywhere, there are plenty of those.”

 

The media perspective from the above is fairly univocal: tough but fair question, and if anyone acted badly it’s Kessel.

 

One person who deviated from this script was TSN’s Jeff O’Neill. Feschuk appeared on Leafs Lunch to defend his point of view and O’Neill asked (I’m paraphrasing) “if the question is a zero, why ask it?” This is an excellent question by Jeff. Feschuk’s answer is stunning: “that’s a fair point.” The thought that one should restrict oneself to asking questions that will yield meaningful answers had apparently not occurred to him until that point.

 

Players who become media members tend not to shine in the new role but this exchange highlights the much needed perspective they provide. As someone who has been on the receiving end of dud questions from reporters pursuing personal motives, O’Neill was a real asset here. Bryan Hayes did a decent job of managing the discussion but I wish he would have let the conversation between the two of them ride a little longer.

 

TSN also had ex-Leafs coach Ron Wilson on, who took the opportunity to say the following: “some of the core players have failed under two or three coaches, so it has to be the players’ fault.” Many people leapt all over these comments to support Feschuk. I’d just like to point out that the inference is invalid. Suppose I take my car to one bad mechanic who fails to fix the problem. Suppose I then take it to another bad mechanic who also fails to fix the problem. Does that mean my car is to blame rather than the people who failed to fix the problem? Obviously not.

 

The biggest loser in all of this was the audience. We were not well served by Feschuk, nor by the media narrative that this was a tough question. The whole thing was just very unprofessional. I’ll turn this over to you: who do you think came out looking good/bad/ugly in all of this?

 

Quick Hits

 

ESPN will soon offer online access to their programming without needing a traditional cable subscription. This is something for which many have been clamouring and it will be interesting to watch how this affects TV rights deals in the future. There is potentially more revenue here.

 

Still with ESPN, they backed Bayless’ claims that Johnny Manziel is a liar and an alcoholic because they believe that Bayless has sources that can confirm this. ESPN is just making things up as they go in my opinion.

 

Mirtle has a nice piece on April Reimer’s anti-bullying campaign.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • I’ve never linked Steve Buffery of the Sun before, but he has a sober and interesting discussion of the morning after in Leafs land.

 

  • I caught a few Tim&Sid segments this week. Regular listeners, I’d like your opinion on the following: when did Tim become the human laugh track for Sid? It could just be an artifact of the few segments I heard, but I don’t remember the show being so one-sided in the past.

 

  • And finally, the cherry on top of terrible sundae that was this week in sports media … Multi-platform Sportsnet contributor Jeff Blair spent last weekend contributing by trolling UFC fans, calling the sport fake and scripted. In related news, UFC rights recently went from Sportsnet to TSN.

 

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thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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