Is The Toronto Sports Media World Ripping Apart?

By TSM

I’ve been meaning to write this article for some time. I have to admit, life has gotten complicated and, in many ways, I have lost my way. In the past, this was my outlet. My keyboard, this website and a way to untangle my busy mind. Through travel, lots of it, including multiple trips across the continent and overseas as well and work and other stuff I’ve forgotten my happy place, my keyboard and this child of mine.

I take a lot of pride in what we have here, in my opinion anyway, I don’t write for anyone other than me. I think Mike will tell you the same, both of our passions for the medium and well that’s our thing. So, it’s comforting for me to be here, to be present and to return to my roots. I feel calm writing here and I need that right now. As has always been the case, it’s my canvas, I share with Mike and well, we are lucky to live in a world of choice where you can vote with your eyes and express with your fingers.

I am 46, living in Seattle and like every other idiot does, I follow a city and country from a sports and sports media perspective that is some 3000 miles and 3-hour time difference. From Dick Beddoes all the way to Kyle Bukauskas I’ve read listened to and watched them all. We are however living in the most interesting of times with regards to those who cover the games we live by and love. A continental divide is upon us, a tactical shift and watching it unfold is nothing short of incredible. At least to me.

Let me explore.

I’ve written for years how incredible it is to marvel at cities like Boston and their current run of sports success. Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, Red Sox all on the proverbial high. No, not all winning all the time, but seemingly on the cusp of winning; close enough to keep a fan base satiated.

In Toronto, it’s been a tough slog for, well most of my life. With the Leafs, the Burns and Quinn era’s were epic. The Raptors of late, the Jays with two exceptional runs all incredible memories. However, Toronto the loser (sports speaking) had been the mantra for a long time.

However, with the sudden rise of the Jays, the hiring of Brendan Shanahan, Masai Ujiri, TFC heck even the Argos things have been, pretty, pretty good. Many in the media, especially those who were notorious for being critics were suddenly devoid of content. AA, Shanahan, Masai, and others had their teams in fine form.

Well, nothing lasts forever and now with a just a little bit of adversity, the pressure seems to be springing a leak. At least with a few scribes.

By the way, there is no doubt that the three main franchises have only themselves to blame for this, their performance or news items if you will are the cause of the change in the type of coverage. If the Raptors don’t get bounced by the Cavaliers, if they don’t fire Dwayne Casey, they are not included in this discussion. Similarly, if the Maple Leafs had a better showing in the playoffs if they don’t broom out Lou Lamoriello, promote Kyle Dubas over Mark Hunter then they too would not be part of the discussion. Lastly, if the Blue Jays didn’t find themselves some 10 games out they too wouldn’t be part of the discussion.

Let’s add to this, of course, that sports is a results business and with that comes critics. So no one should be surprised that the feel-good coverage wouldn’t hold forever.

Let’s get one more thing out of the way. First, Dwayne Casey was universally like in the marketplace. When was the last time any top Toronto Sports personality was so well liked by the media? That was nice to see.

On the issue of the Raptors getting destroyed by Lebron and the firing of Casey, there was a bit of a split decision in the media. Some took the approach that it was Lebron the Raptors lost to and god himself would not have done any better. Others took the approach that certain players just didn’t play well enough and again the greatest NBA coach of all time would not have fared any better. Then there was a small bunch who voiced the opinion that the Raptors were in fact out coached, that there were issues between Masai and that in order for the team to move forward they needed a new voice.

With the Maple Leafs, there was a vocal crowd who thought that the Maple Leafs made a colossal mistake taking the keys away from Lou Lamoriello. They guys track record speaks for itself, he worked miracles in Toronto already and there was no reason to rock the boat. Then there were those who thought it made sense to bring in a new voice, however, the safer route was the more tried and traditional Mark Hunter. Hunter followed the more traditional GM course and given his position as a scout he would make the better GM. Lastly there are those who think Shanahan made the right choice by picking the younger Dubas in that he has been mentored by Lamoriello and to a degree Hunter and that he had unique skills and insights to continue the growth and developments of the franchise.

Let’s leave the Jays alone for now. The same divide amongst those who cover them hasn’t appeared quite yet. With the team struggling and a sell-off possible we should watch to see if it materializes.

With the Raptors and Maple Leafs though, in watching, reading and listening to those in the business it is quite apparent that many of the differences of opinion are based in part on age and experience. Let me say I am not lumping every single reporter or columnist into a bucket and no I am not saying this is true for everyone but wow are the lines split and it appears that age plays a huge part.

With the Maple Leafs the younger side of the media seems to fully embrace the Dubas assentation. They’ve gone out of their ways to ensure that Leafs nation knows that Dubas is not really an analytics guru that there is a ton of hard work, personality and hockey sense behind the young phenom. This group is interesting to watch because they still have to deal with many in the old world of sport so there’s a careful respect for the Lamoriello’s of the world but clearly they approve of the likes of Dubas moving to the top.
At the same time, the older group, in general, seem to recoil at the appointment of yet another very young GM. The name John Ferguson Jr. gets thrown around as failed young executive with the Maple Leafs. There is a clear preference here for the old-style hockey management team. Led by either a Lamoriello or a Hunter because it’s worked everywhere else. This group too is in a precarious spot. Dubas got the job and they are going to have to deal with him and his new team moving forward. Furthermore, to take a shot at Dubas is to take a shot at Shanahan. Right now anyways, Shanahan appears to have nothing but horseshoes up where the sun doesn’t shine so taking shots at him doesn’t appear to be all that wise either.

What we’ve seen, read and heard is a whole lot of careful posturing and hedging. No one has come out and said that Shanahan made the wrong choice. Many have written that he had better hope that he made the right one. Again, that’s fair and understood. Just not exactly the hard-hitting journalism I’d like to see. It’s very easy to sit back and be critical. It takes a lot more courage to actually take a stand and argue a position. Few are willing to do that.

The story remains the exact same with those who cover the Raptors. No, not every tightly fits into a bucket but in general the result is the same. The older folks tend to be much more in the Casey should not have been fired bunch. They typically gave the Raptors hell for hiring their best coach ever, the guy who won coach of the year after their most successful regular season ever. They do so in caution of going after Masai who is equally as liked and respected a Casey. At the same time, the younger crowd was much more of the mind that it was time for a change. They offered up critiques of how Casey coached in the playoffs including several games vs the LeBrons’.

What is clear to me is that that there’s an opinion divide right now and it’s split by age. This has never been more apparent than right now. Analytics in sports (baseball and hockey for sure), Lou vs. Kyle, Casey vs. Masai the opinions are pretty much split based upon the age of the owner of the opinion. (Yes there are exceptions).

Taken a step a little further, I can tell you from my own opinion, the old guard has become very predictable. Very protective, in some places dismissive and unwilling to consider let alone validate new ways of looking or trying things.

Conversely, the younger members of the bunch are the ones who are more optimistic echoing the sentiment of a new generation. They tend to use data to back things up. They conduct more research and they have much less of a critical eye to reporting.

I think we can say the same with regards to the Blue Jays coverage of late too. There is a younger group of the core who take a less traditional, less critical view of the team and the franchise. They tend to give the team more a benefit of the doubt and more data-driven in explaining their beliefs. The older group rely more on their years of reporting, the traditional ways of doing things and basic good old fashion reporting and being critical.

I am not here to tell you which one you should read vs the other. I do believe that change is in the air. I think that there is a good young crowd of reporters who have come up into the market who are doing exceptional work in non-traditional ways. There is, however, something to be said about the on fire story that one of the more mature scribes uncovers and reports on. The Athletic represents more of the younger audience, while there remains an abundance of old outlets to keep an eye and ear on.

Whatever your preference we are at a fascinating time of change. I want nothing more than the all the teams we love to win. It will be very interesting to see how both groups cover the teams moving forward win or lose. Those who called out the Dubas hire will certainly have to be careful if he succeeds. Conversely, if they are right and it’s a disaster the fans will have a lot worse things to worry about than how the teams are covered.

Interesting times indeed.

So, a couple of random thoughts:

While scanning the internet last night I read a column that said the Blue Jays are 11 games out. I had no idea. I am fully willing to say that it’s all about me and my schedule but this is the least I have been into the Jays in a very, very long time. BTW, I guess i am not the only one who’s lost some interest in MLB these days.

There were lots of great stories during the crazy couple of days dealing with the Leafs and Raptors. In Raptor Land Ryan Wolstat had some of the best daily coverage on the beat. This story was one of the best as the season was collapsing. Equally compelling was Michael Grange on why Casey was fired.

On the Leafs side, two of the best columns were written by Damien Cox. This one, his latest was really good and open-minded, given I would tend to lump Damien in the more mature group. Cox wrote a really interesting article before the move suggesting that Shanahan himself should or could take the GM gig.

The most interesting read on the Maple Leafs? In my mind Justin Bourne over at the Athletic. Stories like this bring a uniquely personal take that has launched Bourne to the top of the heap at Mirtle’s house in my opinion.

The best Blue Jays piece of late was this one. Really well done. Equally as compelling? This one too.

Lastly, don’t mean it as a slight or backhanded compliment but you really should be listening to Bryan Hayes more. If you need proof take a listen to the interview he did with Masai cut Casey. It was not the Raptor’s guru’s best work, but more importantly, Hayes didn’t let him off the hook. It was a really good interview. I wonder what the departure of Val Meyer, VP and GM of Bell Media Toronto Radio means for the suite of TSN radio.

I watched the Celtics get destroyed by LBron last night. I thought for sure with home court they’d win. The 4th quarter was like watching the Raptors vs. LeBron. Am I supposed to feel better or worse? I was equally as frustrated.

Happy reading

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