by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Good morning sports media fans. If you live in Toronto, get outside and enjoy all the great things about our city, including the new patios, bike lanes, and sidewalks. It took a pandemic, but downtown has never been a more pleasant place to be. As always, if there are things you think we missed please add links in the comments or email/DM me.
Media Grudge Matches
As Jonah wrote about last time, the Leafs have rallied around their star when it comes to Steve Simmons of Postemdia/The Sun. The grudge began when Simmons broke the news that Auston Matthews had tested positive for COVID in Arizona. Simmons’ story was not confirmed by the team or the player at the time, but was acknowledged a few weeks later when training camp resumed.
Most of the audience would reasonably assume this was the end of the matter: someone in Arizona or with the Leafs leaked the information to Simmons. He then confirmed it, and his editors gave him the go-ahead to publish it. The story was true, which is why the Leafs didn’t deny it. All of this looks like normal journalism. Right?
Evidently, some people in the Leafs organization disagree that this is normal journalism. The first sign of trouble came when the assistant captain took time out of a press conference to call out Simmons’ reporting as “unethical”.
The more recent incident came when Kyle Dubas “shorted” Simmons at a press conference, giving him a one word answer:
Kyle Dubas, asked if it's possible he's misread the potential of the #leafs core group: "Nope."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) August 12, 2020
Whatever you think of the motivation for the question, it’s a valid one to ask after yet another disappointing season. The audience would want to know if Dubas is rethinking how far this core group can go in light of their recent results. If he’s not, then he owes an explanation for why their potential has not yet shown itself. This is basic stuff.
Many in the media responded to the Leafs’ approach to airing their grievances against Simmons.
I'd like to add that this was the only answer on the Zoom call with no elaboration, and that Steve Simmons asked this question. I'm sure this is all coincidental. https://t.co/cp12n8Zz2y— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) August 12, 2020
It was a valid question. If Kyle is upset with Steve, then hash it out privately. This is embarrassing. https://t.co/3ACKnhjPq2— Michael Traikos (@Michael_Traikos) August 12, 2020
Real journalists ask hard questions. They don’t wave pom poms. Keep up the journalism Steve.— Simon Dingley@CBC (@SimonDingleyCBC) August 12, 2020
I see @simmonssteve is trending again and from the anger I sense, I've reached the conclusion that sports fans now want journalists to be warm and cuddly and supportive. Basically they want sports writers to be cheerleaders, even if a team has vastly under-performed Brutal— steve buffery (@Beezersun) August 12, 2020
Freelance sports writer Damien Cox added this in a Star column:
“When news leaked out through a Toronto columnist that Matthews had been infected with the coronavirus during the NHL shutdown, the Leafs organization reacted as though it was the most severe breach of security in Canada since Igor Gouzenko. Not surprisingly, rebuking that coronavirus story and its author was the first thing Matthews wanted to talk about after the Leafs lost Game 1 to Columbus two weeks ago. It was at the forefront of his mind, the most important item to deal with. Not the loss.”
Not everyone in the media was on Simmons’ side. Sid Seixeiro commented:
“I don’t mind Steve Simmons being Steve Simmons. Steve’s been in the business a long time. But when you antagonize people and get a specific response, you need to shut the hell up about it, because you are antagonistic. Now Steve’s a big boy, he can handle himself, and has done it for decades. But my beef was … Kyle Dubas … when that quote ran … the context wasn’t accurate. And quite frankly, Kyle was instigated into that answer.”
Tim Micallef added:
“The one thing I want to say about Steve Simmons is … you look at his timeline … he knows what he’s doing. There’s a guy like that in every market, and some of the guys who make the most money in the United States are guys who stir the pot […] Don’t kid yourself, the guy’s been in the business a long time … he knows what his role has evolved into. And so does Brendan Shannhan, and Kyle Dubas, and Brian Burke, and so do most others.”
The edutainment duo went on to chastise those in the media who stuck up for Simmons, arguing that those in the business should know better.
I spoke with a few sports writers this week to find out how non-involved parties view situations like this one. The general question I put to them was: does it affect your ability to do your job when the team is freezing or calling out one of your colleagues?
The answers were interesting. Surprisingly, very few reporters take it personally. Many said they try to give the player an easy opening to take it out on them, just to get it out of the way so the work can move forward. Another interesting item was that few people feel a need to stick up for someone in the scrum when a player is icing them out. So while these incidents make for great entertainment and fodder for sites like ours, some (most?) in the media claim this is all part of a day’s work.
Now, whether you believe them is another story. Many readers will find evidence of bias in someone’s reporting, and will trace that back to well-publicized locker room blow-ups between the two. But that is in the eye of the beholder as much as it is in reality.
Back to the issue at hand, I think the Leafs are blowing it. I don’t think Simmons did anything wrong in reporting on Auston’s positive test. This is clearly newsworthy information, involving a star athlete, a risky plan to resume hockey, and a global pandemic that is affecting society on every level. Auston and the Leafs could easily have issued a public statement condemning The Sun’s choice to publish the story. Auston could have reached out to Steve for a phone call to give him a piece of his mind. I would have loved to read a Players Tribune article talking about what it’s like when your private medical information is leaked. All of that would have played better than what unfolded after the Game 1 loss.
For whatever reasons the team have chosen to deal with it in the professional setting where the expectation is that people ask questions and others answer them. Passive aggression makes the Leafs look petty and unprofessional. That said, Auston gave a clear and concise explanation of his stance and then moved on. Dubas just looks childish with his “nope”.
Simmons had some advice for Dubas in a recent column:
“Dubas would be wise to spend some time this summer with Cliff Fletcher. No Leafs general manager has ever handled the Toronto media with the kind of aplomb and smart touch that Fletcher brought to the job. Dubas is clearly at a crisis point in his young years as GM. He didn’t help himself with a combative near-tone-deaf year-ending news conference. He could use Fletcher’s advice — or Shanahan’s for that matter — on how to handle heat without wilting …”
This season we have hit a dark period in the relationship between media and this Leafs management group. However, all of this has happened before. Burke and Wilson fought with the media as a way to deflect attention from their underperforming teams. Eventually they were both ousted, while roughly the same media crew sat around waiting for the next leadership group to fill the void. Stroman is gone, but Cathal, Griffin, and Madani are still here. This is the circle of life. We’ll always have Nat Fucking Bailey.
Let me be clear: plenty of media say, write, and do unprofessional things. Athletes and coaches should absolutely call that out as they see fit. But press scrums are a necessary evil – perhaps not for much longer – where everyone has a job to do and deadlines to meet and somewhere else to be. This is not the best place to be fighting your battles.
Over to you: Does Dubas have a case against Simmons? Should the Leafs be taking a higher road with the media? Does it matter that it’s Simmons?
The big story this week surrounded announcers saying very bad things. Here are the lowlights.
First and worst is Reds announcer Thom Brennaman using one of the f-words for gay men. You can read a complete rundown here.
From citing his faith, to claiming not to know the word’s awful history, to stating that no one is less homophobic than him, this case has all the usual tropes of someone sorry for getting caught. Expect him to show up on right wing TV talking about the evils of cancel culture later this month.
Devin Heroux wrote a thoughful piece for CBC Sports, an outlet that should be doubling down on sports opinion pieces right now:
“There are thousands of young LGBTQ+ athletes across Canada right now wondering if there’s a place for them in sports. And when they hear homophobic slurs on the ice and pitch and court and field, it reinforces their insecurities about what it means to be gay today and wanting to excel in athletics.”
Locally, Oakville’s Scott MacArthur had some powerful words on his FAN590 morning show, which you can hear below.
"While what happened last night in Kansas City involving a hot mic and Thom Brennaman may seem like a relatively innocent statement, that some like me should just 'get over', it's a lot bigger than that." @ScottyMacThinks would like invite Brennaman to join Lead Off @Reds.— Sportsnet 590 The FAN (@FAN590) August 20, 2020
Next on the list is NBC’s Mike Milbury, who commented on-air that the lack of women in the bubble is helping players score goals and block shots.
This prompted the following reactions from local women in sports media:
This is PERFECTLY stated. Headline and all.— Caroline Cameron (@SNCaroline) August 22, 2020
Everyone should read this. https://t.co/IiiZnupMol
The way @realmikemilbury said this so casually tells us exactly what time he’s BEEN on so no one should be shocked. But the way he went unchecked on-air and the silence from his peers in this industry. Phew we’ve got a ways to go https://t.co/BeW9KrYtbo— Kayla Grey (@Kayla_Grey) August 21, 2020
The silence from the big male names in sports media was disappointingly expected. If you have a platform and hundreds of thousands of followers and you have time to retweet some compliments how hard would it be to state “Milbury’s comments are embarrassing for our sport”? Very hard apparently.
As with the curious resilience of Don Cherry following a long list of offensive remarks, the obvious and smart questions are coming from outside of hockey media’s bubble:
Terrific piece by a terrific writer that all sports viewers should read.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) August 22, 2020
Speaking only for me: The principal job of a TV analyst is to educate you on the game. (Producers might say to entertain as well — fine). I ask: When is the last time you learned something from M. Milbury? https://t.co/78ywB4ELnm
The league issued this statement:
A statement from the National Hockey League. pic.twitter.com/YCOTcoaK5l— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) August 21, 2020
Lastly, Bruins announcer Jack Edwards made a remark about not poking the bear when an opposing player went down with an injury. Read all about that here.
Jeff O’Neill spoke for all of us:
You’re a moron.— Jeff O’Neill (@odognine2) August 15, 2020
The Covid era has meant that announcers are more and more isolated from the games they are covering and the audience to whom they are speaking. While some rust was to be expected, this was a bad week for those who are used to being able to say the quiet parts loudly.
The loss of a @CFL season is also a big hit to broadcasters and their Canadian content. A lot of original programming and more broadcast jobs than you’d think are tied to the CFL. #CDNmedia https://t.co/Ktv09D0mUT— Jake Moore (@79mpresident) August 17, 2020
The CFL season is over. Something of value was lost, especially if you work in live event production. But if any league is well set up to disappear and come back more or less intact it’s the CFL. TSN’s Dave Naylor sums up the state of affairs.
The NBA saved its season and playoffs but the TV ratings picture is not looking good. I am having a hard time drawing any big conclusions from COVID-era viewing habits.
The NHL bubble is taking its toll on families. MLB rejected a bubble league and so has the NFL. Time will tell if those turn out to be the right decisions.
We will have more coverage of this story in the coming weeks but losing five out of six Canadian teams this early into the playoffs is going to be another ratings killer for Rogers. Will Canadians rally around the Canucks? Not in eastern Canada, where the games will start at 10:30pm.
If you have time for only one writeup on the Ujiri story, make it this one from The Undefeated. “There’s a look on his face that every single Black person in America instantly understands.”
Low Hanging Fruit
- Bob McKenzie has begun his phased retirement. Congratulations on an incredible career defining the league insider role.
- It is impossible to overstate how well Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez work together in their current roles on Jays broadcasts. One of the side effects of shifting Buck to the colour role is that “Get up Ball!” has effectively been buried for the season. Thanks COVID.
- On the radio side, Wilner and Wagner continues to be a minor league pairing. Will Sportsnet ever see value in having an ex-athlete as part of the radio crew? The nuances of the game matter, especially on radio, and someone like Ricky Romero would make a great partner to Wagner.
- Scott MacArthur was able to handle the Brenneman incident so well in part because he has a large daily platform where he discusses all topics in sports, not just LGBTQ+ ones. Who is that person when BIPOC issues need to be discussed? The overwhelming whiteness of Toronto sports radio continues to be a major weakness that neither station wants to address.
- Does this sound like someone who has professional respect for his subject? I love that Madani is so passionate about the CFL but some of his tweets about Ambrosie come across as very contumelious.
Randy will get Larry Smith's 1997 impromptu downtown marketing plan and sprinkle in a video praising the Crocodiles from the Finnish league, and voila, his Nova Scotia issue will be solved. https://t.co/xlupy3oWev— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) August 21, 2020
- In response to the bodycam footage clearly showing Masai Ujiri being assaulted Postmedia/Edmonton Sun Oilers writer Rob Tychkowski tweeted then deleted “Always wear your credentials”. If that’s what you saw on the video then your racism is showing.
- We know that citing your sources is not a huge priority over at The Globe and Mail, but Cathal Kelly took it to another level by writing an article about how no one is watching the Jays … in which he references no ratings data whatsoever. I realize no one buys the Globe for the sports section, but they could encourage their highly paid writers to aspire to the journalistic standards of a first year undergraduate class.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)