Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

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:

 

 

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.

 

 

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?

 

Awful Announcers

 

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. 

 

 

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:

 

 

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:

 

 

The league issued this statement:

 

 

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:

 

 

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.

 

Quick Hits

 

 

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.

  •  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)

 

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 24
  • comment-avatar

    There’s a lot in this particular column that I want to comment on, so I’m probably going to seem a bit long winded here. 

    Austin Matthews v. Simmons – aside from the legal issues, as in if Steve Simmons has run this story in the USA media, he likely would have run afoul of HIPPA (Health Information Privacy Protection Act) this story served zero purpose from a journalism side and was purely meant to “get dirt” out there to get interest and folks buying papers. 

    Austin Matthews reaction is therefore easily explainable (and quite mild compared to what he could have done) Kyle Dubas is seen as “sticking up for his player” and maybe Simmons realizes that “getting dirt” can get you whacked with the shovel.  

    Steve Simmons “offering advice” to the Leafs as a follow up is the ultimate form of chutzpah, but that’s his standard reaction – get caught doing something that folks find unprofessional, then try to take the “high road”

    Speaking of the above – Thom Brennaman, the fact that he thinks nothing of using such derogatory language and then tries to defend himself using all of the standard “non-apology” apology statements (seriously, take his follow up to that statement and play “apology bingo”, you’ve got a line on the board without using the “free space”) is revolting. Scott MacArthur’s response on Friday on The Fan590 was genuine, heartfelt and summed up perfectly what those of us in minority groups go through every single day. 

    Mike Milbury – someone needs to remind him that this is 2020, not 1920, his “caveman” act is not wanted or appreciated (he may need to follow his “mentor” Don Cherry into media oblivion)

    Jack Edwards – anyone who isn’t a blindly loyal follower of his knows that Jack puts his foot in his mouth so often that he should have a permanent case of athlete’s tongue this is more of the same thing that always does, extreme homerism to the point where you expect him to be getting his lines directly from (in this case) the Bruins head office. 

    Re: The CFL shuttering for 2020 – frankly I’m not surprised, after seeing the issues that baseball has had with Covid-19 infections versus the NHL, it’s apparent that the “bubble” system is superior in terms of protecting players and staff. The CFL couldn’t afford that, with or without a government bailout, so the only option was to shutter for the year.  Not sure why Arash Midani thought it was a good idea to “kick a man when he’s down” since he is one of the few SN on air staff that care the CFL even exists. 

    I’d be curious to compare ratings numbers between the NBA and NHL right now, USA/Canada. I suspect the Canadian numbers are higher because many folks are still working from home and can have the games on, at least as background noise and in the USA they aren’t used to staying indoors as much as in Canada. 

    Masai Ujiri v. “Rent-a-Cop” – even watching the game live last year and seeing the altercation as it unfolded I knew the security guard was clearly in the wrong, the follow up including the statements by the police and the spurious lawsuit from the guard just kept digging that idiots grave. His own bodycam footage is merely the tombstone to this whole sordid affair, it reads as follows:

    “I was a power tripping, racist idiot, who thought he could make a quick buck to ‘go away’”

    Bob McKenzie – I don’t think we’ll ever see an “insider” quite like him again, gentle, entertaining and yet with a nose for news that few can match. Others may try, but there’s only one “Bobby Margarita”

  • comment-avatar

    No player or team is under an obligation to be “nice” to any reporter, especially one with a long history of terrible behaviour as Steve Simmons. I think most people see it for what it is and/or have no interest with the inside-baseball media spats while the old guard rushing to the defense of Steve are doing so because they see their relevance disappearing. Similar to their collective freakout over “bloggers” or “stats” being used. 

    Deitsch’s latest podcast with Austin Karp and Anthony Crupi dealt with the NBA ratings. Worth a listen but tldr: they aren’t worried about the NBA on TV. 

    Arash has been trolling the CFL for years. I have no idea whether there is real animosity there or it’s something he started for fun and now can’t stop, but you can always expect him to tweet the negative angle. 

  • comment-avatar

    Thanks for the read!

    Personally, I think Wilner and Wagner are a refreshing pairing. I like them. I think having an ex athlete on a broadcast is greatly overrated, as their experience playing doesn’t necessarily make them insightful or good at broadcasting.

    “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.”

    Totally agree. Not sure if you’ve clocked this, but Paul Jones hosts a show on The Fan now with Eric Smith. It’s only an hour, but a start from The Fan I guess. When 590’s inevitable reshuffling happens, I really think they should give Donovan Bennett a chance somewhere in the day. He’s was good with Deitsch.

    As for TSN Radio, I think their heavy focus on shows built around hockey players has lead to them being pretty non diverse. They’ve got one big show to build on now, they should offer something else in the day with a different POV.

  • comment-avatar
    Species 4 weeks ago

    “Kyle Dubas, asked if it’s possible he’s misread the potential of the #leafs core group: “Nope.”
    It’s interesting to see how this answer was assumed to be a swipe at Simmons because of the timing and circumstances, but isn’t this the only response Dubas can give here? This is the precise question to which a one word answer is what you want out of an executive. If he said anything else, like “I don’t think so…” or “Maybe…” it would be a huge story, but a sports one, not a media one.

  • comment-avatar

    @ Daniel –

    Personally, I think Wilner and Wagner are a refreshing pairing.

    out of curiosity, which Jays booths did you like less than the current one? We all grew up with Tom & Jerry (neither of whom played the game) but setting them aside, I wonder where people rank Wilner/Wagner combo relative to the half dozen or so pairings we have experienced since Tom retired in 2004. Personally, I got used to having an experienced baseball voice talking about the mechanics of the game and I miss it.

  • comment-avatar

    I suppose not many of your readers will remember the first few years when Tom worked with Early Wynn, supposedly an experienced ex-player voice who kept tripping over his own tongue. Nobody minded because he was funny and the team was terrible, but it was a clear improvement when Jerry took over in 1981.

    Also, don’t forget that Dan and Buck worked together for several years in the 90’s. Buck was so well respected for his analysis many wanted him to be offered the job as Jay’s manager, which he was in 2000. That didn’t go so well, but still… He was always a better analyst than play-by-play man.

  • comment-avatar
    Steve in Waterloo 4 weeks ago

    I have NO problem with Steve Simmons reporting news, including the health of a #1 draft pick, star player and one who is playing for a league championship for goal scoring. I did however take note of those in the media who called him out for doing his job. I will view

  • comment-avatar

    Steve Simmons has a job to do like anyone else, good on him for having good sources! Auston handled the question from Steve Simmons with class, stated he was not happy with the story but still answered the question. After that, Simmons stated he was ok with what Auston said and understood why he was upset. However, leadership starts at the top and Kyle Dubas’s one word answer to a Steve Simmons question shows his age and lack of experience in his current job. That answer makes him look childish and shows a complete lack of understanding in dealing with the Toronto market. Reporters have a job to do, they are our access to the players and team and the honeymoon is over for Mr. Dubas. This is a results oriented business and the Leafs are all overpaid and over confident, and year after year they make excuses for not winning in the playoffs. Look out west and see a young and hungry team still playing hockey. Everyone makes fun of Jim Benning but his team is still playing hockey and are in a way better cap situation moving forward as well……

  • comment-avatar

    @Mike (in boston) – Totally fair enough re preferring an athlete in the booth. I did love Jerry and Alan Ashby as a pair, and also really enjoyed the one (?) season of Jerry and Jack Morris. But I do prefer the current booth to Jerry and Joe Sidall, and also Jerry and Warren Sawkiw (if you remember that rough pairing). I just find Siddall to be a bit bland as a personality and his analysis to be kind of lacking (though he seems like awfully decent guy). I guess rather than implying I dislike having an athlete in the booth, it’s more that I just would rather the most informative and fun/entertaining/enjoyable booth whether there happens to be an ex player in there or not. You’re right though that it’s a pretty under the radar radio team – it must be a much less expensive booth than they’ve had in the past – not to mention there seems to be no 3rd man anymore or Jays talk?

  • comment-avatar
    DSmith 3 weeks ago

    Just my two cents but I didn’t mind Buck as a play by play guy, granted his strengh is as a color comentator. The weak link has and always will be Pat Tabler. This only reinforces it and I would think that the management at Sportsnet has noticed too.

  • comment-avatar

    I grew up watching the Blue Jays with Jim Hughson with Buck and then Dan and Buck. I never really got used to Buck as the PBP guy. I respect Buck for basically being the Blue Jay lifer, having played for, managed, and called games for. But the analyst position is the sweet spot for him in my opinion.

    As for pro sports leagues in general, I respect that everyone’s trying to do the best they can, but we have to acknowledge that it’s far from ideal. Who really wants to watch hockey in August, Canadian teams or not (and I’m in BC)? More than that, bubble life has to take a toll on the players. Paid or not, not being able to leave one city, (and all but the Canucks are American teams, so that means these players are unable to leave the country entirely) and being unable to go home to family and friends is not my idea of a good time. As for the CFL, I’m not the biggest fan or follower, but I don’t want it to fail, but clearly they’ve got the MLS problem in their three biggest cities, and an overall enthusiasm problem. Who actually follows the CFL once the season ends? Bob McKenzie’s the best, and he is why TSN was fine even when they didn’t have actual hockey games to televise.

  • comment-avatar

    Look,I think Milbury should have been fired years ago for either past transgressions, and/or just being terrible at his job, What he did here was a lame attempt at humour about a subject that everyone knows goes on under normal circumstances, but since it’s a bubble, can’t. It’s a real stretch to label this as misogynist or offensive. He already checked off those boxes years ago anyway.

  • comment-avatar

    I am very much two minds on the Simmons story. Originally I was dead against it till I read that Simmons had in fact gone through all the right channels for the story at which point I think he didn’t do anything journalisticly wrong. At the same time, just because he could doesn’t mean he should and it is private medical info he got and even though Auston is a public figure it still seems to have gone into the shady territory a bit.

    One thing that wasn’t clear: we know Steve reached out to the Leafs but does that include Auston directly? It’s a little unclear as to that exactly. If so then it does change things slightly and Auston is just being salty and once more showing his entitlement a tad.

    On the otherhand, I suspect Auston (and by extension the other Leafs) was trying to make a point by doing it in public as opposed to reaching out privately to Steve.

    I do wonder though: had it not been Steve Simmons breaking the story and say Bob McKenzie would it be such a big deal and/or would Auston have made a point of it during the press conference?

  • comment-avatar
    Chance Vought 3 weeks ago

    How much longer will McCown keep his podcast going? It’s getting kinda sad. It’s clearly not finding an audience.

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 3 weeks ago

    Mike, this was kind of a masterpiece. Really loved it.

    We did love Tom and Jerry as you point out, so why not Wilner and Wagner? None of them played, what is the difference? The only other variable, I would think, is broadcasting ability. Tom Cheek in particular was a powerhouse with an amazing voice and knack for nailing a call from the very first day in ’77. Jerry took more getting used to but his presence was unique and tangible. There is no strong voice in this booth, no authoritative tone, no distinct phrasings or cadences.

    Milbury was never good, I never liked him, a dinosaur to be sure, a jerk even in his own time, and I will not miss him. But I’ll stand in the middle of the storm and say this particular line wasn’t that bad. It shouldn’t have been said, but it wasn’t that bad. I know it launched a lot of outraged columns, but outrage is the culture and columns is the job and Tweeters need fodder too. Not every inappropriate remark merits a conflagration and a “…for good people to remain silent” riff.

  • comment-avatar
    billyjoejimbob 3 weeks ago

    The two people I know in the business who get in the most fights with people are Simmons and Friedman. And they are complete opposites in how they handle it.

    Simmons by being an asshole (he loves it) and Friedman by the information he gets. He’ll get people who threaten his sources or fight with him to hold info — but you’d never know it publicly. He likes it that way.

    And these two are close friends, although apparently had a big falling out over the Matthews stuff. Two good guys.

  • comment-avatar

    @Chance how do you know McCowns podcast is not finding an audience?

  • comment-avatar
    joeblow 3 weeks ago

    you have to remember… The Leafs are owned by Bell & Rogers. I guarantee you, the Leafs PR team threatened TSN & SN that if they went with the story, their respect and media passes would be thrown out the window. So now, you have all these reporters basically being told what to report by the team. I wouldn’t call them jounalists anymore. Reporting lines and quotes – anyone can do that. It’s finding the real stories that people care about.

  • comment-avatar

    anyone catch Mark Hebscher tweeting about Arash Madani’s weight? Unless Arash is the one to raise it I think it’s kinda weird to be for Hebscher to be talkng about it.

  • comment-avatar
    Steve Scrabble 3 weeks ago

    [said something not cool]

  • comment-avatar
    Steve Scrabble 3 weeks ago

    [said something not cool]

  • comment-avatar

    I can’t find the tweets, but on the occasions where I listen to a Hebsy podcast, he often seems to speak first and think later. Sort of like Mike Richards, I can see how he has burned some bridges. 

  • comment-avatar

    @Chance – Bob’s podcast has been in and around the top 20 sports podcasts in Canada since he started it up. Here’s a link to that: https://chartable.com/charts/itunes/ca-sports-podcasts

    Not exactly gangbusters, but pretty good considering he seems to be still figuring out the concept.(Also, at least at the time I’m looking, higher on that list than any Fan 590 show including his replacement, Tim and Sid).

  • comment-avatar

    Apple’s charts still don’t make a lot of sense to me. How can you be the #19 podcast but don’t have an episode in the top 100 while the #29 podcast is #17 in episodes or #31 pod has episodes at #37 and 74.