We are now in the Stanley Cup Final.Not only we will finally award the Stanley Cup, but we will also award the Conn Smythe award for MVP of the Playoffs.
I’m going to give an unconventional vote. Kevin Bieksa,
During the intermission or half time of most NHL games, it’s pretty typical for everyone to get off their couch and grab a drink or snack.If you were watching at a pub, that would be the time they turn off the sound of the game, and have their own music. It’s been typically boring.
One man changedthat during this year’s playoffs. Kevin Bieksa.
Now, before you say what about Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner ? Sure, some were entrained. But others were watching with a cringe-worthy fright on what he was going to say. Which name was he going to mispronounce? What off-color, sometimes subtle, but mostly blatant racist thing will he say?It was time for that to end.
There has been something different and refreshing about Bieksa. Not only does he dress sharp, but he also brings a high level of intelligence and humor. Bieksa discusses the technical aspects of the game with wit and humor. He was able to connect newer hockey fans with longer-term hockey fans. Not only that, but he has also brought allowed a typically very “structured” HNIC panel, some life.
Here are some examples someone posted on YouTube.
One area the NHL has been behind in, is bringing that smarter, younger, hipper voice. Like Randy Moss for the NFL. The TNT panel in the NBA. Bieksa has brought the NHL into the 2020’s.
The biggest thing that Bieksa has done amongst anything else creates a connection.Perspectives from the likes of Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, and Pierre McGuire have created the perception that the NHL is an old boys club with old school ideas. They seem out of touch with many younger and female fans. Bieksa has brought refreshing life and maturity.
Canucks fans are not the only ones that are happy with Bieksa. He is getting begrudging support from rival fan bases like the Flames and Oiler fans.
Not only is he a clear replacement for what Coach’s Corner was. He’s going to be an improvement. Bieksa’s wit, banter, and insight have been the best thing of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In this time of the pandemic, and divisiveness, there has been a need for a refreshing voice. Something different. Something intelligent. Bieksa brought it and more.
Not only is he a clear replacement for what Coach’s Corner was. He’s going to be an improvement. Bieksa’s wit, banter, and insight has been the best thing of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If Brian Burke can do this, so can I. Ranking the Canadian teams.
During Last Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada 2nd intermission, Brian Burke ranked his Canadian teams. Here they are.
The rankings caused some intrigue on Canucks Twitter. Especially when you put anything Toronto ahead of anything Vancouver. And then you add a team that was ousted in 4 games in the playoff qualifiers, some may have left scratching their head. That being said, this is an interesting exercise. So in part, because I don’t have the same rankings of Brian Burke, and in part, because it is interesting, here is my list. Going from 7-1, I’ll give my reasons.
In some ways, this may be obvious. But if you look closely, there is hope in Ottawa. They have the 3rd and 4th pick of this year’s NHL Draft. They have prospects like Erik Brannstrom. Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris. Thomas Chabot is certainly in the top 2 of best defenceman on Canadian teams. In most cases, you would be talking about a team you could get really excited about. Except there is one glaring weakness. Eugene Melnyk. The Senators owner can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth. And yes, he has been quiet the last couple of years. But you know a misstep is coming. That is what is holding them back.
6. Winnipeg Jets.
Wait. Wait. They have Mark Scheifle, Patrick Laine, Connor Hellebuyck! They are good! Surely if Scheifele was playing and not injured, they would have beaten the Flames in the Qualifiers.
While they have a lot of sexy pieces, their weaknesses are glaring. The biggest being defence. Other than Josh Morrissey, and maybe Neil Pionk, there is a lack of depth on the back end. This also includes forward. Strength on the wings. Ehlers, Laine, Connor. But a lack of depth. As well, Ehlers struggled in the qualifiers.
And then there is Helleybuck. Based on the regular season, Helleybuck is a top 5 goalie in the NHL But he struggled during the qualifiers against the Flames Cam Talbot.
The problem with the Jets is that the gap between strengths and weaknesses is too far to put them any higher on this list.
5. Calgary Flames.
After finishing first in the Western Conference last regular season, this season was a tough one for the Flames. Replacing Bill Peters with Geoff Ward. TJ Brodie’s collapse at practice. The war of words between Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian. So much adversity happened to them.
This week, the Flames removed the interim tag from Geoff Ward.He will be the coach to start next season.
There are several questions with the Flames. The biggest being Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Do you keep them? Do you trade one or both of them?
The other question is on goal. Cam Talbot was the number one goaltender going into the playoffs.He is a UFA But, they also have David Rittich. He has had great first half of seasons. But struggled in the second half. General Manager Brad Trelving is exploring goaltending options.
The Flames best defenceman is Mark Giordano. He won the Norris Trophy last season, This year, while still strong, it wasn’t as strong. The 36-year-old started to show his age.
The Flames have some established stars like Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund. Up comers Rasmus Andersson, Jusso Valamalki, Dylan Dube, and Sam Bennett. But it is fair to say this team has underachieved last season. The question is where this team goes. Are they on the up? Or, are they on the way down?
4. Edmonton Oilers.
When it comes to the Oilers, the word enigma comes to mind.
Yes, they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaital. Yes, they are 2 of the 5 best players in the game. It makes some have higher expectations of this team then there should be. Yes, the Oilers had the most points out of all the Canadian teams with 83. Yes, they did some of this without Connor McDavid injured. And, Draisital was an MVP candidate. But, they also lost in the playoff qualifiers in 4 games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
McDavid scored points, like McDavid scores points. 9 points in 4 games. So did Draisaitl. 6 points in 4 games. But, poor defensive play, struggling goaltending, have hurt the Oilers again.
The rest of the forward group can be described as inconsistent. Zack Kassian scored tied a career-high with 15 goals. But he was suspended twice and was a -4 in the playoffs.James Neal scored 19 goals by December. Then finished the season with 19 goals.
There is talent on this team. Including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins , Darnell Nurse, and Kailer Yamamoto. But there are far too many questions than answers to out them any higher on this list.
3.Toronto Maple Leafs.
Like the Oilers, there is top-end talent. However, not as big of a gap, but lots of questions in Toronto.
Of course, you have “The Big 4” forwards. Matthews,Marner, Tavares, Nylander.Defenceman Morgan Reilly could have easily been named captain of The Leafs. Prospects like Ily Mikaheav and Sam Robertson, Timothy Lindgren, and Rasmus Sandin.
The biggest question with the Leafs is identity.The Leafs came back from a 3 goal deficit against Columbus. Then got shutout in Game 5. Who are the Leafs? Does their style match up well with their 2 division roadblocks Tampa and Boston? Those are the big questions.
2. Montreal Canadiens.
This will be controversial. Many will look at this team much lower. They had the second worst record of Canadian teams. Your first glance is they are not good. If there wasn’t the play in’s, they would have been a lottery team. But,they were also 2nd in the NHL at shots for per game at 34.1 They also allowed the least amount of shots per game 31.1.
Of course, the biggest reason the Montreal Canadiens get anywhere and have any hope is goaltender Carey Price. He’s the face of the franchise. He’s the top goalie in the League. However, General Manager Marc Bergevin hasn’t quite got the credit for what he has built. His trade of PK Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber was panned in 2016. However, Weber is still on the Habs, and Subban has since been on 2 teams. But Bergevin made some shrewd moves. He traded Max Pacioretty to Vegas for Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar. He traded Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for Max Domi.
The Canadiens may not have the superstars the Oilers and Leafs have.But they have a more complete team. A solid Defence with Weber, and Jeff Petry. Philip Danualt is a future Selke candidate. Forwards like Suzuki, Tatar, Domi,Brendan Gallagher, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. And of course, Carey Price. They also have 11 draft picks in this year’s draft. And 11 draft picks in next year’s draft.
It’s easy to look at a team like the Oilers and Leafs and be amazed by the high-end talent. However, as we have seen with the recent Stanley Cup winners and finalists, you don’t need a superstar, you need a team to win. The Canadiens found a way to upset the Pittsburgh Penguins and took the Philadelphia Flyers to six games. The Oilers and the Leafs didn’t.
1. Vancouver Canucks
Now some say this could be biased. But the Canucks, while flawed and with many questions, are the best team in Canada.
Let’s start with the flaws. The bottom six, not only with cost but effectiveness. However, within that, they still have some very effective pieces. Tyler Motte was a huge X factor in the playoffs. Adam Gaudette will slot well on the third line. Their D needs work. But, they have Quinn Hughes. And what about Markstrom? Will he be back? No matter, they have Thatcher Demo.
Here is where the Canucks have the largest edge. Captain Bo Horvat showed himself as a great leader. JT Miller was a great addition to the Canucks. Elias Pettersson has a swagger and a passion for the game. But, Quinn Hughes is one of the new, young breed of defenceman. He’s the best defenceman on the Canadian team and the most important player on the Canucks.
For all the flaws the Canucks fan base anguish about, this playoff run showed the future of the Canucks is bright. They are in the best position of a Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup.
What do you think? How would you rank the Canadian teams?
There is so much talk in the NHL about the window. When it opens. When it closes. The opportunity to either go on a long playoff run, or, actually win the Stanley Cup.
The Bubble playoffs gave the Canucks fans some hope of the . They ended up getting into the second round of the playoffs. And thanks to Thatcher Demko, and probably only Thatcher Demko, the Canucks rallied from a 3-1deficit to force a seventh gameThe Vegas Golden Knights.
Besides the Demko performance, there were three other stories that came out of this run.
1) The Leadership of Bo Horvat. I don’t think this was talked about enough. Horvat was a first-year captain that replaced two Vancouver legends in the Sedin’s. He had 4 goals against the St, Louis Blues, including an overtime game-winner. He brought anew intensity and maturity. In terms of leadership, the Canucks are in great shape
2) Quinn Hughes. Did he have some struggles? Yes. But when he was on, he was the most important Canuck on the ice. 16 points and 17 playoff games. 9 power-play points. Whether or not he wins the Calder trophy this year remains to be seen. However, there is no question at this point, there is no doubt he will win a Norris for best Defenceman.
3) Elias Pettersson. 18 points in 17 playoff games. 4 power-play goals, 10 power-play points. For a first-year in the playoffs., Peterson showed no jitters. Even when the Canucks were hemmed into their zone and nothing was going right, Pettersson was finding ways to create opportunities.
In Pettersson, Hughes, and Horvat, the Canucks have three of their cornerstones in places for years to come. This helps that so-called window for winning for the Canucks. However, what happens this offseason will tell us where the Canucks will go. There are 3 big free-agent decisions General Manager Jim Benning needs to make by October 9.
This is the most difficult decision. Markstrom was the team MVP this year. The 30-year-old was a top 5 goalie in the NHL.
He will be sought after in the Free Agent Market. Including the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. Expected salary range would be at about 5 Million dollars as season ,
But you also have Thatcher Demko. The 24 year old had an outstanding performance in the playoffs. He also held his own when Markstrom was hurt during the regular season. He’s younger and cheaper. However, this is still a small sample size. And we’ve seen the stumbles of young goalies like Matt Murray,Jordan Binnington, and even to a lesser extent, David Rittich. The two other equations to factor in is the flat cap for the next 2 years. As well as the Seattle Kraken expansion draft where the Canucks would have to protect one goalie.
Do you let Markstrom walk and hand the reigns to Demko? Do you keep Markstrom and trade Demko? Or, do you keep both.
I would sign Markstrom. This should be theCanucks number 1 priority. The expansion draft is not for another year. So much can happen during this time. Besides, we do not know when, or even how long the season is. It is quite likely you will need 2 goalies next year.
2. Chris Tanev.
Warrior. That is a one word description I would have for Chris Tanev. Blocks shots. Gives it his all. He was a huge influence in the development of Quinn Hughes. While he’s not an offensive defenceman, Tanev tied his career high for points in 20. And for the first time in his career,Tanevplayed a full season this year.
Tanev, like Alex Edler before him is life long Canuck. He was on the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.He has said his desire is to play in Vancouver. But, he has earned his payday. And I do think, even in a flat cap era, Tanev will be sought after in Free Agency.
This is where I would let Tanev explore free agency. There are teams that will over pay him. Winnipeg could be a possibility. Toronto could be a possibility. Even Vegas with a lack of right handed shot defence man could be a possibility. Let him explore his options. If he gets a good deal, wish him well. If he doesn’t ‘, you can bring him back. Remember, the Canucks also have Brogan Rafferty on the back end as well. Not the same style of defenceman. But there are options on the team. And possibly free agency.
3. Tyler Toffoli
It wasn’t as high as J.T. Miller, but Jim Benning paid a significant price to acquire Tyler Toffoli. On February 17, 2020 Toffoli was acquired for Tyler Madden,a 2020 2nd round pick, a conditional 4th round pick in 2022 and Tim Schaller. He had 10 points in 10 games for the Canucks. He was brought in because Brock Boeser was injured. In the playoffs, Toffoli was injured but had 4 points in 7 games.
Toffoli solidifies the Canucks top 6. With a top 6 of Horvat, Pettersson, Boeser, Miller, Pearson, and Toffoli, the Canucks would be fine going forward. The question comes down to cost. Like Tanev, there will be more teams interested and room to pay him. However,while Toffoli has not expressed a specific desire to play in Vancouver, he does want to play on the West Coast.
This would be my number 2 priority. With the uncertainty of Jake Virtanen, the possibility of buy-outs of veterans like Loui Ericksson and Brandon Sutter, Toffoli is great option. The question is length. Prospects like Kole Lind, Nils Hoglander, and Valeri Podkolzin coming up, you don’t have to go too long. But the Canucks would be better with him.
So my free agent priorties.
Either way, Canucks fans will be watching this offseason with high anticipation and excitement. It appears the window is opening. And in the most important off-season of his tenure, it’s up to Jim Benning to keep opening the window.
What are your free agency priorities? Let us know in the comments.
You actually may not be aware that since the MLS Is Back tournament, the Whitecaps have been playing. They have been playing Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact.
If you haven’t heard, I can’t blame you. The Canucks were on a playoff run. It was a stressful summer. There is lots going on.
I can however, blame the Whitecaps.
During this pandemic, not only the Vancouver Canucks were off, but the CFL season has been cancelled. Which means no B.C. Lions. Yet, they have won once since they have returned.
The Whitecaps have made more news off the field news than they have on the field. And, not in a good way.After bringing in Mark Pannes as CEO in the offseason, a few short weeks later, they decided to go with Axel Schuster. They recently did another shuffle bringing in a chief revenue officer and a chief marketing officer.
This is no criticism on Schuster. Time will tell if he is the right person for this job. But the Whitecaps have a consumer confidence issue. Who’s leading? Who’s starring? Who is the face of this franchise? And how has this team contributed back to the Vancouver and BC market?
The best marketing strategy is winning. And the Whitecaps haven’t really done that. Since they have returned from Orlando, they have won 1 game and lost 4 heading into tonight’s game against the Impact.
The on-field struggles combined with the off-field PR issues have put the Whitecaps behind the sporting landscape. As the Vancouver Canucks showed in the summer, this city is starving for sports success. Hopefully the end of the year, the Whitecaps can turn this around,
Let’s go back to June 13, 2019. The Toronto Raptors won their first NBA Championship. Not only that, but they were also the first Canadian team since 1993 to winMajor Sports Championship. Sorry, I’m not counting the Grey Cup or the MLS.
The biggest reason? The number 1 reason? Kawhi Leonard.
In what was the boldest trade in Canadian history, Masai Ujuri traded DeMar Derozian, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was going to be a free agent that was unlikely to come back.
Now, to be fair, the Raptors handling of Leonard was nothing short of masterful. We learned the term “load management “. But Kawhi gave the Raptors swagger. That swagger led to the “shot” vs the 76ers. He was, and US media will debate this, the best player in the NBA last year.
The Toronto Raptors would not have won the NBA Championship without him. Period. End of story. And I will get into this in another post. But Kawhi Leonard is the most important Raptor in history. It was him, not Vince Carter, not Tracy McGrady that took the Raptors to the championship level. And we will, and are seeing the impact Kawhi had on basketball in this country.
But, my oh my, how quickly the Raptor fans forget.
Last night, Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets last night. Yes, they blew a 3-1 series lead. But they were more than willing to take shots at Kawhi. Kawhi should have stayed in Toronto they said. This in spite of the fact the Raptors are also out of the playoffs.
How quickly the Raptor fans forget. So let’s look back.
Kawhi never hid his desire to play in Southern California. He bought a house in San Diego. He was a Lakers fan growing up. It would have taken a lot for him to come back to Toronto. If you listen to most Raptor discussion last year, this was known.There was hope. Real hope. Remember the plane following his car, allegedly, from Pearson airport to downtown Toronto.
But this is what it came down too is this. Kawhi, like Lebron before him, wanted his players on his team. The players have the power in the NBA. He wanted Paul George. The Raptors were hesitant. They couldn’t make it work. Kawhi moved on.
But let me say it again. The Raptors would not have won the NBA Championship without Kawhi Leonard.
While it didn’t work for Kawhi and the Clippers, guess what? It didn’t work out for the Raptors.They are still missing that superstar.
But, the story last night, and what most Canadians are excited about is, Jamal Murray. The Kingston Ontario product was THE STAR last night. His 40 points last night outscored Kawai, Paul George, and Lou Williams 24 last night. He now has 4 of the Denver Nuggets top 10 playoff performances in their history.
He is quite possibly this generation’s Steve Nash. The new face of Canadian basketball.
Canadians and Raptor fans should be happy for Jamal Murray.It’s a great story. But they also shouldn’t forget what Kawhi Leonard did for the franchise and this country. That would be fickle.
Stigma-a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person
Dak Prescott is the quarterback of the NFL’s most valuable franchise, the Dallas Cowboys. For some, this is the most important position in professional sports. Not only because of his position, quarterback, but he is the quarterback of America’s Team. Prescott admitted this week about struggling with depression. He was grieving the loss of his brother.
In an interview In Depth with Graham Bensinger, Prescott said this.
“Honestly, a couple of days before my brother passed, I started experiencing depression,” “I didn’t know what I was going through, to say the least, and hadn’t been sleeping at all. But for one night, I sleep the best I’ve slept, missing 10-plus calls from Tad and giving my dad enough time to come in my bedroom and tell me what happened. So I woke up after the best night of sleep I’ve had in 2020 from the worst news — some of the worst news I’ll ever get.”
“When you have thoughts that you’ve never had, I think that’s more so than anything a chance to realize it and recognize it, to be vulnerable about it,” Prescott said. “Talked to my family, talked to the people around me simply as I did at the time. Some of them obviously had dealt with it before, was able to have those conversations and then reach out further just to more people.”
Because of who Prescott is, the number 1 Quarterback on the most popularfranchise, it prompted discussions around the NFL. This includedSkip Bayliss from Undisputed. For context, this is the full quote.
“I have deep compassion for clinical depression, but when it comes to the quarterback of an NFL team, you [Shannon Sharpe] know this better than I do, it’s the ultimate leadership position in sports, am I right about that?” Bayless said on UnDisputed “You are commanding an entire franchise… And they’re all looking to you to be their CEO, to be in charge of the football team.
“Because of all that, I don’t have sympathy for him going public with, ‘I got depressed,’ ‘I suffered depression early in COVID to the point that I couldn’t even go work out.’ Look, he’s the quarterback of America’s team …
“The sport that you play, it is dog eat dog. It is no compassion, no quarter given on the football field. If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spots and it can definitely encourage others on the other side to come after you.”
Many, including myself, have been quite critical of Bayliss’s comments. Siting admiration for Prescott’s vulnerability, which is what a leader does. Even this Tweet from Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.
Within the last 10 years, there has been a more of an openness to outwardly discuss mental health. Initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk have certainly helped.Dr. Bonnie Henry has talked about the importance of our mental health during our COVID19 crisis. This is leading to more people reaching out.According to this article in the Kelowna News, Aaryn Stecker from the Interior’s Health CMHA said they saw an increase of between 30 and 50 percent call volume during the COVID Crisis.
However, that doesn’t mean Bayliss’s opinion is as rare as we think. Especially around sports where they can be high expectations of competitiveness and winning. In her 2017 Ted Talk, Victoria Garrick said;
If you have ever had an injury, torn a ligament, sprained an ankle, I just want you to raise your hand.”
Awesome, that’s like, most of the room. That’s pretty common.
Now I want you to raise your hand if you have had depression and anxiety
“Small amount of hands raised.”
“You can put your hands down.”
Did you feel that tension or that awkwardness we created together? Did you maybe judge someone who raised their hand? Or were you afraid to raise your own hand because of what people might think?
1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health issue. Which is 25% of this room right now.
If we are to strictly follow this 1 in 4 number, think of it this way.
Of the 31 players the Vancouver Canucks took to the NHL Bubble, 8 would struggle with mental health.
Of the 53 men on the Seattle Seahawks roster,13 would struggle with mental health.
Of the 29 Vancouver Whitecaps, 7 would struggle with mental health.
Yet if stars like Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Russell Wilson, or Alphonso Davies admitted to a struggle, they would face the same stigma from many.
The public stigma is one thing to deal with. However, there is another gremlin that is important to realize. It is a private stigma. And for this, I’m going to be a personal experience
In 2018, I got my “dream” job. I was going to be a Producer at a radio station in Kamloops. For the record, the dream was the radio station, not Kamloops. But I got the job! I was on the road to success.
I was living in Vancouver at the time. I had to move to Kamloops and start in a couple of weeks. But, I had a positive attitude. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get to the “top”. So it would be no problem to find a place and work would be easy! Right? Well, it wasn’t.
I bounced around from Airbnb to Airbnb until I found a place. I was also working 12 hour days to line up guests. I was so overwhelmed and so unaware that I was overwhelmed. I was so deeply stressed with nowhere to turn.
I finally found a place to live in. However, a couple of days later, it was decided I was not a fit for the job. They let me go.
I was depressed. It was a huge risk, that I didn’t have a cushion to back me up. But as I look back on this, it didn’t start as a low, sad, depression. I was trying to be undaunted, determined, and “positive”. I wasn’t going to let my circumstances knock me down. But they were knocking me down.
A friend of mine who was a health care professional messaged me. And, this is what she said to me.
I’m sorry that this job didn’t work out for you.
I wanted to check in with you, because there are many people who care for you and are in your corner.
From my professional experience, this year you have experienced MANY, of the life experiences that rate your stress level in the ‘high’ level
Check out the article of the list of life events that are stressors
This being said not to drag it out to the open, but to shed light on it so, as to work with it and change it.
I want to show love and with honesty and grace, I think you might be at risk for depression (situational depression) or for having suicidal thoughts which can lead to action.
But, I couldn’t get help.I was strong. I had faith. I needed to be positive. I have to bounce back. Anything else would be a failure. That was my private stigma said. And that fight was worse than any public shame could give. Because that is what held me back.
But, She was right. As much I was trying to keep “up”, I had a very severe mental breakdown.It led me to move back to Vancouver and come back to school.
In any competitive situation, sports, dance, acting, and yes even radio, you are going to have your ups. But you are also going to lose. Things won’t work out your way. Circumstances will hit you hard. Perhaps harder than it “should”. There is the public stigma that speaks to you. But don’t forget about the private stigma that speaks loudly as well.
No matter who you are. Star player on the team. A reporter for the team. Somewhere in the middle. You are not alone.1 in 5 will experience some sort of mental illness. It’s ok to get help. Publicly or privately.
As I close this, I want to share something that my counselor gave me.
This is a wheel of feelings. In any situation, you will not feel one thing about something. You will feel several. I have used this wheel to work through thongs I’m feeling and it helps. I hope it can help you.
Before 2020, the news and sports were considered separate. The news is real life. The economy, jobs, current events, and, of course, politics. Sports was the diversion, the escape, the comfortable distraction for the things that truly mattered. Papers and newscasts would separate the news section and the sports section. Unless it was a major event, rare would they crossover.
That was until this year. Or, if you want to be more specific, March 11. That was when Oklahoma Thunder head medical staffer Donnie Strack ran onto the basketball court of the Utah Jazz vas Oklahoma Thunder game and say don’t play. And we learned Ruby Goebert had COVID19.
Slowly but surely, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball, CFL, tennis, racing, and golf put everything on pause. This spilled into the lower levels. Junior hockey paused. USports paused.
Sports stopped. Not because of a strike, or a lockout. But, ]something that hasn’t happened in 100 years. A global pandemic.
Sports fans sat. And waited, And waited. We got by reliving some of our favorite sports moments, The 2011 Canuck Stanley Cup run. The 1994 Canuck run. It served us for a time. But, we missed sports.
However, on May 25, three words were uttered that pushed sports into the news.
“I Can’t Breathe.”
Those were the final words of George Floyd. Floyd died after a police officer pressed his neck for close to 10 minutes. For many of us, it shook us to our very core. It was a recognition that something was wrong. We all wanted to do something. In the midst of a pandemic, there were, and still are, protests. Sacrificing times of social distancing to lend their voice. This included professional athletes. NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLB, tennis, and golf. Even the normally politically quiet NHL spoke out.Players likeZdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, Matt Dumba,and Evander Kane were standing, speaking, educating.
While many were supportive, there were voices saying something different.
“Stick to sports”
“Shut up and play”
The demand of keeping sports in sports.
When sports returned, they, like a lot of us, know there needs to be a change. We saw steps on the need for change. Matt Dumba gave a powerful speech when the NHL returned.
For many, it resonated. From many perspectives, the words rang true. It was their desire. Yet, for some, these words came out.
“Stick to sports.”
“Shut up and play.”
Then, August 23. Jacob Blake is shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Not once. Not twice. Seven times. It sounded like a collective and loud “ENOUGH” !. The Milwaukee Bucks led a walkout of their NBA playoff game. This led to the rest of the NBA doing the same.was slowly followed by MLB and the NHL doing the same.
Again, many understood. But, those voices again.
“Stick to sports”
“Shut up and play”
This weekend, the NFL returned. With some places with fans, some without. They also had an expression of unity.This was met with some booing. And while there are deeper reasons for the opposition, the premise being held is that they don’t want sports to be political. They value the comfort of the escape. They want the distraction.
Yet, they forget that sports have always had a voice in societal change. It has always left a mark in our world. Here are some examples.
-Jesse Owens. Winning the Gold in 100, 200, 4X 100, and Long Jump in 1936 in Berlin. As Adolf Hitler is watching.
-Jackie Robinson. The first African American player to play Major League Baseball.
-Muhammad Ali. Converting to Islam, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He also refused to go to the military.
Even closer to home, Terry Fox. His run on led across Canada raised money and awareness for cancer and inspired Canadians.
The reality is while sports can be an escape, more often than not, sports has been a catalyst for change. Some of the most influential and admired voices of our time are professional athletes. Athletes who have overcome their own systemic oppression and odds to get where they are today. Athletes who have seen fellow athletes, friends, and even family members struggle through this oppression that held them back.
Not only in the news and sports, for too long, our culture has also lived in a form of separation. The haves and the have nots have been divided. And, to use a sports term, the playing field isn’t level. On more than one level. Whether it be about racial injustice, social injustice, or financial injustice, there is a growing understanding that what we are doing is not working. The privilege is real. It’s not something we can escape from. It’s not something we can drink a beer to get away from. It’s not something a weekend nap can take away. This is something we all need to face and get on the field to help.
We may have lost our escape and it hurts. But in the long run, the wins will feel great.