Say What?! is an email conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Look for us regularly but intermittently on winnipegfreepress.com
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/11/2016 (2072 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
So I've got a proposition I want to bounce off of you — we as a society expect far too much of our athletes on the field of play and not nearly enough off of it.
I've been thinking about this over the past week watching the Craig Anderson and Josh Tomlin sagas play out. Both Anderson, the Ottawa Senators goalie, and Tomlin, the Cleveland Indians pitcher, have sick relatives right now. And both men have been nothing short of canonized by the media because — wait for it — they've also managed to do their jobs while caring for and worrying about those sick relatives. I'm seeing, hearing and reading words like "heroic" to describe the two men over the past week and I just don't get it. I'd be willing to venture there are quite literally millions of Canadians who showed up for work today despite having sick relatives who they are caring for and deeply concerned about. And the overwhelming majority of those Canadians are doing so without access to the money or resources that guys like Anderson and Tomlin have. You want heroic — how about the single mom dealing with a sick kid who cannot dare miss a day of work because the family's survival depends on her income.
We expect miracles from our athletes on the field of play — and rip them when they fail to measure up. But then when they do nothing more than behave like every other decent human being off the field of play, we deify them. I don't get it.
Couple of things…
It’s good to know you have been thinking over the past week while on vacation — again!
And yeah, I have had a number of people ask me about that — sharing a story or two with me about how they went to work when their son, daughter, mother, father or spouse was sick. It would be rare that any of us hasn’t done that.
Listen, no disrespect to the feelings the Anderson and Tomlin families must be experiencing at this time but I’m not sure it needs to be national news.
The only argument to be made in favor of it, is that potentially their perseverance and courage could be an example to other folks going through a similar ordeal.
If I believed that was the motive behind all this, I think I would be fine with it. But my suspicion is that it’s another example of how we in the media can be guilty of fabricating storylines to create web clicks and viewership. It seems to be an epidemic these days. Great headline in our paper today McDavid, Matthews matchup fails to meet hype. That storyline — as well as the Laine-Ovechkin hype were over the top on Tuesday.
Let’s be careful not to get caught up in that ok?
I think that's an important distinction you make. It's not the Anderson or Tomlin families who are driving this narrative — it's a 24-hour news cycle that needs to be constantly fed and which has contrived this thing. I cannot imagine Mrs. Anderson — or Mr. Tomlin — are enjoying having the details of their medical histories played out in front of the world. Like most people, I'm sure they'd prefer to suffer in silence — if us jackals would just let them do so.
For what it's worth, I think this same dichotomy of expectations we have for athletes — too much expected on the field of play, not enough off of it — is also true of North American parents and their children. We all expect our kids to ace straight A's, get the lead in the school play and score 30 points a night for the school basketball team, but when they get home they cannot even fry an egg for themselves or figure out how to turn on a vacuum. The kids are alright, it's the parents who are lousy.
Funny story Tuesday night after that Jets loss to Washington at the MTS Centre. There was a man and woman in the media room after the game who had either won or paid for a VIP package that allowed them to watch the Paul Maurice post-game news conference. You could tell they were pretty excited about it, but it was one of those nights when Maurice had steam coming out of his ears from the moment he arrived and you just knew we were all one intemperate question away from him completely blowing his stack. So a couple brave souls lobbed some quick softballs at him before we all decided to live to fight another day and end the thing early. The entire availability clocked in at one minute, 55 seconds.
Two things: that VIP couple deserves a do-over. And do you think the Winnipeg media is scared of Paul Maurice?
That couple definitely deserves a do-over — there should be a six-question or five-minute minimum. That was one of the worst post-game press conferences I’ve ever attended.
Listen, Maurice is very intimidating. He knows 100 times more about hockey than the entire room combined last night, and yeah who wants to be stared down and made to look silly if they ask a certain question the wrong way. He and Bombers coach Mike O'Shea both have a knack for doing that.
And a couple of other things come into play at these pressers: a certain segment of the local media is just not interested in upsetting the apple cart, and another segment sees no reason to ask hard-hitting questions so that every other media outlet can then have the answer as a sound-bite. I hate scrum journalism — it does nothing for the fan other than pass along cliches and hyperbole.
Anyways, how about a couple of real storylines this week: Pick a winner pal — Cubs or Indians tonight? And, where do the Bombers finish in the standings after the dust clears this weekend?
Oh, more importantly — are you afraid of Paul Maurice?
I'm not scared of Paul Maurice. I grew up in the North End and have been punched out by much more intimidating men than the head coach of this city's hockey team. But like most people, I am scared of being publicly humiliated and exposed as the fraud that I am. And I think until you've sat in one of those post-game rooms — whether the coach's newser or the Jets dressing room — you cannot really understand how intimidating that environment can be. The adrenaline and aggression is still literally dripping off these guys at that point and there can be an underlying sense of menace to the whole thing that leads to a certain amount of self-censorship in the press corps. My experience after almost 30 years at this is that the time for the toughest questions isn't five minutes after a bitter loss but in the sober light of the next morning when everyone's toweled off and had a chance to reflect. The sound bite probably won't be as sexy, but in my experience you get a fuller and more complete answer. And by then, all the media free-loaders who just show up on game night are gone and it's just the diehards like us present, so there's less scalping by others of our quotes and our ideas.
As for our media colleagues, I don't think people in this town understand just how financially invested certain media outlets in Winnipeg are in the success of the Jets. Here's a hint to tell us apart: If the Jets are mired in yet another mutliple-game losing skid and you hear someone tell you "they just need to get their feet moving a little more," odds are that person is working for the team more than they are covering it.
I think Corey Kluber is the Madison Bumgarner of this year's playoffs and gets the job done in Game 7 for the Indians. What a story that would be — a city that famously never wins anything all of a sudden in one year wins an NBA championship, a World Series and, everyone forgets this, a Calder Cup, which the Lake Erie Monsters won last spring to actually get the title run started in Cleveland.
And I think the Bombers and Lions both win this weekend — the Bombers will face Ottawa's third-string QB, which helps. That sets up a West semifinal in B.C. against the Lions. I'm not sure I like the Bombers chances in that one, but ask me again next week.
I’m still trying to figure out how the Bombers were so awful against the Redblacks last weekend. I know they have been pretty good this season at taking things one game at a time, but they appeared to have presumed they were just going to beat the Redblacks and were already making plans to host the West semifinal. Being off on a bye this late in the season is just weird by the way. Shouldn’t bye weeks be reserved for mid-season?
I hope you are right about the Indians tonight. I’ve never really got into the whole lovable-losers thing with the Cubs. Plus, I loathe the idea of the cameras panning the crowd to show us how Bill Murray, John Cusack, Vince Vaughn, Eddie Vedder et al are dealing with the Cubs winning or losing. Please make it stop.
You are off to cover the Jets on a three-game road trip to Washington, Detroit and the Big Apple. Man, you have a good boss giving you a plum trip like that. I hear you are going to be on a Broadway stage with Mary-Louise Parker (insert an envious bad word directed at you here).
How cool is this — at some Broadway productions now, they actually set up risers on the stage and sell tickets so that you're right up on the stage along with the actors. I've got a sixth row seat — and on the aisle so that Mary-Louise and I can easily chat during the show.
This is my big chance. I think we're going to be very happy together.
I gotta catch a flight — Washington, Detroit and New York this week in the final days of the most bitter U.S. election campaign in memory. It's gonna be a trip alright. The politics is going to make the hockey look tame by comparison.
Have a safe trip. Stay in your seat, eh ;)
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.