Tag Archives: athletes

Sam Selection Special, But in a Perfect World it Wouldn’t Be

By Jason Menard,

Tonight, we were privy to what was, in my opinion, the best seventh-round selection of the NFL draft. And I hope we’ll have more of these moments in the near future so that, eventually, they won’t be special.

The video of Michael Sam receiving a phone call from the St. Louis Rams notifying him that he was their seventh-round selection is powerful, emotional, and uplifting. The image of his boyfriend, holding his hand and comforting Sam as the player struggles to regain his composure, is touching. And the kiss between the two was natural, organic, and will have ultimately no impact on his on-field abilities.

But the Sam situation was unnecessarily different. And it shows how far we have to go in this society until what should be considered normal actually is. Continue reading

Oh Canada: Accepting Our Olympic Mediocrity As Fans

By Jason Menard

We’re just days away from the start of the 22nd Olympic Winter Games and after hitting the slopes yesterday, I’m feeling pretty athletic (OK, I was tubing, not doing anything actually physical). Maybe that’s why my feelings towards the Olympics have somewhat softened.

OK, who am I trying to kid? The Olympic movement still hits me in the bowels, but I’ve realized that my real issue, like Sloan once sang, “it’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.Continue reading

Immature Sports World Will Keep Closet Closed, Miss Out on Opportunity to Do Good

By Jason Menard

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a story about Phoenix Suns’ president and chief executive Rick Welts, who recently decided to come out to the sporting world. What should be a “so what?” moment, unfortunately, won’t be. And, despite Welts’ bravery, true change won’t come about until an active player walks proudly out of the closet. Continue reading

Keep Your Heroes at Arm’s Length

By Jason Menard

The other day my wife was reading some magazine, which contained a quiz covering a wide variety of topics – including sports. And the question that stumped me the most? When she asked me which professional athlete I’d most like to have lunch with.

After a couple of days reflection, I may have to admit I lied.

The thing is, you ask most guys this question and the first names that come into their mind are Gabriella Sabatini, Maria Sharapova, or Anna Kournikova and, of course, trying to figure out whether Alyssa Milano’s recent baseball blog would qualify her for the event – and that invitation’s not being extended for their athletic abilities. And the smart man thinks before speaking and moves on past these passing fancies.

Then we give the answer we think we should. The quartet of athletes I chose are all worth of precognition: hockey heroes like Wayne Gretzky and the late Maurice Richard, and brave sporting pioneers like Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali.

In the end, however, there are no athletes that’d like to spend any time with. After all, it’s hard for anyone to live up to the expectation that we’ve placed upon them.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting one of my hockey heroes, Guy Lafleur, earlier this year. It was at a charity event and a group of us, who were all French-speakers, engaged Guy in a long conversation. We did the embarrassing groupie things like having shirts signed and one of us – and I reserve my right to not comment on the grounds that it may incriminate me – even had The Flower record his outgoing answering cell phone machine message. Throughout the night he kept returning to talk – and we all walked away feeling the man measured up to the myth.

Unfortunately, that’s appears to be the exception to the rule.

Throughout my career writing for various on-line and print vehicles, I’ve had the opportunity – note the fact that I didn’t say pleasure – of meeting several professional and amateur athletes.

And all too often they’re boorish, rude, and obnoxious. Some appear to not value the importance of signing an autograph for a young child, or understand what their interaction with a fan can mean to that person.

However, athletes are really just regular people, with extraordinary jobs and paycheques. And, as regular people they are subject to the same foibles and insecurities as all the rest of us. Of course, as regular people with irregular bank accounts and unwavering customer affection, they can often find themselves in trouble. After all, for years they’ve been told they’re special and the rules don’t apply to them, so is it any surprise that the mix of loyalty, intoxication – both physical and spiritual, and an all-too-ready-to-please fan base ready to cover up any follies?

I’ve been out on the town with famous NHLers after a charity event – and saw some of the most pronounced displays of misogyny and lack of consideration for others; I’ve talked with an NHL legend who ended up going on a 10-minutes tirade about foreigners; and I’ve seen grown adults be as disrespectful and immature as six-year-old boys.

Again, I’m using awfully broad strokes with an awfully broad bust. Not all athletes in all sports are like this, but there’s no hard and fast way to know what lurks beneath that PR’d and polished demeanour.

So my real answer to the question of which athlete would I like to spend time with? None thanks.

I prefer a little romance and mystery in my life. Just as I never want to find out a how a magician perform a trick, so too do I not want to delve into an athlete’s true self. I’m much happier thinking of them as bigger than life. I’m far more content admiring their sills and abilities on their field of play.

And those activities are best done from afar.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Wrestling with Our Tolerance of Violence

By Jason Menard

Violent criminals, thieves, rapists, murderers. Generally, they’re the type of people that we abhor. That is, unless they’re willing to strap on a uniform or do a little metaphorical song and dance and entertain us.

Last night, WWE decided to broadcast a three-hour show, which was shown on The Score, dedicated to Chris Benoit. Benoit, a Canadian wrestler who has gone by many names: The Canadian Crippler, the Rabid Wolverine, and now — allegedly — murderer.

A three-hour tribute to a man who may have killed his wife and seven-year-old son? What message are we sending?

Why is it we’re so willing to look the other way when an athlete commits one of these transgressions? It’s safe to say that one of the most abhorrent acts that exists in our society is violence against women. Unfortunately, the list of present and past athletes who have been charged with sexual assaults and rapes is mind-bogglingly long. We’ve seen police blotters stained with the names of athletes accused of assaulting their spouses and partners. Yet, when it comes time to press charges, suddenly what was once a violent attack becomes nothing more than a mere understanding. Do you think the fact that a multi-year stint could seriously derail the financial gravy train has anything to do with that?

But fans can remember. It just seems that many choose not to. Allegiance to the home squad’s colours appears to supersede our disgust at the acts, both real and alleged. Many of these athletes continue to receive the cheers and accolades of fans while they’re on the field of play.

And we haven’t even discussed those involved in gun play, robbery — anything up to and including defecating in a co-ed’s laundry hamper! Yet, sports fans are willing to forgive and forget far too easily.

Maybe it’s time to reframe this discussion. It’s easy to distance yourself from the impact of an athlete assaulting a nameless, faceless woman. But what if it was your daughter? How would you feel as a parent listening to thousands upon thousands of fans cheering on a man who abused your little girl? How would your daughter feel? It would be like being raped again.

Leonard Little, once known as a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, should better be known for the fact that he killed an innocent 47-year-old woman 1999 after getting behind the wheel of his vehicle while inebriated. And how contrite was Little? Six years later he was given two year’s probation for speeding — and the three field sobriety tests that he allegedly failed, combined with the fact that he refused to take a breathalyzer test, was shelved due to his lawyer’s insistence that police didn’t follow the proper procedures.

A few years back Ray Lewis and his posse were involved in an altercation that left two men dead. He admitted he lied to the police about his involvement, then he copped a plea, testified against his co-defendants, and is now revered throughout the league.

When either of these players do their sack dance, do you think the victims’ respective families feel that they’re dancing on those graves?

Are we that willing to forgive an athlete’s actions because we believe that the same violence and aggression that can drive an athlete to success can spill off the field of play? Or are we simply willing to win at all costs?

In the end, people will argue that the person’s off-field persona and activities have no impact on what their sporting legacy should be. And there is some merit to that. The notes of a beautiful symphony don’t change just because it’s suddenly come out that the composer was a murderer.

And there is always the notion of forgiving and forgetting. But by celebrating these athletes and holding them up as icons, are we not simply aiding and abetting future generations of criminals?

In the end, a tribute to a fine Canadian wrestler may have been appropriate one day, but not on the day he stands accused of murdering his wife and child.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

What’s Wrong with Having Fun?

By Jason Menard

Sure looks like the NFL is doing nothing to shake that No Fun League moniker, especially in light of the latest decision to restrict the scope of allowable celebrations in the end zone following a touch down. But what they’re forgetting is that what makes sports so appealing to us all is the fact that it’s a game – and we, as fans, love those who know how to play it.

In its typically convoluted way, the National Football League okayed celebrations as long as the participant remains on their feet, but doesn’t use anything as a prop. Spiking, spinning, and dunking the ball over the goal posts are still good. However, Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Chad Johnson’s cheerleader proposal? Gone. Getting down on one knee and removing one’s helmet is now a no-no.

Call it the fallout from Sharpiegate. In recent years noted pigskin choreographers like Johnson and malcontent wideout Terrell Owens have made the end-zone their personal stage for animated celebrations of their scoring prowess.

Interestingly enough, part of the rationale behind restricting these demonstrative celebrations is the feeling that they focus on the player, not the team. San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer went so far as to say, “The game is about the team, not the player.”

Oh, how quickly we forget… Why, was it not just a couple of seasons ago that the Indianapolis Colts’ kickoff team were threatened with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties should they engage in their pre-kick sway. That was an example of a team coming together in a show of unity. The fact that it came from special teams – often the most underappreciated third of the game – made it even more special.

What’s forgotten by these leagues that want to legislate the fun out of sports is that most fans appreciate these gestures. Looking back historically, we remember those players who stood out for their celebrations. Whether it’s Tiger Williams riding the stick after scoring a goal, Barry Bonds admiring his own home runs before slowly trotting off, or Michael Jordan’s wayward tongue hanging out on his way to the rim, these images stick in our mind long after the memory of the game or the event has faded into the past.

Many reading this won’t remember the game, the score, or the event, but the image of Theoren Fleury bulging the twine and racing across the ice in a fit of youthful exhuberance, arms raised, before falling to the ice, spinning out and crashing into the far boards is indelibly etched in our minds.

Many more don’t give a wet slap about rugby. Yet how many of us are familiar with the New Zealand All-Blacks Maori-inspired Haka? Is there any harm in engaging in a pre-game ritual designed to pump up the team? No. These displays can even make an otherwise-to-be-forgotten player a lasting touchstone for a generation. Ickey Woods anyone?

Football’s got it backwards. The CFL frowns on obviously choreographed routines featuring more than one player, yet the fans love the image of six players falling in unison around a ball that’s symbolically transformed into a bomb.

Sports are supposed to be about fun. They’re also about diversity and personal expression. We admire these athletes because they can express their bodies and talents in ways that we can only dream. For every person who is offended by Steve Smith’s diaper-changing football routine, there’s another fan who was bored to tears by retired Detroit Lions’ running back Barry Sanders’ handing the ball back to the ref. In many cases, Sanders is deified for his display of class, while modern players are pilloried for their excesses.

The thing that people forget about sports is that the players themselves find a way to establish accepted limits. They don’t need outside help. If a football player is hamming it up too much, someone on the sidelines will make it abundantly clear that the behaviour shouldn’t happen. In hockey, an over-the-top celebration that has the effect of belittling an opponent will be dealt with in a future shirt – either with a stiff check or something more nefarious.

But is there anything wrong with having fun? Was not what made the 1985 Chicago Bears so appealing at least, in part, inspired by their Super Bowl Shuffle video? But as fast as Jim McMahon’s ego was inflated, was it not just as rapidly deflated by fan backlash? And that’s the great equalizer in sports – the fans will determine what they want to see and what they don’t. If Joe Horn jersey sales spiked after his cell-phone touchdown celebration, would that not indicate that fans enjoyed the spectacle. When fans tired of the Dennis Rodman sideshow, is it any wonder that he slipped into obscurity?

These games are played out in the field – not the boardroom. If the fans wanted to watch stuffed suits, they would. In the meantime, let the players play. After all, it’s only a game, so what’s wrong with having fun?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Jealousy Colours Our Perception of Athletes

By Jason Menard

At a time in our history when it’s often more and more difficult to call oneself a sports fan, there are stories like Robert Edwards’ to help you keep the faith. But instead of celebrating our triumphs, we prefer to shove them aside and focus on the negative. And the reason behind this? Jealousy.

For every Terrell Owens in this world there are a thousand more quality players out there who are fulfilling their contractual obligation. For every story of a player beating his wife, committing a crime, or getting busted with drugs, there are countless other stories of players that are good family men, dedicated to their community, and going the extra mile to help those in need.

Instead of focusing on the good in the game, we hungrily devour the most salacious news reports involving players, which then send the truly pompous among us to their respective pulpits to admonish the sins of excess that modern sport has bred. Yet while we’re so ready at hand for a ritual stoning, why do we not have an equal passion for lauding those who merit it?

Percentage-wise, the number of people who commit crimes while playing professional sports is no different than that of the society as a whole. However, due to their high-profile nature, athletes will find themselves in the newspapers much more than the local pharmacist or salesman who commits the same crime. Yet, while people are willing to chastise athletes as a group as lawless thugs, where are those same generic cries against lawyers, doctors, garbage men, or any other profession? The number of miscreants is the same for all groups – a small percentage – but those few bad apples seem to spoil the whole bunch a lot easier when the increased exposure is factored in.

Edwards offers a feel-good story. Injured in a freak accident in a National Football League Beach Bowl during the 1999 Pro Bowl in Hawaii, he has come back from suffering severe nerve damage that had the potential to cause him to lose his leg. After being told that he’d never play football again and would be forced to walk with a cane for the rest of his life, Edwards chose to persevere. Since that proclamation of a career death sentence, he enjoyed brief stints back in the NFL before coming to the Canadian Football League. Becoming the Montreal Alouettes’ starting tailback six games into the season, Edwards enjoyed a season that saw him rush for one yard shy of 1,200. And now he’s on the cusp of playing in a game that could see his team earn a trip to the Grey Cup.

Yet all we hear about is the continued exploits of Terrell Owens. An inspirational story like Edwards doesn’t get the time of day, but the petulant, puerile demands and antics of the Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver dominate sports talk radio, publications, Web sites, and newspapers.

But far be it for us to blame the media. Too often the press is the made scapegoat for delivering us exactly what we want. If bad news didn’t sell and we weren’t so hungry for negativity, then the press would reflect that in their reporting. Simply put we’ve created a culture where if it bleeds it leads, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

We want to admire our athletes from afar. We are awed by their displays of athleticism and ease of ability in performing feats the likes of which we can only dream. Yet, tempering that awe is a sense of jealousy. We are incensed by the sheer volume of money that these athletes pull in for playing a game. As we plug along, trying to make ends meet, we find it hard to relate to athletes who wear jewellery that costs more than our car.

So instead of congratulating them on their good fortune and accepting the fact that they’re better than us athletically, we need to regain our moral or intellectual superiority. We know we can’t compete on the field of play, but in the fabric of society we can assume our elevated mantle. Like politicians or, more appropriately, the entertainers that they are, athletes are subjected to inflated expectations of being above-average in all aspects of life.

We don’t ask the same from any other segment of our society. We don’t care what our doctors do once they’re out of their practice – all we care about is how they treat us when we’re on the operating table. Yet we expect our athletes to be the same paragons of society as they are of sport. And it’s an unfair expectation.

As a society, we need to treat our athletes just the same way we treat each other. We need to recognize our extraordinary gifts as just that – a gift. We must look at a hockey player’s prowess on the ice with the same reverence as an artist’s skill on the canvas. And, just as we don’t begrudge an artist’s ability to create neither should we begrudge our athletes’ ability to perform. Jealousy of another’s gifts is a deficiency in ourselves.

Celebrating the good in everyone would be a nice place to start – which is why we need to know more about Edwards and less about T.O. The world, sporting or otherwise, would be a better place.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved