• Tennis mega star, Serena Williams, has titillated us with her temper on the tennis courts more than a few times in her long tenure. Nevertheless, watching Ms. Williams reclaim her position at the top of tennis after taking a year’s sabbatical to have a baby, I have considered temporarily waiving my personal embargo on the obnoxious athlete in favour of appreciating her superhuman accomplishment.

    Then this past Saturday, Ms. Williams’ took her toddler’s disposition to work with her in the championship match of the US Open versus Naomi Osaka. When, that is, Williams was displeased with a legitimate pair of code violation penalties she received from the chair umpire of the match, she unleashed at him a series of tirades.

    And yet, with magic rhetoric, Williams has subsequently convinced many that her childish behaviour was in fact the righteously passionate speech of an unjustly treated hero who is fighting for the rights of others.

    The key to Williams’ magic here is to take the incident as far away from context as she can, and to reframe her aggressive actions with minimizing, faintly true descriptors while simultaneously reinventing the umpire’s punitive response with maximizing language. And, sadly, many in her audience, including reporters and pundits, are unable or unwilling to recognize Williams’ simple tricks of language.

    So let me put the incident back into the context Serena Williams is hoping we’ll forget:

    (1) The Coaching Controversy

    Early on in the match, the American struggled with her Japanese counterpart, but Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, had a strategic idea that might help, and so he made a fancy hand gesture towards the star.

    In tennis, strangely, such expert in-game assistance from one’s team is against the rules, and so chair umpire Carlos Ramos charged Williams a code violation warning for her coach’s attempted influence. After the match, Mouratoglou admitted he was coaching, but he argued that such infractions occur frequently without penalty, “…so,” he said, “we have to stop this hypocrite thing.” ESPN analyst, and tennis legend, Chrissie Evert concurred, “Every coach does it, so you need to re-address that rule.”

    I accept Evert’s expertise, but this wasn’t a subtle piece of coaching that an umpire could pretend not to notice; it was a blatant signaling from coach to player. So, if Ramos saw it as clearly as the ESPN cameras did, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect him to ignore it on the grounds that the opposing coach was probably also breaking the rules.

    Williams, meanwhile, also couldn’t support the chair umpire’s decision, and she politely explained to Ramos that, “[Mouratoglou and I] don’t have any code, and I know you don’t know that. And I understand why you may have thought that was coaching, but I’m telling you it’s not. I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.”

    Ramos’s reply is not legible to me on the tape, but he seemed to acknowledge her concern, and she replied, “Okay, thank you, because I’m like, ‘I don’t cheat’… Yeah, so thank you so much.’”

    So all seemed fine in love and tennis.

    (2) The Racquet Demolition

    A while later, Williams lost a point, which she would have preferred to have won, and so she released her irritation by smashing and destroying her racquet against the court. Once again, Umpire Ramos had his eyes open and spotted the unsporting gesture, and so, per tennis rules, he supplied Williams with her second code violation strike, which meant that she was to be automatically docked a point in the next game of the match.

    This did not please our hero. Williams apparently had thought she’d clarified with Ramos that she did not deserve that first code violation, and so had continued in the match under the false apprehension that she still had a free code violation warning available to her for any desired racquet-smashing.

    (3) The Tirades

    Less politely this time, Ms. Williams returned to Mr. Ramos and explained, “I didn’t get coaching. I didn’t get coaching. I didn’t get coaching. You need to make an announcement that I didn’t get coaching. I don’t cheat. I didn’t get coaching. How can you say that?… You owe me an apology. You owe me an apology. [Now shouting.] I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter, and I stand for what’s right for her, and I have never cheated. You owe me an apology.”

    Now, I can understand Ms. Williams’ frustration that she would be punished for her coach’s behaviour (especially if she was being honest that she wasn’t aware of it). But, unfortunately for Serena, one’s coach is part of one’s team, and so, just as she gains from his expertise, she is also subject to his mistakes. (In fact, my ESPN pundits tell me that the “coaching” penalty is not a measure of whether the athlete received it, but whether the coach sent it.) Regardless of how offended Serena claimed to be, it is not reasonable to expect a referee to overrule what he witnessed just because an athlete insists that they wouldn’t be a party to it.

    Nevertheless, given both the significance of the moment and Williams’ conceivably understandable frustration at being blamed for the actions of her coach, I could forgive her a brief rant towards the umpire. Instead, though, the superstar binged on her anger, and unleashed a series of hostile sermons against Ramos, while Ramos replied only with politeness and calm.

    “For you to attack my character,” Williams continued, “is something that’s wrong. You’re attacking my character. Yes you are. You owe me an apology. You will never ever ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar.”

    Now—whether or not Serena Williams actually has the influence to control umpiring assignments—from my umpire’s chair, her threat against the official’s livelihood ought to have earned her a code violation for abuse of official.

    But Umpire Ramos—with the most patient of expressions—nodded and turned away from his accuser when she seemed done. But Ms. Williams still wasn’t satisfied and called his attention back for more: “When are you going to give me my apology?… You owe me an apology. Say it. Say you’re sorry. [Ramos declined the invitation.] Well, then, don’t talk to me.”

    Ramos complied, and turned away once more, but Serena had a little left in the tantrum tank:

    “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too.”

    That was finally sufficient for Umpire Ramos, and he provided Williams the long-earned “Abuse of Official,” code violation, which—being the Williams’ team’s third code violation of the day—meant that she was now to automatically receive a one game penalty in the match.

    (4) The Magic Rhetoric

    Soon after, tournament referee Brian Earley arrived to try to calm the waters, but that is when the bully of our story turned into a magician and pulled a rabbit out of her tennis bag.

    “I know the rules,” she explained to Earley, “but I said a simple thing like ‘thief,’ because he stole a point from me. [Now crying.] There are men out here that do a lot worse, but because I’m a woman, because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me? That is not right. And you know it. And I know you can’t admit it, but I know you know it’s not right.”

    I was baffled by the audacity of the trick. Did Williams really believe that after all the abuse she had launched at Ramos that anyone would see her as the heroic victim here? Apparently so. During her post-match press conference, Serena-dini tried the trick again.

    “I’ve seen… men call other umpires several things, and I’m here fighting for women’s rights, and for women’s equality… and for me to say, ‘thief,’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never [taken] a game from a man, because they said ‘thief.’”

    It was a beautiful rhetorical trick by Williams. Technically, yes, her accusation that Ramos was a “thief” was the final denunciation that had cost her a game, and out of context, that single word doesn’t seem so bad. But neither does “received coaching” sound so terrible without context, and yet Williams had used it as a catalyst for repeated demands for an apology. So let us play in context, shall we, Ms. Williams?

    When we place the “thief” accusation back in the context of a prolonged collection of demands, accusations, and even a threat towards the umpire’s career, and remember that Ramos did not penalize Williams a game for the culminating insult, but instead simply charged her a third code violation, which in conjunction with the two others that she had already legitimately received, added up to the large penalty.

    But the mesmerized reporters present weren’t going to interrupt their favourite magician in the middle of a trick, so Williams continued with exasperated confidence. “For me, it blows my mind, but I’m going to continue to fight for women… The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that wants to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman, and they’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”

    At the point in the press conference, some of the reporters on duty were inspired to applaud the teary-eyed Serena and her heroic characterization of her behaviour.

    The reporters’ apparent inability to spot Williams’ sleight of blame is baffling. They had watched a person unfairly berate another person, and somehow they had now decided to cheer on the aggressor because she was “expressing herself” as a “strong woman” as though all female exposition, no matter how hostile and unreasonable, is a virtue.

    The reporters’ empathy gap was showing. If this controversy had been the result of the world’s greatest male tennis player telling a female umpire she would never work one of his matches again, and that she was a “liar” and a “thief,” and not to talk to him until she apologized, I doubt the journalists would have been so appreciative.

    (5) The Alleged Double Standard

    This argument that female assertion is dismissed—more often than men’s—as excess emotion is a common complaint (and not only from biased feminists), and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some truth to it in our general society. (Although, as ever, with every double standard against women there is usually a mirrored double standard against men; I suspect, for instance, that female tears call upon our society’s compassion more quickly than male tears.) But, if indeed there are double standards in our general society against female assertion, that differential is not necessarily applicable to all subcultures. Tennis is well-stocked with fiery female athletes, and so umpires with instinctual expectations to the contrary may well have updated their gender anticipations. In fact, I have witnessed many female tennis stars assertively argue their cases on court without retribution from the chair umpires.

    Nevertheless, if there is evidence that female tennis players on average are sanctioned more harshly than their male colleagues for unsporting behaviour on the court, then that should certainly be corrected, and not just for the sake of fairness to the ladies, but also for the gentleman. (If it’s true that the unruliest tennis women get away with less aggression than the unruliest of tennis men, then simultaneously the most courteous male players are having to put up with more of the intimidating distraction than the most courteous female players.)

    If indeed there is evidence of a double standard, my etiquette-cheering amendment would not be to allow the women’s side more abuse of officials, but to level the playing surface by reducing the amount of abuse tolerated on the men’s side. Ms. Williams, though, argues to rectify the alleged problem in the opposite manner, by increasing the abuse women are authorized to direct toward umpires.

    Adding more baffling commentary to the flames, retired tennis great, Billie Jean King, argued on Twitter, “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical,’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same thing, he’s ‘outspoken’ & there are no repercussions. Thank you @SerenaWilliams for calling out this double standard.”

    Again, if Ms. King has evidence of this double standard in tennis umpiring, I support her call for correction. However, this is not the case from which to launch the inquiry. The supposedly sexist crime that Chair Umpire Ramos committed here was to charge Williams with a single code violation for abuse of official, which would have amounted to simply a warning if she hadn’t already smashed her racquet, and her coach hadn’t already been caught breaking the rules.

    Even if some male tennis players have sometimes been forgiven abuse of officials that most female tennis players wouldn’t have, we also know that some male tennis players have been sanctioned for less than Williams’ prolific offering here. According to Wikipedia, the now demonized-as-sexist Umpire Carlos Ramos has called several controversial code violations against superstar male players, including Andy Murray who was penalized after calling out Ramos for “stupid umpiring.” So, to accuse Ramos of sexism for drawing a line after several doses of hostility from Williams is a hefty strain on credulity.

    What we have here is a superstar bully, who has called upon “women’s rights” to magically justify her bad behaviours. She is self-aggrandizing a temper tantrum, and we should tell her, “No.”

  • Dear NHL:

    As your leagues’ game theory is currently constructed, the teams that collect the fewest points in the first two thirds of your regular seasons—and so are unlikely to qualify for your playoffs—are better off faring even more poorly in the final third of their regular seasons. After all, if they fall to the bottom few spots in your league, they will be rewarded with the highest chance of attaining a future star in your weighted draft lottery.

    I appreciate your reason for rewarding your worst teams with high draft lottery odds: you want to give them a chance of rejuvenating themselves relatively soon so that their fans don’t look elsewhere.

    However, this noble sporting welfare system has an obvious and troubling consequence. Some below- par teams may purposely stub their own toes so that they can get access to your best services.

    Indeed, you may recall that the similarly constructed NBA recently fined Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban for admitting to telling his players to “tank” the rest of their season. Well, yes, that was wrong of him as it was very unsportsmanlike, but it was also right of him from a strategic point of view.

    I doubt any NHL owners actually tell their players to take a dive; however, their general managers are able to take the dive on their behalf. As you know, every year at your trade deadline, two thirds through the season, your lesser teams will trade away good players near the ends of their contracts for future prospects. I understand that sometimes a future asset is worth more than a current one, but it seems that some teams are a little too eager to part with players who are playing well for them only to get back questionable value.

    So, dear NHL, I have an idea. Please stop incentivizing losing. Instead, give those teams something to play for so they have good reason to try to win as much as they can.

    Here are two ideas:

    (1) Increase the number of wildcard teams who are given entry into your playoffs by adding in a short wildcard playoff round. This would mean that there would be more teams on the bubble or near the bubble of making those playoffs. These teams would thus have less reason to throw away their seasons.

    (2) For the teams that don’t make the playoffs, instead of rewarding the worst-faring teams with the best chance of winning the draft lottery, invert that, and give the best-faring non-playoff teams the highest chance of landing the next star. Consequently, the rest of the season will have value to the subpar teams and their fans as we’ll be fighting for our future even if we’re out of the playoffs.

    I see your objection to the second suggestion. If we don’t help out the very worst teams with draft lottery rewards, you worry that they’ll never get out of the league cellar. I understand your point. However:

    (A) There’s not that much difference between the worst teams and the next-to-worst teams, so you’ll still be helping out bad teams first no matter what happens in the draft lottery. And, since it’s a weighted lottery, you could still give the very worst teams a reasonable possibility of winning the lottery, just not quite as good a chance as they’d get if they’d fared a little better in their games.

    (B) With this new system, by reducing the incentive for the bad teams to give away “rental” players to the good teams, those playoff-bound teams could still try to acquire players at the trade deadline; however, they would have to offer a lot more to entice the losing teams to give up their end-of-contract players. This new incentive plan would benefit those lowest teams who would only give away good players if the future considerations offered were of high quality.

    And, with the notion of purposely tanking now obsolete, your game theory will be repaired.

    Sincerely,

    Your fan and (unpaid) advisor, Seth McDonough

  • There’s a very sweet-seeming Olympic ad campaign from P&G visiting our TV screens presently, which I must admit causes my gullible hairs to stand on end as various kid-athletes struggle against alleged bias in their lives. I feel like a truly devilish advocate to question such a compassion-claiming sentiment, but my ever-tedious brain niggles away at me every time the campaign interrupts my Olympic curling.

    So here goes. (May Darwin strike me down.)

    As far as my Olympic viewing can tell, there are five main stories featured in this “anti-bias” campaign, each serenaded by a warm, motherly voiceover singing, “Child, things are going to get easier.”

    All five stories star a mother watching her child struggle against bias and supporting him or her through it; each mom’s eyes glimmer as she sees the best in that kid. And the maternal performances are lovely and sometimes coax a tear out of my eye. Each story is then emphasized with supposedly inspirational text, such as:

    “When the world sees labels, a mom sees love. #LoveOverBias”

    Or

    “When the world sees differences, a mom sees pride. #LoveOverBias “

    Or

    “Imagine if the world could see what a mom sees. #LoveOverBias. Thank you, Mom. P&G PROUND SPONSOR OF MOMS”

    So, amidst such positive-seeming messages, I must apologize because I have two blasphemous criticisms:

    (1) I wonder why we are celebrating mothers instead of parents, in general.

    Is the campaign suggesting that mothers intrinsically care about and support their children more than fathers? Now I may seem oversensitive here, but I remind you that this campaign is applauding love over bias. And we live in a society that still treats motherhood as more valuable than fatherhood. From a biased court system in favour of mothers’ rights over fathers’ rights, to the government opening shelters for single mothers instead of single parents, to the mainstream media’s lack of criticism of such mom-centered programs.

    I would have thought that the LOVE OVER BIAS people might have considered avoiding such widespread preferential treatment. Instead, while the LOVE OVER BIAS folks are pretending to be subversive by questioning our societal biases, they are actually as conventional as ever as they merely criticize the biases that the mainstream media has identified as bad.

    (2) Now, while the LOVE OVER BIAS people are incapable of seeing anything but the correct biases that one is supposed to see, that doesn’t mean that those biases are not worthy of discussing. And four out of five of the biases seem like fair comments to me. We have a boy missing a leg trying to ski, a Muslim girl receiving sideways glances from her competitors, a poor kid putting on cheap skates and getting laughed at for it, and an effeminate boy with a black eye tossing away his hockey skates in favour of what looks like plans to figure skate. My hopeful sense is that these stories are a bit out of date, but I do think that bullies—conventional thinkers, themselves—do tend to focus on those whose cultures and situations seem different from the norm.

    But our fifth story inadvertently features not bias from the population surrounding the kid in the story, but bias from the mom in regard to the population. In this case, a girl who dreams of being an elite skier is merrily jumping up and down on her bed in preparation for a ski trip, but her mom watches on and shakes her head with concern as the warm lyric once again touches our ears, “Child, things are going to get easier.” You see, the girl is black, while the posters on her bedroom wall feature the superstar skiers of her time, who are all white. And that, according to the ad, is an obstacle to overcome.

    This notion that it is psychologically daunting to have role models who are of a different colour than you is a highly conventional claim about race that I hear frequently emphasized in the “progressive” media. CBC Radio, for instance, loves to talk about the challenge of being the only blue jay in a sea of problematic doves. Now, if that blue jay suffers bigotry from those doves, then we certainly have something to be concerned about. But what I’m referring to here is the additional claim that, even when there isn’t bigotry per se, the very feeling of being a different colour than one’s peers and/or one’s role models is, by definition, suffering a racial indignity.

    Now, I can’t prove such prejudice to be incorrect. Maybe it is difficult to be have a different skin tone than one’s cohort and/or one’s role models, but I see no evidence for this unfortunate assumption, and my experience tells me that it’s wrong.

    When I was a youngster, my first sporting love was football, and my three favourite players were Roy Dewalt, Keyvan Jenkins, and of course “Swervin” Mervyn Fernandez, who were all black (while I was white). My appreciation for these non-white athletes had nothing to with me being a racially progressive kid, but instead had everything to do with them happening to be the three best players for the BC Lions. And, since my parents didn’t tell me that that those star athletes’ racial difference from me was significant, it never occurred to me to be troubled by it. Instead, I planned to be a professional football player when I grew up just like my heroes.

    A year earlier, my family had moved to Bella Bella (a predominantly First Nations village in Northern British Columbia) where my mother had gotten a job as school principal. But my parents didn’t tell me in advance that being of the racial minority would be a problem for me so I wasn’t troubled being one of the only white kids in my class learning the Heiltsuk language from the elders. If only my parents had told me that I was experiencing a hardship, I might have thought to be wary of my classmates, but instead once again, my parents made it seem as though kids of all races are just like any other kids. So I forgot to notice that I wore a different flavour of skin from my new peers, and I even made a friend or two. Indeed, throughout my childhood, I had friends of various races, nationalities, and religions, and I didn’t think I was special for it. I just liked to hang out with the kids whom I liked and who liked me back.

    My lack of racial phobia is not the result of me possessing a wonderful colour-blind soul, it is merely the consequence of having good parents. They never seemed concerned with race, so neither was I. Not that my brain doesn’t see colour, but in the absence of bigotry and CBC Radio’s insistence that race always matters, race really is only skin deep.

    (Ironically, I notice that “progressive” pundits now describe people of colour as “racialized minorities.” I’m sorry, but it’s you, racially-obsessed pundits, who are most often racializing people these days. It seems to me that most of us in Canada agree with Morgan Freeman and would like you to treat people as individuals. But, sadly, I notice that as an adult, I see race much more than I did as a kid, because the alleged progressives keep telling me that it’s important that I always pay attention to race.)

    In the case of LOVE OVER BIAS’s young black girl excitedly planning her skiing career, the grin on her face while she dances in front of posters of the white role models suggests that she’s not at all troubled by her differently-coloured heroes. It is clearly her mother who assumes that there is something lacking in those theoretical mentors, so it is she who is imposing an impediment on her daughter where one may not exist.

    Racism is terrible. But so too is racism.

    No white “progressive” would object to being surrounded by people of a different colour (as they shouldn’t), so why do they assume the opposite is an intrinsic hardship even where racism isn’t shown to be present?

    Indeed, when British Columbia basketballer Steve Nash looked out at the NBA when he was growing up he would have seen a league whose stars were mostly of a different race than him. Quite rightly, no pundit would ever claim that the white Nash overcame a racial indignity as he made it to the NBA and won two league MVPs. So why is conventional thinking so quick to assume that black kids automatically need us to tell them they are at a disadvantage when they decide to pursue a passion featuring souls with a different colour wrapping than they have?

    If there is racism in a particular discipline, please provide evidence for it so we can criticize it. And, if there is sound research that suggests that being racially different—even without bigotry—is daunting, and/or that my parents’ racially-blind parenting was the wrong way to go, let’s hear it. Otherwise, LOVE OVER BIAS people (and your “progressive” muses), it’s time to let go of your bias about what constitutes bias, and stop racializing people.

  • I realize this is a first-world-fan problem, but the 2016 World Cup of (men’s) Hockey isn’t technically the “best on best” tournament that it advertises to be. Don’t get my grumpiness wrong, I’ll be watching as I have every true best on best tournament since I could crawl up to the TV, and (hopefully) cheering another victory for Canada (as I celebrated in KEEPING THE TORCH).

    Best on Best tournaments are a rare prize for hockey fans, because unlike the World Championships and pre 1998 Olympic tournaments, all hockey players from the top 6-8 hockey nations are made available by all hockey leagues. It has only happened twelve times before—

    Canada Cups: 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1991

    World Cups of Hockey: 1996, 2004

    Olympics: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014

    —and so has exciting significance to hockey fans (especially, he grins, Canadian Hockey Fans, who have seen their heroes skate around with the trophy eight times while the Soviet Union, USA, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, have won the Best on Best face off once each).

    But this year will be slightly different: along with the top 6 hockey powers (Canada, Russia, USA, the Czech Republic, and Finland), the NHL and NHLPA godfathers of the tourney have also invented two amalgamation groups, Team Europe, and Team North America. The former will be a collection of the best European players not born in the big four European countries that qualified, whereas the latter will be made up of the best Canadian and American players under the age of 24.

    It’s a brilliant idea (as it intriguingly expands the flavour of the competition), but it means that Team Canada and Team USA will not have automatic access to their best players, but instead, they will only be allowed to choose from their top players who are 24 years and older. This will not hurt Canada too much because they are rich with talent in that age group; in fact, I suspect the only one of the young stars who might have made the senior team would have been super rookie, Connor McDavid. The USA, meanwhile, is not as wealthy in the over-23 category, but is greedy of talent amongst the younglings, and so may be losing out on three or four names that could’ve improved their chances.

    Meanwhile, all five European Teams have been given access to their full age range of talent. Any holes in their 23+ pool can be filled in by newbies.

    And, even though, in this case, Canada is not significantly hampered given its unmatched depth of 24 and older stars, the European countries are not being punished for their lack of similar depth.

    Meanwhile, I think the Team Europe idea is masterful (it’s great to give fans from non-powerhouse countries a chance to watch their favourites in such an elite battle), and that collaboration team in no way hurts the other European squads, as they won’t lose any players to it.

    However, the tournament’s set up of a young stars team that draws its membership only from North America is clearly a disadvantage to Canada and especially the United States.

    One possible solution to this disparity would have been for Canada and the US to be given first dibs on those young stars, but then (A) the young stars team might not be competitive enough, (B) Canada might just grab McDavid when they otherwise wouldn’t to lessen the chance of North America beating them, and (C) it would have been awkward for North America to wait for their betters to pick their entire team before selecting theirs.

    Thus, the only way to make the under 24 team an equitable offering would be to make it a true young stars team comprised of players from anywhere in the world.

    That solution would have at least leveled the playing surface such that each national team (as well as Team Europe) was limited to the same elderly demographic of talent.

    But I still see two problems there:

    (1) It would still cease to be a Best-on-Best tournament as lots of stars from around the world would be relegated to the kids’ team (even though the loss of talent would be shared, certain countries, like the US, would lose more of their best players than others), and (2) it seems strange to me to force players to compete for an age-based team instead of their national squad. Most young hockey players watch their national heroes and hope to join them one day. But this young stars offering puts athletes like McDavid in the position of potentially eliminating his own country from the competition.

    The solution to me, then, would have been to quash the young star idea, and instead to have two “Team Europe”s made up of two separate geographical amalgamations of players who grew up outside the big six countries.

    And, if it was really important to the World Cup organizers to get young stars like McDavid involved, they could require every team in the tournament to have at least one player under a certain age on their roster.

    As it is, if either Canada or the USA doesn’t win, they have something to complain about.

  • It all started with referee-requested video review. As video quality and viewpoint abundance has improved, sports such as football and hockey wanted to take advantage of their many unblinking eyes to get crucial calls right.

    But, as the technology has continued to advance, sports leagues realized that there were unlimited matters that could be sent to the video adjudicators to consider. In football, it was not just whether a player caught the ball, but whether he had full control before his feet were out of bounds. The subsequent concern then became whether such constant reviewing and editing of all in-game referee decisions would slow the games down to the point of making them dull for fans.

    It was then that the notion of player/coach challenges burst into our sporting consciousness.

    For instances, tennis players and football coaches were given a finite number of challenges in each contest, such that they could request a video review of certain referee decisions. But, if their inquiry was proven wrong, it would cost them one of their challenges (and in the case of football, one of their valuable timeouts as well). Thus the challengers had to be frugal with their review requests and not spend them unless they were either confident or dealing with a crucial moment in the competition.

    Perhaps to the surprise of the sports leagues, they quickly discovered a strange consequence of these participant challenges: the option added to the intrigue of their broadcasts because the question of whether a participant should challenge became part of the strategy of the game, and in turn something for the announcers to discuss with us between plays.

    For professional football leagues such as the NFL and CFL, coaches’ challenges have been especially effective as entertainment-enhancers: football is a sport that it is divided into many individual plays that rarely last more than ten seconds.  As a result, the bulk of the broadcast is made up of the space between plays, where the strategy of the last iteration is up for scrutiny. Adding in the element of “challenges” has improved the nuance and significance of those discussions.

    Similarly in tennis, where players can question line calls just after they happen, challenging has added a dimension to the between-play contemplations: players are analyzed not only on their level of play, but also their ability to wisely risk their challenges.

    And so all was right and entertaining with video challenges in sport until the NHL tried too hard to get in on the scrutinizing of action.

    Unlike football and tennis, which are made of short bursts of excitement punctuated by long pauses for analysis, hockey is a fluid competition. This is a crucial distinction. In football, each individual play is so short-lived that all challenges of questionable calls happen directly after they occur.

    Such immediacy of fact-checking is important for athletic competitions to avoid becoming “Schrödinger’s sport” (à la that wacky philosopher’s strange thought experiment in which he claimed that a neglected cat in a covered box was both alive and dead at the same time). That is, if a play were allowed to continue indefinitely past the point of a possible referee error, we would be living in a strange Schrödinger-like condition wherein the play would be both happening and not happening at the same time. So, even though the play would have been ruled admissible by the on-field referees, we the fans would be in the constant position of wondering whether a long-earlier missed call could cancel out all of what we were witnessing in the present.

    To avoid this quantum state, when tennis players think their opponents’ shot has been erroneously called in, the skeptical player must stop the action immediately (and risk the point) in order to acquire a review: they cannot continue playing, and then retroactively request a video peak after the fact.

    Consider, in contrast, then, whether either of the NHL’s two new coaches’ challenge options lead us to action that is both happening and not happening.

    (1) Coaches can now challenge whether a goal occurred in concert with the goaltender being interfered with.

    This is an understandable question to which we want the right answer every time. If a player illegally bumped into the goalie, then that is not only relevant to whether a goal should count, but it is a question that is asked immediately after the infraction. Well done, NHL: Schrödinger is kept at bay here.

    (2) Coaches can now retroactively challenge whether a play that led to a goal was “on side” (that is, did a player enter the attack zone before the puck did?).

    In this case, a play can be mistakenly ruled on side by the linesman, and can continue for an unlimited amount of time without intervention. If, however, the attacking players eventually succeed in their daunting mission to score a goal, the opposing coach can turn back the clock as far as necessary to check whether one of the goal-chasing players was a millimetre off side. Thus, Schrödinger is suddenly dominating our sport!

    If, that is, the off side team manages to score a goal, then the game wasn’t actually happening because the goal will be called back, and all of the consequences of the play we were watching for, say, a minute will be irrelevant (and the game clock will be reset to the point of the linesman error). However, if the defensive team takes the puck away from the attackers, and manages to do something beneficial for their side (even scoring a goal), then the game was in fact being played all along. The defensive coach gets to hold onto this quantum challenge for as long as the play remains in their defensive zone or a goal is scored.

    For more specific examples, when one team has earned a two minute power play, every second is potentially beneficial, so when one of these quantum off sides occurs, the defensive team can watch the time tick down with no risk of being scored against. One of the attacking players may try out a brilliant maneuver that he’s been saving for a crucial moment, and he may succeed, only to find out that the game wasn’t actually happening when he unveiled it.

    Such a challenge option goes against the spirit of our viewing of the game. When a play is on or off side by a smidgen, the flow of the event is essentially the same whether a foot was on this or that side of the line. If the off side intervention is called as it happens, then so be it: the line was technically crossed illegally. But, when the play is allowed to go on, and we fans think we’re watching a play that’s been legitimized by the linesman’s call, our hearts and eyes are excited by each scoring chance. To have such a play finally achieve a brilliant success, only to retroactively employ a ruling that was missed much earlier, the game we are watching becomes a continuous Schrödinger conditional.

    An analog in tennis would be if players were allowed to retroactively challenge foot fouls. That is, when serving, tennis players aren’t allowed to touch the service line with their feet, so if the umpire catches the tiny infraction, then the play is stopped, and the player loses a serve (fair enough), but if said line judge misses the foul, then the wee advantage in foot position is not essential to the ongoing play. So to watch Federer make a great diving volley, only to have the play cancelled on the grounds that twelve shots earlier he nicked the line with his foot would be a sporting (and entertainment) abomination.

    Moreover, note how the retroactive off side checking only benefits the defensive team and never the offensive team. That is, when linesmen make the mistake of calling a play off side (when in fact it was on side) to the unearned benefit of the defensive team, there is no recourse whatsoever for the offended offensive team. The coaches can’t challenge that bad call because the play has already been stopped, and so we’ll never know what might have been. Many wonderful goals surely disappear from possibility each year because of this type of linesman error.

    But, given that we’ll never know when such exciting results would have occurred, there is much less embarrassment for the on-ice officials if they accidentally help out the defensive team.  (In contrast, if they erroneously allow a play to continue, when in fact it was off side, and the offensive side scores a goal, the replays will damn them because of the knowable consequences of their error.)

    Thus, it is already in the referees’ best interest to err on the side of guessing in favour of the defensive side if they’re ever unsure (and, in a game that happens as fast as hockey, such difficult close calls present themselves frequently).  As a result, many exciting offensive plays are stopped in a league that is already wishing it could talk its coaches into being a little less defensive-minded.

    (As I argued in DEFENDING THE NHL, I think off side is an unfortunate rule because it disrupts the flow of a game that is currently dominated by a defensive structure, such that goalscoring is now at a dull 2.50 goals per team per game compared to 3.53 in 1992-93 and 3.95 in 1981-82. Thus, I submit that the NHL should get rid of the rule altogether. The similarly structured sports of basketball and lacrosse survive without off side and are much more exciting as a result. But, since the NHL is unlikely to remove this entertainment-hindering rule, it should at least avoid giving all of the benefits of close calls to the defensive side.)

    At some point this season, there will be a moment that means a lot to the home ice fans: a player will score the greatest goal of his career, a long-time fan favourite will achieve a milestone marker, or a team will find victory in overtime to get into the playoffs, and then the fans will hear the dreaded words: “The opposing coach is challenging [whether a minute ago there was a technicality that could retroactively overrule the play].” I’m not sure I want to be watching when that happens.

  • As evidence for my claim in THE HUMBLE LIE that Canadian humility could be more reputation than truth if we continue celebrating self-celebrating in schools and Olympic coverage, I would like to provide me as an example. You see, although I do not believe in beating one’s own’s chest, I will now get close to it by over-cheering for the success of my own country’s hockey dominance at the 2014 Olympics and, in fact, the majority of best-on-best men’s and women’s hockey tournaments. (My commentary regarding boasting in my previous post was all just a segue to my joy in this regard.) Canada is the best at hockey, and has been for a long time as demonstrated by the following results.

    MEN’S BEST ON BEST ICE HOCKEY TOURNAMENTS*:


    *Olympic Hockey Tournaments prior to 1998 were not “best on best” entanglements because the NHL (in which a majority of the world’s top players have long made their living) did not yet lend its workers to the Olympics every four years.

    1976 Canada Cup
    1. Canada
    2. Czechoslovakia
    3. Soviet Union
    4. Sweden

    1981 Canada Cup
    1. Soviet Union
    2. Canada
    3. Czechoslovakia
    4. USA

    1984 Canada Cup
    1. Canada
    2. Sweden
    3. Soviet Union
    4. USA

    1987 Canada Cup
    1. Canada
    2. Soviet Union
    3. Sweden
    4. Czechoslovakia

    1991 Canada Cup
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    1996 World Cup
    1. USA**
    2. Canada
    3. Sweden
    4. Russia

    **This was a controversial victory. Canadian born and raised star Brett Hull (son of retired Canadian star Bobby Hull) played for the USA because he hadn’t (yet) been good enough to make the 1986 Canadian World Championship team.  Since he officially had dual citizenship because his mother was American, he thereafter played for the USA (even when he subsequently became a superstar and was good enough to play for his home country), and he refused to ever again try for Canada since they were so mean not to select him when he was starting his career. (Brett Hull’s picture is now included in most dictionaries next to the word “petty.”) Canada was up 2-1 in the championship game when Mr. Hull scored a goal that was patently illegal because his stick was at shoulder height when he touched the puck. (One’s stick cannot be above four feet to score a goal; based on Hull’s height with skates on, his head had to be approximately 2 feet long for the goal to be legal. We know Hull has a big head, but that seemed too large even for him.) Strangely, however, the goal was allowed. Later, another dual-citizenship born-and-raised Canadian, playing for the USA, Adam Deadmarsh, scored a game-breaking goal on a clearly offside play. Pundit/ranter Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada has suggested that then Boston Bruins’ GM (and former coach of Canada’s team in the 1972 Summit Series) Harry Sinden persuaded the officials to allow the Hull goal to stand because he thought it would improve American interest in hockey. I have no idea if that’s true, but something strange was afoot (“askate”?).

    1998 Olympics
    1. Czech Republic
    2. Russia
    3. Finland
    4. Canada***

    ***For the first time in history, Canada did not make the championship game. It should be noted, however, that Canada was eliminated in a game that was tied 1-1 after one overtime period, and which Canada was dominating (in terms of scoring chances). The epic match was stopped by international rules and decided on a shootout (which is akin to deciding a basketball game via a free throw shooting contest, or a baseball game via a bowling contest between pitchers to see who can throw the most strikes).

    2002 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Russia
    4. Belarus

    2004 World Cup
    1. Canada
    2. Finland
    3. Czech Republic
    4. USA

    2006 Olympics****
    1. Sweden
    2. Finland
    3. Czech Republic
    4. Russia

    ****I have no excuse for our absence on the podium for this one. As my sister Tarrin said at the time, it seems we forgot to pack a goal scorer for this tournament. If only Team GM Wayne Gretzky (who had brilliantly sired the previous two championships, and had played for Canada’s best from 1981 through 1998) had decided to select then rookie scoring star, Sidney Crosby, we might have faired better. Oh, look at that, I had an excuse, after all.

    2010 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Slovakia

    2014 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. Sweden
    3. Finland
    4. USA

    OVERALL IN 12 MEN’S BEST ON BEST TOURNAMENTS:
(Giving 4 points for 1st, 3 points for second, 2 points for 3rd, 1 point for 4th).

    1. Canada (8 x 1st, 2 x 2nd, 1 x 4th): 39 points
    2. Soviet Union/Russia (1 x 1st, 2 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd, 2 x 4th): 18 points
    3. USA (1 x 1st, 3 x 3rd, 4 x 4th): 17 points
    4. Sweden (1 x 1st, 2 x 2nd, 2 x 3rd, 2 x 4th): 16 points
    5. Finland (2 x 2nd, 4 x 3rd): 14 points
    5. Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic (1 x 1st, 1 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd, 1 x 4th): 14 points
    7. Czechoslovakia/Slovakia (1 x 2nd, 1 x 3rd, 2 x 4th): 7 points
    8. Belarus (1 x 4th): 1point

    WOMEN’S BEST ON BEST ICE HOCKEY TOURNAMENTS:

    1990 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    1992 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    1994 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. China

    1997 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. China

    1998 Olympics*****
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Finland
    4. China

    *****After four straight Canadian World Championship victories, the Americans took the first ever Olympics in which women competed for ice hockey gold. It was a stick-breaker.

    1999 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2000 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2001 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Russia
    4. Finland

    2002 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Sweden
    4. Finland

    2004 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2005 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Sweden
    4. Finland

    2006 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. Sweden
    3. USA******
    4. Finland

    ******This was the first and only time (so far) in history that the championship game was not played between Canada and the USA. I might have felt bad for the Americans if I wasn’t so glad to have a less scary gold medal game to watch.

    2007 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Sweden
    4. Finland

    2008 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Finland
    4. Switzerland

    2009 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2010 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Finland
    4. Sweden

    2011 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Finland
    4. Russia

    2012 World Championship
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Switzerland
    4. Finland

    2013 World Championship
    1. USA
    2. Canada
    3. Russia
    4. Finland

    2014 Olympics
    1. Canada
    2. USA
    3. Switzerland
    4. Sweden

    OVERALL IN 20 WOMEN’S BEST ON BEST TOURNAMENTS: 
(Giving 4 points for 1st, 3 points for second, 2 points for 3rd, 1 point for 4th).

    1. Canada (14 x 1st, 6 x 2nd): 74 points
    2. USA (6 x 1st, 13 x 2nd, 1 x 3rd): 65 points
    3. Finland (12 x 3rd, 7 x 4th): 31 points
    4. Sweden (1 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd, 8 x 4th): 17 points
    5. Russia (2 x 3rd, 1 x 4th): 5 points
    5. Switzerland (2 x 3rd, 1 x 4th): 5 points
    7. China (3 x 4th): 3 points

    I hope no one disagrees that Canada is to hockey what Brazil is to soccer/football.

  • During the 2014 Winter Olympics, I noticed a tendency of Canadian commentators to describe Canadian athletes of a humble disposition as “typically Canadian.” This annoys me for two reasons:

    (1) It seems to me that we have helped ourselves to this favourable designation by virtue of how American media (movies, TVs, journalists) tend to refer to us. The official cartoon analysis of Canadians by Americans is that we are humble, polite, and reserved (which delights me as a Canadian because I value those traits); however, while I’m pleased for our country to be complimented by our neighbours in this fashion, I think that it is problematic for us to assume its accuracy, given that it’s just one country’s subjective and generalized assessment of traits they have witnessed through binoculars.

    Similarly, while I have no trouble with Americans teasing Canadians for our allegedly frequent use of the term “eh,” I am distraught when Canadians join in with “Oh Canada, eh?” t-shirts meant to entertain Americans by climbing aboard this joke as though we, too, have noticed our “eh”ing predilection. In fact, I don’t think it’s something we often do or notice about ourselves, so why do we act as though this American observation of some of us is our defining idiosyncrasy? To my ear, when we try to impress Americans by making the same joke about ourselves that they would provide, we look as though we have no understanding of ourselves beyond the limited perceptions of our big sibling.

    (2) More importantly, I loathe the Canadian pundits’ description of Canadian athletes who are polite and humble as “typically Canadian” because it is conceited for us to describe ourselves by such terms. In fact, I notice that the Canadian pundit description of Canadian athletes as examples of typical Canadian humility has become a stepping stone for the same athletes to identify themselves by these complimentary terms, which, in turn, undermines the accuracy of the humble designation. A truly humble person, after all, would not boast that they are humble (as I’ve recently learned from Uriah Heep in my reading of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield).

    Similarly, I was miffed one day as I listened to CBC’s “Definitely Not The Opera” host Sook-Yin Lee discuss a feminist argument that one reason women in general don’t make as much money as men is because they are too humble and don’t put themselves forward (for promotions and raises) as much as men do. The uber successful and assertive Lee instantly helped herself to the benefits of the generalization as though it were a universality that by definition included herself. While officially she teased herself (and other women) for the being too modest for their own good, she seemed in fact to be delighted to cast herself in the role of the humble person who would have achieved more if she hadn’t been so soft spoken about her own accomplishments all the time. She had landed in the best of all worlds: she was able to give herself credit for humility while simultaneously boasting about it; and she did so without a tinge of irony in her voice.

    This bragging about humility worries me because as the self-celebration movement continues to dominate Canadian schools (where students are assured of their awesomeness regardless of achievement), I fear that Canadians’ reputed modesty will increasingly become a designation in name only.

    After Canada’s impressive 2014 Winter Olympic medal collection, Sportsnet offered up a video essay by one of their pundits, Arash Madani, who indicated that the equally prolific Canadian work done at the 2010 Vancouver games had “changed us” (apparently, by his reverent voice when noting it, for the better). While serenaded by uplifting music, he proclaimed that we now felt okay about going beyond our “typical Canadian” humility and “beating our chests a little” when our athletes climbed a podium. I think that Madani might be confusing the cheering for athletes with the boasting about them (which isn’t necessarily the same thing); however, the fact that he, and other pundits, are complimenting Canadian fans for being more cocky worries me. While Canadian pundits seem to take pride in Canadian humility, they also apparently take pride in Canadians taking pride (in our athletes). We can’t lose. We either get to celebrate ourselves for being modest, or celebrate ourselves for learning to appreciate ourselves more.

    In short, I wonder how long the perception of Canadian humility (that we seem to enjoy) will continue if we do not nurture it with behaviours to match.

    P.S. If you’re skeptical of my complaint that there is a trend within Canadian media to boast about Canadian humility and manners while simultaneously celebrating Canadians for building their self-esteem, keep an eye out for a Canadian coffee commercial with the following script:

    FEMALE VOICE A: Welcome to Canada.

    MALE VOICE A: Canadians are so nice.

    FEMALE VOICE B: So polite.

    CANADIAN GEESE: Sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sor–

    FEMALE VOICE C (above an image of Canadian citizenship ceremony): So welcoming.

    MALE VOICE B: We’re definitely not confrontational.

    MALE VOICE C: But we don’t let anyone push us around.

    MALE VOICE D: You throw the first punch…

    MALE VOICE E: We will drop the gloves. Oh yeah.

    FEMALE VOICE D: I’d say we’re brave.

    KIDS VOICE A: We’re confident with who we are.

    MALE VOICE F: We’re unapologetic.

    FEMALE VOICE E: Unless we’ve done something wrong, then we will apologize.

    KID VOICE B: Canada rules!

    MALE VOICE G: We grind it out.

    MALE VOICE H: We go for it!

    WOMAN IN CAR (driving under overpass with “Go Canada banner”): Awesome!

    MALE VOICE I: We totally rock this nation.

    FEMALE VOICE F: In Canada, we love what we love.

    MALE VOICE J: And we don’t care who agrees, or disagrees.

    MALE VOICE K: Especially when it comes to coffee.

    MALE VOICE L: We like ours…

    CUSTOMER A: Good…

    CUSTOMER B: Honest…

    CUSTOMER C: And simple.

    CUSTOMER D: Thank you very much.

    FEMALE VOICE G: This is our Canada.

    MALE VOICE M: And this… this is our coffee.

    TITLE CARD: Our Canada. Tim Hortons Logo. Our coffee.

    In sixty seconds, Mr. Hortons manages to mix equal parts boasting about our gentle nature with bragging about our other (alleged) good qualities. I couldn’t have satirized the state of media affairs better, myself. I realize that Canadians shouldn’t necessarily be responsible for how an advertiser depicts our collective state of mind, but generally, I think, advertisers are attempting to tell us what they’re confident we want to hear about ourselves. I hope they’re wrong: I hope we’re no so easily manipulated by our egos.

  • On this day of hockey mourning in Vancouver after our leading hockey nemesis, Chicago, beat our second-in-command hockey nemesis, Boston, for the Stanley Cup, I’d like to distract our sorrow with imaginings of how to improve the game itself.

    Consider this: the NHL’s most well-fueled offence this season, the Pittsburgh Sidney Crosbys, averaged 3.44 goals per game. They were eliminated from this year’s playoffs by the aforehated Boston Bruins after scoring a shockingly low 2 goals in four games. The old motto “offence sells tickets; defence wins championships” was in excellent form as this sleep aid of a playoff series ended.

    The NHL knows it has a problem and is planning a few minor changes to give the ticket-selling offence a better chance of winning a championship. To create more room for the players in the offensive zone, the NHL will reduce the size of the irrelevant back side of each goal, and to create more openings between the goalies and said net, the NHL will attempt to reduce the size of the goaltending equipment (which overprotects the goalies into looking like giant marshmallow men). Sounds good to me, but when the problem is as oppressive as the NHL’s most exciting team only managing two goals in four games against the Boston Bruisers, these solutions are akin to throwing a mousetrap at an attacking shark. It’s time to go radical.

    Here, then, are some ideas (that will never happen) that could save the NHL from its own defence.

    In its elimination game, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (who should have won this year’s league MVP) made a magnificent pass to teammate Evgeni Malkin (last year’s MVP); the latter received the set up, and instead of smacking it immediately at the net, he maneuvered brilliantly around the supersize (6’9”) defenceman Zdeno Chara, but, upon realizing that he was beaten, Chara slid feet first in front of the play and, by the skin of his skate, managed to block the puck from arriving at the open net that Crosby and Malkin had provoked.

    In the next playoff round, Boston utility forward, Gregory Campbell similarly dove in front of a puck, which in turn broke his ankle on impact. This happens often as players are expected to “sacrifice their bodies” for the sake of restricting goals. So here’s an idea: maybe we should get rid of such dangerous and excitement-dampening dive-based shot blocking.

    It is a means of stopping goals that would not be missed: best case scenario, it stops a brilliant play; worst case scenario, it breaks the player who dove in the way (as in the time superstar Steve Yzerman blocked a shot face first).

    I understand that sometimes it can be exciting when a player chasing a shooting player dives from behind and sweeps the puck away. This could be allowed because it would be the defender’s stick that would be doing the work. However, stopping an offensive play by using oneself as a 7-foot horizontal barrier should not be allowed. Thus, any shot blocked by the body of a fallen player would be a penalty. So new rule:

    (1) ANY PLAYER WHO BLOCKS A SHOT WITH HIS BODY (WHILE THE BODY IS ON THE ICE) WILL BE PENALIZED.

    Meanwhile, when an offensive player finds an empty path to an opposition goalie but is yanked down from behind by his enemy, he is given a penalty shot whereby he gets a free attempt on the goalie with no defender. Strangely, though, in the original play, if the offensive player had been unimpeded and his first shot rebounded back to him off the goalie, he would have been allowed a second shot at the puck, whereas on a penalty shot, he’s only allowed his first attempt. Therefore, the penalty shot is a lesser breakaway than the one that was illegally taken away! So new rule:

    (2) REBOUND ATTEMPTS ARE ALLOWED ON PENALTY SHOTS

    Minor penalties in an NHL game put the infracting team down a player for two minutes. Thus, if one has one-goal lead with only a few seconds to go, and breaking a rule will allow a team to save a goal, they’ll surely do it because they’ll only be penalized for the few remaining seconds of the game. So, new rule:

    (3) ALL PENALTIES IN THE LAST MINUTE WILL BE AN AUTOMATIC PENALTY SHOT

    During an NHL game, if a defending team panics because they’re in trouble and shoot the puck all the way down to the opposite end, “icing” is called, and the puck is brought back to where it was and the fatigued defenders have to stay on the ice, while the offensive team can swap in fresh legs. Good rule. Strangely, though, when a team has been penalized for breaking a rule, and so are short one player, they are allowed to ice the puck without the above rejoinder. Why? New rule:

    (4) ICING IS STILL ICING EVEN WHEN A TEAM IS PENALIZED.

    Presently, coaches are the biggest cause of the defence-first strategy in the game. Coaches would rather win a game 1-0 than 7-6 because it allows them to feel more in control. Thus, we need to start rewarding teams who win with offence. New rule:

    (5) WHENEVER TWO TEAMS ARE TIED IN THE STANDINGS, THE FIRST TIE-BREAKER WILL ALWAYS BE THE TEAM WITH MOST GOALS.

    Currently, regular season NHL games are rewarded in the following way:

    Win in regulation time: 2 points
    Loss in regulation time: 0 points
    Win in overtime: 2 points
    Loss in overtime: 1 point

    This means that, if a game is tied near the end of regulation time, it is in the best interest of both teams not to take risks – that way, they can each collect their safety overtime point. To avoid this disincentive to charging for a last minute goal, new rule:

    (6) POINTS WILL BE AWARDED IN THE FOLLOWING WAY:

    WIN IN REGULATION TIME: 3 points
    LOSS IN REGUlATION TIME: 0 points
    WIN IN OVERTIME: 2 points
    LOSS IN OVERTIME: 1 point

    Presently, players such as the Boston Bruins’ affectionately identified “super-pest” Brad Marchand swings his stick around during games in such a way that it looks like he’s just being a little careless, when in fact he knows that he’s creating space for himself by being dangerous with his stick: “Oops, did I hit you in the face?” He sneaks in these sharp maneuvers in ways that are difficult for the referees to detect in the speed of the game. So, new rule:

    (7) AFTER EACH GAME, REPLAYS WILL BE USED TO ASSESS ONE-GAME SUSPENSIONS FOR ANY DANGEROUS STICK BEHAVIOUR.

    I’m saving my most radical for last. Currently in the NHL, no player can enter the offensive zone ahead of the puck. This means that exciting plays are often stopped in their development because a foot was in the wrong place. Enough! Lacrosse has no such offensive restrictions, and it has much higher rates of scoring. New rule:

    (8) GET RID OF OFFSIDE!

    Finally, I’d like to defend a couple rules already in place:

    Presently, if a defender shoots the puck into the stands, he is penalized. Don Cherry and other soft-hearted media members have shouted down this rule because they say that the player didn’t mean to shoot the puck out of play. Well, as I argued in my post, “LETTING THEM PLAY CUTS BOTH WAYS,” who cares? It takes skill to get the puck out of the defensive zone without also knocking it into the stands; so, even if the players didn’t mean to do it, they lacked the skill to avoid it. Let’s reward skill, and not the players who luck out by accidentally knocking the puck out of play.

    Moreover, I call rotten cherries on this one: NHLers love the motto “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” so of course, if there is no disincentive to purposely shoot the puck out of play (but merely an unwritten rule that one shouldn’t), then players will simply pretend to do it accidentally. So keep rule:

    (9) IF A PUCK IS KNOCKED OUT OF PLAY IN THE DEFENSIVE ZONE, THE PLAYER DELAYING THE GAME IS PENALIZED.

    During penalty shots, some players have taken to “spin-o-ramas” in which they lead the goaltender one way, and then circle with the puck to the opposite side of the (hopefully empty) net. Most fans love it. But there are rumours that the NHL is planning on taking the play out of existence because technically the puck has to be moving forward at all times during a penalty shot. Rubbish! Goalies win about two thirds of penalty shot attempts, there’s no need to take away the most exciting play in their rival’s arsenal. Keep rule:

    (10) PLAYERS CAN DO WHATEVER THEY WANT ON A PENALTY SHOT.

    Thank you for reading this far regarding these ideas that will never be a considered. I thought it was worth a shot (even though I knew it would be blocked).

  • I’ve waited a few days to publish these Olympic musings for fear of sounding like a sour-viewer, so let me say first:

    Congratulations, Olympics 2012! I was as addicted to watching you as much as the next fairweather rhythmic gymnastics fan. So the following rant does not come from an anti-sporting place. Instead, my concern is with some of the group think blathered by various Olympic commentators.

    (1) We need more money for our athletes!

    During and after every Olympics, we hear broadcasters noting how relatively little public money goes towards the raising of our athletes. The group think here is that winning on the world stage is a priceless commodity that we must always pursue at increased cost. I am compelled by the assumption that success in world sports encourages the rest of us to use our running shoes more often, which in turn may improve public health. Great, but, given that every country is competing for the same role model positions, in order for us to win the top spots, we may need to increase our funding beyond what it’s worth in public health benefits. At a certain point, therefore, it may be more economical to divert some of that sport budget to creating new rec centres.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t put the money towards athletes: that may be the most effective way to promote health (and community spirit, etc), but I am weary of broadcasters who assume that anything less than dominance on the podium implies insufficient investment. That’s the tricky thing with competition: the other countries may be trying to buy success, too, and sometimes we’ll cancel each other out.

    (2) It’s unfair that some athletes don’t get paid as much as others!

    It’s an unfortunate bout of bad luck that certain athletes are born into a skill set (or gender) that doesn’t tend to make much money or fame in sport. On the one tax bracket, the world’s greatest basketball player, Lebron James, is a many-millionaire who is recognized wherever he goes in the galaxy, whereas the globe’s greatest rower, No Namath, is too obscure to be worth my googling energy. Bad luck. But that’s just capitalism. If your product is popular enough with fans, then you get to be rich.

    The Olympians (and gushing commentators) who complain that they work just as hard as the wealthy athletes are making an appeal to merit-based-pay in an economic system that has nothing to do with equal pay for equal effort or worth. I’d love if if it were feasible to pay people for how hard they work instead of how commercial their efforts are, but those advocating for such a system should bare in mind that, if we truly did pay everyone according what they deserve, then, by actual merit, nobody would make millions of dollars per year.

    (3) We should support our Olympic athletes every year, not just during the Olympics!

    Why? Once again, if we’re cheering for people based on how hard they work or how talented they are, then we should go applaud foreign aid workers and physicists. Olympians are great athletes who perform muscle-defying feats, but the fact that sport is cheered on more than other professions is an accident of taste, not a right of talent. If we’re not entertained by these athletes during non-Olympic years, then I see no obligation to purchase their product any more than we’re hungry for it, as much as we may admire them.

    (4) Usain Bolt is the world’s greatest athlete!

    Congrats to Bolt for his unprecedented sprinting success at these and previous Olympics. (And he seems like a nice person who does a lot for his impoverished homeland.) However, I’m confused by why Bolt is considered by many commentators (including himself, it seems) to be the world’s greatest athlete simply because he’s the fastest in the most famous speed-contest. First, I see no reason why his speed at running is more impressive than Michael Phelps’s speed at swimming, or No Namath’s speed a rowing. Personally I find all three competitions to be incredibly boring (when the athletes aren’t sprinting for medals), but I admit that, by sheer power, they are awesome. However, when measuring athleticism, why are other abilities such as skill, flexibility, agility, endurance, and even creativity not also worth consideration?

    If we must crown a top athletic discipline, the obvious choice is gymnastics, which requires its athletes to combine almost every possible athletic aptitude in order to complete their seemingly impossible (and incredibly diverse) feats.

    I realize that these Olympic matters may be trivial (except how much money we spend on our athletes), but I think that they are a microcosm of the sort of assumed agreement that lives in more significant political discussions. Commentators notoriously gravitate to the easy, uncontroversial notions that ultimately limit our ability to creatively solve society’s ills.

  • It has come to my attention that Lebron James, star of the NBA and my blog some months ago, has, on his second try, won the championship he coveted when he left Cleveland to start an all-star team in Miami. Many people, including SethBlogs, disliked Lebron’s communication style during the defection. Please note, however, that most of his critics nevertheless acknowledged that Mr. James was still probably the best player in the league, and that his new team—-however he found his way to it—-was likely going to dominate the sport.

    I was thus surprised, on viewing the telecast leading up to James clinching his glory, that the legendary basketball star, Magic Johnson, merrily anticipated that if James won the title, everyone would forget about his controversial behaviours in the past. “Everyone will love him,” Magic said with a grin.

    “But,” I yelled at my TV, “we never doubted that he would win! Our issue with Lebron was never with his basketball skills!”

    Nevertheless, upon winning the championship, Mr. James was brought onto the talk show, The View, whereupon one of the hosts asked him what he had to say to his accusers now.

    “Well,” he beamed, “I think I’ll let [my NBA championship trophy] do my talking for me.”

    And the audience laughed with delight as though no one could ever criticize the star again.

    So let me see if I understand this. If it’s true that Mr. James behaved badly, then it was only contemptible so long as he wasn’t a champion. But, upon achieving victory, his behaviour off the court is no longer contestable?

    PROSECUTOR: Mr. Cheatem, is it true that you falsely represented your company’s holdings?

    CHEATEM: Yes, I did, but in my defence, that made my company millions of dollars, and I was named Broker of the Year in my office.

    PROSECUTOR: Why didn’t you say before that your scheme was so successful?! I would never knowingly insult the behaviour of someone who won! Congratulations. I move for a dismissal of all charges.

    I’m not saying that James is as bad as a fraud artist. In fact, the star was uncharacteristically gracious when he received the big trophy. I don’t even blame him for his silly answer to the soft question he received from the View people; it was too easy a slam dunk answer for him to pass up. But I do hope there is resistance among his critics to the notion that winning absolves someone of wrongdoings related to their character. (Unless James wins again next year: in that case, what more do we want from him, people?! ;))

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