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Bruce Dowbiggin

Cleanse The Sport: These Men Need To Be Fired

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@Rwesthead Pointed out to Gary Bettman that while Blackhawks fined $2M for abuse coverup, Arizona Coyotes lost draft picks over improperly working out a prospect and that NJ Devils were fined $3M for a salary cap violation. Bettman: “Different context, different facts.” Even now he thinks this is a fair statement.

There’s an old Turkish idiom that says “The fish rots from the head”. It’s now a catch phrase to describe how an organization or state fails. Leadership, the head of the fish, is the source of the rot.

If that axiom is true then either NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA executive director Don Fehr— or both— need to be shown the door. Nothing better exposes the organizational failure of these two executives than their treatment of the Kyle Beach sexual assault case that spilled out this week.

It took a sexual assault victim exposing his identity on nationwide TV eleven years after the event to shame them into finally admitting their complicity in his pain. Yeah, that bad. If you need background on the case, here’s what we wrote in June and July . In short, the Chicago Blackhawks, NHL and NHLPA saw Beach’s claim that a Chicago team official has sexually assaulted him as a distraction during the 2010 Stanley Cup run. So they buried it.

Inconveniently, people in their organization had urged them to do the right thing. “Blackhawks coach, Paul Vincent, told news outlets he told team executives, including team President John McDonough and general manager Stan Bowman, to report the allegations to Chicago police, but his request was rejected. Vincent reportedly says he will be happy to testify in court on behalf of the complainant… 

(The alleged assailant Brad) Aldrich left the organization with a letter of recommendation and was later convicted in 2013 in Michigan of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a student. He is now on that state’s registry of sex offenders.”

What did the NHL and NHLPA do since 2010? When they saw that their omertá had worked in sidelining Beach’s complaints they moved on. While Beach suffered silently as his career crumbled. And while his assailant went on to attack again in Michigan. Worse, in December of 2020, the Blackhawks rewarded Bowman, making him president of hockey operations after they had earlier fired McDonough in April 2020.

Blackhawks team spokesman Adam Rogowin blithely said the team was confident it would “be absolved of any wrongdoing.” Picking up on the theme, a number of 2010 Blackhawks played the Sergeant Schultz “I know nothing” card about the story. A few of their teammates did break ranks. But not the team leaders. They let sleeping dogs lie while the collected their Stanley Cup rings.

As we noted in June: “What is most remarkable about the story is that it has been a poorly kept secret throughout the NHL since the time. Players and managers reportedly knew about it. Presumably the NHL’s investigative arm, hyped in the wake of the (Graham) James episode, would have been made aware. If they were not, why not if everyone in the league knew of it?”

That’s where the case sat until two diligent reporters, Katie Strang of The Athletic and Rick Westhead of TSN, re-opened the file this year. Beach revealed he was the John Doe victim in a tearful TSN interview. It went off like a bomb. The week ended with both the league and union admitting guilt for their neglect while begging Beach’s forgiveness.

Tellingly they had no excuse for what happened. The “absolved of any wrongdoing” was now “sincere regret”, what can we do to make up for this? As if.

Don Fehr said in a press release “There is no doubt that the system failed to support him in his time of need, and we are part of that system… the grave nature of this incident should have resulted in further action on our part. The fact that it did not was a serious failure. I am truly sorry, and I am committed to making changes to ensure it does not happen again.”

Will Fehr even get to make those chances? The NHLPA has a conference where his future will be on the table after the terrible failure of the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. It’s hard to see him make an argument that he deserves a chance when the team reps ask him what he did to protect one of their brethren.

For Bettman, the commissioner who overstayed his welcome will likely be safe unless a group of the owners grow a conscience and fire him. But in most corporations his personal effects would be in a cardboard box and he would be escorted from the premises for allowing this stain on his business. Or else he’d take the initiative and resign in shame for failing his employees.

Sadly, the hockey media culture remains the same one we encountered in the 1990s when, along with Carl Brewer, Sue Foster and Russ Conway, we exposed the corruption between the league and NHL Players Association director Alan Eagleson on a range of subjects from player pensions to collective bargaining to Canada Cup fraud.

That story had largely lain dormant for a generation despite the repeated calls by Brewer for investigations into the cozy relationship between the league and Eagleson. Media with NHL sponsorships or broadcast deals would rather have eaten glass than reported what they saw.

Thanks to the digging of Conway, Foster and CBC Toronto the truth emerged in the mid 1990s. Eagleson was convicted of fraud and NHL president John Ziegler was replaced by Bettman. A familiar pattern then ensued. When the facts became too hard to deny the negligent media put on the hair shirt, condemning corruption and vowing to never allow its negligence to happen again.

Now ask Kyle Beach how well they did on their promise.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author of Cap In Hand has been nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan is called InExact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Concussed: The NFL Needs Its Head Read

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In 2014 Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell commented that, within 25 years, the NFL might become a renegade sport outside the mainstream of culture. “We will go to a middle position where we will disclose the risks and essentially dare people to play …,” Gladwell repeated in the recent film United State of Football  “That’s what the Army does. So we leave the Army for kids who have no other options, for whom the risks are acceptable.

“That’s what football is going to become. It’s going to become the Army. That’s a very, very different situation. That’s a ghettoized sport, not a mainstream American sport.” Many derided Gladwell at the time, but events this past week have leant credence to his theory.

Perhaps it’s the hangover from being lied to about The Science of Covid-19 by the mahatmas of healthcare. But if the NFL medics were hoping the public would give them the benefit of the doubt about their treatment of the gruesome Tua Tagovailoa head injury the past ten days they are sadly mistaken.

For a league that has pounded its chest about its attempts to lessen the danger from head hits, the farce that followed Tagovailoa’s injury the past week is a cruel deception. Whatever the facts eventually reveal (the NFL says it’s investigating) the PR failure of a system designed to protect employees is irreversible.

Former All Pro and now NBC broadcaster Rodney Harrison summed up the players’ reaction to the Tua episode. ““Please take care of yourself. Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.” – @Rodney_Harrison

Tagovailoa exhibited concussion symptoms after hitting his head late in the first half of Miami’s Week 3 game against Buffalo. He staggered and weaved before being helped off the field and into the dressing room. He was soon cleared by a team physician and an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant to return in the second half as Miami beat the favoured Bills. Tagovailoa and the team later said his legs were wobbly because of a back injury.

Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said that he was comfortable with his team’s processes regarding Tagovailoa’s health and clearance to return to play so quickly. “He was evaluated and then cleared by several layers of medical professionals, who – I don’t pretend to be one – but those people, the collection of them, cleared him of any head injury whatsoever. He had a back and ankle issue.” The team said it was good with sending  Tagovailoa to play in Cincinnati.  again on Thursday, just four days later.

Bad idea. After the Dophins QB rolled out on a play, 340-pound Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou slammed Tagovailoa backward into the turf. In the classic sign of concussion, Tagovailoa’s hands froze in an upright position while his fingers splayed awkwardly as he lay still on the ground. After a long delay he was taken away on a stretcher and sent to a local hospital. He was later released from the hospital and flew home with the Dolphins hours later.

The tsunami of outrage from media, fans and players quickly destroyed the NFL’s cultivated narrative of a proper protocol. So a scapegoat had to found. Accordingly, the neuro-trauma consultant who let Tagovailoa back into the Bills game in Miami was fired by the NFLPA after it was discovered that the doctor has made ‘several mistakes’ in his evaluation.

Sure. You go with that. Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh— for one— was not buying., “I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Harbaugh said about Thursday night’s re-injury. “I couldn’t believe what I saw last Sunday. It was astonishing to see. I’ve been coaching for 40 years — college and the NFL — and I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Players present day and retired chimed in. Chris Long: “Now IF protocol wasn’t followed & I’m a coach or executive who greenlit him playing 4 days after a head injury… I have no idea how you’re focused on the game… shit is going to get real.” Patriots star DB Adrian Phillips: “Dude should not have been playing tonight.”

Shannon Sharp: “That’s a serious injury . Tua shouldn’t have been out there with Sunday Thursday turn around. Sometimes players need protecting from themselves. Dolphins failed Tua”

Ben Watson: “I know what I saw and Tua was concussed last week. The fact that he was able to return to play is everything that’s wrong with the game so many of us love. A full investigation is forthcoming. Praying for this young man right now. This is awful to witness.”

What even lay people now understand is that one brain injury makes a person more vulnerable to another injury— especially in a short period of time. Meaning the NFL needed to be extra diligent with Tagavailoa. They failed. Now no one can say when— or if— Tagavailoa will return to playing.

While attention is focussed on the NFL’s shortcomings it needs to be pointed out that the NHL continues its own nonsense over brain injuries. Knowing what is known now the league still allows fit, powerful players to punch each other in the head over… no one is sure. If Don Cherry were still the measuring stick he’d say it’s about honour.

NHL commissioner Gary “The Good Doctor” Bettman somehow can say that the link between punching a man in the head and brain trauma is still unproven. He seems unaware that protecting the NHL’s sluggo past may make him popular with his owners, but sponsors and fans are no longer with him.

Jarred Tinordi #24 of the Montreal Canadiens fights with Cody McLeod #55 of the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 18, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Francois Lacasse/NHLI/Getty Images)

They are eventually going to follow Gladwell’s advice and avoid a lucrative sport that employs only those who have nothing to lose.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, , his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book of by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Dramatic? Yes. But 1972 Was Not The Greatest Hockey Ever

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One of the advantages of being alive for an extended period is how you develop a filter for propaganda. Experiencing seminal sports events in real time affords the ability to separate hype from history. Perhaps the greatest sports events for Canadians of a certain age were those in September 1972, when— as a first-year student at U of Toronto— we cut classes to watch the national mental trauma of The Showdown Series.

Even 50 years after the emotional tumult of Canada/USSR, it’s fair to say that it was a drama unlike any other. It legitimized International hockey competition. In an age when a 36-inch TV was a luxury, hockey sticks were made of wood and Foster Hewitt was still semi-coherent the eight-game matchup between Canada’s top NHL stars and the “amateurs” of the Soviet Union delivered as a clash of cultures. Many who weren’t there call it the greatest hockey ever played.

The greatest hockey ever? Certainly the Soviets played their best. But the Slap Shot quality of Canada’s winning effort could not hold a candle to the 1987 Canada Cup squad that beat a Soviet team in a three-game final as the USSR was collapsing. Without Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull and Gerry Cheevers in the 1972 lineup— and lulled into complacency by homer media— Team Canada squandered its obvious advantages by arriving out of shape for Game 1.

Neither were they prepared mentally for the political consequences of eight games on two continents over 26 days in September. How high were tempers and how damning the criticism? The late Rod Gilbert’s own brother called him “a disgrace” after Canada suffered an embarrassing 7-3 defeat in the opener. While time has soothed frayed tempers the Summit Series was not Canada at its best psychologically. To be blunt, Canada’s top stars were their often own worst enemies when adversity appeared.

That’s been largely forgotten today as fans smooth out the team’s rough edges. Perhaps the best example of revisionism was Phil Esposito’s pouting, whiny screed after Canada lost Game 4 in Vancouver. Espo was pure entitlement, demanding that fans ignore the ill-tempered, slap-dash attitude of their heroes. While sycophantic journalists have re-fashioned the Johnny Esaw interview as a call to arms, it was more like a put-upon call to Canadians for pity.

Almost as egregious was the deliberate injuring of Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov, the speedy winger (think Pavel Bure) who had destroyed Canada with his skill. And so Bobby Clarke went full Ogie Ogelthorpe, breaking Kharlamov’s ankle in Game 6 with a cynical slash. Kharlamov tried to continue, but he was done as a factor in the remaining games. (Years later series star Paul Henderson admitted, “I really don’t think any part of that should ever be in the game.”

Then there was the late Jean Paul Parisé’s intimidating assault on controversial referee Josef Kompalla in Game 8. Frustrated about calls in the final game, Parisé charged at Kompalla with his stick raised. Just before he brought the stick down on Kompalla he pulled back. Parisé was ejected, but it proved an ugly moment mitigated only by Henderson’s later heroics.

To say nothing of Alan Eagleson’s obstreperous behaviour skittering across the ice with a raised finger after reportedly escaping the KGB. He was matched by Bill Goldsworthy’s raised finger at Game 8’s end. Espo’s repeated “choke” signs at bemused Soviets. Or the four Canadian players who jumped ship before the series switched to Moscow. It was high drama. The greatest hockey? No.

Thanks to Canada’s globalist PM Pierre Trudeau, Canada was looking to break its image as an imperial chattel of Great Britain. The series was a springboard to that for many. But Canada had to win. My friend Bob Lewis, who covered the series for Time magazine, is excellent in the Icebreaker documentary at presenting the trauma for a vulnerable Canada. The country headed for a federal election in October wondering how a defeat might hurt Trudeau’s chances. (The win didn’t keep Trudeau from losing his majority.)

The 50th anniversary, like previous anniversaries of the 1972 series,  has produced documentaries and films reliving the moments with surviving players and journalists who were there in the flesh. While neither CBC’s four-part series Summit 1972 nor Icebreaker: The ‘72 Canada Soviet Summit Series breaks any new ground on the Cold War climate, they do serve as a reminder to anyone born after the Series of the cultural impact of the showdown with a feared nuclear rival. And it uses the latest technology to clean up video and audio that was being lost to time.

The principal difference between the two productions— besides length— is the scoreboard of which players on the two teams appear in each documentary. Who gets Ken Dryden? Who nails down Phil Esposito? Who gets Vladislav Tretiak? The greatest impression is the age of the surviving men now (10 Team Canada members have passed away) who look more like WW II vets than hockey heroes.

Sadly, the producers of Icebreaker also include extensive interviews with convicted felon Alan Eagleson, who stole the glory from Joe Krycka and Fred Page of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association who originally negotiated the series. The corrupt Toronto lawyer then pushed them aside in his position as player agent and NHL Players Association director. Yes, he was part of the series, but allowing him to restore his integrity via a starring role in this documentary makes for tough watching.

So for those beleaguered by a modern world, the 1972 retellings will be a balm with a happy ending— like when Esposito met noted USSR hockey fan and cold-blooded dictator Vladimir Putin years later. “Mr. Esposito, I thought you hated all Russians,” Putin remarked. “Mr. Putin, I did until my daughter married one,” Esposito replied.

For others it might fill in the stories told by now-deceased relatives and friends who saw it all. And for aging Boomers, whose proxy was carried by Team Canada 1972, the throwback will be a reminder that something of worth more than bell bottoms and sideburns emerged from their glory days.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, , his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book of by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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