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Bruce Dowbiggin

See No Evil, Hear No Evil: We’ve Been Here Before

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The news from the Hockey Canada sexual scandals keeps getting uglier. Sponsors are abandoning an organization thought beyond reproach just a year ago. Politicians are roasting HC executives. The IIHF is to determine whether it should withdraw tournaments from Canada till the mess is cleaned up. And the NHL is fretting that it houses sexual assault suspects— some big stars— from as far back as 2003.

The current parliamentary hearings over the 2018 WJHC champions have made HC toxic— its women’s team is expressing disgust with the organization. that represents them. The story is hampered by the fact that nothing has been proven or even alleged by police. The process has existed in a world of non-disclosure agreements and allegations and media distortions of the facts. (We’re told there are videos of the incident yet no one in the Ottawa hearings seemed to mention them.)

Faced with the uncertainties and player refusals to cooperate Hockey Canada threw up its hands and paid off the complainant.  The public is baffled. Who are the players involved? Who is innocent? Who is guilty? What is the evidence? Why did this stay hidden? How did Hockey Canada miss so badly?

So far the picture is opaque. Can we ever believe in the sports body again? Currently hockey is being used as a metaphor by all sorts of political actors to push narratives about male privilege and social inequality. What has been consistent is the excellent reporting (again) of TSN’s Rick Westhead and Katie Strang in The Athletic. Their dogged research and courage in exposing these stories is exceptional.

What’s also consistent is the tardy response of the mainstream hockey press that is now finally coming around to this story. There are hundreds of reporters and media outlets that seem to cover everything that moves in the sport. Yet a story that implicates the names of the current Conn Smythe winner and other young NHL stars— without vindicating them— is festering.

It’s not the first time in recent memory. In June of 2021— when sexual assault allegations on the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks emerged— we asked, “Most damning is where were the dozens of hockey “insiders” in the media during this time? The people we are told have their ear to the ground on all things happening in the league? Why did it take till 2021 for Rick Westhead (TSN) and Katie Strang (The Athletic) to unearth the poorly hidden story during the NHL’s postseason semifinals. 

Isn’t this the same media that swore it would never ignore this sort of story— no matters how much it hurt friends and sponsors—  when the Graham James and Dave Frost stories emerged? Aren’t these the same networks that went wall-to-wall on the earlier stories when they surfaced, trying to make up for their negligence about sexual abuse in hockey during the past? 

Sadly, the hockey media culture is 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 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 Gary Bettman. A familiar pattern then ensued. When the facts (about James or Frost) 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. 

Later, they grew even tighter with the people they covered, inking enormous broadcast deals or sponsorship contracts that have drawn them ever closer to hockey power centres. 

The NHL (went) into omertà mode when asked how it countenanced the alleged behaviour of Chicago team management in ignoring a sexual predator and then giving him a letter of recommendation. Stan Bowman, the son of NHL Hall of Fame member Scotty Bowman, is not answering questions yet. But as general manager of the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey program for 2022 he will have to offer some explanations if he’s to keep the post. [he’s since been removed from both posts.]

Former Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, who was a Chicago player at the time, says, “I was not part of any meeting & I was not part of any decision & I was not aware of what was going on at the time. You can go on the record with that.” Done.

One would like to take the league and their snoozing media at their word that they will do better in covering these abuse stories in the past. Sadly, there is little reason to believe this contrition after so many false starts in the past.”

As we are seeing, the false starts continue.

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

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

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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Bruce Dowbiggin

Losing His Timing This Late In His Career: Send In The Clown

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“Although your baby/ May be/ Keen on a stage career/ How can I make it clear/ That this is not a good idea.” Noel Coward

The latest theatre of the absurd from Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau has received mixed reviews. For reasons best known to himself and his circle of advisors, Trudeau thought it might be a swell idea on the eve of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral to go the lobby bar in his swank 5-star London hotel for some kick-ass karaoke and first-growth Bordeaux.

In keeping with his reputation as failed thespian Trudeau imagined that belting out Bohemian Rhapsody for an audience in the lobby bar would be a suitable tribute to the rock band Queen. And, by extension, Queen Elizabeth II who was, at that moment, about 40 hours from being entombed at Windsor Castle. Did he know he’d be filmed in this Canada’s Got No Talent? Debatable.

The reaction was not. Many Canadians, to use Trudeau’s own expression, did not experience it the same way as the PM and his jolly choristers. Disrespectful would probably be the best word to describe the leader of a Commonwealth nation making a prat of himself yet again in the performing arts. (Remind me, where was NZ PM Jacinta Ardern performing the same night? Did Jamaican PM Andrew Holness have a gig?)

If the urge of ululate was so strong, could he not have restricted his Freddy Mercury tribute to a private room, far from prying eyes? Did any of his advisors hint that, after his Bollywood and Ali Baba disasters, maybe going small might be a better tack? Or at least wait till after the solemn ceremony? So far, no one is talking.

But there were those supporting the erstwhile boy soprano. “@jake_naylor Yup, the Queen would have been real upset about the Prime Minister of Canada, who she called “extraordinary” to meet, playfully singing a song from a band — founded by Brian May, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire — that played her Platinum Jubilee Party.”

Others said that, in the spirit of a good old Irish wake, it should be all singing and dancing and reminiscing about meetings with Her Majesty and the Corgis on official business. After all, funerals are sad events. Why make them more sad? Raise your voice in praise of a life well lived.

Well, yes. And no. First, the insult was not to the dead Queen. It was to her grieving family. Second, there can be little doubt that the period of mourning, ended by the state funeral, was a throwback to an earlier time, say the 19th century, when the passing of a regent called for maximum dirge and decorum. To those, like us, captivated by the pomp and ceremony of mounted Life Guards, admirals in full garb and princes by the bushel, the funeral march to Windsor was evocative and splendid.

 

A suitable tribute to a woman who’d bridged the gap between the stoic Windsors (née Battenburgs) and the age of social media. If it’s possible to have made that vast transition with dignity and purpose, Queen Elizabeth did. She withstood the righteous anger of the Irish, Africans and Asians who were trampled by her nation’s Empire— and pacified much, but not all, the hate.

And so we saw the stricken faces of King Charles III and his subjects at their loss. Prince Andrew’s shame at having not lived up to his mother’s example as he romped with the execrable Jeffrey Epstein. Princess Anne, always passed over, yet more capable than her siblings, conducting herself with dignity. Meghan— enough said.

It was as heavy as it can get. So maybe, like the PM, those who advocate for a ceilidh have the right idea. Many put it in their wills that no sadness should be tolerated when they pass on. Prop Her Majesty up in the corner, then drink and dance till the dawn. Have a party. Why so sad?

Or maybe we are meant to mourn. That we need to mourn. Having seen the range of options with our own deceased parents and now our friends, grieving is a natural state. Joined with family and friends it girds us for what is to come in our own lives. Anglican minister Matt Kennedy offered on Twitter why it might be best to take this contemplative route.

15h I’ve presided over funerals in which families, trying to honor the wishes of their departed loved ones, have wanted to bring in balloons, play rock and roll, tell wild stories about the deceased’s youth…all in the effort to run from grief and mourning and solemnity. 

But the human soul yearns to mourn in the face of death. It must be done. It cannot be avoided or suppressed. Death is the great enemy that divorces body from soul, the union we all know in the depths of our being that should never have been torn apart… No one needs to conjure up new words or songs or things to say. Words have been given to us, and acts, and ceremonies, and hymns that allow us to grieve and yet not as those who have no hope.

If you have been moved by the queen’s funeral, that is because the queen in her wisdom loved her family and people well. She gave herself to the ancient ceremonies knowing these would be salve for the hearts of those who loved her and give glory and honor to her Lord.”

Ironically, Justin came to prominence at his father’s funeral, weeping openly beside Pierre’s casket. His grief bonded him to many Canadians. Now, however, he’s decided that warbling, “Galileo, Galileo” in a London bar is more suitable. His choice. But we liked the young Trudeau’s decision better.

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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