Numb To The Reality Of College Football – Go P U!

Pink Floyd’s 1979 hit “Comfortably Numb” contains the lyrics

“When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb”

I’m not a Pink Floyd fan per se, but every time I hear that song I think of my experiences with sickness.  Every time my temperature spikes I get the same dream and I wake up knowing that I am ill.  I can’t explain the dream, I can’t explain the feeling but I just know that I am not feeling well.  When I hear this song on the radio or on Muzak somewhere I know instantly what Roger Waters and company are getting at.

In many ways this malaise appears in all aspects of life.  We can’t escape the reality that nothing is truly what it seems.  Individually, our experiences may be different but we feel the same.

I believe we’ve come a long way as a society and as humanity but there’s so much more that needs to be done.  I’ve tried to document my sports world.  My background of growing up in a SEC football driven world led me to believe that nothing was bigger than Saturday. Praying to the touchdown gods and the first down saints was what fueled my weeks.  The offseason was a place where you looked in the mirror and asked questions about the team’s focus.  Was it the coach?  Was it the institution?  Was it the players?  Why can’t they win every year?  What is wrong with them?

The answers were not always clear.  Even now I struggle with one question in particular. When it comes to sports there’s one huge question I ask.  If everyone’s ultimate goal is to win a championship, does that mean every losing team’s season is a waste?  Did every other player on every losing team waste their time, energy, sweat and blood for that year because they didn’t win?  We could say that some may never win because they play on a less talented team than others?  Are there a multitude of other reasons?

For all those kids who went to a school like Vanderbilt, just an example, and played a season of college football, did they waste their years of sports?

Some would say that these kids were given the opportunity to continue to play.  Maybe players are stepping on the field for more than just the chance to win.  Maybe they just want the scholarship to get an education.  If they move to the pro level do they just desire that pay check?  Maybe they just want to get some stats.

I guess it’s all up to us what we do things for.  Whether it’s why we go to work or why we do things on a daily basis.  We get in a pattern – a habit – of doing things and we can’t shake our way out of it.  It becomes too simple.  It’s too easy to keep doing the same thing, flipping on football on Saturday because we always did it but we don’t know why we did it.

Or maybe we did it because Saturday was our day to go out and get tanked with the crowd? Hang out with those alumni we went to school with and remember the glory days from times long past.  Think about the years when there were no daily demands and the living was easy.  When we were numb to the outside world.  Maybe even dare I say it comfortably numb to everything.  Our little world revolved around that campus.  Go P U!

Getting older after we left college we never shook that feeling that we should return on game day to keep that old tradition alive.  Again – creatures of habit.  Some of these we never want to think about or break.  Bring the kids to the tailgate and see the drunk alumni grill meat before the game.  Go inside a million dollar plus stadium funded by pledges we can’t afford but because we love the school “so much” we’ll give our last penny.  Inside our coach, signed by some athletic company for millions, drives young men up and down the field for the glory of the school.  Those 18-22 year olds never see a dime for all the cash they bring into the institution even though they can’t afford to go out after the game or even sometimes get a bite to eat.  Because they are on an athletic scholarship they can’t get a job – so don’t even go there.  So much cash floating around the athletic programs to be gobbled up by the school in donations, endorsements, television and bowls but don’t buy the kids a meal if they can’t afford one.  What have we become?

We are so numb to the notion that athletics is so pure that we don’t want to accept the notion that it’s all driven by the mighty dollar.  Good old P U wants to win a championship so they can get exposure and bring more money in to build an even bigger stadium.  If P U could get their stadium sponsored they’d bring in every company they could to slap their logo on the side.  “Welcome to Connecxto Stadium and P U Field.”  It’s not pretty but it pays for all the scholarships P U will say.  Sure it does.  The players can’t have a meal when they are hungry but the alumni giving hundreds of thousands are sitting high up in Connecxto Stadium in a furnished suite watching them beat each other’s brains in for P U glory.  I guess it’s all worth it.

Then again I think we’re all numb to the system.  We know that markets and money are involved in the world around us.  People don’t do things out of the goodness of their hearts – it’s what they can get out of that action.  Unfortunately I’m one of those people who would like to think that people do things for the greater good, but I guess I’ve become numb to the world.  I’ve become numb to the reality that greed takes many forms and one of them is human.  I’m certainly not comfortable with it.


Keion Carpenter Gave Everything Until The End

Former Virginia Tech and NFL Defensive Back Keion Carpenter passed away on December 29, 2016 hours after slipping and hitting his head.  No, he wasn’t doing anything bad – he was simply playing with his son, Kyle.  The 39-year-old Carpenter fell into a coma before passing away 4 days after Christmas, leaving his wife and four children to pick up the pieces of a life taken way too soon.

As someone who followed Virginia Tech football, I remember Carpenter very well.  He was one of my favorite Hokies ever.  It saddens me to see him go because I am reminded of the things that I treasured him for – the interceptions and the tackles.  I think of his play on the field and the victories he was able to contribute to.

I’m also saddened because instead of my memories of VT football or the NFL, I should be thinking about the person.  The man who ran a non-profit organization, called the Carpenter House, to strengthen the lives of those that didn’t have the advantages that many others did. Carpenter wanted to give hope, he wanted to bring change and most importantly he wanted to do something to help a community that didn’t have a lot of people stepping up to assist it.

I’m upset because Carpenter was only 39 and should have been given more time to help the community of Baltimore he loved so much.  Even though he lived in Atlanta he was always spending time in the place where he grew up.  I can’t imagine how much more he could have given back if there were 20 more years of Keion Carpenter.  How many more children’s lives could he have touched?

Will everyone outside of his community remember him for being a football player?  Five years down the road will anyone outside of the community even remember the good work that he has done for the unfortunate?  It haunts me to think about the legacies of the people who do good.  Unfortunately we tend to remember the evil rather than the good. We remember the names of people like Hitler and Stalin but we don’t remember the names of the children who were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting – even though we should never ever forget their names.

As someone who went to Virginia Tech I can never forget the name of Seung-Hui Cho and the image of dual pistols pointed at the camera.  However, I also see the 32 Hokie stones in front of Burruss, something that I had to visit to truly pay my respect to those taken far too soon.  I’m not moved to a truly emotional level by a lot of things, but those 32 stones left me asking questions that I’ll never have answers for.

Those individuals that died that day I never knew but in a way I felt a kinship with them because I had experienced some things that they did.  I knew places that they went, I saw things that they did and I probably took the same classes they did.  Hell I ate and lived at the same places they did.  In a lot of ways it felt personal and the memorial hit home more than a news article or a web video.

Keion Carpenter’s death does the same thing.  A member of Hokie nation who tried to be a good human being – giving back to those who were less fortunate.  He wasn’t taken by a mass shooting, an out of control individual or a random act of violence.  He died from a “freak accident.”  Does that make it even tougher to take?  I don’t know.

I’ve heard that death is the one thing that is certain in life.  You live you die.  It’s the circle of life like in The Lion King.   It’s certainly not fair.  But fair is that place you go in the summer and ride the tilt-a-whirl or whatever it is called.  Nothing it seems is fair and Carpenter’s death seems to back that up.

If we, or I in particular, learn anything from Carpenter’s death it’s that we should never stop giving back.  Those people who have less than us aren’t always going to have a helping hand.  Who knows how many Keion Carpenters are out there because we don’t hear about the good people in the world unless they are in our communities.  Sadly, we need to change that.  We need to prop up the good people rather than praise the bad.  Help those that are unable to get out of a bad situation.  Everyone deserves a helping hand. If Keion Carpenter should be remembered for anything it’s not for football but for being a loving, caring human being that gave back to others and wanted to make a better world. Let’s make sure that we continue his dream and give everyone life while we can.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of 2017 Or 2016 Blows

If you would have said to me in January that 2016 was going to be awful I might have believed you.  After all, I hadn’t had a terrible year in a long time, it was probably due.  I guess after so many years of decency the stars have to fall out of alignment don’t they?

If I only had known that when I started hockey this year, maybe I would have waited until 2017 to begin my journey.  Who knows what kind of emotional pain I could have saved myself.  I wouldn’t have saved the hours spent on the road between the rink and my house – it’s at least an hour to the closest rink.

The physical pain is a completely different thing.  An out-of-shape, late thirties, overweight guy who never knew who how to skate suddenly tries to take on the game of hockey with early twenty year olds who have been playing for most of their lives?  That’s a recipe for disaster, especially when I don’t like to lose.  I’m going to do whatever I can to keep up with them even if it means pushing my legs to the point of muscle pulls or my back to strains.  It’s all in the name of the game right?  Besides, that’s why I have insurance.

Of course insurance doesn’t cover the emotional pain.  The times I drove away from the rink trying to patch up that piece of me that broke in half every time I fell trying to execute a simple maneuver like skating with the puck or defending another player.  Realizing that you can’t do something as simple as the basics in a sport is demeaning.  If I compare it to something like basketball it’s like not being able to pass or drop down in the defensive stance.  You might as well pack up your equipment and go home.

With an hour plus drive my mind constantly went through all the things I did wrong.  I asked myself why I did them wrong.  More than anything it was because I simply wasn’t talented enough.  Because I’m starting this sport in my late thirties I don’t have potential, I would have peaked a long time ago.  The window is closed, the door is shut and there is no going back.  Each week I had to accept the fact that if I was going to make any gains, they were going to be small gains – I would never make that leap to where I always wanted to go.

It wasn’t so much an exercise in acceptance of athletic skill as it was starting to realize that my mortality was setting in.  Parts of my body were breaking down because I was letting them.  My mind was struggling to accept the fact that I was getting older.  I never had to look at my deficiencies in that light before.  Then again hockey does bring out weaknesses because it is extremely demanding.  Somehow I was a bit more angry with myself.  Fighting to find happiness with what I was doing but I was trying my hardest not to show it.

Also, I came to realize that it’s tough to be a volunteer, especially when you care about what you are doing.  Some in a community organization find themselves interested in the glory.  If there was a Hall of Fame for these people, they’d be the first to say they were there doing it all.  It wouldn’t matter whether they really made a difference or not.  They just want the recognition.

I’ve been told that I don’t make my feelings known.  I’ve also been told that I make big deals out of small things and I can’t let things go.  When I look at these two statements I have a hard time balancing them out.  In this situation, I had a really hard time with the volunteer organization because individuals would criticize me for stepping up to help when all I wanted was to do right for the children involved.  I’m not worried about getting a prize or getting a pat on the back.  If I have the ability to help then I will help.  I want to be able to contribute so that others can benefit.

However, some don’t see it that way.  They want to take up their stones and throw them because I live in a house that doesn’t look like theirs.

To that end, I say okay.  At some point this year, I accepted the stone throwers.  I wasn’t going to change the way they felt about me.  I wasn’t going to change how they treated me.  What I could do was be the best volunteer I could be and at the same time hand those that wanted to toss rocks some of the shiniest rocks they’ve ever seen.  I might as well polish them for them.  Instead of being mean and nasty to them, why not be polite and smile?  I guess if I’m going to get hit with a few pebbles they oughta be clean.

It’s been a struggle to find that balance this year between the things I feel and how I should feel.  The question is though, “what should I feel?”  Who should tell me what to feel?  Should I let someone judge me for what I feel?  It’s okay for someone to give me constructive criticism but it’s up to me to discover what I really am.  Those things I felt after hockey, those are things that I truly felt.  My feelings are my feelings.  If I wish to express them, sometimes I have to express them.  I started this blog to express them.  If I really need to get something out there I’m going to tell you how I feel.  If something bothers me, you will know about it.  However, I’m not the kind of person that is going to put out a line and say “hey, that new Matchstick Cats book is great.”  That’s why I don’t use things like Facebook.  I’m just not that kind of person.  I keep a lot to myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think things.  I just don’t always share because I don’t feel these things are important.

Maybe 2017 will come along and I’ll realize that I don’t suck at hockey.  Then again, I’ll go skate and fall on my face again.  I’ll go stick handle a puck and it will go off to the side.  I’m no Jayson Megna.  I wondered the other day if I put together a group of my favorite hockey players how that would work out.  Somehow I would step on the ice with them and end up breaking something.  Breaking something like my stick or my wrist or my leg.  This is just how things go for me.  Or at least that’s how 2016 has gone.  Maybe the bad has outweighed the good of this year.  It’s not supposed to be that way.  No one is supposed to stare into the abyss and see the darkness.  No one is supposed to stare up in the sky and realize there is more emptiness than stars.

Country music singer Cam released a song this year called Burning House where she reflects on a dream that she had.  The person she is singing to is stuck in the burning house and she goes on to say she’s “trying to take what’s lost and broke and make it right.”  2016 feels like that song where so many things are lost and broke – I hope that in 2017 the pieces come back together.  I hope the north star shines brighter than the emptiness of the night sky.  I can’t take another 2016.

The Brutality Of Hockey and The Acceptance Of Fighting

Since purchasing the NHL Center Ice package from my cable overlords, I’ve had the pleasure of watching as many Maple Leafs games as I can handle.  There’s never enough trust me!  I’ve also seen Jayson Megna play a fantastic offensive game in Tampa – I think he needs to sign with a Florida team because he’d be a 20-goal scorer.  I’ve also noticed that for as much as I’d like to believe, there is not a good game on every night.  Sometimes there are relatively few on and they are rather random and strange.

Take for example December 14th’s matchup pitting the San Jose Sharks taking the ice against the Senators in Canada’s capital, Ottawa.  Now normally, I would not pay this matchup any mind or even pay to watch it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a hockey game and I’m down for hockey, but I don’t have a dog in the fight.  However, with time on my hands and the Pittsburgh – Boston game on commercial I took up the challenge.

Somehow I got taken in and didn’t go back to the Pens but that’s not the story.  I watched a guy take his stick and cross check another man to the back of the head.  Senators forward Mike Hoffman skated up behind Logan Couture and cross checked him to the back of his head, dropping the Sharks forward to the ice.  Couture unstrapped his helmet, lay on the ice and then was helped up gingerly by a trainer to the locker room.  Hoffman’s hit was deemed to be retaliation for a high stick on Sens’ all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson by Marc-Edouard Vlasic that was not called/seen by the officials.  Karlsson wasn’t injured on the play and had no visible marks from Vlasic’s actions if they were intentional or not.

Now, I’ve seen brutality in hockey.  I grew up in the time of Washington Capitals’ Dale Hunter checking the New York Islanders’ Pierre Turgeon after scoring a goal.  Something I was completely unprepared for and I know Turgeon wasn’t either.  I remember the battles between Detroit and Colorado that turned into a bloody conflict with names like Draper, Lemieux, McCarthy and Maltby.  These were games where every hit seemed to push the game closer and closer to a full-out brawl.  I can remember seeing Kris Draper get checked into the boards by Claude Lemieux breaking bones in Draper’s face.  Or the blood left on the ice when McCarthy took revenge on Lemieux the next year – even after the Zamboni went through the stains were visible.

Maybe I’m getting older and starting to misunderstand things.  I understand when guys take up with the player that caused the injury – the Sens going after Vlasic or the Red Wings going after Lemieux.  I’m not even condoning their action but I understand. However, when everyone that is on the ice becomes open game to cross checks or slashes or high sticks that can cause permanent injuries then the league has to reel in the players.  The league has been trying to curb fighting for some time now but the problem with that is that the guys who fight are there for a reason.

On the same night when Chris Neil was honored for his 1,000 NHL game, Hoffman’s actions proved that men like Neil are necessary for this game to continue.  Neil, who has never scored more than 33 points in a season, has stood up for his teammates and led by doing what others won’t.   Hockey is a rough sport, I understand that and I think everyone who steps on the ice gets that as well – you don’t put on all that gear for nothing.

However, if you are a guy who can score there are going to be people who are going to go after you to put you off your game.  As long as checking is legal, someone is going to try to push that limit.  When they go too far and knock the leading scorer out of the game, what is the league going to do about it?  Suspend the other guy?  What does that harm the other team at that point?  That’s why teams have “enforcers.”  A team says “hey you want to push my guy I’m going to push your guy.”

Guys like Neil, Bob Probert, Tie Domi and Tiger Williams are remembered for their ability to fight but that doesn’t account for what they did for their teammates.  The name in the lineup shows that their teams weren’t going to allow opponents to push around the stars. When Hoffman hit Couture no one was there to go after him, San Jose had no Chris Neil. Hoffman wasn’t afraid of being knocked down by a guy like that so he could freely go after one of the opposition’s best players.

However, for the tough guys there is a tremendous toll this takes on their body and their mentality.  It isn’t easy for them to gear up every night to take on the other big guy in the opposition’s lineup or even to know that they are the target of the next up-and-coming rookie who wants to make a name for himself.  Derek Boogaard struggled with his role as a strongman during his time in the NHL with stints in Minnesota and New York.  Boogaard masked his physical and emotional pain with the pills he was given to sleep and pills he bought from dealers.  Boogaard would eventually succumb to his demons but not before leaving a lasting impression on those around him and leaving me to question what guys like him go through.

What is it about a hockey fight that people enjoy?  The brutality?  Going back to the root of human violence?  We preach to our children not to take out their differences through fisticuffs but it’s okay in hockey?  I struggle with the balance in hockey because I’m not a violent person.  Just like anyone else I enjoy watching a great hit or perk up when I see two guys drop the gloves.  However, after seeing Mike Hoffman drop Logan Couture I wonder how someone can do that to another human.  What goes through your mind?  Do you think “I’m just going to hit him in the back of the head?”  Maybe I’ve just never been put in that situation.

I know I’ll never play in the NHL and understand the pressures they go through but I can’t see myself ever hitting another human in the back of the head with a stick.  It’s disturbing.  I’m not disturbed by a lot and I am prepared for violence in hockey but I’m not prepared for someone trying to kill another human being.  If Hoffman hit Couture hard enough in the head could he have caused brain damage?  Could it have been deadly?  Possibly.  It’s bothersome to think that was the true intention of Hoffman.  I’d like to think these guys respect each other, but I’m not so sure anymore.  I can’t say I appreciate you if I chop you in the back of the head.  It’s a troublesome conundrum and I’m not sure which way to go, all I know is that I’m not in the NHL.  If I was I would hope there would be a Chris Neil there to watch my back, if the NHL gets rid of guys like him, it’s going to get worse.

Philip Larsen Taught Me To Take Chances

Jayson Megna and the Vancouver Canucks skated into New Jersey on December 6, 2016 – I was upset when I found out that it was going to snow and I wouldn’t be able to go.  As a Megna fan, since seeing him play with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League, I’ve watched him move from one organization to another. I watched him with the Pens then the New York Rangers and now with the Canucks.

Around the 15 minute mark of the 2nd period of the game, Canucks defenseman Philip Larsen skated behind his net to gather a puck.  With his head down watching his stick, New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall launched his body through the 27 year-old Dane.  As Larsen fell backward, his head hit the ice and his body went lifeless.

Larsen’s on-ice teammates rushed to the boards near him to push Hall, unconcerned with the young Canuck lying frozen below them.  One flew in so fast his skate hit Larsen’s helmeted head, a stick flew onto Larsen’s body and Larsen’s outstretched gloved left hand was struck by another careless player.

As many emergency technicians will tell you, when you reach any accident scene you don’t move the injured – in fact you do whatever you can to keep their head and neck steady. This is why the skate hit to the helmet was so bothersome, if Larsen had a break in his spinal column and it was moved about, he could have been injured further by recklessness.

December 6, 2016 was also the day before Philip Larsen’s 27th birthday.  I don’t believe Larsen stepped on the ice thinking that he would be knocked out by a check.  In fact, I don’t believe any player steps onto the ice thinking they are going to get hurt by a check or a skate or a stick.  If you step out thinking that’s going to happen you probably shouldn’t be out there.

However, as I was watching the game live on television and saw Larsen lying in what can only be described as an “out cold” position, I couldn’t help but wonder about the fine line that we as humans are always walking.  What if I just watched Larsen get hit and die there? A guy behind the glass was so “amused” with the situation he was getting ready to take a picture of Larsen flat-out on the ice until Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom yelled at him. How could someone want a picture of that?  As I rewound it a few times to hope that maybe I saw him move after the hit I started asking myself what is wrong with us.

Honestly, don’t get me wrong, I like playing hockey.  I love the feeling of skating up and down the ice, the passing and shooting.  At some point we’ve crossed a line in society and it seems we are seeing the bubbling up of trouble.  When people are hurt and someone’s first reaction is to take a picture – that’s a problem.  Some may shout that society has become too politically correct but I think society HASN’T become humanity correct.  We’ve strayed away from caring about others to the point that we are so quick to act out in violence.

Yes, I get that some sports are full of violence and I understand that hockey is one of them. I am sure that Philip Larsen knew that hockey is a violent sport and I’m sure he’s committed violent acts.  That’s not the point, the point is that one violent act doesn’t deserve another or even deserve a cruel act.  He didn’t deserve to have someone take a picture of him as he was laying cold on the ice – possibly dying.

As the 26 year-old, at that time, was being attended to all I could think about was how much more life he had to live.  How fragile that line is that he walks when he steps on the ice.  Maybe he understands more about that line now or maybe he’s like other athletes and pushes it to the side to keep going.

Over a 12 year span in the NHL, Sidney Crosby has had at least three concussions leading me to wonder if the next one will be the last for one of the greatest hockey players ever. It’s more than possible that Larsen has one too after the hit that he took.  If knowing that these types of blows to the head can lead to devastating long-term effects like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, how can one want to keep rolling the dice?

I guess that’s a question we all face on a daily basis.  Every day that we get up, put on our clothes and go out we are facing some sort of odds – whatever they may be.  For all we know space junk could fall out of the sky as small of a possibility that there is, it still could happen.  Something could always happen, whatever it is.  The average life expectancy in the United States is 78 meaning we have to make the most of our time on this planet. Nothing is guaranteed and we shouldn’t take anything for granted.  A chance may come along and it may scream to be taken – take it.  One day when you are 77 years-old you may curse not taking it.  Or when you are 78 you may be thankful you did.

From the Legion of Doom to Auston Matthews

In the “new NHL” speed, skills and stickhandling have been put on display on a nightly basis.  Players like Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Phil Kessel put their talents on center stage for audiences to view when their teams take center ice.

The attitude of the league is different now too.  Quick skaters with the ability to put the puck in the net are desired.  Teams used to want power forwards like Keith Tkachuk, who could bang his body around the boards and seperate defenseman from the puck while being able to bury a one-timer.

Eric Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year on the back of his 372 goals, 493 assists and 1398 penalty minutes.  Lindros was described as a “once in a lifetime” player who was able to impose his 6 foot 4 inch, 240 pound frame on other skaters and move up and down the ice with the pace of a first line winger.  His ability to dominate a game was what made him the first pick of the 1991 draft that the Quebec Nordiques would trade to the Philadelphia Flyers for a boatload of players, picks and cash. Although to be fair, none of what would be traded would come to equal what the Flyers got in return for the eventual Hall of Famer.

Lindros would use his strength and brawn to control the ice in front of and behind the net. Whether it was with intimidation or by flat out pushing opposition players, Lindros scored using his strong frame.  The game was different during his reign as a Flyer.  His line of John LeClair and Mikael Renberg were dubbed the “Legion of Doom” because they ruled the ice when the trio skated together.

It’s ironic that the one player who could be called a “power forward” is also a Flyer, Wayne Simmonds.  Simmonds however is 6 foot 2 and weighs a meager 183 pounds, imagine how much the game has changed since the time of Lindros?

Now players are tall, lean, fast, muscular skaters who are able to escape a check rather than deliver one. Gone are the days of the open ice checks of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer who paired together on the blueline for the New Jersey Devils destroying anyone who skated over the neutral zone with their head down.

Concussions have become the buzzword in the NHL.  In the 2015-2016 season, Calgary Flames defenseman, Dennis Wideman, was hit by Miikka Salomaki, a Nashville Predator right wing.  The hit rattled him and I’m convinced as he bounced off the board, he had no idea where he was after the Predator skated away.  It appeared that the front of his helmet hit the glass at the right, or wrong depending on the definition, angle to cause a concussion.  As Wideman got up, he skated toward the Flames bench while a Predator and linesman Don Henderson came his way.  With his mind rattled, he did not take his time on the ice, he immediately began skating which I believe caused him to jumble the two skaters and think that the linesman was an opposing skater.  As he tried to get to the Flames bench he pushed Henderson down on the ice with both hands, causing head trauma to the linesman.  Wideman was ultimately suspended 10 games after his original 20 game suspension was turned over in the appeals process.

Blows to the head leading to concussions have become such a hot topic in all areas of sport, not just the NHL.  However, the NHL has become very wary of what it can do, especially after the Wideman incident.  I don’t believe the NHL did enough for Wideman in this situation though.

The NHL has long wanted to move past it’s rough and tumble image of “I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out” to more of a skills competition.  There are many fans who believe that hard hits and fights should be a part of hockey just like the big hits in football.  When Auston Matthews takes the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs someone on the bench has to be there to protect the star center.  At least in the days of Wayne Gretzky, he had a guy like Marty McSorley who would take on anyone to make sure that no one would drop Gretzky with a blindside hit.

On November 5, 2016 Matthews’ teammate Nazem Kadri took out Vancouver Canuck Daniel Sedin with a blindside hit.  Sedin hit the ice with so much force his helmet popped off and his head rocked back and forth shaking his brain matter.  Sedin’s teammate Jannik Hansen flew over to Kadri and begin pummeling the Leafs center with whatever he could muster.  In a game of checking, these kinds of hits are going to happen – Kadri’s hit was deemed legal by both the refs and the league for what it is worth.

As long as these players skate fast on thin blades and give everything they have to win a trophy that’s as elusive as the Stanley Cup, there will be passion displayed on the ice.  This emotion will come out as pushing and shoving, yelling, celebrating or fighting.  Anytime you get grown men together and put them in an enclosed area, testosterone will take over.  However, in a situation like this with so much to gain and large sticks in their hands, these men are going to use whatever they can to gain an advantage.

In a way it might seem savage to celebrate fighting and the big hits that players dish out on each other.  After all we are trying to look out for the safety of one another by giving them helmets, padding and all that gear.  At the same point, we are humans who seem to thrive on violence whether it is in the news or in the movies or in our entertainment. Wars are constantly being fought across the globe no matter what day it is or what time it is, it seems humans are always in conflict.

As we evolve the question we have to ask ourselves is should our sports evolve as well?  Do we still want to see athletes pound each other? Boxing still exists and Mixed Martial Arts are beginning to break into mainstream television coverage.  When children are dying in places like Gaza and Africa sometimes we don’t realize how much violence exists in our world.  It may not be happening in front of us, but it is happening.  We turn away from Sarah McLachlan’s animal commericals because they are too emotional, we can’t imagine someone beating or mistreating an animal.  Yet, children are starving just across the border from one of the world’s richest countries on Earth.  In fact, children are starving here in the United States.

No, hockey isn’t everything, it’s an escape from dealing with something or everything for a short period of time.  For some people it’s a way of life, a way of making a living or a way to exist.  For most however, it’s just an outlet or something to believe in when life gives us a reason to be distracted from the the awfulness on the horizon.  It isn’t fair, no, to spend three hours engrossed in men with pads, jersey and skates beating each up while the world burns.  But it’s what we have for those three hours to reflect upon our own personal goals and what we can do – maybe even what we can’t do.  If nothing else, we realize that humanity is cheap when so much is on the line and we have to decide for ourselves what it is that we believe in.  Do we wish to be the aggressor, the victor, the one full of pride or the one who submits?

The Hip Of Humanity

Ever since I heard “New Orleans Is Sinking,” I’ve appreciated Gord Downie’s lyrical genius.  As I listened to other Tragically Hip songs I learned about Downie and the things that he was interested in.  Expanding my Hip knowledge is like asking me if I have read the encyclopedia, how can I finish something that is so deep?

Take “Wheat Kings” for example, a song that I always thought was about the Brandon Wheat Kings until I read the lyrics and learned about David Milgaard who was wrongly convicted for murdering Gail Miller.  Milgaard would spend “twenty years for nothing,” because he did not commit the crime and would even have twenty chances for parole being denied every time.

In 2012, Downie said in a CBC interview with George Stroumboulopoulos, “I don’t think you can throw over science and research for ideology.”  Downie, lead singer of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip, was speaking on the cutting of funding and support to small communities in Canada and how it affects their well-being.  Something that can lead to long-term issues like cancer, an issue that Downie knows all too well.  Downie’s ex-wife, Laurie survived breast cancer and Downie has terminal brain cancer.

The announcement of his diagnosis was followed by the band releasing a schedule of nationwide tour dates finishing up in Kingston, where the group has a street christened after them.

As Downie and the Hip toured Canada this past Summer on what was termed a final tour it made me think about what he was going through.  I pondered a man who has spent his life exploring his country, standing up for the people in his country, making people realize that those people need help and even though the Hip are one of Canada’s most cherished bands he’s never let that get to his head.

He’s opened people’s eyes to social injustice – to things that matter not just something random or nonsensical.  Obviously the world is going to miss someone like this.

However, the world is going to miss a man who asks questions.  A man who gets people to asks questions of themselves as well.  Questions that we might not ask unless a poet like him framed it in a melody.

A question like “how do we start dealing with our well-being?”

No, not just about eating the right things and going to the doctor more often, I don’t think that’s the message I get from looking at his last hurrah.  His lyrics seem more cutting and shrewd to be so simple as take care not to get the common cold.

He strikes me as the man who says “when I’m gone pick up where I left off and take care of one another.”  The man who in what could be his last year of his life toured his home country making people smile and spreading the good will of a band that never quit.  For a man who is so intent on keeping his personal life private, he made this last chapter the most documented part.  As someone who is private I can’t imagine announcing something like cancer on a website like he did, knowing that millions of people suddenly know.  With the advent of social media the diagnosis would be known almost instantly throughout the world.  His condition could never be private again.  Downie could never keep this secret again.

Maybe at this point though, it didn’t matter anymore.  There’s nothing left to hide.  It’s all up to us to continue what he started.  It’s all up to us whether we are Canadian or American or whatever nationality to look out for one another.  To keep the hope for humanity alive.  Downie’s hope that the fight against social injustice doesn’t stop with him.  Everyone, especially the people of Canada, continue to learn, love and take care of their land.  I’m proud to be a Hip fan even though I’m American.  I’m proud to have been introduced to Downie’s words before he left this world and to have been influenced by a man who never forgot that everyone matters no matter what they believe in because at the root of it all, we are human.

Is Dave Keon Your Greatest Maple Leaf Forever?

I’m always late: I stay up late, get up late and I’m learning to skate at a later age. Now I’m just discovering NHL Center Ice – seriously there must be something wrong with me.  This lateness really has to stop at some point.

After my self-imposed ban on anything Buffalo Bills (thanks to the hiring of Rex Ryan) I’ve tried to find something sports-wise to balance out the non-Sunderland days. I’ve struggled when a random hockey game wasn’t on cable somewhere.  In a way it’s forced me to find myself as a sports fan, to look inward and see if it was worth it to stand up for what I believe in versus that little nugget of entertainment on a Sunday.

Now, thanks to the fact that I bit the bullet and paid for it, I can watch pretty much every Maple Leaf game and see games in every team’s building. Talk about getting to the party. Just the other day I happened to catch a random Winnipeg Jets game instead of a random NFL game. I’ll take that any day of the week.

The best thing is that I can now watch the Leafs. It’s tough keeping up with a team hundreds of miles away when you don’t get to see their broadcasts. Especially home games when they honor a past player and it makes you think about what they did for the club. Or when they talk about the history of the team.  Watching a Leaf game recently they talked about the “Greatest Leaf Ever.”

Based upon the number of Stanley Cups (4), Conn Smythe trophies (1), points (858), Lady Bing Trophies (2) and Calder Cups (1), Dave Keon’s accomplishments make him the best Toronto Maple Leaf ever. Not only was he great with the puck but he’s said to have been absolutely brilliant without it. A great skater and amazing checking center. Unfortunately I never got the chance to see him play plus there was always the history between the Leafs, Keon and former owner Howard Ballard.

The new Leafs’ ownership lead by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment began reaching out to Keon in the late 90’s trying to win him back to the blue and white family.  Keon stuck to his guns until 2007, when he showed up on the ice and then in the 2013 he appeared at the Air Canada Centre with other members of the ’63 Cup winners team.

In 2016 the Maple Leafs finally gave their greatest ever a home on Legends Row in front of the ACC alongside familiar names like Tim Horton, Mats Sundin, Johnny Bower, Syl Apps and Darryl Sittler.

As the Leafs prepare for the Centennial Classic game against Detroit on New Year’s Day at BMO Field just down Gardiner from the ACC, some of those names will play on New Year’s Eve but so too will some of my greatest Leafs ever: Felix Potvin, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Darcy Tucker, Dave Andreychuk and Dave Ellett.  All of them, except Tucker, members of that 1992-1993 team that took “The 6” all the way to the Western Conference Finals when Gilmour was famously clipped by Gretzky in the 6th game of the Series.  Toronto was on the brink of closing out Los Angeles but it wasn’t meant to be.

A magical year for the Maple Leafs that included rookie goalie Potvin’s 25-15-7 record with a league leading 2.50 Goals Against Average and .910 save percentage, Gilmour’s 127 points in the regular season and 35 in post season, Andreychuk’s 12 postseason goals and Clark’s 20 postseason points.

Meanwhile, barriers were being broken that season when Quebec-born Manon Rheaume tended goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning on September 23, 1992 against the St. Louis Blues for a period.  She would go on to play in the Roller Hockey International league, West Coast Hockey League, International Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League. I could never get to a Norfolk Admirals game to see her Knoxville Cherokees or Nashville Knights though I always tried.

I believed that it was Doug Gilmour that was going to take Toronto to the next level because of his drive and the fire in his play. Gilmour and Potvin made me want to play and be Leafs – I especially wanted to play goal just like the “Cat.” They made me want to see the Gardens, to know the team, to know the game and know the town.

Since the time I’ve seen the Leafs play, they have never won a Cup. Whatever curse or demon or ghost that haunts this team has yet to leave. Moving out of the Maple Leaf Gardens didn’t change anything except for the address, number of seats and cost of tickets. There still is an empty spot where that next Cup belongs.Greatest Ever is one of those subjective titles and can mean different things to different people. I don’t know Keon like other Leafs fans and I never saw the things he did on the ice. That’s not to say he’s not exceptional however without a point of reference I’m lost.

Since the time I’ve seen the Leafs play, they have never won a Cup. Whatever curse or demon or ghost that haunts this team has yet to leave. Moving out of the Maple Leaf Gardens didn’t change anything except for the address, number of seats and cost of tickets. There still is an empty spot where that next Cup belongs.Greatest Ever is one of those subjective titles and can mean different things to different people. I don’t know Keon like other Leafs fans and I never saw the things he did on the ice. That’s not to say he’s not exceptional however without a point of reference I’m lost.

Since the time I’ve seen the Leafs play, they have never won a Cup. Whatever curse or demon or ghost that haunts this team has yet to leave. Moving out of the Maple Leaf Gardens didn’t change anything except for the address, number of seats and cost of tickets. There still is an empty spot where that next Cup belongs.

“Greatest Ever” is one of those subjective titles and can mean different things to different people. I don’t know Keon like other Leafs fans and I never saw the things he accomplished on the ice. That’s not to say he’s not exceptional because his records and numbers speak for themselves.

Since the time I’ve seen the Leafs play, they have never won a Cup. Whatever curse, demon or ghost that haunts this team has yet to leave. It could be argued that Howard Ballard haunts the team to this day.  Maybe it is me that argues that?

Moving out of the Maple Leaf Gardens didn’t change anything except for the address, number of seats and cost of tickets. There still is an empty spot where that next Cup belongs.  What I can say is that Gilmour and company influenced a love of a team and a sport that continues to this day.  A tradition of something special that I haven’t forgotten.

Baseball’s Chicago Cubs used to be called the “Loveable Losers” because of the 100+ years that they waited and waited to win a World Series title.  That thirst was finally quenched after 108 long dry years, something that as Leaf fans we all know about.  But they also had tradition, something we also know about.

There was tradition with the Cubs from broadcaster Harry Caray to shortstop Ernie Banks, “Let’s Play Two,” on up to Wrigley Field and its colorful Ivy walls.  These are things that people thought of when they thought of the Cubs – these individuals and these traditions.

These are the things I think of when I think of the Leafs – the traditions of Horton, Gilmour, Keon and hundreds of others who wore the blue and white, the Maple Leaf Gardens that are now home to a supermarket, the Air Canada Centre with banners of the greats hanging from high, Foster Hewitt’s gondola, Maple Leafs Forever, the story of Bill Barilko and the hope for the kids of the future.

Who knows, maybe Mitch Marner or Auston Matthews or William Nylander will be the Greatest Leaf Ever?  I can’t predict the future but I can tell you that it will be hard for them to make me feel the same things that Gilmour and company did.  I guess that’s what happens when you grow up with a generation of players and they move on.  The next group comes in and all you can see is #93 taking the draw and #17 scoring a goal. My Greatest Leaf Ever will always be Dougie.

Harvard Proves Privilege Does Not Equal Advancement

Another day – another sports scandal. I’m getting to the point in my life where scandals and sports are becoming intertwined.

This one strikes me as a different kind of scandal. It’s a disaster created by a group of privileged, well-educated male athletes.

Like the Duke Lacrosse scandal, Harvard men’s soccer team has been suspended for the season. They were taken off the field because they created a grading system for the women’s soccer team.

No, not grading them based upon their free kick ability, how they whip in a cross or a great through ball. These boys used a Google Group to create a document to post their desires for the women based upon their physical appearance and have been doing it since at least 2012. Also included in this “scouting report,” as the team termed it, were sickening nicknames for the women as and talk of how the males would have sex with them.

This “scouting report” was first posted to the members on July 21, 2012 leading me to ask the question: are we seriously this backward in society still?

A group of privileged student athletes violate the civil liberties, objectify and sexually intimidate these women. Unfortunately this isn’t the first case of this –  but we never seem to learn.

In 2006, the Duke Lacrosse case exploded onto the scene for a multitude of reasons. It was well documented in ESPN’s 30 for 30 Frantic Lies documentary. In that instance, the players should have never put themselves in a situation where they could be accused of sexually assaulting the two women.

However, after the incident Duke put up a wall that made those outside of the University community assume it was privilege covering for privilege. Many had no idea of what truly happened until months and years later because the players were kept isolated. Again, it was a situation that never should have happened. This can happen even at a place where we expect students to use their best judgements.

The Duke Lacrosse team lost their season because of the media attention swirling around the allegations. Rightly or wrongly the administration decided that this was the best course of action to take.

A week before the Harvard men’s soccer season was cancelled, the Athletic Director Robert L. Scalise said that he would review the documents.   After reviewing them, he would reach out to BOTH men’s and women’s soccer team coaches and then come up with a solution. All of this would be kept in-house, this response was in his words, “not a media thing.”

Are you serious?

Not be a media thing?

No, let’s not come out and issue a statement about how terrible this is. Let’s not issue a statement saying these boys not just graded but judged women on their appearance, treated them like objects and have been getting away with it for years. In fact, the document was available for public viewing for over 4 years until just recently.

Does he want to create a culture like the Baylor football team had with Harvard men’s soccer? A culture where the assaulted are afraid to stand up because athletic directors refuse to listen? A culture where sports are more important than victims rights? A culture where the accused don’t get their day in court because it’s “not a media thing?”

I believe that at some point in people’s lives we have to make choices. We have to do things to make ourselves happy, whether it is to go to class because of our future, go to an athletic event or attend a party. All of this comes with a certain responsibility that we take on. This burden that we carry is the world around us and how our choices change those people, things and places.

Whatever we want to do we can do. We can choose to bind ourselves to the laws of states and governments but whatever we do we have to protect the rights of others and live in a world where we make it better so that others can have choices. That means not degrading others based upon appearances. That means not lowering ourselves to a basic level.

As a society I wonder if we have come far enough to consider ourselves civil. Or even civilised. It concerns me when a group of young men (I shudder to use the term men with this group) or a Presidential candidate degrade women. Why is this continued to be accepted? Why is this ok? This isn’t a choice.

There should be no choosing to degrade another individual. Anyone that chooses to do such a thing should be ostracized. As a civilized society we cannot advance without the ability to accept and embrace.

Discovering America’s Pastime In Game Seven

Baseball is said to be America’s pastime and on November 2, Game 7 of the World Series took the national stage. I have to admit it was the first game I paid attention to after the Toronto Blue Jays were eliminated by the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series.  

There is something special or even sacred about a Game 7. Maybe it’s something that sports channels have sold fans on for years? Or maybe it’s the drama of a do-or-die game that brings out another level in players?

As I watched, I wondered if baseball could still call itself the country’s game?  

Now the sports market is flooded with the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLS.  

I would argue that the NFL holds more of the American attention but after the past few years I think that’s starting to fade. After the NFL powers that be argued against the severity of concussions, started playing more games in London, struggled with domestic violence issues , introduced coaches challenges into an already lengthy game and other questionable rule changes.  After all this, I think the NFL has some serious problems.

When it comes to hockey, I am certain that is Canada’s pastime. The best players in NHL history are Canadian- Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe. The Hockey Hall of Fame is in Toronto and of course there are multiple NHL teams in Canada. In the winter, hockey is played on frozen ponds and indoor rinks throughout the Great White North.  

It’s possible that baseball is the country’s game because all you need is a stick and a rock to play. Or a bat and a ball. A just throw the ball to someone and they hit it. Fairly simple. You could play it in your backyard with just a couple of people. You don’t need a fancy ball like football. Sure soccer you just need a ball but it’s not been widely accepted in America.  

However, I don’t believe that any sport is our pastime.

America’s pastime is building up sports icons and comparing them to one another to their microscopic flaws. Taking a hammer to the statues we just built moments ago of them because underneath that jersey we find out that they are human afterall. It’s a conclusion that we cannot accept so we move on to the next phenom whose pillar towers above the rest only to sway under the pressure of a society that demands inhuman greatness.