A Brief Note on the Business of Sports

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220px-Toronto_Maple_Leafs_Logo_1939_-_1967.svgI don’t really follow hockey. I never played it, never much understood it, don’t really care about it. I do have a Toronto Maple Leafs emblem on my license plate but that’s just because I could order that plate from the kiosk where a normal plate would require a trip to the Ministry of Transportation office.

But, being Canadian and living in Southern Ontario, just about everyone I know is somehow invested in the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I can’t escape the constant complaining and whining about how poorly they do, year after year, season after season, with seemingly no hope of ever winning the Stanley Cup.

The “hardcore” fans (rain or shine, win or lose) complain the most loudly.

They, however, are the biggest part of the problem.

You see, the Maple Leafs basically print money for themselves. With such a rabid fan-base, games are sold out long before they actually get played, merchandise flies off the shelf, and there is never a fear that they’ll lose a broadcasting deal. No matter how badly the players play, no matter how often they lose, no matter what idiotic decisions management makes regarding signings, contracts, salaries, or mascot changes, those rabid fans keep buying tickets and tuning in on TV.

Imagine that a car company enjoyed this kind of loyalty.

They could make crappy, unreliable cars that cost way too much and were terrible on gas. They could skimp on paint, upgrade the engines once every two decades, and completely ignore the needs of their customers. While competing brands would intelligently improve their product to draw people in, this company could ignore every complaint because people keep buying their damn cars! Why would they waste money on improving a product that everyone seems content to buy?

If you are a Leafs fan and you really, really want the franchise to improve, you have a choice to make. You can keep lying to yourself that being a steadfast fan will somehow inspire a bottom-line-driven management and an ever shifting group of freelance athletes with no loyalty to you, your city, or your precious team to some kind of magic season of greatness, or you can do something that actually inspires some kind of change.

Quit watching.

Quit buying.

Quit showing up to games.

No amount of complaining will break the inertia of a profitable franchise. Ceasing to make them profitable, however, just might move them to change.

Back From the Darkness

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I am a poor quality blogger.

Forgive me.

I’m going to place the blame squarely on my research seminar course. I’ve mentioned before that I completely bailed on my thesis, so I am required by the university to do this sort of “thesis-lite” thing in order to finish the degree. I’m down to three more courses after this one, but none of them are likely to be as labour-intensive as this one.

Also of note, Kurt Cobain died 20 years ago. That makes me feel dreadfully, painfully old. His was the first celebrity death that I can remember clearly from my childhood; I was in my bedroom listening to 97.7 HTZ FM on my Emerson CD/Casette/AM/FM unit (the now obsolete type with the separate speakers and the dual tape deck). They played a lot of Nirvana over the next few days.

(In retrospect, I’m not sure why I even liked Nirvana that much as a kid. Almost all of their music is garbage. Kurt Cobain was a lousy guitarist and a worse singer. It may just be that he was the right thing for a depressed era, but the staying power just isn’t there.)

The girls have been playing a lovely game of “Pass the Virus” all winter. Good thing they’re so cute. They are also really good at playing imaginary games in their kitchen, so I have plenty of material for analyzing their cognitive development according to the dominant theories of children’s psychology.

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For the sake of randomness: if you own an Android phone and you want to fully (and I mean fully) customize the launch screen, you need to download Themer. I’ve spent hours poking around on this thing, and if you are willing to put the time into learning it you can make your phone look like virtually anything you could ever want. I am so glad I didn’t go iPhone.

Several Things That Are Irrationally Bothersome to Me

(There are days where such lists are important.  Today is such a day.)

The woman in the Lucky Charms commercial.  She walks into what appears to be a staff break room in an office, sees a bowl of Lucky Charms, poured, with milk, and proceeds to just… help herself.  It’s clear that this isn’t her bowl of cereal.  That racially stereotyped little leprechaun even removed the bowl from her hands in a surprisingly non-judgmental way, clearly showing that this was not meant for her.  But she looks so darn smug when she declares, “I forgot how good these taste!”  Clearly no lesson was learned about stealing food or the plight of the Irish.

The cold.  Yes, it’s winter.  Yes, this is Canada.  But enough is enough.  My gym is my garage, and my garage is not heated, so at a certain point it become physically dangerous for me to lift out there; I can’t get my muscles warm enough to lift heavy and my hands start to stick to the bar.  My wife has made it clear that the living room is not an appropriate place to do deadlifts.  My one trip to the local gym reminded me why I don’t go to the gym, ever.  The jerk-hole ratio in the strength section was way too high, and I can only see so many people doing “squats” with less than 6″ of vertical travel before I can’t control my eye rolling anymore.  The cold caused me to deal with this.  The cold.

My daughter’s completely irrational new reliance on cat-like wordless wails to show her displeasure with everything and anything.  She used to be reasonable (or at least as reasonable as a sub-four-year-old child can be), but lately she has pulled a page from The Exorcist and has started to scream like the priests are on their way over.  There is nothing to do when she hits that point but throw her into her room and hope that she doesn’t come down the stairs upside down and on all fours.  My wife and I keep throwing the statement, “It’s just a phase,” back and forth like we’re playing a pathetically hopeful game of emotional hot-potato.  Neither of us are buying it.

Bruce Jenner’s hair.  It’s dyed auburn in the weird, low-quality way that equally old Paul McCartney’s hair is dyed brown, and it’s even more disconcerting since it morphed from a bob to a tightly cinched ponytail that just makes his facial surgery look even more like an experiment in silly putty and fear.  (This had to be included because my wife watches enough of the various Kardashian iterations (Chloe and Kim Take Milwaukee, Kendall and Lamar Take  Newark, Kris Loves Scott But Not Kylie, etc.) that I get peripherally Bruced on a daily basis.)

OH MY GOD!  KILL IT!  KILL IT!

OH MY GOD! KILL IT! KILL IT!

Snow and Sochi

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Two thoughts:

First, what does one do when the driveway is completely snowed in and you have two kids in the van and your wife isn’t home?  These are the steps, learned through some hard, fast thinking:

  1. Ram the van as far into the snowdrifts covering the driveway as you can.
  2. Open the window so you can see and hear the kids.
  3. Hop out and grab the shovel.
  4. Dig out a pen by the front steps to hold the children.
  5. Take out both kids and drop them in the snow pen.
  6. Supply them with sand buckets and shovels.
  7. Frantically dig out a space in the driveway to put the van before you wife arrives to a driveway and street with no available parking.
  8. Breath massive sigh of relief when your neighbour arrives mid-shoveling and offers to snow-blow the rest of the driveway while you take the now cold and snowy kids back inside.

(It isn’t a foolproof plan, mainly because step 8 is contingent on someone else’s schedule, but it worked for me once.  My neighbour also parked my van for me, so that was kind of awesome.)

Second, I don’t think I can watch the Olympics this year.  I have issues with the Olympic games anyway (you can read about them here), but this time I feel like are even more ethical issues with being a part of something that is so clouded in the violation of basic human rights.

It would be bad enough were it simply the military attacks on ethnic minorities, the bombing, gassing, and  indiscriminate killing under the pretense of wartime actions.  It would be bad enough to merely put the “propaganda laws” in place.  But with Putin giving tacit approval to the violent vigilante-style attacks by skinhead thugs, I just can’t stomach “celebrating” anything to do with these games.  I don’t care what your personal set of beliefs regarding sexuality happens to be; there isn’t ever space for that kind of action.

It is empty, Godless hate. 

To be truthful, I don’t see how I could see the Games as anything other than a thinly-veiled ego-trip for rich countries.  In world filled with starving, dying people that alone is reason enough not to watch.  Add in some Soviet-Era persecution and I’m feeling well justified in bowing out.

sochi protest

Transience and Self-Pity

Thursday morning started out fairly routine.  I took the kids to daycare, got to work a bit early, made a few photocopies, plotted out a basic plan for the day (one that included extensive use of K’nex gear sets for my grade 4 Science unit).  Everything was moving along just tickety-boo when the supply teacher came in.

“Am I in for you today, Nick?”

“Um, I don’t know.  Are you?”  As I said it, a niggling memory surfaced, a half day that had been booked without my knowledge that I only noticed the week earlier when I was booking a sick day for myself.

“I think I am.”

“Huh.  I guess I’d better find out why.  Back in a sec.”

In the office, my boss was able to dig up that, yes, I was supposed to be booked off this morning, but, no, no one had told me about it, and also that I was supposed to be in Stoney Creek (about 10 minutes away) at a conference centre.  Turns out that when I volunteered to do some Math professional development no one bothered to tell me when or where it was.

A few frantic plans later I was in my car and headed out to learn more about numbers.

Or not.

The first sign that something was amiss was the big sign for the City of Hamilton Food Fundraising workshop up in the entrance.  Math didn’t seem well-represented.  When I did finally find an employee in the otherwise deserted building, he assured me that the school board absolutely was not booked for that morning.

I called the school again and asked our secretary to confirm the location with my principal.

“Uh oh,” she said to me.  “She’s wincing.  You need to be in Ancaster.  She must have read it wrong.”

“Okay.  When does it start?”

“In about four minutes.”

“Awesome.”

So back in the car and back on the road, now headed across the city to a resource centre roughly 800 metres from my house.  There was no way to gracefully enter, as late as I was, so I just picked the quietest looking door, ducked my head, and plowed on in to a PD session in full swing.

Turns out that anonymity was not on my side either.  In a fairly random pull from 100+ schools, I spotted at least seven people I had worked with scattered through the room.  I had time to reflect later on how that did not seem to be the case with anyone else at my table, teachers younger, my age, and older.  I’ve been with the board now for three-and-a-half years, and I’ve been very lucky in that I have had LTO after LTO without so much as a day in between.  My Last two jobs have been full year.  I have always had a decent idea of where I’m going before my current job has ended.  I’m not complaining.

But when I realized how many different schools all those familiar faces represented, I was a bit bummed.  I felt like my morning of moving from place to place was an apt analogy for the current stage of my career, a constant shift from place to place, always with that feeling of not being able to relax at one spot for so much as a moment because it will just be taken away from me.

I had it once (and I know I’ve written and whined about this before, but please indulge me for a moment of self-pity).  I was at my first school for four years, and I naively thought that I would stay much longer than that even.  But some truly appalling things were happening to the staff there, and I couldn’t in good conscience remain once the worst of it had come to light.  It was for the best; the work environment had become pretty toxic and dysfunctional and it looked in no way to be improving.  (I’ve since heard that the management has changed and I hope that those few people that stayed on have things a lot better now.)

So here I am, paying my dues, waiting for the chance to get a permanent teaching job, and I feel like such a lost kid some days that I just want to cry.  I’m so tired of not being able to settle in one place and make friends that I can keep and see year after year.  I’m sick of learning new routines and not seeing my students coming back every fall.  I miss having a home.

I know it will happen eventually.  I know that.  I get it.  But it hasn’t happened yet and I’m sick as hell of waiting.

Wherein the Author Has Random Emotional Breakdowns Regarding a Vinyl Horse

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2014 January 2His name is Trigger.

My Mummu (Finnish for grandmother) made him for me when I was about my daughter’s age.  At one point he had a full mane and a tail made out of yellow yarn.  His skin is some kind of early-80s vinyl material.  His legs are apple juice cans from an era where food cans were roughly five times as thick as they really needed to be.

Apparently I was quite rough with him as a kid (as kids will be with their toys), to the point that Mummu and mother worried that I would break him.  If family lore is to be believed, I responded that Trigger was tough and would never break, no matter what.

I’ve had him for as long as I can remember.  I mean that literally; there isn’t a time in my living memory when he wasn’t somewhere in my house.  Even as a teenager I remember where he was in the basement, although he didn’t serve much of a purpose back then.  He was just Trigger, faithful horse, plain and brown and patiently waiting for someone else to ride him.

Mummu died a few months before I got married.  I was making a model trebuchet for my last teacher’s college placement when my mother called.  It was a sudden, massive heart-attack that killed her, not any of the slower and more painful conditions and diseases that had slowed her down in her last few years.  I still consider that a minor miracle.

She would have loved my girls.

Abby found Trigger in the basement sometime last year.  Now she regularly puts on her red cowboy hat, calls herself Jessie, and hops on his back, hollering, “Giddyup, Trigger!” while Nora looks on in barely concealed jealousy (she’s too little to get on him safely).

I’m usually okay, but every once in a while it makes me cry again.  I love that Trigger has a new owner, and I never worry that my girls will break him, but sometimes all I can think is how much Mummu would have loved to see that old horse in use again, how much she would have fawned over my girls, how happy she would have been.

Giddyup, Trigger.2014 January 3

A Cold Weather Memory, Part 2

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I’m reading Emperor of the North, by James Raffan, the story of Sir George Simpson and the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early-to-mid 1800s.  It is a fascinating book, not just because it chronicles the making of a company that exists to this day, but also because it paints a picture of Canada before it was Canada, a land of sparsely scattered trading posts, First Nations tribes, and seemingly endless wilderness.

Sir George Simpson, one time director of the HBC.  Don't let the sideburns fool you; this man was as hardcore as they come.

Sir George Simpson, one time director of the HBC. Don’t let the sideburns fool you; this man was as hardcore as they come.

And if you’ve ever spent a winter in Winnipeg, you would probably wonder how any lunatic could even contemplate being in Manitoba past September.

George Simpson regularly crossed it in snowshoes and dogsleds, sleeping in canvas tents and eating nothing but pemmican.  And I’ve been outside on Winnipeg winter’s day; it is a cold that defies understanding.  Snot freezes instantly.  You fingers go numb even in mittens.  Your eyes water even when the wind isn’t blowing in them.  It eats up sound, so that earmuffs and hats bring everything down to a mute, frigid stillness.

My mother owned a brown, late-eighties Eagle Vista compact car.  Never heard of it?  That’s because it was one of the worst little crap-boxes ever produced.  It had a 69 hp engine.  I’m fairly sure that some of my daughter’s toys have more powerful motors than that.  In that kind of oil-freezing cold, even the block heater struggled to keep it alive in winter.  It required a 45-minute warmup just to keep from stalling out after first gear.  Most times it wasn’t worth the effort to fire it up, so we ended up walking to wherever we needed to go, particularly when it dropped down to the -40 degree mark.

But not on the day we went back to Bird’s Hill Park.

The name still sends chills down my spine.

In the summer months, we once got completely lost in its depths.  My mother, my brother and I were caught in a steady rain while looking for a cabin that my mother had supposedly found before when following a goat path off a deer path off a side path.  After hours of wandering we eventually found a logging road and were able to track our way back to that ugly brown car, but I still hear the sound of dueling banjos in my head any time I think back to that day.

We should have learned our lesson, but back we went on a frigid winter’s afternoon, ignoring the signs that the park was closed, plowing forward in second gear until a sickening, crunchy thrump told us that we would be staying for quite a while indeed.  My mother had run the car into a dense snowbank.  We were stuck.

She sent us off to play in the nearby hills.  I was about ten at the time.  My brother was about eight.  We could offer little help in freeing the vehicle.  Between gusts of icy wind we could hear all manner of elaborate swear words drifting over from where my mother was, in vain, shoving and kicking at the ugly brown car with its insufficient ground clearance.

My brother and I dug into the hills to make snowforts, perhaps contemplating our chances of surviving in them overnight.  In one drift I pulled out what I thought was a piece of wood.  It was, in fact, a mouse, frozen solid.  I showed it to my brother.  We both had the same thought.

“We’re going to die out here.  Just like this mouse.”

A Cold Weather Memory, Part 1

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As children of relatively mobile divorced parents, my brother and I did a lot of ping-ponging across North America.  We flew as “unaccompanied minors” a few times a year; the two of us would be handed from unlucky airline employee to unlucky airline employee so that we would (hopefully) end up on the right airplane headed in the right direction.  If we were lucky, some parent or another would be at the other end to get us.

The city itself is exactly as exciting as this map.

The city itself is exactly as exciting as this map.

One of those destinations was Winnipeg, a featureless, desolate “city” set in the middle of a vast and agonizingly dull prairie, split by a river that completely flooded the boardwalk every year (begging the question: why not build the boardwalk further up the bank?).

For a few years, we went to visit my mother and her boyfriend in the nearby town of Lorette.  The summers in particular were interesting: her boyfriend owned a pair of horses and a large stretch of land.  It was also, I’m convinced, the place where God keeps his stockpile of plague insects ready for the end times.  I distinctly remember wading through waist-high grass in the fields while literally thousands of grasshoppers leapt around, over, and upon us.  They were as big as my thumb, brown, gray, and green, and frighteningly loud for such small animals.

When the sun set, the mosquitoes would arrive.  My brother and I slept outside in a tent once, and I will never forget the moment that the dusk fell and our screen was covered almost instantly by a mass of enormous black bloodsuckers.  We huddled in our sleeping bags in terror until the sun rose and they disappeared in small puffs of smoke and sulfur.

(There was also an incident involving crop circles in the horse pasture, but I’ll save that for a later post.)

Next:  Winters in Winnipeg

An Update in Three Parts

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Part 1:  Children

My children are ridiculous.

I mean that in the loving way that parents mean most backhanded things that they say about their children.  They are goofs in the best possible way.

1240361_10151833489747921_1907332558_nMy oldest sings and dances constantly, to the point that she inspired other people to sing while on a horse-drawn wagon ride to Christmastown.  She loves pigtails and princesses and tickle fights, and she wants to build a house that will be half pink and half purple for us to live in.  She insists that she will need a large tool bag filled with many tools in order to build it.

My youngest finds all of this to be side-splittingly hilarious.  She spends most of her day following her sister around and laughing at her.

It is beautiful.

Part 2:  Physical Well-Being

I wish – I so wish – that I had discovered Starting Strength ten years ago.  I’ve always been on the lean side of skinny.  I have the bone structure of a ten-year-old girl.  I build muscle at roughly half the rate of the Middle East peace talks.  I’m 6’ 1.5”, but for most of my adult life I weighed exactly 147 pounds, regardless of how much I ate (and I can eat a lot).  When I tried a popular Men’s Health lifting program five years ago, I was able to drag my bodyweight up to 156 pounds after over a year or work, but it then refused to budge so much as an ounce.

Part of the problem is the vast range of ineffective systems available, both online and in bookstores and in magazines.  It’s all crap.  It really is.  It’s just a bunch of 15-minute lies and muscle-isolating tricks.  Dedicated abdominal machines, useless arm curl variations, and calf raises.  Garbage.

starting-strength_1There is a reason why Starting Strength is still in print after twenty years.  In six months it moved my weight up from 156 pounds to 174, with no increase in body fat.  It’s added hundreds of pounds to my big three lifts, particularly my deadlift (I just set a PR of 355 pounds last night, as my aching posterior chain and traps can attest).  I feel and look far stronger than I did a year ago, and I was able to do all of it in my garage with nothing fancier than a bench, a barbell set, a squat rack, and a chinup bar.

I’ve recently started to play around with another highly recommended book, The New Rules of Lifting, a book that follows many of the same basic principles, but Starting Strength remains my main source of guidance for lifting and gaining.

Part 3:  School

For all of the success I have had in strength training, an equal level of failure has occurred in my higher education.  After a year of false starts, changed topics, and an absolute inability to get focused have led me to dump this last and most prestigious aspect of my masters.

I really thought that I could do it.  I thought I was good enough at this stuff.  I was wrong.  I hit my academic ceiling.  And really, the reasons why I wanted to have a completed thesis no longer make sense.  I figured it was going to be the step to my doctorate, but with two young children and a marriage to maintain I don’t know how I ever planned on doing that.  Maybe it will be a retirement project, if it ever happens.

So, I’m back to taking courses.  I should have the remaining ones done within a year, ending a rather twisting, convoluted path to my third degree.

Yet Again, Back in the Day

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Do you remember when your choice in music could make or break your social standing?

I do.

ImageIt seems very, very silly in retrospect, but I distinctly remember that time in my life.  I would bring my Sony Discman to school so I could listen to Tori Amos in the library (cool, I know), but I would play it at the lowest possible volume so that there was absolutely no chance that anyone could hear “Cornflake Girl” trickle out.  I was already at the very bottom of the social ladder, so any perceived individuality would… would…

Would what, exactly?

What the hell was the big deal?  Why couldn’t I like something that wasn’t on the Billboard Top 100 and just talk about it?  What made me think that someone had the right to judge me for not listening to the same tightly proscribed genre of music as they did?  Cripes, you could have drawn political borders around the cliques in my school and their allowable songlists; the social groups to which I barely belonged were strictly alt rock and Christian alternative, and deviation was not tolerated.

I was just thinking about this and I got seriously angry. 

All the more so because I know people who still act like this.  People that pride themselves on having playlists populated entirely by bands that no one has ever heard of.  They equate anything popular with low quality, and sneer at those that deign to be part of the masses.  Across the battle-lines stand people who just as obnoxiously only listen to Virgin Radio and shun anyone that hasn’t attended a Rihanna concert.

And these are grownups. 

I play my personal selection of music more proudly these days, but I still have to fight that feeling of self-consciousness, that leftover damage from Grade 7 when I was first cut down for not liking Nirvana enough.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”  Kurt Cobain