Olympics are All About the Games

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Olympics are All About the GamesThere have been a lot of concerns about the Summer games since they were awarded to Rio six years ago. But as I have seen in previous Olympic games, any issues about human rights, the environment, and the economy are put on the back burner once the cauldron is lit.

Penny Oleksiak made people forget about those concerns when the swimmer claimed Canada’s first medal at the Games. Then later won gold and finished with 4 medals. Andre De Grasse collected three medals at the Olympics: a bronze in 100 metres, silver in 200 metres, and anchored Canada to a bronze in the 4 by 100 metre men’s relay.

De Grasse’s success at his first Olympics were perhaps a surprise to no one. He won two gold medals at the recent Pan American Games in Toronto and was looking to make his mark in Rio. It was a tough task for the newest member of the Scarborough World Order to unseat Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. But De Grasse held his own proving he will be a force in future world track competitions.

On the other side, there is 16-year-old Toronto native Oleksiak. She was also a newcomer to the Olympics but, unlike De Grasse, she was not a household name, until now. Oleksiak’s performance in 4 swimming events earned her praise. Even rapper Drake chimed in to congratulate Oleksiak.

In total, Canada came home with 22 medals including 4 gold, placing 10th overall in the medal standings. Not all athletes ended up getting medals but nevertheless we were proud of their achievements. One in particular, Evan Dunfee, showed Canadians what we are made off after coming in 4th place in race walking, a decision that was appealed and later denied. He thought the Japanese runner (or should it be walker?) pushed him aside to pass him. And he did. But Dunfee to his credit handled the situation and the final result well.

Slowly but surely the focus of the Rio Olympics shifted from the social problems to the athletic performance. Not even American swimmer Ryan Lochte’s fishing story about an alleged armed robbery could spoil the spectacle and brilliance of the games. Do you remember the time the state-sponsored Russian doping scandal made headlines weeks before the start of the Rio Olympics? Or how about the Zika virus posing a threat to the games? Neither did I.

The games are what it is supposed to be: an arena to display great athleticism and sportsmanship. The best athletes in the world going head-to-head. And, for the most part, we saw that over the last two weeks.

Also see:

Canada has the Best Athletes… Period
Sports is Not a Platform for Activism
Lessons From the World Juniors

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Remembering a Sports Broadcasting Legend (and a Political One, Too)

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Remembering John Saunders

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the passing of sports broadcaster John Saunders. The Toronto native died last Wednesday at the age of 61. News of Saunders’ death sent shockwaves across the continent. No one saw it coming. There has been a number of reports as to what led to his death. I’m not going to go into that area. What I will say is Saunders was one of the reasons I wanted to be a TV sports guy growing up.

I first saw Saunders on TV when he was at City TV in Toronto in 1982. Saunders parlayed that into a career at ESPN that spanned 3 decades. He was also the first play-by-play voice of the Toronto Raptors when the franchise came into the NBA in 1995. Saunders’ work extended outside broadcasting having been a director on the board of the Jimmy V Foundation, a charity named in honour of the late college basketball coach Jim Valvano. He became one of the better sports media personalities at ESPN but he also never forgotten his roots in Canada.

Saunders was well-respected in the sports and broadcasting industry both in Canada and the United States. It is pretty easy to see. I remember during the Raptors’ playoff series versus the Cavaliers earlier this year, Stephen A. Smith went on his First Take show, one day after the Raptors tied the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2, and mentioned to his co-host Skip Bayless that Saunders texted him after the game and told him “you apologize to Canadians everywhere.” It was amazing to hear current and former colleagues from Smith to Gord Martineau speak highly of Saunders both as a media personality and as a husband, father, brother, and friend.

Saunders will be missed by sports fans on both sides of the border. His professionalism will be hard to replace. Thank you for making us proud, John. RIP (1955-2016).

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Mclaughlin,_JohnI would also like to offer condolences to the family of Dr. John McLaughlin. Richard Nixon’s former speech writer passed away on Tuesday at the age of 89. McLaughlin started a TV show in 1982 that became a staple of hot political discussion and commentary. I started watching the McLaughlin Group in 1994. Occasionally, the panel would discuss sports topics like Derek Jeter’s controversial home run in the 1996 American League Championship Series where a kid named Jeffrey Maier leaned over the fence in right field at Yankee Stadium and caught the ball right over the head of Orioles’ outfielder Tony Tarasco. The McLaughlin Group was often imitated but will never be duplicated. RIP Dr. McLaughlin (1927-2016). Bye-bye.

Also see:

In Ron We Trust
Nobody is Watching Sports Channels
Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?

Junior and A-Rod: A Contrast in Careers

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Griffey A-Rod A Contrast in Careers

This week, the Seattle Mariners retired the number 24 worn by their star outfielder and newly-minted Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees held a news conference to announce the retirement of Alex Rodriguez. Both were former first overall picks, both were all-stars, both were impact players. However, that is where the similarities end.

Griffey didn’t get to play a game in the World Series let alone win a championship. But his heart and passion for baseball was enough to get him a spot in Cooperstown. Despite the injuries he was able to deliver clutch home runs and make outstanding plays in the outfield. Junior, as he was often referred to in his early playing days, was Superman well before the arrival of Kevin Pillar. Most importantly, he played it the right way.

Griffey was never controversial, always took the high road, and didn’t make excuses. There would be those who point to his trade out of Seattle to the Cincinnati Reds, a team where his father, Ken Griffey, Sr., was a star, as where the younger Griffey began his decline. Frankly, Griffey wasn’t surrounded with the same the level of talent that he had in Seattle. There was no Randy Johnson, or an Edgar Martinez, or an Alex Rodriguez in Cincinnati. The Reds were a team that went from being a contender to a pretender by the time Griffey arrived.

Griffey may have had some issues off the field but I would bet it was nothing compared to that of his former teammate in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, as he was known throughout his playing career, also put great numbers and he was able to be part of the Yankees’ World Series championship run in 2009. Rodriguez didn’t become a controversial figure until he signed with the Texas Rangers after the 2000 season. But unlike the bombastic Barry Bonds who got on anyone who dared to question him, Rodriguez wasn’t very outspoken and kept his emotions to himself. It wasn’t until he got to New York and began playing for the Yankees in 2004 that he really began to push back at his critics.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the allegations of his involvement in a Miami clinic that distributed performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez was never caught, but every investigation traced the trail back to Rodriguez. Normally, one would see A-Rod as someone who cheated by taking PEDs. But Rodriguez, like disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, was the ring leader, one who purposefully gave the orders and controlled what was going on even to the point where he demanded others take the fall in order to keep him out of the spotlight. And like Armstrong, Rodriguez was not able to sweep away the mounting evidence against him. That to me is more damning than any athlete getting caught with a positive drug test.

There is more to being a great athlete than just being free of drugs. Attitude also plays a part. Griffey was a professional throughout his playing career and he never took his position as the face of the game for granted. Rodriguez, in his battles with Major League Baseball and the media, went from a potential Hall of Famer to a man who is now a shell of himself. Two players with outstanding baseball careers. However, only one ended on a happy note.

Also see:

The Blue Jays Should Get A-Rod
Is it Always Good to Go Out on Top?
How to Determine Who’s MVP Worthy