Does writing about the Leafs have to make you toxic?
The Leafs have the biggest fan base in Canada, the highest profits, and more reporters covering them than most American teams combined. When I look at the coverage that fans of teams like Phoenix and Nashville have to deal with, I think we should be lucky to have such a variety of voices covering our team.
And yet, we spend more time being frustrated with the Toronto sports media than we do being pleased with their coverage. Questions go unanswered, articles blaming the fans for the Leafs’ troubles are written, and competent, even talented writers stoop to the lowest common denominator for subjects.
Why does this happen? Is there something intrinsically tied up with writing about the Leafs that leads one down this path? Most writers we enjoy reading are relatively new to the job – Bruce Arthur has been writing at the National Post since 2001 and James Mirtle at the Globe and Mail for only the past year. The older ones don’t exclusively cover the Leafs - I think of Eric Duhatschek and Pierre Le Brun. Of course, it seems that the most toxic of Leaf writers are the editorialists. Since covering practices and reporting on game results doesn’t require much in the way of commentary, it would be surprising if one of the reporters who follows the Leafs around started putting down the team and/or its fans. But what is it about the Leafs that makes boundless negativity irresistible?
The most obvious place to look would be the 42 years without winning the Stanley Cup. If that is the reason, you would think that those who cover the Kings, St Louis Blues, as well as the Vancouver Canucks and the Buffalo Sabres - teams who have never won the cup and thus have “droughts” either equal to or pretty close to the length of the Leafs - would develop the same problem.
Tom Hoffarth who writes for the LA Daily News has the reputation of being negative. Hoffarth began blogging about the Kings when Rich Hammond was hired by the LA Kings to be an in-house blogger. The thing is, I can hardly find any stories by him about the Kings. What I have found seems less toxic and more just disinterested. It’s a pity that he chooses to write about the Kings so little, and that when he does he focuses on the negative. A hockey market that has the potential to be one of the biggest and most successful certainly deserves better.
The St. Louis Blues fans seem to suffer from a lack of hockey-specific media. When I popped in at St. Louis Game Time to ask for some input on this article, I got one name and a little insight into their own media frustrations. The one name was that of Dan O’Neill, who writes for the Post Dispatch. From what I read of his work, they certainly have reason to complain. The writing is rather poor. Much like the Kings, however, this just seems like poor coverage all together rather than balefulness.
Bucky Gleason writes about the Sabres for the Buffalo News. A couple of his less-than-favourable articles can be found here and here (thanks to Zach from Die By the Blade for sending these to me.) The first one looks pretty bad to me - now, I’m not a big fan of Darcy Regier, but it seems to me that Gleason’s article overlooks two critical facts - improving the team from within, as the Sabres have shown they are willing to do, as well as the limits of an ownership-imposed budget. The second article is all about that budget, but does little more than rip management rather than provide any additional information on the Tim Kennedy buy-out. You can do a search on the Buffalo News site for his other articles, where it becomes apparent that there is definitely something interesting going on with Gleason’s coverage. Whether it is a bone to pick with Sabres’ management or something deeper, however, it’s hard to tell, since Regier and Ruff have been running that show for so long.
As far as the Canucks go, I had a number of names suggested. Ian MacIntyre, Tony Gallagher, and Ed Willes, with Ed Willes getting the strongest reaction from the fans over on Nucks Misconduct. I’d say they’re right on about who is the worst - check out this article where Willes tries to compare Nonis with Gillis based upon a series of very weak assumptions. The most amusing thing about Willes is that his profile on the Vancouver Province website informs us that he never even finished his journalism degree. Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it? For all the Willes articles I read - and I’ve read more of his than anyone else on this comparison list - I just couldn’t quite put him at the same level of the Bergers and Simmons of this world. Willes seems to have some sort of personal issue with Canucks management which colours his articles, which is apparent when you read a number of them. That’s pretty crappy coverage of a team that has some intense fan interest to feed.
There’s some pretty bad stuff being produced by media who cover teams other than the Leafs, that much is clear. As far as I can tell, however, there isn’t anything that reaches the level of toxicity we endure. I mean, for you people who regularly skip reading Howard Berger (as I now do, after learning my lesson) or are simply unaware of his derogatory nature, here’s a fine post for you to chew on, in which he states:
And, the fans at the ACC — you sheep; you goats; you clapping seals… instead of booing the officials for such ineptitude, you dance around as if your team deserved the goal and the win. It’s amazing you nitwits can live with yourselves.
If there are any fans of other teams kicking around, can you top that? Damien Cox is rather annoying, but he’s a known contrarian who can, at times, actually provide an insightful piece - which makes his shots at Leaf fans all the more disappointing. I would say the same for Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun as well, although I know there are those who would disagree with me. I used to find at least some of what he wrote informative and interesting. The now defunct CoxBloc did a wonderful job of breaking down the terrible articles by this trio of Leafs writers.
It’s not just the in-print media either. I haven’t listened to any Toronto sports radio in years because of the outrageous claims they make. Bill Watters and Greg Brady are two of the worst offenders there. Watters I may put in a different category because he is a former MLSE employee and may be bitter because of the circumstances around the termination of his employment. But Greg Brady is just unbelievable. I’ve written about my encounter with him previously on PPP - I completely ignore him now. But I still hear from fellow fans about the totally off-base criticisms he makes on his twitter account as well as on the radio.
Perhaps you can think of examples of media members who cover other teams who have performed as atrociously as the Leafs’ have, and if you do please feel free to throw some links into the comments. I can’t find anything that compares. Why does it happen, though? Honestly, I think it’s a case of laziness. The demand for coverage of the Leafs is so high that there’s pressure to just write anything about them as often as possible, it becomes easier to pump out this sort of insulting trash than to write pieces that are relevant. I think this pressure can also apply to bloggers and if we don’t check ourselves, we could also head down the same path. This is especially so as we face what looks like another season of futility and a lack of any positive progress towards the playoffs. Covering the Leafs the past few seasons, there is hardly much left to discuss, leading to criticisms of both the coach and the GM which may be fair but also may become ideas that we are tied to for no other reason aside from they provide answers that we don’t have.
We have to be willing to re-evaluate our position if there is no solid proof to support our opinion. Becoming fixated upon one point, no matter how valid that point may be at any moment in time, becomes an exercise in futility. We can harp on and on about the same thought but it would be more productive to look for new information which could shed light on the situation. As bloggers we are limited in this regard - we do not have access to the managers, coaches or players to have our questions answered. And for the media, there are certain questions that would never be answered because of undermining organizational authority. On the occasion that something comes up that disproves our conclusion, we need to readily admit it.