Tuesday, December 09, 2008

By George, if you give a Whit , it's not as simple as Simon

... but it's something to mull over while Wotherspooning out some cereal and pouring a glass of O.J. ... oh, why don't you Buttle out!

Chances are you screamed yourself hoarse cheering on Simon Whitfield in the Olympic men's triathlon.

You might not even able to say what O.J. Atogwe does, since the possible Pro Bowl safety plays for the dismal St. Louis Rams. How about Julián de Guzmán -- do you mean the architect? George St-Pierre, to some people, doesn't count as an athlete, although the ticket sales for his fight in Montreal would say otherwise.

This is really about the politics -- one hates to use that word, given how it's been devalued in Canada over the past couple weeks -- of the Lou Marsh Trophy and Lionel Conacher Awards, the country's top athletic honour now that the Leafs can no longer give Mats Sundin a new set of wingers every second week. The Toronto Star rolled out its Lou Marsh nominees last week (men and women can win it. The Canadian Press separates the Conacher and Bobbie Rosenfeld honours).

Atogwe, of Windsor, Ontario, wasn't included on an expansive list that included a guy who rides a horse (Eric Lamaze), an actual horse, a couple of curlers and myriad silver and bronze medallists from the Beijing Olympics. Atogwe, who might be an All-Pro for the way he plays safety, was playing left out on this list. St. Pierre, the UFC welterweight champ, was conspicuously absent. So was Jason Bay, who had the best season of any Canadian ballplayer.

There is a lot of apathy, judging by how many matches for "Lou Marsh" and "Lionel Conacher" came up in a Google search last night. The lack of interest leads to lazy thinking, which come to think of it, has some application to the gong show on Parliament Hill.

As an illustration, over in England where they speak really good European, The Guardian last weekend took the starch out of the BBC Sport Personality of The Year award, which actually is a big deal to the Brits. Trouble is, the criteria of the award is murky beyond belief. Sub in "puck" for "football" -- or sub in "baseball" or just picture more than one kind of football -- and you pretty much have the problem with the Canadian awards.
"According to the 40 sports editors from around the country who drew up the short list ... we are asked not only to compare swimming and boxing, tennis and motor racing, but we are to ignore their sex.

"Consequently, the archive of winners reads like something out of the Eagle Book of Sports, compromises at every turn, all squeaky clean and harmless and jolly fine, rarely a football in the frame, but a river of swimmers and tennis players and athletes, championed by the arch sick-making choice of them all, Princess Anne on a horse, ahead of George Best and Barry John in 1971."
(In Canada, analogues would be harness racing driver Hervé Filion over Cy Young Award winner Fergie Jenkins in 1971. Jacques Villeneuve over Larry Walker in 1997. Mike Weir over Eric Gagné in '03. Cindy Klassen over repeat NBA MVP Steve Nash in 2006.)
"... It is as if the judges are struck annually by some sort of be-nice bug: let's pretend, just for one day, that there is no difference between these sports and these men and women. Let's carry on comparing apples and pears.

"... This not meant to diss the deeds of the finalists. The thing is, though, any one of them deserves to win. They have all performed brilliantly in the same 12 months but are expect to accept that their heroics, the pinnacle of each of their careers in most cases, will not be good enough to win the acclaim of the public because of this truly daft system, sporting Oscars with not enough envelopes. We and they deserve better."
It's not that much different in Canada, except in our case it's not open to public balloting. Every year, the ballot has to be balanced, with the right mix of millionaire pros and amateurs, females and males, individual and team-sport athletes, as well it should. Diversity is important. The problem is that there's maybe not enough diversity among the selectors -- and this is a problem.

The bias comes in with the idea that the winner must stand for something beyond her/his sport, representing the way we would like to see ourselves. We want to see us, staring right back at us in the person of Klassen, Nash Sidney Crosby or Mike Weir. It's supposed to be about more than who's just the most talented person, or who had the best year.

The Canadian media has been slow to adapt to the changing face of Canada or its changing sporting tastes, present company included. These type of awards often come down to what you did when people were somewhat paying attention.

That means JDG, GSP and O.J. are SOL.

De Guzmán, whom our soccer guys can speak more about with more authority, has conquered terra incognita for a Canadian, playing in one of the world's best domestic leagues with Deportivo de La Coruña of Spain. He received 45% support in a Star poll, but that's hardly scientific and hardly indicative of what support he'd get in a nationwide poll. He was Deportivo's MVP this season, but Canada's failed World Cup qualifying run hurt his chances.

St. Pierre? This is coming from someone who has no interest in MMA (but believes it's high time Ontario licensed it), but he's important. He is the No. 1 welterweight in his sport and an icon in Quebec. He upstaged the Montreal Canadiens in the middle of a Stanley Cup playoff series against the rival Boston Bruins. At the end of the day, though, it's doubtful most journalists have open to voting for a MMA fighter when they can make the safe choice and vote for Simon Whitfield.

Any consideration of Atogwe is academic this time around. However, it seems like he doesn't get much notice in Canada -- although it might be as simple as the fact he's from Windsor, which is more part of Michigan than Ontario. He also plays defence in a league that builds its marketing around offensive stars. Only NFL nuts or people from the vicinity of his hometown, Windsor -- which culturally and geographically, is more aligned with Michigan than Ontario -- are really aware of what he's all about.

As it stands, there are good picks. Eric Lamaze winning would be a joke, but hey, it's an Olympic year and some people think they've got to vote for an Olympian. Whitfield also has the Beijing bounce, although going by the unscientific Torstar poll, it didn't help Carol Huynh . Tennis' Daniel Nestor probably has a shot.

Who knows who should be the female and male athletes of the year, the team of the year and the Lou Marsh honouree. Feel free to have at it in comments.

What is known is that is odd how some athletes from some sports aren't in the discussion.

A horse as Canada's top athlete?; Fans of Somebeachsomewhere push for pacer to win Lou Marsh (Halifax Herald)
Sue and Gary the only equals in the blandest show on earth; BBC Sports Personality of the Year is lazy smug broadcasting of the worst kind (Kevin Mitchell, Sportblog)


Duane Rollins said...

Had Canada not crapped the bed in WCQ I would be beating the drum for De Guzmán harder. He is likely playing at the highest level of soccer in the world (sorry EPL guys) and is excelling at it. To be honoured as the top player on a La Liga team is something that, five or so years ago, Canadian fans wouldn't have even bothered dreaming about because it would have been just too ludicrous.

What's really telling is the horsey people managed to get a pacer nominated -- it isn't even a Thoroughbred! -- but De Guzmán remains out of sight. The CSA obviouslly didn't promote him at all since it wouldn't take much to demonstrate that he was more capable than a damn horse.

And Lamaze might actually win -- double Olympic medalist with gold... The Lou Marsh people eat that up.

St. Pierre is an interesting choice that I'm coming more and more around to (even though I, like Neate, am not a big MMA guy at all).

Duane Rollins said...

My error. De Guzmán is on the short list. He doesn't stand a chance, but at least a horse didn't outmaneuver the CSA.

Sack me.

Duane Rollins said...

I have a post up at The 24th Minute detailing JDG's case a bit more

Anonymous said...

Try searching Lionel Conacher without the quotation marks:

Tons of stuff.

Greatest athlete (Canadian or otherwise) ever.

It's a load that the Lou Marsh committee continues to overlook lacrosse in this country. Last year, John Grant Jr should've won it, and he didn't even make the list. This year, John Tavares (the uncle) broke enough records that he should've at least been on the list.

Google those two guys if you have a minute.

Nick said...

Tavares would be a good choice (the one that actually plays with the best players in the world right now), but if I was going to pick a lacrosse player this year I'd go with Colin Doyle-the former Rock sniper helped completely turn around a San Jose team into a true title threat. He made Nepean native Jeff Zywicki into a 50 goal threat, controlled the pace offensively, and he steered San Jose into the playoffs.

The reason I'd pick him over Tavares is because he was also one of, if not, the main reason why Brampton took away Peterborough's Mann Cup stranglehold last year. Tavares did well with with St. Regis, but with Iannucci out for the duration of the year, didn't have enough to carry the Indians to the final. I know he won the NLL Championship, but I believe several hard fought 7 games series are harder to win than 3 NLL playoff games with a week in between them. Again, this isn't to take anything away from Johnny T, but I think Doyle was the best Canadian lacrosse player this year. This is also in addition to the fine work he did for the Rochester Rattlers of the Major League Lacrosse field league, a team he helped win yet another championship.

Having said that, I hope De Guzman wins this.