Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blog blast past: The politics of the Lou Marsh Trophy

Sidney Crosby today won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete of 2009. It is a small step forward the self-proclaimed "diversified group of sportswriters and broadcasters" who always assure us their discussions were "long, detailed and passionate" but resist being transparent at least considered Canadian athletes such as UFC welterweight champion George St-Pierre, who was not even considered in 2008. That means we are getting somewhere, as you'll recall from last year:
By George, if you give a Whit , it's not as simple as Simon (Dec. 9, 2008)

... 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 Oshiomogho (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 nd O.J. are SOL. Ew, soccer, ew, blood and ew, hard-to-say-and-spell foreign name.

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 would be 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. 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.

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


Fringe Sport Supporter said...

No love for Colin Doyle or the all? The guy, playing Canada's national summer sport, lead the National Lacrosse League in scoring and all lead his summer team to the Mann Cup. I don't understand why several lacrosse players, who have demonstrated repeatedly to be the best in the world never get nominated. Lacrosse is so overlooked it isn't even funny. Josh Sanderson also set a professional record with 74 assists with Calgary while leading them to a championship, but I guess one of our national sports is irrelevant.

I don't think De Guzman did enough to get nominated this year. Mike Klukowski would be a great choice. He is playing a feature role for a Europa league team and has been a force for Canada in the past year. He deserved strong consideration for this award. Soccer players need some love too. I think Dwanye De Rosario, Will Johnson, Atiba Hutchinson and several others would have worked.

This is flawed.

sager said...

The point was not about who should have won, the point was that some athletes and sports are not given full and proper consideration. Lacrosse would fit right in there.

That part you have right.

As for specific people ... I don't have the heart to tell you, this was just referring people back to an older post which highlighted some of the flaws with the award.

The "blog blast past" label and date, Dec. 9, 2008, should have made it clear we were using some of last year's candidates to explore the politics of the Lou Marsh.

Like you say, they don't consider soccer or lax. It is a step forward GSP was a finalist when he was completely ignored last year.

As for who wins, I could care less, I'm not a middle-aged sportswriter.

Fringe Sport Supporter said...

Sorry Neate, I obviously overlooked some things, including the date.

It frustrates me that in this country all sports can't get an equal billing. I love hockey, but sometimes there is a huge bias toward the sport amongst media, particularly when there are other athletes from this country competing in equally challenging sports.

tezLA said...

Politics often a playground for giant corporates....
But very rarely it hold it's purity
Hey I'm talking about Social Democratic Party of India

tezLA said...

Politics often a playground for giant corporates....
But very rarely it hold it's purity
Hey I'm talking about Social Democratic Party of India

Anonymous said...

@ Fringe Sport Supporter

As I was reading the post, I was thinking of another two lacrosse players: Cody Jamieson and Uncle John Tavares.

Jamieson scores in OT to win the NCAA Div I title for Syracuse, then as a rookie leads the MLS in scoring (don't think that ever happened before). I believe Tavares became the all-time leading scorer in both the NLL and Canadian SR A last year.

I hadn't thought of Doyle and Sanderson, but both are great candidates, too.

I've become resigned to the fact that unless a lacrosse player wins every championship going, cures the common cold, and fixes every pothole in Canada, there's not a chance he/she would get any consideration for the Lou Marsh. (See the year John Grant Jr had in 2007, and he couldn't get arrested at TorStar...)

Fringe Sport Supporter said...

Agreed on Jamieson. He is outstanding and should be up for this award several times. Tavares, Doyle, Sanderson a few others would be great choices.

I really hope with Doyle back in Toronto he can generate some attention for himself and make some noise for this award, especially if the Excelsiors and Nationals continue their excellence in the summer.

Jason Cormier said...

Fringe Sport Supporter, I don't think hockey is the villain in this story. Only three of the past 20 winners were hockey players. When you consider the dominance of the sport in terms of both media exposure and money, that is actually a surprisingly low number,