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TUC Top 10 - No. 1: Behind the 8-ball

Monday, August 09, 2010

When the cops were talking, and his teammates were melting down on golf courses about the issue to my best sources [a much-belated ironic hint - his number contained a '6'], I knew it was time to tackle the story as best I could. This was a difficult time for me - information was flying thick and fast, and I even had the location given to me where this supposed nonsense was going down. In the end, it wasn't about Ray - it was people allegedly associated with him. People wanted the full tale, but no one was willing to protect me. And so, I decided to stick my neck out only this far. For what it's worth, I was the first to do so, and the only one who dared to even step up to the plate at this time.

Truth or consequences (originally posted January 29, 2008)

When everybody above is ready to bout you about controversial values
Don't you think you better re-address the level of the cowardice rising to drown you?
Did you ever connect - or come to reject - or even inspect
The dreams that hound you?

When the prodigal son with a caroming shadow of hate comes to land at home
Well he's a mourning star with a champagne heart at his curtain call
And father never understood the way the work gets done
Don't look at me, no I ain't one, no prodigal son

-- Prodigal Son (BR)

Some paraphrased public thoughts from various local media on the topic of Ray Emery (no names will be used because I don't have the direct quotes and don't wish to be on the receiving end of bitchy, fusspot e-mails):

* One made reference to the idea that Emery may be involved in off-ice issues similar to those that said media personality experienced when he was dealing with drugs;

* One claimed that Ottawa is too small and if inappropriate actions were truly occurring, someone would have uncovered it and written about it already;

* Another stated that the only information he had came from what was printed or said in the media, basically insinuating that he had no inside sources to speak of.


Finally, here's a quote:

"(Ray Emery) is (expletive) out of control. I guarantee that whatever you've heard about him...95% of it is true." -- An anonymous source from inside the dressing room.

(There was more -- much more -- but it can't be posted here without repercussions of some sort. I will say that it provided incredible insight in regards to team and front office cohesiveness, and Ray's own mindset as perceived by his teammates -- again, according to this one person.)

Watching (and listening) to this psychological petri dish fester over the past 36 hours has been amusing, frustrating and somewhat surprising. For those of us who have been sitting on material -- for lack of a better phrase -- for nearly a season and a half, watching cracks finally begin to appear in the facade is somewhat of a relief.

Granted, Ray's latest truancy (on the surface) had nothing to do with The Pink Elephant sitting in the room that no one would (or could) discuss openly. But given his history of difficulties and general problematic behaviour, this latest incident, which could serve as the straw that broke the camel's back, has given many in the media carte blanche to begin dancing ever so carefully around the subject. (Aside: This alone is an experience in itself. It's exceedingly ridiculous for some of us to sit by and watch other media members pretend as if nothing is going on -- as demonstrated by some of the comments above. No one's saying you have to jump on the bomb and attempt an exposé, but if you're pulling any "Ray's just being Ray" nonsense, you need to check yourself and remain silent. There's nothing worse than any media's feeble attempt to play dumb.)

But believe me, this isn't a topic that could normally be broached with any semblance of truth or ferocity, unless you possessed a gifted photographer and an attorney on a choke chain (a fact that I have personally been warned about from friends and colleagues alike).

The thing is, the Senators now realize that they're buggered six ways from Sunday. Everyone knows about Ray Emery -- both in the city, and within the NHL. It was fine for the team to look the other way when he was winning. Now they're aware of his off-ice issues and the fact that he's not the real deal. However, they have signed him to a three-year deal that was largely predicated on one season (where both he and the team itself were able to synergize at the right time), when all signs and internal team issues pointed towards exploring alternative options. Fans and media alike must've seen this coming. A five minute conversation with anyone in AHL circles will provide you with all the required turbulent history between Paddock and Emery, going back to their days in Binghamton.

Yes, he was a troubled case. But it's impossible not to assume that the uh...issue...exacerbated the problem ten-fold.

Mark my words: As long as the Senators keep Emery in the fold, someone WILL write this story eventually (with photographic evidence and the legal protection required), and the aftermath that follows will undoubtedly be devastating for the entire franchise. If he stays, it won't be much longer before we see it. How can you assume otherwise when we're already experiencing a willingness by some to wade into potentially libelous waters?

More later.

TUC Top 10 - No. 2: TUC vs. the NHL

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Looking back, this whole incident is cringe-inducing for yours truly. To flesh out the tale even further: The Sun's union (SONG Local 87-M) had been without a CBA for some time, and was on the verge of a strike...right in the middle of a Cup final featuring the Ottawa Senators. Seeing as I wasn't unionized, there was no reason why I couldn't be included on the accreditation list if they walked (not assumption on my part - this is what I was told). Negotiations dragged on, and I was left hanging, hence this somewhat brazen stunt. After three years of freelancing, I ended up with an ulcer. I regard this incident as one of the many catalysts.

The NHL: They're just not that into you (originally posted May 28, 2007)

[Ed. Note: The following is an extremely long post. Consider yourself warned.]

By "you", I actually mean "me". Who am I? Other than the writer of this blog, I'm a sports columnist with a major Canadian daily in the Nation's Capital. At 28 years old, I'm the youngest sportswriter in Ottawa-Gatineau. I'm female. But most importantly (at least in respect to this post), I'm a person who legitimately cares about hockey and its relevance -- however debatable -- as a major league sport.

Unfortunately, none of this currently means a lick to the National Hockey League, because it's become blatantly obvious they would rather take a frozen puck to the uvula than grant me accreditation to the Stanley Cup Finals. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why.

Here's a synopsis of last week's events: I was told by my editor at Sun Media that accreditations for the Finals would be extremely hard to come by (hardly a surprising revelation). Traditionally, accreditation request forms have a set number of spots. Sun Media had already accounted for all spots in Anaheim and Ottawa -- which I was fully expecting. After all, they had to tend to their employees first, whereas I am a contracted writer.

At the encouragement of others and after informing my editor I was planning to do so, I approached the NHL on my own behalf to see if anything could be accomplished, even if it was only to obtain a practice pass. I sent e-mails to practically every major media relations member. I called the league offices in New York and Toronto. Every one of my calls and missives went unanswered.

Again, I knew the chances were slim, particularly with Game 1 creeping up on the 28th, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Meanwhile on Friday, William Houston of The Globe And Mail published this piece, detailing the lack of accreditation requests from both U.S. and Canadian outlets. Here are some clips:

When the Stanley Cup final starts Monday in Anaheim, most of the leading newspapers in the United States will be busy doing something else.

They certainly won't be sending reporters to Canada to cover the games in Ottawa, where connections are difficult and fares expensive.

"It's Disneyland against Parliament," one U.S. sportswriter said about the Senators-Ducks series. "Not only is it impossible to get directly from one place to another, but it takes a great deal of time and money.

"If I'm a sports editor, I say forget about it. I can spend my money on something better.

That mirrors the view of Newsday sports editor Hank Winnicki, who says the New York Yankees and Mets take priority at this time of year. "There's so much going on in New York that we have to throw everything we have at the big story," he said.

In addition to Newsday, newspapers not attending the Cup final will include the Washington Post, New York Post, Newark Star-Ledger, Dallas Morning News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Petersburg Times. The New York Times won't commit past coverage of Game 1.

Even in the big regional hockey markets they're staying away. The Buffalo News gave it thumbs down. The St. Paul Pioneer Press won't attend. Minneapolis Star Tribune coverage will be limited to blogs filed by its beat writer from the first game to the third.

The two big Chicago dailies, the Tribune and Sun-Times, have been absent from the Stanley Cup final for years. And, in Hockeytown USA, both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are taking a pass.


The visiting contingent to Ottawa this spring won't be much larger. Those accredited for the final include USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Daily News, the two Philadelphia papers, the Inquirer and Daily News and Los Angeles Times.

In Canada, there may also be fewer newspapers covering the final. The Sun Media chain will use Ottawa Sun coverage for its newspapers, with the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones also filing columns. The CanWest chain will rely heavily on Ottawa Citizen coverage.

Initially I was buoyed by this admission, but I immediately became concerned by the attention paid to the absence of U.S. outlets. I thought perhaps this news could ironically work against me, due to the fact I was a Canadian writer -- I may be viewed as a surplus. My concerns were fortified when a friend (also in the business) sent this note:

I heard from one Professional Hockey Writers' Association member who said that the NHL is giving a lot of perfectly legitimate media people a very difficult time (for reasons that defy any sort of logic). The suspicion is that the NHL is desperately seeking the American media's heavy hitters (and hence to have to play it safe and keep spots open). Good luck with that, Commissioner Bettman.

Picture it: The NHL -- the high school boy, out of step with the rest of the cliques but desperate to seek validation, hungers for the attention of the most popular girl in school (the American media). She ignores him and regularly mocks him in front of anyone who will listen. Meanwhile, the girl with genuine interest (the Canadian media) might be plain and a bit of an oddball. But she legitimately cares about him, and yet he delivers the cold shoulder. This argument was solidified most recently by the league's incessant kowtowing to NBC during the playoffs -- who infamously demonstrated their gratitude by cutting the Sens-Sabres OT coverage in favour of the Preakness Stakes.

It sounds like original outline for Dawson's Creek -- except our Dawson in this case seems to forget that Joey Potter finally threw in the towel after chasing him for years, and ended up with Pacey Witter in the end...who could be represented by, I dunno... Mixed Martial Arts?

Fast-forward to Sunday morning. 3:21 A.M. EDT, to be precise. The following e-mail from the NHL arrives in my inbox:

Dear Mr. Nicks,

We do not credential freelance writers. Sorry.

Thank you for your interest.

Two incorrect statements in a three-line e-mail: 1) My gender (fabulous attention to detail from someone who is paid to observe such minutiae) and 2) The claim that the NHL doesn't offer credentials to freelance writers.

How do I know this?

It might have something to do with the credential for the '05 Entry Draft hanging in my office. The first post-lockout, closed-door draft featuring the one and only pseudo-deity known as Sidney Crosby. The new face of the NHL, live and in the flesh. I was there, and my position was no different than it is today. Again, I was warned that I would be hard-pressed to get in...but I did.

At the time, words couldn't express how excited I was at the opportunity. When I received word of my accreditation approval, I was in Las Vegas. I cut my trip short and grabbed the first red-eye back to Ottawa to prepare. I did it because I cared about the draft. I cared about the NHL.

And that's what makes this whole accreditation denial all the more perplexing. The NHL, contrary to its own toffee-nosed belief, is not operating from a position of power. It can't afford to treat any media regardless of stature in such an indifferent (and borderline insolent) manner, when its significance on the North American sporting stage is shrinking at a drastic rate. This league shouldn't be "thanking" people for their interest -- they should be tripping over themselves to express their gratitude. The NHL has so few in its corner; so few who are willing to step up and cover the sport, in a feeble attempt to provide it with some dignity. In spite of this, they continue to chase the big fish -- the American media -- whom they couldn't land if they waded for days while sporting bait-laden underwear. Meanwhile here I sit in Ottawa, after the niceties, formalities and e-mails forced me to check my ego at the door. I wanted them to know that the NHL was more than relevant to me. I wanted them to know it would be an extreme pleasure to cover their event. But apparently, that's not what they want. Go figure.

Why is the NHL trying to infuriate the media, when people like myself are doing everything in their power to demonstrate that they're willing to pay positive attention to their league when virtually no one else will? Maybe if I were Linda Cohn, they'd let me in. Maybe if I insulted them regularly on satellite and terrestrial radio, they'd grant me a pass. Maybe I'll pretend not to care.

Or maybe I'll legitimately stop caring altogether. Right now, I'm convinced that's what the league wants.

This fan did, and sent me a photo as proof. Have at it, Leafs fans.

This is hardcore (originally posted November 7, 2006)

Here's an excerpt from some reader mail that I received in response to the November 5 column:

I live in Brockville where the teams are split between Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. The Leaf fans I know are religious fans, standing beside there team regardless of how they play, and that is exactly how it is with my wife and I. I have a tattoo of the Sens Logo on my forearm and Daniel Alfreddson's (sic) autograph beneath it (tattooed as well), and my wife has Spartycat (sic) tattooed on her calf, and it has also been signed by the big cat himself (herself), and inked in permanently as well. There are over 250 different Sens articles in our house, and 8 different Jerseys hanging. We are "True Fans" as my wife says to anyone that can hear. My van is covered with window clingers, and my licence is a Senator plate from the ministry.

I'm speechless. At least you know a mascot will never be traded.

Here's where I mentioned that I had received a terse e-mail from a member of the Sens' front office about a column I wrote (now that he's gone I'll tell you - it was Mlakar). I then brought up a prior incident involving local radio where, during a guest hosting stint, I was warned not to say anything disparaging about the team. William Houston - then with The Globe and Mail - somehow got ahold of the post, and all hell broke loose.

You Snap The Whip (originally posted November 13, 2006)

I thought I would just add my experiences to what's being discussed over in this Battle of Ontario post. There was a link to a Sens message board containing a post that discussed the team's issues with the media. I'll let you decide if it validates what has been said.

There are two incidents that stand out in my mind. The first occurred when I did some guest hosting for The Team, several years ago. The program director at the time made it very clear to me that I was not to speak negatively about the Senators, in any way, shape or form. I found this to be highly ironic, seeing as that I was "known" for slagging the Senators on a regular basis, using Jim Rome as a vehicle to do so.

I don't know why I was told this. Maybe they thought I couldn't operate on a sliding scale, and was incapable of making points using contructive criticism, as opposed to blatant barbs that were used solely for the purpose of humour.

The second incident occurred not long after I secured the column. I criticized Mike Fisher -- honest to God, I can't remember what I said exactly. I'd pull the quote, but those early columns are on my old (and now-defunct) PC. Anyway, the next day I received a terse email from a well-known member of the Sens' front office who took issue with what I wrote. Being the neophyte that I was, I apologized for offending him (and possibly Fisher)...he said it was fine, and now we're (seemingly) all good.

As for some of the other thoughts pertaining to the media not being hard enough on the team -- I think that's a double-edged sword: There are fans that want us to show no mercy to the players, except they forget that we have contacts to maintain, most notably with the Senators. I don't care what team you're dealing with -- a writer that acts like a perpetual a-hole is going to be put through the ringer by the team's PR. It's like the old saying goes: You catch more flies with honey than you would with vinegar. Of course, you can take this too far, and use blackstrap molasses -- like Gord Wilson tends to. And you'd be surprised at the amount of emails I get after a particularly critical piece that read, "Why do you have to be so negative? Why can't you write something positive?" People don't want to read beatdown pieces all the time.

That being said, I've always maintained that if the team deserves the criticism, I'll give it. But there's a difference between being critical, and being a bombastic jackass. I hope that's not what the Sens' front office thinks of the media -- if they do, that's a major disconnect. But if that's what the readers want, they should probably check out what the Toronto media has to offer.

And my post, after Houston's mention:

You Snap The Whip: Part II

Regarding today's mention of the blog in The Globe and Mail (if you missed it, here's the clip):

We reported two weeks ago on the perceived obsequious behaviour of Team 1200 toward the Ottawa Senators, who were struggling at the time. The station, which is the club's rights-holder, confirmed it had cut back on postgame phone-ins, but denied there had been pressure from the Senators to get rid of the angry fan rants.

Still, the Senators media have a reputation for being soft. Occasionally a player or even the coach will get rapped. But the front office, which is to say president Roy Mlakar and general manager John Muckler, is out of bounds.

The sensitivity to upper management was illustrated during owner Eugene Melnyk's media conference call of Nov. 16 during which he affirmed his support for Muckler and coach Bryan Murray. In a whiny tone, he complained about media rumour and speculation on the status of Muckler and Murray. Club owners in big-league cities wouldn't have bothered.

In an e-mail, an Ottawa fan wrote, "[Sens] have a reputation around town of being a nice, fan-friendly organization, but behind the scenes Roy Mlakar has been known for some heavy-handed tactics."

Writer Erin Nicks freelances to the sports section of the Ottawa Sun. On her blog, she wrote a while ago, "There are two incidents that stand out in my mind. The first occurred when I did some guest hosting for [Team 1200] several years ago. The program director at the time made it very clear to me that I was not to speak negatively about the Senators, in any way, shape or form. . . .

"The second incident occurred not long after I secured the [Sun] column. I criticized [Sens forward] Mike Fisher — honest to God, I can't remember what I said exactly. . . . Anyway, the next day I received a terse email from a well-known member of the Sens' front office who took issue with what I wrote. Being the neophyte that I was, I apologized for offending him [and possibly Fisher]."

I've noticed that a synopsis regarding this subject has turned up in a multitude of places, including Senators message boards. The perception by most seems to be that I have been "silenced" by various factions of the Senators and the outlets that they use (i.e. The Team).

Let me assure everyone that my radio guest hosting experience happened several years ago -- the current program director that is in place was not the one I dealt with. I don't know if I would have been given the same instructions today. Futhermore, I had little concern regarding what I had been told, because I was able to speak freely via The Jim Rome Show, and at the time, was doing so on a regular basis. Rome's show, although broadcast from Los Angeles, possessed a much larger audience, and therefore my opinions on his program could have been perceived as far more detrimental to the Senators.

If The Team's program director had a problem with what I had said previously, I doubt he would have let me guest host.

It should also be noted that at the time, I was working in an entirely different field from the one I am currently employed in. At no time did anyone from the Senators approach me, or my former employer, with a demand to cease my complaints.

As for the email I received -- I doubt I am the first writer to receive a missive like that, and I'm sure I won't be the last. I was never told to retract my comments, nor was I reprimanded by Sun Media for the column. The front office person in question didn't like what I wrote. A lot of people don't, and I regularly hear about it. It doesn't faze me.

To summarize: There has been one person that asked me to refrain from speaking negatively about the Senators -- a former program director for The Team. It happened several years ago, long before I was writing the column. The Senators, at the time, were not in a state of turmoil (i.e. trade demands and request for front office changes), so I went along with it -- if I wanted to complain, I would do so on Rome's show, and no one ever attempted to stop me. In addition, no one has ever threatened to terminate me, or have my column ceased, based on something that I have written thus far.

Anyone who attempts to claim, or twist my statements to suggest that something else has occurred involving myself, is telling a falsehood.

End of story.

Recent, yes, but there were some very strong feelings surrounding this post, so I figured it was worth a revisit.

Erin on Erin: Through The Sports Media Peephole (originally posted on July 21, 2009)

When I first heard about what happened to ESPN personality Erin Andrews -- my natural reaction was one of horror. Erin's privacy was violated during a moment when her guard was at its lowest. She was in her hotel room, naked, and likely preparing to go through the typical female ablutions. We all do it, and none of us think about it. We shouldn't have to...unless some freak with fibre optic equipment and a penknife decides to go Jack Bauer on the drywall in the adjacent room.

That being said, I have a few random thoughts on this incident -- and its fallout -- I'd like to share.

1) To witness some of the reaction from the bigger blogs on this topic is rather interesting. Many who initially allowed links to the video have since retracted the posts and gone into "protective pseudo-boyfriend" mode. They "feel badly" for Andrews, and state repeatedly how she "doesn't deserve this." While I wholeheartedly agree with those statements, it's a bit hard to swallow coming from writers who were previously content to objectify the hell out of Erin -- both for the sake of increased traffic and their own personal amusement. How many female sports media personalities were subjected to largely-spread photos of them eating a sandwich, or tales of their visits to a media buffet that featured a "taco bar"? The minutiae of Erin's life have always been up for discussion, and it largely has to do with her personal appearance. I suppose I should be appreciative that these bloggers are finally drawing the line publicly on the objectivity issue, but part of me also wonders how many of them immediately went looking for the video as soon as it was available.

2) While I reiterate that this never should have happened, I sincerely hope it causes Erin to reconsider certain things about life in the business. Yes, she's a very attractive woman. We all know that, and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), nothing can be done about it. However, Erin has previously been under scrutiny for wardrobe choices and flirtatious behaviour in the past. These decisions will likely exacerbate any kind of objectionable treatment she receives. Am I saying she's to blame? No. This isn't a, "girl dresses a certain way, she's getting what's coming to her" rant. The fact of the matter is, that while not all men are capable of doing dangerous/criminal things, most are more than capable of objectifying women to some degree -- be it publicly or privately. The spotlight is on her in such a male-dominated business, and her appearance adds to that. Anything -- and I mean ANYTHING that can be perceived as questionable (a hand on a player's shoulder or a dress cut to mid-thigh) can and will lead down a slippery slope.

One of my biggest outcries regarding this issue incidentally came right before this drama took place. Andrews was spotted at the ESPYs wearing a black Herve Leger strapless dress with cutouts down the front. This dress had previously been spotted on other celebrities, and has been repeatedly been crucified in the press for causing its wearers to look like, well, $5-dollar whores.

Did the dress suit her? She certainly has the body to pull it off. But that's not the point. This is a night where the attention would undoubtedly be on her, and she could have chosen to wear something far more sophisticated. Instead, she went for full-on sexpot. Why? It's not necessary. Furthermore, it does nothing to dissuade people from thinking that she's nothing more than a sideline princess -- a fun bauble to look at, but who gives a (expletive) what she says? We all know she's pretty -- why does she insist on feeding the beast?

3) I have stated multiple times on this blog that for a woman, you're more likely to be taken seriously in print as opposed to the other two mediums. I believe print offers the greatest opportunity to neutralize one's gender -- in short, if you can make readers forget that they're hearing from a woman, there's a better chance of being taken seriously. Granted, print is also where the money is the sparsest, so I understand the need to push towards television. No matter what your appearance, this is no easy world to deal with. In nearly ten years of messing about in this industry, I've been told to "sound sexier", "wear something pretty" and "think about being a golf cart girl or a cheerleader for a day -- it'll be a good story." Keep in mind that I'm a relatively average-looking woman who doesn't (expletive) around with work and seriously wants to discuss a team's defensive foibles -- and not which of the blueliners I may find "cute." Nothing is ever going to stop men from objectifying women in this business, but playing the straight and narrow never hurt anyone -- if you truly care about what you're doing, that is (and I believe Erin does).

What happened to Erin Andrews was totally uncalled for, and I can't imagine how she must be feeling right now. I've dealt with some creepy nonsense during my time, but nothing on par with that. All of that considered, I hope this incident causes people -- and women -- to think about the way things go down in sports media...fair, unfair or otherwise.

Related: Erin Andrews and Guilt, Imagined and Otherwise -- Deadspin
Assault on Erin Andrews' Privacy Scary For All Female Journalists -- Yahoo! Sports
Erin Andrews and The Dark Side of All This -- RandBall