Whether it’s picking a champion before a season begins or presaging the outcome of a draft, there’s a good chance a sports writer is setting themselves up to fail when they make predictions.
It’s inherent in sports journalism. The predictable nature of a season naturally lends itself to playing oracle.
You know there will be a Most Valuable Player award and even at the start of the season you can narrow it down to three or four likely candidates. Guessing who it’s going to be is easy copy and it gets the consumers involved in the debate as well. It’s too tempting to pass up.
Of course, more often than not, those predictions are way off and then you have readers sending you crank emails lecturing you on how you’re the wrongest wrong who ever wronged.
Hindsight is 20-20 and those bold statements, predictions of future success (or struggles) and deep explanations embedded in an article can sour quickly, ruining an otherwise fine piece of work.
I touched on this before in my review of SI’s Great Baseball Writing. Throughout that collection there are passages or even entire articles from the late 1990s and early 2000s that try to explain the sudden power surge late in the careers of Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa.
This is at the heart of the Sports Illustrated or EA Sports cover curses – the subject is chosen because of what they’re expected to achieve and, more often than not, they disappoint because they’re being held up to more intense scrutiny or our expectations (raised by the hype of being on the cover) are unrealistic.
Right now I’m reading Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball and I’m making my way through his lengthy Pyramid section where he ranks the top 96 professional basketball players of all time.
It’s an entertaining and informative piece, until you get to the subchapter on Lebron James. Here’s a few paragraphs of the book that, in turn, were pulled from Simmons’ April 15, 2009 posting where he makes the case for James as NBA MVP.
“Not since Magic Johnson has a superstar doubled as such a galvanizing teammate. If there's an enduring image of the '08-09 season, it's the way LeBron stamped his personality on everyone around him. They orchestrate goofy pregame intros (my favorite: the team snapshot), trade countless chest bumps, giggle on the sidelines, hang out on road trips and support each other in every way. What's telling about LeBron's in-traffic dunks -- and he unleashes them more frequently than anyone since Dominique -- is how he seeks out his bench for feedback, and even better, how they give it to him. It makes the forced camaraderie of the Lakers seem glaring. If you want to watch a team that pulls for each other and follows the lead of its best player, watch Cleveland.
And if you're a Cavs fan trying to talk yourself into LeBron staying after 2010, your best chance is this: Through 24 years, LeBron has proven to be an inordinately devoted guy. When you're with him, you're with him. The upcoming documentary (supposedly superb) about his high school years bangs this point home. So does the fact that he jettisoned his agents and surrounded himself with high school buddies. So does everything that happened this season. He's as good of a teammate as a player. The more I watch him, the more I wonder if such an intensely loyal guy would ever say, "Thanks for the memories, everybody," dump his teammates, dump his hometown and start a fresh life elsewhere. Although he isn't surrounded by the most talented players right now, collectively, it's a team in the truest sense, with a devoted set of appreciative fans, and maybe that's all LeBron James will need in the end.
I thought he was a goner four months ago. I think he's staying now. Regardless, he's our Most Valuable Player for 2009. It won't be the last time.”
Although Simmons’ schtick is enthusiastic hyperbole, I do believe that he was very sincere in his belief that James is a loyal, team-oriented player and a true son of Ohio. And, credit where it's due, the Sports Guy was right that James would win NBA MVP in 2009 and that it wouldn't be his last.
But Simmons was wrong about Lebon's character. I think it's fair to say that the Decision, the hour-long ESPN special where Lebron announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” proved that as it ripped out the hearts of Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans and tarnished Lebon's image.
It turned out that James is not particularly loyal, that his high school friends/managers totally misread the impact of his television special and that the Lebron camp are so out of touch with his fanbase that they signed off on this ad for Nike, rubbing salt in the wound.
Yikes. Knowing what we know now, reading Simmons' glowing praise of Lebron makes me cringe.
In fairness to Simmons, he did change his mind as the free agency deadline loomed this past summer, backpedalling from his earlier belief that James was going to stay in Ohio as new information came to light.
And hey, it’s not like I haven’t made my own terrible calls. Long-time readers of this blog just need to think back to my March Madness predictions from this past spring, or my Canadian Hockey League playoff predictions from about the same time to see that I’m no seer myself.
I just want to underscore just how tricky this predictions game can be. It’s a wrinkle that makes sports journalism just a bit tougher, a little more unpredictable and definitely a lot more uncomfortable for columnists.
Blog posts, books, magazine covers, whatever, are all created in a particular moment but then stand forever.
Unfortunately, sports journalists are often called upon to make predictions, foresee the future and the incorrect guesses last much longer than the actual outcome ever does. It can turn good copy bad, real fast and it can also make me put down a book for a few minutes to reflect on how fleeting insight can be.
Last week I finished writing a review of Sid Meier's Civilization V for the Canadian Press. It was picked up by a lot of news outlets including Macleans.ca, CanadaEast.com, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the Guelph Mercury, the Winnipeg Free Press, 570 News, Sympatico's Sync, the Medicine Hat News, 680 News and Yahoo! Canada.
I was pretty pleased with the finished product, although props have to go to editor Neil Davidson for adding some spit and polish to the finished product.
As long-time readers of this blog know, I love writing my own reviews, but hopefully I'll be able to do more video game review in the near future.
Please follow the links above or below to read the whole piece.
The turn-based strategy game has the user develop their nation economically, politically, culturally and, of course, militarily. A successful leader will carve out a place in history against the computer or their friends in multiplayer mode.
"Just one more turn" is an unofficial motto of "Civilization V" players, as they plot their nation's progress city-by-city and develop social policies, trade routes and technologies. Waiting for the responses of enemies and allies creates a compulsive need to play more and more.
I'll be talking about this more tomorrow, but I wanted to remind all of you that every Saturday night I write an article on the comings and goings of the National Hockey League's Northeast Division for Hockeyprimetime.com. Follow the block quote to read the piece from two days ago.
The Maple Leafs have been one of the biggest surprises this season. The question is whether or not they can maintain that pace, especially with the Bruins closing in fast. This weekend will go a long way to separating the wheat from the chaff in the Northeast.
One of the hardest things about writing junior hockey copy night after night is choosing what story should be at the top of the league round up. What merits consideration?
If I based it solely on the performance of a team people would get sick of hearing about the top 10 clubs all the time.
What about if I wrote based off of population size or team popularity? Then the Halifax Mooseheads, Montreal Junior, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, Ottawa 67’s, Edmonton Oil Kings, Calgary Hitmen and Vancouver Giants would dominate the stories.
Instead, I try to pick the game situations that are the most unique.
That’s why Nicolas Chouinard’s five-goal night led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League round up on Friday night. The sock trick (as it’s called in lacrosse circles) is a rare occurrence at all levels of hockey.
The dominant play of Vancouver’s special teams also caught my eye on Friday. It’s not often tthat a team can kill nine penalties while going 50-50 on the power play. It just had to be given top billing.
Saturday night had three different unique or special games, one in each league.
In the QMJHL, goaltender Olivier Roy was given a shutout by official scorers, despite the fact that he let a goal in during the shootout.
In the Ontario Hockey League, the once-dominant Barrie Colts continued to struggle, particularly at home. Worse yet, it was on the same night that they raised last year’s Eastern Conference championship banner to the rafters.
Out west, the Kelowna Rockets finally won a game, the last Canadian Hockey League team to accomplish this rather basic feat this season.
I’m sure that these stories aren’t the most significant in terms of the final standings, and they’re certainly not a showcase for prospective National Hockey League draftees. But they are interesting or quirky stories, and I think that that is what draws the most people in, week after week.
Friday October 8th 2010
QMJHL: CHOUINARD'S FIVE-GOAL NIGHT LEADS JUNIOR PAST MOOSEHEADS
Captain Nicolas Chouinard decided to lead by example on Friday night.
Chouinard scored five times as the Montreal Junior downed the Halifax Mooseheads 6-3 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: ANDERSON SLAMS THE DOOR AS MAJORS SHUT OUT PETES
The Mississauga St. Michael's Majors got down to business in the third period Friday night.
Casey Cizikas and Joe Cramarossa scored 32 seconds apart early in the final period and goaltender JP Anderson had his first shutout of the season as the Majors blanked the struggling Peterborough Petes 3-0 in the Ontario Hockey League play.
WHL: GIANTS WINNING THANKS TO SPECIAL TEAMS, DOWN ROCKETS
The Vancouver Giants are relying on their special teams to get wins this season.
Vancouver reeled off three unanswered power-play goals to snuff the Kelowna Rockets 4-1 in Western Hockey League play Friday night.
Saturday October 9th 2010
QMJHL: ROY EARNS SHUTOUT AS ACADIE-BATHURST WINS IN SHOOTOUT
Even though he let the puck into the net on Saturday night, goaltender Olivier Roy earned a shutout.
Roy made 32 saves as the Acadie-Bathurst Titan downed the Drummondville Voltigeurs 1-0 in a shootout in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League play.
OHL: ICE DOGS ADD TO COLTS HOME WOES
Last season playing against the Colts in Barrie was one of the toughest draws in the Ontario Hockey League, but no longer.
Andrew Agozzino scored the game-winning goal 6:10 into the third period as the Niagara IceDogs defeated Barrie 4-1 in OHL action Saturday night.
WHL: BULMER'S OT GOAL GIVES ROCKETS FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON
It took an extra period but the Kelowna Rockets finally won a game.
Brett Bulmer scored the overtime winner for Kelowna, as the Rockets beat the Prince Albert Raiders 3-2 in Western Hockey League action Saturday night.
Sunday, October 10th 2010
QMJHL: VICTORIAVILLE DOUBLES MAINEIACS
Philip-Michael Devos' small output was just enough to make him the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's top scorer.
Devos had two assists as the Victoriaville Tigres beat the Lewiston Maineiacs 4-2 in QMJHL play Sunday afternoon.
OHL: CZARNIK LIFTS WHALERS PAST FRONTENACS IN OT
Robbie Czarnik scored twice, including the overtime winner, as the Plymouth Whalers toppled the Kingston Frontenacs 6-5 in Ontario Hockey League action Sunday afternoon.
Stefan Noesen had two goals and one assist for Plymouth (3-4-1), while Scott Wedgewood made 32 saves. Tyler Brown and Austin Levi added singles for the Whalers. Czarnik also had two assists.
Autumn has arrived once again and with the changing of the leaves comes the busiest time of the year in the world of sports.
That applies to the journalists who cover sports as well, so this blog has fallen into disuse for the past week as I’ve been cranking out articles for other outlets. Here’s a quick rundown:
On Tuesday the Globe and Mail (and other websites) ran an article I wrote about the Ontario Hockey League indefinitely postponing their All-Star Game.
Wednesday the Winnipeg Free Press picked up a bit of an OHL season preview I did.
I’ve been busy over at HockeyPrimeTime.com as well, writing pre-season looks at the Northeast Division starting with the Boston Bruins and then moving on to the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators before finishing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Hockey’s not the only sport I’m following this fall either, as field lacrosse has started up. I’ve got a vested interest as I’m continuing my involvement in the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association as its Communications Director.
I’ve already written a review of the first week of play for the league’s website and I'll be penning a second one today.
That’s a quick update for you, but you should expect more content from me in the next week, starting with the return of My Weekend in Junior Hockey on Monday.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a rookie at this professional writing game. Indeed, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my past year with the Canadian Press, it’s that I don’t know how much I don’t know.
Sure, as a young Canadian male I’d watched more hockey than the average person. But there’s no way I’ve seen as much hockey as some of the big name experts like TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger of the CBC’s Scott Morrison, Don Cherry and Ron MacLean.
No, I definitely still have a lot to learn about the game and the sports journalism business in general.
The only acceptable recourse is to keep striving by working at my craft and doing research to broaden my knowledge base.
This is actually a personal belief that I’ve held for a long time. In fact, last month I was asked to speak to the current cohort at Centennial College, my sports journalism alma mater, and I made a point of talking about the importance of continuing the learning process even after school is done.
After all, sports journalists are required to interview athletes and coaches who have dedicated their whole lives to their sport. They know it inside and out. If we want to engage them and extract thoughtful quotes from them, we need to know what we’re talking about.
That’s one of the many reasons I decided to go to the World Hockey Summit. It was the ideal place to meet with hockey people at the grassroots level and learn about the issues facing the sport today. As you can tell from my four-day diary of the conference, it was an incredibly educational experience.
As I announced yesterday on my Twitter feed the Canadian Press has brought me back for another year as their junior hockey editorial assistant, and so I’m getting down to some serious research.
I’ve begun an email-writing campaign, introducing myself to all the media relations people of the Canadian Hockey League.
Whether it’s the head office here in Toronto, the regional offices of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League or the teams from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Prince George, British Columbia, everyone has or will hear from me.
The idea is to discover the stories behind each organization. Many of them have already sent me their media guides or are putting me on their mailing lists. Hopefully, these contacts and these press kits will help me come up with more and better feature stories and add further colour to my game stories.
Already I’ve benefitted from this initiative – this morning I was invited to listen in on the QMJHL’s season-opening press conference.
Amongst other pieces of news, league president Gilles Courteau explained that there is a gentleman’s agreement between the AHL and the Quebec-based association to not spread into New England. I was live Tweeting the call and when I mentioned that tidbit I got a big reaction from many followers.
I’m sure that all this work, all this research, will bear more fruit, I’m just not sure how. After all, I don’t know how much I don’t know. But that’s why I’m doing all this research – to try and improve myself as a journalist.
It has been three weeks to the day since I last posted on here, and for that, I am sorry.
It just couldn't be helped though - I’ve been very busy with my continuing work at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. The good news is that most of my work is now done, and the final stage should be completed in about mid-July.
My work hasn’t been limited to freelancing for the Hall of Fame though. I’ve been spending the summer doing pagination for the Canadian Press, as well as a few side projects.
The first of these projects was for my friend Victor Bachmann, a professional mixed martial artist based in Edmonton. I had interviewed him years ago for a Canadian fighting magazine. Unfortunately, they never had the space for the article and its references quickly became dated.
In addition to his prizefights, Victor is a teacher at the Hayabusa Fighting Training Centre, and he needed a profile for the gym’s website. Remembering the story I’d written about him, Victor asked me to re-write it for him.
I’ve never had to re-write an article so dramatically before, but I think I really sharpened this piece up.
My other project was for HockeyPrimeTime.com, a website that covers the National Hockey League.
It was a lot of fun looking at the different needs and draft picks of the hockey teams I am most familiar with: the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres, the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The next few weeks are all laid out for me - I’ll be doing a preview of the free agent prospects of the Northeast Division teams for HPT.com and completing my work with Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Fortunately, I’ll also have more time to do blog posts.
As I mentioned about three weeks ago, I’ve been doing some freelance work for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
The Hall is moving from its current home at the Canadian National Exhibition fairgrounds in Toronto to a new building at Calgary’s Olympic Park. The move itself is a long and protracted story - detailed in the final four paragraphs of this history – but it’s suffice to say that a permanent building is long overdue.
My job is to research and write the content of displays that will be installed in the galleries of the new Hall of Fame. Specifically, I am working on entries for timelines that will be incorporated into the entrance of each gallery. These chronologies will highlight the greatest moments in the history of Canadian sport.
Conacher’s storied career had many incredible moments but I chose to focus on June 1922. In a single day he drove in the winning runs to lead the Toronto Hillcrests to the city’s baseball championship and then he took a cab to Scarborough where he led his lacrosse team to the Ontario senior championship.
With James I focused on the period of March 19-25, 1990 when she scored 11 goals and two assists in just five games as Team Canada swept through the first-ever Women’s World Championship of Hockey.
Of course, Plante’s tale revolved around the night of November 22nd 1959 when the Montreal Canadiens were playing the New York Rangers and the all-star goaltender’s nose was broken by a shot. After that he began wearing a mask, the first National Hockey League goalie to regularly wear one.
I even added a little bit about Andy Bathgate – the man whose shot broke Plante’s nose – and that the Rangers forward had intended to hit the goalie in the face with the puck.
Now I’ve got to do another 50 moments and I couldn’t be more excited.
I’m still in the planning process of picking which athletes I want to do for this phase of the project but I am thrilled that I’ve been chosen to work with Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
The intersection of sports and Canadian history is like a perfect Venn diagram of my interests and I am honoured to be playing a role – no matter how small it may be - in the creation of a new monument to the great athletes of this nation
This is going to be a crazy week here at JCH.com headquarters. In addition to my usual self-imposed blogging duties I’m working on an exciting freelance project for the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
Specifically, I’m doing brief profiles of honoured members Lionel Conacher, Angela James and Jacques Plante. My writing will be part of the displays at the new Hall of Fame that’s being built in Calgary’s Olympic Park.
In any event, I’ll try to keep the content coming in this space, but there is a good chance that I’ll miss a day or two this week.
Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the best books I’ve read on how to become a writer. Not necessarily a professional scribe, but how any author can hone their craft until their work becomes readable and entertaining.
On Writing is full of King’s wit and charm as he explains how he builds his stories from the ground up. His encouraging voice is directed at fiction writers at the start of their careers, but his advice can be applied to anyone who wants to pursue their creative passion.
The book is divided into four parts: C.V., Toolbox, On Writing and then On Living.
C.V. is a short memoir that focuses on King’s life. As King says in the introduction: “This is not an autobiography. It is, rather, a kind of curriculum vitae – my attempt to show how one writer was formed,”
Some of the moments are tough to get through, particularly King’s upsetting history of drug and alcohol abuse. Fortunately, the entire section is spiked with his self-deprecating humour. Any fan of King’s work will enjoy reading this portion of the book.
Toolbox discusses the skills that every writer needs to be readable. Things like grammar, vocabulary, form and style. It’s the shortest part of the book, but still important and King, a former high school English teacher, makes it as entertaining as anyone could hope.
On Writing is the real meat of the book, where King explains how young writers should put their skills to good use. His ideas about drafting, story composition and research are all informative. In particular, I like how blue collar he is in his approach.
“[I]f you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well – settle back into competency and be grateful that you have even that much to fall back on,” King says in the introduction to the section.
According to King, his theories about writing and what it takes to succeed as an author are not popular with certain literary circles, but they appeal to me. Not just because it means there’s hope for the novice writer, but because I think that analyzing and honing one’s craft (whatever it may be) is the best way to succeed in any field. To see it applied to writing by one of the most widely read authors of the 20th century only confirms this.
The entire tone of the book is light-hearted and informal, with King making funny asides and offering insight and commentary about his canon, as well as the work of an array of authors including Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, Elmore Leonard and H.P. Lovecraft.
In On Living, the book’s postscript, King recounts the events surrounding the car accident that nearly took his life during the composition of On Writing. I say ‘surrounding’ because he can’t remember the actual event – his head smashing through the oncoming windshield of a van took care of that.
It’s the most moving part of the book, and possibly the most stomach-turning writing of King’s accomplished career. His description of what happened to his body, particularly his right leg which was broken into “so many marbles in a sock”, literally had me squirming on my couch.
On Writing will appeal to two groups of people: Stephen King’s fans will be attracted to the C.V. and On Living sections where they can learn about their favourite author. Aspiring novelists will prefer the Toolbox and On Writing sections for King’s insight into his craft.
For everyone else though, it can still be a quick, fun read that will make them think twice about Stephen King and the art of writing.