North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

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Notes on a tenth year

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I don’t remember when I started this blog. The first post dates back to June of 2005, but I’m reasonably certain it existed in some form before then: I remember writing about the 2004 NHL finals and I have foul papers of NFL posts in notebooks dating back to 2003. So, in one way or another, I’ve been doing this a long time.


A lot’s changed in that time frame. The Internet’s a different place: ten years ago I couldn’t have imagined a site like Grantland, where there’s daily interesting takes on sports and pop culture. After all, one of the reasons I started writing was my general dissatisfaction with writing coming out of Toronto. I was sick of writers like Steve Simmons, Damien Cox and Al Strachan, people who reflected a viewpoint I didn’t share.


At the same time, I don’t really remember what the Internet was like back then. I suppose Bill Simmons was writing for ESPN, but I barely knew who he was. Both Deadspin and Truehoop were a little ways off and while I was one of thousands of people who started a blog back then, I genuinely don’t really remember reading anyone else’s: I just started writing online because I was already writing offline, in chapbooks, spiral notebooks and on an ancient IBM laptop that ran Windows 95 and barely at that.


Which has always been my raison d’etre, really. I’ve never worried about traffic and over the years, it comes and goes. I’ve always consciously written stuff I’d like to read and if nobody else does, I don’t care. Maybe not the best attitude, but it’s how I’ve always felt.


Over the years, being a borderline interesting sports blogger has given me some interesting paths. There was a blog founded by a bunch of teenagers who asked me to write a mailbag column, there was my spell writing a MVP column for Hardwood Paroxysm and, most memorably, I was a featured columnist for The Good Point for about five years.


That last one was easily the most rewarding experience I’ve had in these ten years and not jut because it was my only paying gig. Austin, Andrew and Rob, if you’re reading this, thanks for everything. You’ve been a big influence and I learned a lot from you all.


I’ve actually given thought to pitching an oral history of The Good Point to, er, someone, since it was an interesting, wild and talented place for a number of years. Just a casual look at the list of contributors is like a who’s-who of young sports writers: Andrew Bucholtz, one of Yahoo Canada’s/Awful Announcing best writers and as ambitious as anyone I’ve ever met; radio personality Chris Pope; Leigh Ellis, co-host of NBA-TV’s The Starters; John Matisz, Sun Media’s go-to hockey writer. There have been others, too.


I think if you track my writing over the years there, you can see my evolution as a sports blogger, going from a self-made sports guy to someone who’s really more interested in the margins and what happens off the field. When I started, I was interested in writing about events; by the time I stopped, I was more interested in talking to female writers about why female sports are ignored or how people are making sports culture more open and accessible. It’s to Austin Kent and Rob Boudreau’s absolute credit they never spiked my columns because they weren’t jock-ish enough.


Indeed, I think I’ve changed too. Back in 2005 or so, I intentionally set out to re-create myself as something approximating a sports guy. Like most people, I have my demons and this was something of an attempt to combat them: maybe by remaking myself in a certain image, I’d be able to drop them. It hasn’t worked that way, but that’s a learning lesson, too.


And now, a good ten years on, I’ve realized I’m not really that guy and maybe I never was. You can probably read it if you look deep enough into my articles and how they’ve evolved over the years. I’ve dropped the Hunter Thompson inspired prose, started reading authors like Imogen Binnie, bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kate Bornstein, people who’ve challenged how I see the world and myself.


Which is a way to say I’m not going away – if anything I’ve been more prolific than I’ve ever been lately – but I’m not the same person anymore, either. There’s a lot more to life than sports.

Written by M.

May 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm

A Children’s Treasury of Negative Reviews

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A few days ago, Slate ran an essay called about the epidemic of nice online book reviews, about how online critics are too gentle and never have anything bad to say about books. It raises a few interesting points: Tumblr’s culture of inclusiveness and friendliness – a culture best documented by the awesome mind behind Tumblr Dot Txt –  and NPR’s reluctance to run negative reviews.

It’s an interesting read and it made me think a little bit about my own work as a freelance critic, which I’ll get to in a bit. But it also overlooked how there’s still tons of negative reviews online, in some cases far more negative than anything I’ve seen in print. Here’s a few of my favorites. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

August 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Posted in bigger stuff, other

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Shahar Peer A Victim Not of Race, But of Politics

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Some have called the United Arab Emirates racist for denying a visa to Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer, forcing her to withdraw from the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships.

Those doing it are missing the point of the UAE’s actions: it’s not so much racist as it is reactionary, as the country reacted as much of the Arabic world would seem to in recent days, with swift judgment against Israel.

Last month, Israel launched an invasion on the Gaza strip that was extraordinarily unpopular in the Middle East. Already unpopular, their utter destruction of the area has turned opposition even more against them: there have been protests as far away as Canada and the United States.

Peer’s visa denial is just another step in the reaction towards Israel. The UAE is a country without an established relationship to Israel, so their interaction is going to be limited to passive actions like this.

But for those who are calling this a decision based on race are only partially right; yes, she was denied because she has an Israeli background. But she was not denied because of it. It is not like Arthur Ashe being denied the right to play in South Africa. This is politics infringing upon sport, like the US pulling out of the 1980 Olympics – or the Soviet Bloc pulling out of the 1984 Olympics.

Politics aren’t the only thing hurting this tournament. Dubai is a city in free fall. Its unfettered growth has slowed down and is even beginning to sink. People – often westerners – are slinking away from the country in debt, some leaving behind everything: apartments, cars and bills.

There has even been talk of cancelling the tournament. The Toronto Star reported that the chief executive of the women’s tournament, Larry Scott, came close to cancelling the event but relented only because so many players had already arrived in Dubai.

Besides, the freeze between the two countries could be starting to thaw too; a visa was granted to Andy Ram, an Israeli doubles tennis player. For Peer, though, it may already be too late. She’s become a casualty in a game of global politics through no fault of her own.

Written by M.

February 20, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Barbaro makes a belated comeback

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What a sign it is that a horse – not just any horse, mind you, but Barbaro, the horse that shattered it’s leg some two, maybe three years ago – has become a symbol of the right to die movement.

That’s right, no longer is there just a right to life movement, but also a right to die movement (I fully expect for there to be a right-to-feel-passive or a right to wear-mauve movement to spring up any day now).

For those of who you may have missed this story, Barbaro – a horse that died over a year ago – is set to be immortalized as a statue. Butt it’s not at the track where he shattered his leg, nor any home of his victories or even his stable.

No, it’s in New York’s Central Park.

And it’s not galloping mightily in the wind, nor in any pose that Red Smith would have dreamed up.

It’s lying in it’s back, legs in the air, belly draped with his saddle cloth (that’s how you can tell it’s Barbaro). This apparently represents how it couldn’t walk after it broke it’s legs and is a fitting tribute to the right-to-die movement.

Okay, so I get the concept. Don’t let animals live in some kind of vegetative state for years, like Terri Shaivo, existing only to make money. But to make it statue of Barbaro?

But when I think of things that should be euthanized, Barbaro is far from the front of the list, behind even Kim Jong Ill, Rev. Fred Phelps and Bob Cole.

Come on, Barbaro’s just a horse. Well, just was a horse, anyway.

But don’t let that get in the way of sculptor Daniel Edwards’ message. He’s the same guy who has sculpted such other modern wonders as Paris Hilton, dead on a autopsy table (complete with removable organs!) and Britney Spears giving birth (comes with a bearskin rug!).

But come on, Barbaro? The same horse that people sent flowers, apples and get-well cards to? How did a horse, inexplicably loved by tens of thousands, become a symbol of the right to die?

“We believe a memorial dedicated to the Right to Die will encourage horse owners to forego their own self-interests and act mercifully on behalf of their suffering horse,” said Leo Kesting Gallery co-director, John Leo. “If Barbaro has taught us anything, it is that horses deserve our compassion first.”

I still don’t get it. Had Barbaro lived – he was put down, after all, almost making him a martyr, I suppose – he would have gone to stud. You know, just hanging around the farm, occasionally mating with other horses, maybe getting visitors from the city once in a while.

And that’s supposed to be a fate worse then death?

Sounds like the afterlife to me.

Written by M.

January 25, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Posted in general, horse racing, other