How far has post-concussion syndrome penetrated the culture of sport? Witness the tear-streaked face of former CFL star Matt Dunigan in his interview with Brian Williams last Friday on TSN. In a shockingly personal segment, Williams led Dunigan though the hell brought on by at least twelve diagnosed concussions in his playing career. The troubled private life of a very public athlete (Dunigan won two Grey Cups) was put in a new perspective as he wept beside his wife.
Seeing the effervescent CFL on TSN panelist and Road Grill host struggling for words to describe the man he’d become – “He forgot how to laugh. He didn’t think anything was funny any more,” said his wife Kathy – lifted the shroud on a condition that has claimed several prominent ex-athletes. A restrained Williams wisely let the couple describe his black moods and removing his son Dolan from football when he, too, suffered multiple concussions. Dunigan confirmed he’s donating his brain to Dr. Charles Tator’s research unit on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the condition reportedly caused by repeated concussions.
The segment ended with Williams and Dunigan in studio, not far from the raucous set he shares with Jock Climie, Chris Schultz and Dave Randorf. As he defiantly proclaimed no regrets about his path, you almost felt Dunigan’s knees buckle from the tension but also from the release of unburdening himself. Props to Dunigan, Williams and TSN for essential television.
TSN promised audio access, and DB Ryan Phillips of B.C. delivered. Using the sideline RF mike, Phillips ripped analyst Glen Suitor for not including him in their Top 50 CFL player list. “You messed up the league,” Phillips told Suitor (who was only one person involved in the poll).
There was also a lively halftime debate between ex-QB Dunigan and former receiver Climie over the reluctance of Calgary receiver Johnny Forzani to fight for the pass that was intercepted by Phillips. Guess who thought Forzani deserved a break and who thought he wasn’t helping out his quarterback.
Can we please get a new theme song for Friday Night? Hank Williams it ain’t.
ROCK THE VOTE
Who votes for the Hart Trophy, the Norris Trophy or the Lady Byng? Is it players? GMs? Ushers? If you watched the NHL’s sticks ‘n silicone epic from Las Vegas on June 22, you are no more enlightened. Not that anyone thought to shove aside the Desperate Housewives long enough to say so, but the decisions are rendered by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The snub did not go unnoticed by the PHWA, self-described guardians of journalistic ethics in the sport. This, after a controversial year in which four chapters– the three New York teams and Columbus– abstained from award voting after the Islanders’ banning of blogger Chris Botta (their former employee). PHWA president Kevin Allen of USA Today feels the abstentions did not affect the eventual results. In part that’s because the voting pool has been expanded in recent years.
“In the past there might have been too few people voting,” Allen tells Usual Suspects, “and if one guy forgot to vote it had a major impact. Now I think we have achieved that balance. I think this year’s voting would have been the same if every chapter had voted.”
Allen says that, while he and most major writers post their votes publicly, he won’t disclose which writers voted for whom (MLB writers’ votes are publicized). The opaque nature of the voting is a problem for some media outlets – particularly when there’s financial compensation to players winning awards. Papers such as the New York Times do not allow their writers to vote on such issues. (The G&M has no such policy.) The PWHA’s other major concern is what to do with new media. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook have radically changed the landscape. While most of the new media comport themselves properly, there are still reported issues with bloggers cheering in press boxes, wearing team colours and inappropriate behaviour in scrums. With limited space in press boxes and scrums, not everyone can or should be admitted. “We’re going to provide standards for memberships,” says Allen.
“We’re going to be careful who we admit (to the PHWA). We’re still trying to figure it out. It’s a new world, but we think we can co-exist.” The PWHA would like to go to a card system with rules for media access and behaviour posted in every dressing room. Allen says that they’ll let the decisions be made on a local basis. “The situation in Toronto is different from Nashville. If Nashville wants to let in a blogger, and they think this person worthy of membership, then we’ll let that happen.”