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Sidney Crosby. Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images (Brian Babineau/2011 NHLI)
Sidney Crosby. Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images (Brian Babineau/2011 NHLI)

Usual Suspects

TSN tackles violence in sports Add to ...

You couldn't swing a dead cat last winter without hitting a story about concussions in sport. When Sidney Crosby was felled in January by post-concussion syndrome, the impact was viral. Such was the momentum that the NHL general managers went from the status quo ("It's a man's game") last September to an absolute ban on deliberate head shots by this June. In other sports the impact has been similar.

Much of the impetus for change was thanks to superb reporting by media, including this newspaper. Stories on athletes donating their brains to science and deceased stars with brain damage revealed by autopsy made weekly headlines.

TSN is presenting a summary of the issue of dangerous head hits on Sports centre all this week. Correspondent Dave Naylor feels that Crosby being lost for the season was a watershed moment. "It's awful to say, but most sports are partisan. Fans, teams or management only truly care when it's their own players injured. But Crosby changes that. He's the face of the sport. Everyone wants to see him back in the game."

Naylor says fans have an ambivalent relationship with the price athletes pay in their sport. "We live in a society where if you shove someone on the sidewalk you're charged," Naylor told Usual Suspects. "And yet there's something about violence in sport that excites something basic in people. As someone told me recently, fencing was very popular till they made it safe.

"For example, I watched (Winnipeg QB) Buck Pierce get absolutely rocked on Friday night. I was fascinated and repelled at the same time watching Pierce's helmet come off and (Hamilton's) Jamall Johnson running down the field celebrating. I rewound it time and time again."

And while there was anecdotal evidence that parents are concerned about head injuries in kids' sports, "There's still no evidence in the research that people are pulling their kids out because of violence in sports," says Naylor. "Affordability is still the major reason why kids are leaving sports like hockey."

Thanks For Noting: Poor CBC. Invested heavily in Canada's women soccer team only to see it go bagel-three at the World Cup. Now CBC is left with a ticket on the field -- much as it was at last year's men's World Cup. Does any Canadian sports organization make less with more than the suits who run soccer in this country? Losing 1-0 to Nigeria after coming in as sixth seed? Epic.

Dropped Flies: Roy Halladay's return to Toronto in the uniform of the Phillies was memorable. TV viewers were no doubt curious how the brilliant pitcher would be honoured by the Rogers Centre crowd as he exited the mound on Saturday. So why did Rogers Sportsnet choose that precise moment to go back to the studio with Jamie Campbell and Gregg Zaun?

While we're at it, the Sportsnet crew went swingandamiss on the ninth-inning play at the plate Tuesday night. Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek blocked the plate on Edwin Encarnacion but missed the tag. Replays clearly show the Blue Jays runner safe, tying the score. You can maybe understand Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler missing the call in the heat of the moment. But former catcher Zaun, who had acres of time to look at the tape, failed to change his story of Varitek's play after putting it up there with "touch 'em all, Joe" Carter's home run. Hello video replay in baseball!

Norm, We Hardly Knew Ye: What with NHL playoffs and such it was easy to miss the launch and then rapid cancellation of Sports Show with Norm MacDonald by Comedy Channel. The former SNL comedian is an acquired taste (Norm to Manny Pacquiao before his fight with Shane Mosley: "I worry about this guy. He's blacker than you."). The show itself was intermittently funny. He did a nice bit where he imitated Blake Griffin. But not funny enough, apparently. Poof, gone. (Along with a column for a slow summer day).

Onion SportsDome, which had been on marginally longer, was also jarred by Comedy Central (along with yet another column for a slow summer day). It, too, had its moments, such as when it did a piece about NHL commissioner Gary Bettman staging a kidnapping to create PR for the league. You had to be there.

So is sports comedy-resistant? Perhaps. The goofiness that passes for normal in sports sometimes defies satirization. See: Don Cherry. But it's our fervent hope that, with right host-- a Rick Mercer of jockdom-- we may see someone succeed where poor old Norm failed.

For instance, did TSN actually do a feature on Toronto prospect Jake Gardiner at Maple Leafs prospects camp in which they used this quote: "He's a little bit of Duncan Keith, he's a little bit of Scott Niedermayer"? What's the matter, Leafs? Was Gordie Howe not good enough for Jake? It's July, folks. And it's the Leafs.

New Balls: Why we love NBC's John McEnroe. We've always wondered why a relief pitcher gets to drag out the game by warming up on the mound, McEnroe tells USA Today columnist Michael Hiestand he feels the same way about warm-ups in tennis. "Some people might knock it having no warm-ups,' says McEnroe. "But there's more at stake in boxing - people's lives are on the line - and you don't see them jabbing each other a little bit before the fight." While he was hot, Mac also cast his net further. "We don't change enough. Davis Cup, at least its scheduling, is a complete and utter joke. We haven't been proactive enough for casual fans."

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