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Broadcaster, Don Cherry speaks during the intermission show of Game Four of the 2007 Stanley Cup finals between the Anaheim Ducks and the Ottawa Senators on June 4, 2007 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images for NHL) (Phillip MacCallum/2007 Getty Images)
Broadcaster, Don Cherry speaks during the intermission show of Game Four of the 2007 Stanley Cup finals between the Anaheim Ducks and the Ottawa Senators on June 4, 2007 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images for NHL) (Phillip MacCallum/2007 Getty Images)

The Usual Suspects

The Wrath of Grapes Add to ...

Charles Tator has discovered the price of tugging on Don Cherry's cape.

The Toronto neurosurgeon called out the star of Hockey Night in Canada's Coach's Corner last Friday at a Hockey Canada conference in Regina, saying the 75-year-old is a "negative influence" in the fight to curtail concussions.

Cherry's predilection for aggressive hockey has infiltrated minor hockey to its roots, Tator said. "He's not in my office when mothers tell me, 'There's a bounty on my son's head playing hockey.'"

On Tuesday, The Globe and Mail reported Cherry's response to a Toronto radio reporter on Tator's comments. "I don't give a [expletive]about him," Cherry told Colin D'Mello of 680News when asked about Tator's claims.

In an interview with Usual Suspects, Tator revealed he's hearing from more than just Cherry about his comments.

"I've been getting hate mail over the past 36 hours," he said Tuesday from his office at the University of Toronto. "I've collected it all, and it almost equals the amount of love mail I've received supporting us on the issue."

Asked what kind of negative mail, Tator said: "Letters say, 'You don't know anything, Don Cherry is marvellous, you're nothing, you don't understand hockey, go back to the lab. …' That sort of thing."

Tator is not taking the opposition to heart. "If this is what it takes to get issue in front of the public, then I'm okay with it. I'm comfortable in saying what I believe."

He placed a call to Cherry's representatives last Monday, suggesting the two men work together on the issue of concussion awareness. "I said if we march to same tune on this issue, it would be helpful to enlist him. If we could get together we could do a lot of good."

As of press time Tuesday, Cherry had not responded to Tator's appeal.

Usual Suspects pointed out to Tator that Cherry has been involved in campaigns to reduce hitting from behind, create no-touch icing and produce better hockey equipment. And that he almost seems like a moderate on the issue next to other voices in the media.

"I'm happy he's taken some measures, but in my view they're small steps," Tator said. "He needs to come out vigorously. Yes, he's not the only person advocating violence and aggression - but he's a symbol of it.

"Look what happened when we raised awareness on the issue of broken necks in hockey. We did something about it, and now the statistics show that broken necks are way down."

Bucking the trend

There may have been some surprise in broadcast circles when Toronto's Dan Shulman was named the best national play-by-play announcer of the decade by Sports Illustrated.

Shulman, who works for ESPN, edged out Al Michaels for the title. But Buck Martinez - the new play-by-play voice for the Toronto Blue Jays on Rogers Sportsnet - says he's in complete agreement with the honour awarded his old broadcast partner on Jays broadcasts from 1995 to 2002 .

"No surprise at all," Martinez told Usual Suspects. "Dan's always been the epitome of professionalism. He and Jim Hughson are the best partners I ever worked with. I learned so much from working with him. He's a complete pro."

Martinez, who had worked on the Baltimore Orioles broadcast team since 2003, says the Blue Jays' current plight reminds him of 1981, when he came to Toronto as a player. "[Toronto president]Paul Beeston knows what it takes to turn things around, the same way they did then. I'm anxious to be part of that from the broadcast booth."

While he hasn't been told who will share the booth with him next season, Martinez is looking forward to going from the "why" role (analyst) to the "what" role (play-by-play).

"One of the things I learned from managing the Blue Jays [2001-02]is to have respect for how intense, how fast the game comes at you on the field," he said. "I'd been away from the field for 14 years [before managing] and going into the dugout has reminded me how tough it is."

Martinez knows that with the trade of star pitcher Roy Halladay, it will be a challenge this year at Rogers Centre. But he won't be holding back opinions.

"No one at the Blue Jays has ever tried to tell me what to say. Viewers can be sure that I'll be honest."

Majors concession

It's one step forward, two steps back for Tiger Woods's media spinmeisters.

Making a heartfelt admission of infidelities and declaring a hiatus from golf was a positive. Using the hackneyed technique of dropping the news late on a Friday afternoon might have seemed savvy to Woods's handlers, but to the public it smacked of cleverness at a time when the golfer needed to project real contrition through the media.

Now, the Woods Watch from media, sponsors and fans switches from counting courtesans to counting days till he returns. How he convinces his wife that he's a changed man is their private business; to convince the public and sponsors he's reformed, however, he'll need to be seen sacrificing something essential to his legend.

That would be missing at least one major tournament like the Masters. Two would convince everyone he's on a new road.

Commercial appeal

Advertisers such as Accenture and Nike have begun dropping or curtailing their Woods endorsements. The numbers tell why they're not willing to wait.

Woods's brand recognition for sponsors such as Nike, Accenture and Tag Heuer soared in the days after the car crash outside his home - for all the wrong reasons. Nielson IAG measured "more than 20 instances through Dec. 7 where a late-night joke paired Woods with one of his sponsors. As comedians took their swings at Woods, the mentions generated a higher-than-average recall of the associated brand [55 per cent v. a late-night norm of 39 per cent]"

Meanwhile, Gallup is reporting Woods's favourable rating has declined from a career high of 85 per cent in 2005, to just 33 per cent in recent polling. His unfavorable rating has risen to 57 per cent from just 8 per cent in 2005. Gallup says the 52-point decline in Woods's favorability "is the largest drop between consecutive measurements since Gallup began tracking it in 1992."

According to Randall Beard of Nielsen IAG: "The saturation of Tiger in the media has heightened the recognition of his sponsor affiliations. But at the same time for these brands, the controversy is contributing to a more negative impact on public perception. It's the age-old debate: Is all publicity, good publicity?"

Um, let's guess the answer to that one.

Live, from New York

Speaking of brand association, Saturday Night Live hammered the issue this weekend. Jason Sudeikis portrayed a harried PGA commissioner Tim Finchem dealing with Woods's enforced hiatus.

(Sample slogan: "The PGA Tour - I mean, what else are you going to do? Talk to your wife?")

Drawing from a flask, Finchem/Sudeikis extolled the virtues of Tim (Lumpy) Herron and Trust Fund Jones III as replacements for Woods. As he descended into inebriation, prime tour sponsors were removed from the background, to be replaced with new sponsors such as "The Bernie Madoff Family of Investments," the movie Old Dogs and the letter Q.

Here's guessing Sudeikis won't be in the pro-am at the Masters next April.

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