By TONY SEED
What about the neo-colonial mentality and behaviour of the monopoly sports media? Every foreign star who touches down in Canada is celebrated as some singular being, and Canadians are supposed to be blessed and thankful for the favour of paying to watch them perform.
Throughout the past week, the sports media has been hyping non-stop the first start of American football quarterback Johnny Manziel in the Canadian Football League. A former NFL first round draft pick, his two seasons with the Cleveland Browns were marred by off-field troubles including spousal abuse. He has not played since the end of the 2015 season.
Yesterday’s Toronto Sun devoted 2 full pages previewing the start – in Montreal. Every paper picked up a CP release listing US football star hasbeens or wannabees who had previously come to Canada and promoted as game-changers. The names of the executives who imported them were charitably kept out of the story.
The shaping of the coverage this past week over Mr Manziel as celebrity is not exceptional. In May, when the quarterback was originally signed by the Hamilton Ticats after two years out of football, the media laid out the red carpet. This headline and article by Steve Simmons in the Toronto Sun said it all: “SIMMONS SAYS: Welcome to Canada, Johnny Manziel.”
“Suddenly, the great Toronto-Hamilton rivalry, the only passionate pulse of football in parts of Southern Ontario, just got better.
Johnny Football is coming to Hamilton.
And where do I sign up?
I can’t say for certain what Johnny Manziel will bring to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But he will bring swagger and he will bring noise and there will be attention for a singular player in the Canadian Football League and how can that be bad for football in this province and in this country? There aren’t enough stars in the CFL, singular stars, polarizing stars, players to love, players to hate, and there aren’t enough individuals to talk about as individuals and Manziel, under the tutelage of coach June Jones, will certainly be fascinating to gauge.”
The article in question is that long, illustrating just how this athlete was viewed: the “I”. The star-crossed love’em or hate’em Simmons has nothing to say about the player’s skill, talent or character, nor does he even go so far as to argue that this young man should be given another chance to redeem himself from his troubles.
And this is about a “Canadian” league which faces suffocating pressure from the US NFL cartel whose games are broadcast by CTV (30 per cent owned by ABC/Disney) and Rogers Sportsnet (Rogers tried to buy and relocate the Buffalo Bills NFL franchise in Toronto), has but one Canadian quarterback (and he is an exception), peculiar but favourable import rules, and no franchises east of Montreal. The solution?: “singular stars”, either natural or made. How is this good “for football in this province and in this country?”
Since May, a stream of journalists “signed up” and previewed every moment of the star import’s progress in returning to football and “adjusting” to the Canadian game. Yet, after spending the first six weeks on Hamilton’s bench without playing, Mr Manziel was suddenly traded away to Montreal on July 22. The move to a team in the same conference is characteristic of a league which historically moves its quarterbacks around to bolster troubled franchises.
Last night he was picked off four times, including his very first pass, in a disastrous debut as the Hamilton Ticats downed the Montreal Alouettes 50-11. He had been thrown into the fire after a mere four practises. Montreal, a team in an equally disastrous decline, is owned by a US carpet bagger, Robert Wetenhall, and its fortunes have gave gone south as well. Only 18,576 people responded to the hype and turned out at Percival Molson Stadium, whose seating capacity had been expanded in 2009 from 20,202 to over 25,000.  His press agent now urged patience. Quarterbacks take a long time to develop in the CFL, Mr Simmons explained after the game.
This Americanized professional “sport” is divorced from the people and their concerns. Canadians should ask what do these celebrities and stars really do for Canadian sport, and the role of this media, which is self-serving to say the least. News of amateur sport, the sport played by the people, constitutes less than five per cent (my estimate) of reporting in the monopoly media; even CIS has had to pay for its national university championship games to be carried by a sports TV channel.
Foreign athletes who do settle down here and integrate in the Canadian society should be welcomed as should all immigrants. All these private professional sports empires receive massive subsidies of Canadian tax dollars for their stadiums and arenas in pay-the-rich schemes. Yet what do they do for the development of Canadian sport and the nation? Laying out a welcome mat for passport athletes regardless of their talent who will be gone tomorrow or scouring the world for athletes, who can be potentially naturalized to boost the medal chances of Canadian Olympic teams, should be restricted by the government. The demand that the professional franchises in all sports employ more Canadians is just and will contribute to nation-building.
*Photo shows a radio-controlled flying witch making a test flight past a moon setting into clouds along the pacific ocean in Carlsbad, California, October 8, 2014