We The ESPN, We The Scotiabank, We The North

By TONY SEED

Soccer CorporatizationThe start time of Friday night’s match between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors held in Toronto was moved back to 8.00 p.m. at the dictate of the US ESPN sports cable TV network. [1] No one complained: Toronto made the big time in the US market. Toronto even won this game of the leading contenders in the NBA East and is 2-0 to start the season. “[Kawhi] Leonard, the team’s superstar newcomer,” reports the Globe and Mail, “was serenaded on a couple of occasions with chants of ’MVP, MVP’ by an adoring hometown crowd.”

Mr Leonard had been abruptly traded during the off-season to Toronto from the San Antonio Spurs in Texas this summer without any say so on his part; now it seems he even wants to play in Toronto – for the one year left on his $20 million contract. For the longest time, he stayed silent. Now the angst, hand wringing and noise by the sports media expressed at the time over American superstars turning their nose up against playing in Toronto and in Canada – Antonio Davis famously declared his children did not need to learn the metric system – seems to have evaporated.

The other all-star in that trade, DeMar DeRozan, who had played for Toronto for eight years, had rejected being a carpet bagger; a man of humble origins, he and his family loved Canada and its people. He expressly wanted to play out his career for one team and take it to the championship level for the first time. Mr DeRozan was rightly bitter over the ruthless trade, which he learned about from the media and which he publicly called a betrayal of a long-term commitment made to him by the franchise.

In parallel, team coach Dwayne Casey was unceremoniously sacked, ironically just as he was recognized by his peers as “Coach of the Year.” Their crime? The team had not advanced past the first round of the playoffs and had been unceremoniously trashed by Cleveland led by LeBron James. What has been obscured by media coverage throughout this debacle is that the questioning and broad opposition by fans of the trade and the manner in which it was conducted had nothing to do with whether or not Toronto was perceived to be a “big league” city or not.

Now Mr DeRozan is yesterday’s man, cast aside by big capital. Nay more, he and other former players are even publicly reviled as the whipping boy in a startling new pregame video montage, which also aired on Friday. The video proclaims, “Please put it to rest. Stop fretting about will he stay or will he go. Enjoy this for what it is.”

Cathal Kelly writes about the message in the Globe, “with hip-hop artist Saukrates in the role of Virgil, there is an extended detailing to the city and its fan base of all their sins. They are whiners, small-thinkers and wretched nostalgists.” He illustrates the character assassination portrayed in the Raptors’ video as follows:

“DeMar DeRozan isn’t targeted so directly, but his treatment is more insulting. He’s shown for only an instant, not in any pose of action, but relaxing in front of his locker with earbuds in.

‘You think it was easy to let this man go?’ Saukrates asks incredulously.

Based on events, DeRozan’s lazy body language and the video you’re currently watching, the answer is ‘Apparently’.

It all ends with a reminder of what real winners look like – a final medley of celebrating championship teams from other, better cities.”

What does this have to do with sport? It is aimed at, in my view, all those who expressed sympathy for this athlete and who question management and its direction under the “We the North” banner. You are either with us or against us, the slogan of George W. Bush. The personality of the Raptors and those who associate with it must be aggressive, competitive and unapologetic: “We are winners,” “We are No. 1,” “We stand second to none.” This is the same idea thrown at the workers across the country day in and day out so that they make concessions which permit the monopolies to be “competitive on the world markets.” Those who do not perform to expectations can expect to be losers and be cast aside like scrap.

Toronto is playing in the big league. You can take that to the bank: The Air Canada Centre is now the Scotiabank Centre, “MVB–TM” (Most Valuable Bank–Temple of Mammon). It purchased the naming rights as part of its drive to expand in the US. The Tangerine brand of the Bank of Nova Scotia, an original investor in the franchise with a 10 per cent share, markets itself as “the bank of the Raptors and its fans.” Sport and finance capital work hand in hand.

The euphoria begins anew as a “better city.” The sports media has grist for the mill, and the super profits continue to be amassed for the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment monopoly, co-owned by the Bell and Rogers telecom monopolies. Between them, they control every major professional sports franchise in the city except the new Wolfpack rugby team – as well as virtually the entire Canadian sports media. [1]

The change of the start time is a small example, but it again illustrates how “We the North” is more than a catchy and clever patriotic marketing slogan; it is a motto of annexation and an attack on nation-building and sports sovereignty. What Canadians are seeing shows how the financial oligarchy use sport for their own narrow aims, thereby blocking the development of a human-centred and national sports movement.

Is it only a remarkable coincidence that this aggressive video appears at the same time the Ford government is trying to destroy the municipal government in that city and the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement? It has everything to do with the agenda the international financial oligarchy has set for governments in all countries at all levels at this time; anything which interferes with the ability of oligopolies to privatize all services, destroy unions and disempower citizens is to be destroyed.

After all, try as much as they can to erase and falsify history as “wretched nostalgia”, this is a franchise which in 24 years has not once drafted a Canadian athlete; in 1996 it even passed over Steve Nash, who became a two-time NBA MVP and member of its Hall of Fame. Canada is seen as a processing plant for the NCAA and the NBA, and a “golden generation” of first round NBA draft picks of Canadians from the NCAA is offered as “proof.” [2] Yet amongst the three token Canadian players it has signed in that period, only one of them – point guard Cory Joseph who played four years with the champion San Antonio Spurs and captain of the Canadian national team, who wanted to play for his hometown team – has ever started for the Raptors (winning two-thirds of those games, replacing an injured Kyle Lowry). He was shortly traded to Indiana July 2017 in exchange for the draft rights of the obscure Emir Preldžić (a 32-year-old professional in the Turkish league) in what was justified by the media as a salary dump. The Canadian stalwart left town without any of the media angst and noise surrounding the trade of Mr. DeRozan.

How small the example will be illustrated in the playoffs when, once again, as has happened the past 3 years or more, the Raptors’ games on weekends will be scheduled for a noon start, the first of 3 games to be broadcast throughout the day. Most of these Toronto has lost. Such is the level playing field in the NBA sports cartel that big capital aspires to play in. Perhaps this is why MLSE was so obsequious to ESPN.

Time to reject being spectators and consumers of US sport. Go out and participate in some sport and recreation in your community. As for our country and its future, there is an alternative: nation building. Only then will the right to participate in sport be guaranteed.

All the best to the nascent national basketball league.

Notes

1.A joint venture owned by The Walt Disney Company (80 per cent) and Hearst Communications (20 per cent), which also owns ABC. ESPN owns a share in TSN, owned by Bell Media.Bell Media also owns NFL rights for Canada. Sportsnet is owned by Rogers Communications, which owns the Toronto Blue Jays. The two communications monopolies hold equal 37.5% shares in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which they formally acquired in 2012. MLSE owns the Leafs, Raptors, Marlies and Toronto FC.

2.It is little discussed that Glenn Grunwald, former general manager of the Toronto franchise from 1997 to 2004 and now a consultant to the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA, has recently taken over Basketball Canada as president and CEO. What is obscured is that Basketball Canada has been captured by the neo-liberal, anti-national agenda, which promotes that outstanding high school players need to “go South” to a NCAA university in the USA for development.

Leave a comment

Filed under Basketball

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s