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The Sunday papers: the week's best sportswriting

It has been another good week for sportswriting. We’ve picked out ten of our favourites for you to mull over.

IN NO PARTICULAR order every Sunday, we flick back through the week’s newspapers, websites, blogs and magazines to bring you the best sports writing.

10. “You know, people would ask me about longevity and all that. I would tell them I was going to die at 42. And I don’t know what that was about, but, as it turned out, you know, I did suffer the greatest death, from my vantage point, two days before I turned 43. That was the death of my mom, you know, my absolute best friend, my biggest fan. But November 28th of ’03, when I turned 43, I did realize I was likely going to make it to old age and so, from a mental perspective, I needed to get ready for things like a slowing gait and losing my step and failed health and all those types of things, whereas I’d always envisioned that I was going to go at the top of my game.”

We mentioned the death by suicide of former NFL star Dave Duerson. Deadspin spoke to him a couple of months ago.

9. “It has been eight weeks now. Eight weeks since Victor Hedman smashed Sidney Crosby’s head into the glass in Pittsburgh, which was four days after David Steckel ran his shoulder into Crosby’s temple in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field. Which means that it has been eight weeks since Sidney Crosby played an NHL game. And that should make anybody who cares about hockey nauseous. It should give them a headache. It should cause sleepless nights. In other words, it should make them feel like they have suffered a concussion.”

Bruce Arthur explains that NFL isn’t the only sport with a concussion problem . Expect rugby to wake up to it soon.

“The dunk remains incredible because it’s a prank pulled on physics to us less-than-superhuman people, the subversion of the ordinary, and — in especially incredible (and increasingly rare) cases — the power of mental dexterity, timing, and the pushing of limits. Even the players themselves, guys who play basketball for a living, still can’t do anything but acknowledge the extraordinary in their presence.”

The beauty of the slam dunk by Esquire. Boom.

8. “They support their teams and campaign on behalf of them. They are fanatical and manipulative. They like to see themselves as an arm of their clubs — part of the fabric. They have become propaganda outlets, not newspapers. And, they think, being that way works.”

Sid Lowe uses his Sports Illustrated column to examine why the Spanish footballing press have opted for partisanship over objectivity.

7. “James Joyce once wrote: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Satan didn’t have the power to destroy God, and Cantona, despite his best efforts, didn’t destroy the beautiful game.”

The Run of Play’s Jeff Maysh examines Milton’s Paradise Lost and Terminator II: Judgement Day to see what they can tell us about the enigma that is Eric Cantona.

6. “A vastly impressive South African performance yesterday was overshadowed by an even more impressive effort by the various security forces in operation at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi. Their indefatigable determination to ensure that no rogue snacks entered the ground was reminiscent of Albert Einstein’s quest to unlock the secrets of the universe.”

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Ireland’s cricket fans better have left the Tayto at home.

5. “Meeting Keith Miller for the first time backstage at the Washington National Opera, in a black kimono and Japanese Tabi slippers, he comes across as a gentle performer with a voice that impresses, even when just speaking quietly. But if you were to look at his old driver’s license? In that hulking mug shot is a man who weighs 265 pounds and sports a menacing Fu Manchu goatee. The photo barely resembles the now 220-pound budding opera star who will sing a commanding solo when Madame Butterfly opens in the nation’s capital next week.”

A former gridiron star swaps NFL for opera. He speaks to the Daily Beast.

4. “Tried to make the most of the weekend by just enjoying myself and switching off. First thing first though, it was good to get some training in during the week so I could relax on the diet a little at the weekend. Seeing that we’re a competitive bunch and always looking for a competitive edge, the diet is one of those edges and lurking over most players’ shoulders. But got the training in so could ease up a little and hit some of my vices – pizza and burgers (what a pro!).”

Jamie Heaslip is an interesting guy. His blog on the Irish Times is good value. The comments at the bottom are even better.

3. “Catcher Paul Phillips wanted to tell Justine Siegal that she threw like a girl. He couldn’t because she didn’t. Siegal, 36, threw batting practice to two groups of Indians hitters Monday during the second full-squad workout of spring training. She faced four minor leaguers at 11 a.m. and three of the Tribe’s catchers in big-league camp at noon. She received passing grades from both. It’s believed she’s the first woman to throw BP to a big-league team.”

I can’t remember how I came across this on Cleveland.com. Technology, eh?

2. “If old Joe fired that single, insane shot, trust me, millions of middle-aged men would have been dancing around their living-rooms, exultant. Because I’d wager Gattuso took one look at Jordan’s greying, bespectacled countenance and saw someone he reckoned should be spending their days pruning leaves and farting out loud by the compost bin. In other words, someone he could bully.”

The Irish Independent’s Vincent Hogan wishes old war horse Joe Jordan took a shot at Gatusso for the grey generation.

1. You watch Billy Walsh and he is completely absorbed in the forensics of each Taylor punch. And Katie Taylor is open to every scrap of guidance which comes from a great teacher. If boxing is a sport of violence, this is an act of love. This is a place of nurture.”

Another great piece of writing from Tom Humphries, profiling the man behind the recent resurgence of Irish boxing – High Performance Head Coach, Billy Walsh.

It’s not that Sidney Crosby, as a person, is more important than Marc Savard or David Perron or Matthew Lombardi or Peter Mueller, all of whom have missed most or all of the NHL season with post-concussion symptoms. It’s not that his symptoms are necessarily worse. There were 33 concussions reported in the NHL through Dec. 1. There are a lot of guys sitting in dark and quiet rooms, these days.

But Crosby is different, because he is Sidney Crosby. He is the best player in the world; he is one of the two players in the league who actually have the ability to transcend the league. And since Alexander Ovechkin has spent the season being a more physical Brad Richards — another guy who has the curtains drawn, at the moment — Crosby was, until early January, standing alone.

And then came Steckel and Hedman, neither of whom were fined or suspended for making contact with Crosby’s head from behind. And as the days stretch out, you start to wonder and worry about what comes next.

The precise severity of Crosby’s concussion has not been made public. The Penguins have said he needs to go symptom-free for 10 days before being cleared, and that has apparently not happened. On Jan. 24 he told reporters in Pittsburgh, “People say mild concussion, but I don’t know that there really is such thing. The good thing is the past four to five days have been pretty good, but that’s not to say symptoms won’t come back.”

That was a month ago, now. Then he talked about headaches, and not knowing what triggered them — light, noise, exertion, it all seemed a little random — and that he was happy to be able to drive a car again. Just 10 days ago he returned from some time away from the team, with his parents, and when Pittsburgh Tribune beat reporter Rob Rossi mentioned he didn’t have much of a tan, Crosby said, “I didn’t want to stay [outside] too long because that might bring on [headaches].”

There has been speculation that he is done for the season, but we won’t know until the season is over. So all we really know is that Crosby’s symptoms have not gone away. Or that if they have, they’ve always come back. And that the vacuum of information coming out of Pittsburgh is like the quiet between bombings.

And the NHL should be terrified. Crosby was having his finest season; he is still fifth in the league in scoring despite missing 20 games. And the greatest difference between Crosby and every other hockey player is not his skating, or his hands, or his size. It is his neural capacity to control his skating, to direct his hands, to see the ice, to think the game with a fine edge. It is his brain.

So many players have never been the same after suffering a concussion this severe, or at least, that has lasted this long. Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, Pat LaFontaine, Keith Primeau, Savard, on and on. Not every concussion opens a window to more concussions. Maybe this is the only brain injury Sidney Crosby will ever suffer, and he will fulfill the promise of being a generation-defining player. He is just 23.

But either way, he will now play the rest of his career in greater danger of a second concussion, and a third. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that he becomes Lindros all over again. Crosby’s much better at protecting himself, but in a league where those two hits are deemed acceptable, it might not matter. When he decried such hits back in January, Crosby said, “when you get hit like that there’s nothing you can do, there’s no way you can protect yourself.”

And yet they went unpunished.

Steckel’s intent is a matter of debate — it didn’t look like an accident to me — but Hedman’s hit was reckless, and the 6-foot-6 defenceman rose up prior to impact. But the NHL refuses to ban hits to the head over fear that it will strip the physicality from the game. The NHL sells violence, red meat, up until the New York Islanders play Ogie Ogilthorpe hockey. That, these days, is the line.

And even then Mario Lemieux’s post-Penguins-Islanders brawl comments still ring true. “We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players.” He might employ Matt Cooke, but he was right.

And if what has happened to Sidney Crosby isn’t enough to get the NHL to significantly alter its supplemental discipline mechanisms, faulty and ridiculous as they are, then it feels as though nothing will. Last season Steve Downie attempted a sort of figure-four leg lock on Crosby as they skated side by side. No injury, no discipline. Cooke took a run at Ovechkin’s knee a few weeks back. No injury, no suspension. Headshot discipline has varied wildly, as per league policy. Inevitably, a superstar — a real superstar, in a league full of guys who don’t sell tickets — was going to get hurt. Two headshots, no suspensions, and Sidney Crosby gets headaches for two months.

And what happens now? It was earlier this month that LaFontaine, who was a magnet for brain injuries during his stellar 15-year career, told nhl.com that “Once you get to a certain point with head injuries, there’s no turning back. For some reason, we use up this reserve. We all start out with a full tank in reserve and every time we get hit, we deplete that resource. For some reason, when we’re on empty, what used to take us a week or two weeks to bounce back is now taking us months and sometimes years.”

Nobody knows how far away Sidney Crosby is from empty. Hopefully, a long way. But right now the face of the NHL is nowhere to be seen, and we don’t know if he will ever be the same.

• Email: barthur@nationalpost.com | Twitter: @bruce_arthur

Posted in: NHL, Posted Sports Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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35 comments

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HRKW

10:30 PM on February 23, 2011

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You hit the nail on the head with this article; I certainly couldn't have said it better myself. I literally become nauseated when I think of what this season started out being for Crosby - and what it all too quickly became. I fear for his future. I simply can't imagine an NHL without #87. To me, the Kid is Le Magnifique. He is the Great One. He is HOCKEY and this concussion is a hockey-eating monster. I hate it and I'm sick with worry for what the NHL will hold from here on out.
- Heather

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Tophyk

2:03 AM on February 24, 2011

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I just want to say that the article is spot on. I'm a huge Sidney Crosby and it's lousy that he's hurt. However welcome to my Hockey World. I'm a lifelong Bruins Fan, and this sort of thing has been happening to us, as Bruins fans, for decades. Bobby Orr was the victim of many cheap shots throughout his entire career, the Pat Quinn sucker punch in the 1969 playoffs and Bill Barber's illegal leg check come to mind ( no fines or suspensions were levied). Also Cam Neely was essentially put out of hockey by an Ulf Samuelson cheap shot, again no fines or suspension. Just recently Marc Savard was almost killed by an elbow to the head, from a Pittsburgh player,(Matt Cooke) again no fine or suspension.
Colin Campbell who is the Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operation for the NHL has to go.
The man is completely inept and unqualified. His handeling of the Marc Savard incident just goes, to prove my point. Now with the Crosby situation it puts him in a far worst light.

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bent_zen

4:30 AM on February 24, 2011

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It's nice to see that people are finally taking an interest in brain injuries. It's pathetic that it takes injuries to the overpaid stars in sports to bring attention to the horrifying effects that a brain injury can have on a person. i.e. depression, anxiety, dealing with the reality that you're not the same person as you were before the injury (keep in mind that your brain is the very core of who you are as a human being).
I fell on my head 14 years ago on a construction site, tried to make an honest effort to return to work, was screwed by my employer, then screwed by the WCB Alberta, now I'm sitting here in a darkened room at 2:30 in the morning, 50 years old, dealing with the question of how I'm going to handle homelessness when it comes.
But hey, y'all go ahead and enjoy the next game...

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CEOmike

7:55 AM on February 24, 2011

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This is the law of unintended consequences. Bring back no helmets and the "enforcers" then guys will think twice about hitting a player like Crosby because they have a chance of injuring themselves and being beat to a pulp by the "policeman" No referee and penalties, a paid two game or a five game holiday, can match being humiliated physically in front of 20,000 fans.

Before helmets and when every time had at least on "enforcer" head injuries were almost no existent, but there were a lot of teeth lost and cheek bones broken, making the effeminate cringe, leading to the mess we have now that actually is jeapordizing the whole game.

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travelplus

8:17 AM on February 24, 2011

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maybe if we started a petition to remove Bettmen and his boot licking minions, then replaced them with people who actually love the game for the game not for all the money they want. New rules need to be introduced and then actually used, there have been numerous players in our game who are hee for their size, and fighting abilities, THAT IS NOT HOCKEY. Change the hierarchy and the game will get better, if not, the future of many other good players could be damaged.

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8:19 AM on February 24, 2011

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8:22 AM on February 24, 2011

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8:36 AM on February 24, 2011

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8:37 AM on February 24, 2011

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iloveburritos

8:59 AM on February 24, 2011

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You say that "as a person" Crosby is not more important than Savard, etc. but you don't seem concerned at all about the rest of the NHL. I find it problematic that you seem concerned only because this has happened to Crosby. I realize the point of your article is not to start a debate on head shots and concussions but rather to highlight Crosby's importance within the league and I don't disagree with that. If anything, however, the NHL and the Penguins organization should be terrified about the way they knowingly let Crosby play games after the initial collision with David Steckel. If there was any hint of concussion at that time, he never should have been at risk from the Hedman shot--especially if he is as important as you believe. And, if as you imply, the NHL should take a greater interest because the victim is Sidney Crosby, then what happened to Crosby isn't terrifying--the NHL's response is.
Best,
Anna

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andersm

9:05 AM on February 24, 2011

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Until hockey fans rise up in unison and condemn the premeditated debilitation of a hockey player, any player, as part of the game strategy, this will go on. The owners will just buy a new horse and race it until it falls and it, too, gets get tossed on the dung heap. It's all about the money and win at any cost.

I am nauseated by the life-altering brain damage deliberately perpetuated to these players. The tragedy is that Crosby may be permanently denied the chance to deliver his greatness to the game. I imagine the Neanderthal hulks that perform and approve the loathsome practice of head shots are greatly cheered by the thought.

The language of the league owners is money. If the league ever gets serious about stopping deliberate injuries, then a punitive system which fines both the offending team and player double the salary of the injured player, half to the player, the other half to the player's team, then maybe there's a chance. All that's missing is the will to act.

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Practical Canadian

9:07 AM on February 24, 2011

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It is time for hockey to grow up and stop the fighting, the hits and the concussions. Respect for hockey as an international sport is growing by leaps and bounds around the World, except...for the fights and hitting. It is very difficult to explain to people from other countries why the fighting and hits are allowed. I tend to blame it on the 'U.S owners' as a group, which is bit unfair. I know Canada has a lot of fighting / hits proponents. It is also difficult to explain to your kids why the fighting is alright, even encouraged. So I say to our kids that by the time they are adults, the old guys with the fighting rules will be out, and new rules, which promote a fast-paced clean game will be in. I hope I am right. I hate lying to my kids.

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mike1944

9:19 AM on February 24, 2011

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Enough is enough and the wind of change calls for a change. You very correctly stated that NHL sells violence. I first watched a game in 1971 and was shocked to see that both entire teams would be at each other bashing away at will. Fortunately those rules have been changed and now two players fight but even that is two too many. I want to see a hockey game and not a boxing match. That's it for me. I will not watch again until Crosby plays. Perhaps we need tougher rules- Steckel/Hedman banned for life. Would that not be a great human lesson? How many others do we want to see disabled?

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scolopacid

9:32 AM on February 24, 2011

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It won't change until the brain-dead-cowboy-redneck-ATV-culture-hockey-goons are out numbered in the market; violence sells hockey more than skill right now; its a culture thing and it says a lot about where we are heading as a society (ie. into the depths of mediocrity and ignorance, not to mention fat).

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pc_800cc

10:07 AM on February 24, 2011

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Steckel and Hedman should be thrown from the league. Period. No return. Ever.

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Capt. Contrail

10:08 AM on February 24, 2011

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Those who don't remember Bill Masterton should research the story.

The best thing Crosby could do is sit out the rest of the season. This would force the league front office deniers to rethink the game, especially when it comes to cheap shots, checks from behind and untalented zipper-heads trying to score brownie points.

Without protective headgear the injuries would be on par with what Masterton sustained.

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Prairieguy2

10:08 AM on February 24, 2011

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It is unfortunate yes but in the case of Crosby I don't think there is much doubt it was accidental and largely his fault for turning the way he did. If you watch the video the player who hit him loses his balance awkwardly after the hit which would not be the case had he braced himself knowing he was going to hit Crosby. Having said that I agree there should not be head shot or checking from behind allowed. It is a minority of players who should be booted; simple. That would end it quickly enough.

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frlwinslow

10:12 AM on February 24, 2011

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The Bettman empire does not care about individuals, only dollars. Realizing that someone like Crosby equates to the same takes minimal brain power. But a concussion, a brain injury, would be meaningless to Bettman and crew because such requires a brain! When are the owners and executive going to realize that it is time to return the game of hockey and rid it of this professional wrestling style "hackey?"

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anonymous

10:17 AM on February 24, 2011

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A personal set back/tragedy for Mr. Crosby...and huge set back for the NHL...a welcome focus on this type of horse play. Look, we all accept the dangers of physical contact sports....that said, the NHL would appear not to do enough to avoid as much as possible (s_it happens) this type of thing. Good luck to Mr. Crosby..for his sake...and the sake of hockey...I hope he heals totally and can play again.

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10:26 AM on February 24, 2011

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John_7777

11:19 AM on February 24, 2011

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The fastest and best solution is that the offending player sits out as long as the injured player. Whether you intended to injure, or not, the instigator sits down. Maybe we can get back to 'separating the man from the puck.' When I hear about guys saying that another guy has his head down and therefore it's a fair shot, I question that persons sense of right and wrong. We're all human beings. This is a game,not a war. Where is "sportsmanship"? Where on earth do you see this type of behaviour except in professional sports? If I ever hear a coach advising my son (pretty big & strong) to hurt another player, I'll be calling the police.

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GrateOne

11:25 AM on February 24, 2011

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As long as Bertuzzi is playing after intentionally disabling another player who has never played since his injury, the league is going to keep losing great players like Crosby.
We need to keep players of this calibre.
Don Cherry has painted a picture of macho on the goons who do this kind of thing.
Cherry may like the troops, but hockey ? In my opinion he is a goon with a low IQ.

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John_7777

11:50 AM on February 24, 2011

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I am starting to believe that Hockey is unable to govern itself. When taking a shot at someone's head is part of the game, then it's not a game, it's a bloodsport. In the past few weeks, I've had a few wake-up calls as a hockey dad: 1) in a game where a kid was hit from behind, the opposing coach yelled out to "hit him harder next time" as his player was escorted off the ice (the coach wasn't ejected) and 2) bought a pair of shin-pads from a clerk who has had 11 concussions and couldn't even work the cash register. I love hockey but wonder whether I'm risking my son's future ability to make a living with his brain by exposing him to concussions.

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Novo321

11:53 AM on February 24, 2011

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Have there been too many serious head injuries in the NHL over the past few years? Yes. Should the NHL find ways to protect the players? Absolutely. However, what really bothers me is that with all of the head injuries as of late, the only one that seems to matter is Sidney Crosby... all other players are forfeit apparently.
- Jonathan

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Puckcahser73

12:09 PM on February 24, 2011

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This article made me laugh out loud... another sports writer drinking the Crosby Kool Aid. I agree that head hits are becoming a huge problem in the NHL. But the NHL need not stop because an overrated player got his karma... I wish no harm on anyone -- athlete or -- but give me a break!! Sidney Crosby is a low-class, low-rent player who lacks any shred of respect for the NHL. Maybe during his time off, Sid can enroll in Hand-shaking 101, Slew-footing 108, and Intro to Human Decency. Not missing him AT ALL....


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