The Worst Website In The World
In response to Stephen Marche’s recent Grantland article, Toronto: The Worst Sports City In The World.
This past summer, Bill Simmons, in collaboration with ESPN, launched a website covering sports and pop culture named after early 20th century sports writer Grantland Rice, whose elegant prose set him apart from his peers and left something of a lasting legacy in sports journalism. Simmons gathered an impressive list of contributors to the site, ranging from the author of a book about neuroscience to a popular former columnist at Spin Magazine.
Inevitably, the ambitious project provoked a fury of opinion.
Kelly McBride, writing for the Poynter Review Project at ESPN, suggested that,
At its best, Grantland is clever and funny, for smart people who want to be intellectually challenged and entertained at the same time. At its worst, it is a bunch of hyperbole and aimless columns that lack a clear focus.
The humourous blog Et Tu, Mr Destructo? went a bit further with its criticism:
Its celebrity contributors list reads like a Who's Who of people whose only metric for understanding the human experience is the singular preciousness of themselves or the nauseating insipidity of corporate-retreat science. Then there's the preposterousness of the name. Bill Simmons is to Grantland Rice what Tucker Max is to Hunter Thompson.
While the Columbia Journalism Review had its own issues with Simmons:
He writes his life as one continual inside-reference, carries names in a sieve, and sprinkles enough references to Vegas-grade misogyny and frat-tastic juvenilia that your teeth squeak after reading him, sort of like when you chug a Coke.
I even got in on the hen pecking shortly after Grantland’s launch:
There’s a formula to all the pieces: take something from the sports world, attempt to make it far more culturally relevant than it is, and permeate it with as much pop cultural and personal nostalgia as possible. Alliterations don’t seem to hurt either.
To summarize the majority of these and other critics: Grantland deserves our praise for attempting something that doesn’t merely cater to attracting page views from the lowest common denominators, but it’s also deserving of a healthy dose of scorn for dressing itself up as something loftier and better than what it truly is, often relying on the type of hyperbole that’s normally reserved for the very worst of Bleacher Report.
The typical Grantland article doesn’t result in intellectual pleasure or even promote challenging ideas, it offers readers little more than the chance to pat themselves on the back and believe that they’re more keen than they truly are for picking up on a reference to an 80’s B-movie, or being able to relate to a writer who also had trouble asking girls out in college. It’s an online college degree that’s only recognized by yourself and other holders of the same degree, with no merit in the real world.
The latest example of Grantland’s tendency to reach for hyperbole over substance is an article by author Stephen Marche titled Toronto: The Worst Sports City In The World. The only possible way to make that headline more outlandish would be to add a period after each word. In fact, after reading the entire article, I wonder if the copy editor had spent a little more time on fact checking and a little less time on trying to write the trolliest headline possible, he or she (but considering it’s Grantland, likely he) might have noticed the Toronto Argonauts’ actual record this season and that the Toronto Blue Jays are not owned by Maple Leaf Sport And Entertainment.
In this case, errors are only icing, the real substance of the hard to swallow cake is that instead of relying on the quantitative analysis of a quoted ESPN study that measured the biggest bang for a sports fan’s buck in each North American city that hosts professional sports, and found Toronto to be lacking, the article seeks to offer something more than “a merely numerical measurement.”
In other words, the entire article is rendered redundant in the very first paragraph. It eschews an abundance of objective data in favour of the subjective, and believes that it will offer value that the objective didn’t. It’s like suggesting that, not only does two plus two equal four because of the agreed upon principles of mathematics, but also because I think it does, and so here are some anecdotes from my own life in which my fallible judgment also found two plus two to equal four.
However, I suppose that the ESPN study hadn’t dried up the well of Canadian insecurities when it comes to the United States’ opinion of us, so by all means, Grantland, bait away.
Losing in Toronto, however, is an unremitting condition.
Something like reading 2,100 word article that’s already proven itself to be pointless within the first 50?
The CFL team, the Argonauts, is so bad that when I recently found a friend of mine betting on it, I immediately wondered if it was time for an intervention about his gambling addiction.
I would humbly suggest that the concern over Mr. Marche’s friend’s gambling addiction had little to do with the success or failures of the Argonauts specifically, and a whole lot more to do with the fact that he’s wagering on the CFL at all. Given the state of the company that he keeps, it’s no wonder Mr. Marche feels the need repeatedly kick a dead horse.
The Blue Jays this year aren't completely terrible, but when you've said that, you've said everything. They may be a rising power in the East, as many claim, but they sure haven't risen yet.
But isn’t Mr. Marche’s thesis that losing in Toronto is an unremitting condition? Yet in his second example he’s already conceding that there’s reason to be hopeful about the future.
The Raptors are still in their post-Bosh wilderness (not that the Bosh period was a golden age), and Toronto FC currently rests at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Leafs, who matter to Torontonians more than all the other teams combined, have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and they haven't made the playoffs in a franchise-record six seasons.
A few of our city’s franchises are losing. No one’s disputing that, but thanks anyway for the recap. It’s certainly a cause for alarm because no city has ever recovered from having a few franchises go through a dry spell. At least none with which Grantland Editor-In-Chief Bill Simmons might be familiar.
The Leafs' major source of hope seems to be Brian Burke himself, but when the major source of your dreams is a front-office guy, you are in a dark place. Cheering a GM, to me, is hitting rock bottom.
This is probably an argument for another day, but recently I’ve found that taking an active interest in the front office of sports teams actually leads to a more enriching experience. It’s neither stupid nor “hitting rock bottom.” It adds an almost intellectual pleasure to the passion and emotional attachment one has for a team. I suppose that might be a difficult thing to grasp for someone whose hands are already full of straw.
After offering such illuminating evidence, Mr. Marche then goes on to spend several sentences convincing the reader that hockey is important to Canadians. In other news, wonderful pasta dishes can be found at Italian restaurants. Mamma mia!
All of which is to say, we are so terrible when we should be so great. I wish I could say that the misery in Toronto follows that simple equation: the size of our passion divided by the grossness of our losses.
Thank goodness intangible elements were plugged into a mathematical equation there. Otherwise, it might have verged into the dangerous territory of quantitative analysis. And I had been enjoying all of the “I feel”s and “to me”s so much.
Unfortunately, the torture of watching hockey in Toronto is nowhere near so easy. Everybody knows that Toronto loses not despite our love for the game, but because of our love for the game. The truism is by now well established, a local media commonplace.
Yes, because the Nick Kypreoses of our nation are really providing us with a font of truisms.
So who can blame Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the business that controls the Leafs and the Raptors, for following that oldest and truest of rules: Never give a sucker an even break? The most recently released financial reports, published by the Toronto Star in 2007 and which were neither confirmed nor denied by the privately held MLSE, suggest they run a profit margin of more than 20 percent.
I’d normally inquire as to where the Maple Leafs payroll has been in comparison to other teams in the NHL during the MLSE reign (before and even after the introduction of a salary cap), but Mr. Marche provides a counter argument himself.
Before we start hacking away at the irresponsible evil-capitalist angle, however, we should recognize that the majority shareholder in MLSE is the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund (although they are currently looking to sell); the profits of MLSE have paid for the retirement of a lot of hardworking people, so it's good that they're good at business. And they are excellent business people.
So, that’s settled. Or not?
Nonetheless, I don't know how the executives at MLSE eat and sleep and walk around knowing how egregiously and consistently they have failed their city. For the past 14 years, the head of MLSE has been Richard Peddie, a mostly cheerful public figure with a hefty amount of charm and a disarming sense of humor.
How dare a public figure be charming? But wait, has anyone else ever described Peddie as charming?
Ultimately, Richard Peddie makes an unsatisfying scapegoat, though. In interviews and on television, he seems like a decent guy who's excellent at his job.
Look, Mr. Marche, are you writing this take down of your article or am I? Make up your mind.
The problem with hockey in Toronto is the nostalgia that dominates how the game is played and consumed here. More than winning, Torontonians love the style of old-time hockey, a spirit of straightforwardness, brotherly violence, and what for lack of a better word I will call "not-fancyness." Hockey commentators here love nothing more than explaining how hockey games are won by cycling the puck, driving at the net, ugly goals. "They don't look pretty, but they win games." They love saying that.
Mr. Marche just spends a considerable amount of his words and my time chastising the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs ownership and management for not giving the fans what they want. And now, he’s switched to telling the fans that what they want, and what they’ve been told that they should want, is all wrong anyway.
Despite having more money than any other hockey team in the league, the Leafs have not purchased any brilliant players in an era overflowing with brilliant players.
There is the small matter of a salary cap, but please continue.
What the Leafs specialize in is the great bush-league heroes — this is not an accident nor is it the fault of the suits. They know what their audience wants and they give it to them.
An ownership group that gives its audience what it wants? Outrage! Outrage! Outrage!
Wait a minute. So, again, what was with all the crying about MLSE’s ownership exploiting the poor fans of the team who don’t know better than to support it?
Toronto fans like extravagantly ordinary players. How else to explain paying $3 million for Darcy Tucker? Or $5.5 million for Bryan McCabe?
Actually, John Ferguson Jr. explains that, which actually wouldn’t have been a bad point if it were used earlier to explain why MLSE was at fault.
During the 2011 Stanley Cup, everyone felt they had to cheer for Vancouver — Canada's team — but secretly everybody wanted Boston to take it. The choice between Ryan Kesler and Tim Thomas wasn't really a choice at all, even if Thomas is American.
Yeah, as is Kesler, but how does that explain why Toronto is such a bad sports town?
This bush-league spirit extends from hockey to all other sports.
And so, every sports franchise in the city is basically run by the fans? Maybe there is a reason why Toronto is such a bad sports town!
Mr. Marche then goes on to compare Chris Bosh to Danny Dichio as the type of mediocre talents that get praised by foolish fans. Bosh’s mediocrity of course extended all the way to his inclusion as a leader on the U.S. Men’s National Basketball Team at the 2006 FIBA World Championships and 2008 Olympics, as well as his six All-Star games.
But why let facts stand in the way of an opinion?
The bush-league spirit that infects Toronto's hockey also infects the rest of the city. We are a big, nasty, rich city that insists on acting like a small town. We're the size of Chicago, but how could you tell? Our mayor would be an amazing mayor for about 20,000 people. Our museums, our architecture, reflect little of the immense resources that flow through the city from half a continent. Our transit system is a joke because we refuse to plan for our success. It is obvious that Toronto won't be whole, won't begin to live properly again, until the Leafs win the Stanley Cup.
All this while, through all these words attempting to diagnose some sort of condition for being a Torontonian and a Toronto sports fan, Mr. Marche finally reveals himself at the end to be the worst type of local citizen: the self-hating one.
In the meantime, we deserve to lose. We deserve our pain. The pain is the only hope that we'll ever learn to win again.
At this time, I’d like to take up a collection so that Mr. Marche might travel extensively through the rest of North America and visit other cities of similar size, and see their museums and look at their architecture and ride their transit. Perhaps he might gain a little bit of perspective and learn that sports fans in every city have a lot in common with each other whether their team is winning or losing.
Of course, such findings aren’t likely to inspire a Grantlandesque headline or a surge of page views, but it may just provide a reason to pause before unjustly condemning an entire city’s fan base.
Look, I get there's a little bit of tongue in cheek going on in this piece, and I don't honestly believe that Grantland is the worst sports website in the world, but this piece is indicative of the difference between what the website wants its reputation to be, a place for a higher level of sports thinking, and what it actually is, a place where hyperbole reigns on the back of subjective opinion.
That false representation may be acceptable where you live, but not in my town.