I Don't Like Mondays — January 11, 2016
Stupid is as stupid does. Or, as the sports cliché goes: You can only have so much stupidity in a dressing room.
How much is too much? We can’t say for sure but we know that, after their AFC Wild Card game on Saturday, the Cincinnati Bengals definitely have too much stupidity in their room. By now everyone knows about Vontaze Burfict’s pointless head shot in the final moments as the Bengals tried to hang on to their one-point lead over Pittsburgh. The 15-yard penalty put Pittsburgh on the edge of field-goal range.
Or PacMan Jones’ unsportsmanlike penalty just moments later for jostling an official, a penalty that put the Steelers in easy field-goal range for the win. (Although why a Steelers coach — Joey Porter — was at midfield without a penalty is one of those NFL reffing mysteries.)
Let’s not forget Jeremy (You Had One Job) Hill fumbling deep in Steelers territory after Burfict supposedly sealed the win with an interception with 1:25 left.
There were other gaffes, but those three undisciplined moves after Cincinnati had rallied to take the lead late doomed the Bengals and put head coach Marvin Lewis on the hot seat for indulging so many loose cannons in his room. For those Bengals who’d laid it all out, the actions of a few felt like treachery.
The entire meltdown was chewed over on social media, of course. One of the more illuminating exchanges took place amongst players former players of the Calgary Stampeders. The debate started when veteran long snapper Randy Chevrier, who is white, called Burfict and Jones “thugs”.
“When you get a bunch of thugs playing football, because u think they are tough...you forget they r stupid...that's why they r thugs #bengals”
That brought All-Star teammate Keon Raymond, who is black, online to chide Chevrier for using the word thug. Reflecting a Black Lives Matter talking point, Raymond tweeted, “I’m just saying when you say thugs that puts a negative stereotype on Black men. No matter what you may think.”
Former Stamp Nik Lewis, who grew up black in Texas, piled on: “End of the day Ur better than nobody, and neither am I. Ur bad day is a bad snap. U don't face what others do…. I've seen white kids shoot up schools and have yet to see 1 of them being called a thug. Certain words r used 4 certain people.
Chevrier tried to explain. “Nik in my hometown in MTL I grew up with a lot of thugs, and none were black. So for me it's not a word I associate with color.”
Chevrier, who played in the NFL as well as the CFL, replied to Lewis, “sorry if I offended u, u know me 4 10 yrs. If u think an interpretation of a word defines my character,then I can never change that.”
Lewis, whose own reputation for controversy is well-earned, relented. “we good, just being back home I see it all the time. Some choose not to see it, some choose to learn from it.”
Coming from Chevrier and Raymond — two of then best people I’ve covered in 35 years of sports — it’s a fascinating exchange. Granted, this was just one professional sports team, but it gives fans a picture of the social complexity within a dressing room. The social values on politics, sex, money and status are anything but unanimous within a club.
Next time you see a sports team spinning out of control, remember that there are as many forces puling against unity as there are pushing for cohesion.
As a postscript, NBC’s Rodney Harrison, the former NFL defensive player who is black himself, ripped a strip off Burfict and Jones on Sunday. Harrison described them as thugs.
We at IDLM have admiration for the improvement made by the Florida Panthers this season. They are a talented and intriguing mix of veterans such as Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr along with a core of young prospects like Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Alexsander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad
But this narrative making its way around the NHL about the genius business plan of GM Dale Tallon and the Panthers management is a bit rich. If missing the playoffs 13 of 14 seasons since trading Pavel Bure in 2001 — and gaining high draft picks — is a strategy then Don Cherry is a soft-spoken old gentleman.
In fact, the Oilers and Panthers demonstrate that accumulating top draft picks is not a complete strategy at all. If it were, they’d have met in the Stanley Cup Finals several times by now. It’s the addition of 43-year-old Jagr and 37-year-old Luongo that has stabilized then Panthers.
So, cheer the Panthers (we’ll be heading to their home rink next month), but let’s not herald the dawn of a new day in NHL management because of their success.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).