Dustin Parkes

Recent Posts


It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which losing six games in a row could be positive, but with the Toronto Maple Leafs currently stuck in a four-way tie for the two Wild Card playoff entries, the half dozen straight defeats that led the team to this point seem especially horrific.

On Tuesday night, Toronto suffered its most recent failure, losing 5-3 to the St. Louis Blues. Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf struggled mightily throughout the game, not unfairly tagged as a primary accomplice to his team being outshot 49-25.

It was a bad day at the office, and as a result, the defenseman opted out of his obligation to speak to the media following the loss. This, to the many pundits who weighed in following Phaneuf’s no-show, represented an atrocious lack of leadership, and partly explained Toronto’s recent struggles.

Things came to a head on Wednesday when Phaneuf phoned in to a local sports talk radio show to explain himself, after one of the hosts ranted about the player’s notable absence following his poor performance.

To be completely honest with you, I was emotional about the game. I didn’t want to let my emotions get the best of me. I feel bad about not being available. At that point in time, I was disappointed in the way that I played and I was emotional after the game. That’s why I did not talk.

As sports fans, we grow to accept the flawed “conventional wisdom” force fed to us by years of following our favorite players and teams through newspapers, television and radio.

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Spoiler alert: People can be cruel.

While certainly not to justify the malice of others, it goes without saying that the majority of people on earth are well aware of the human capacity for cruelty. If you didn’t learn about it on the school playground, it can easily be experienced within five minutes of traveling on public transit. If you lack patience, thirty seconds of a television news broadcast should suffice.

Nonetheless, there are those in the employ of media outlets who believe that written barbarity communicated through social media is evidence of a special breed of human meanness deserving of mention and reporting. These stories are typically associated with references to the world going to hell in a hand basket or society losing its way.

If only these writers and editors were granted access to a collection of all the mean things written on post-it notes, papyrus and stone, they might come to the conclusion that people have been jerks for quite some time without the benefit of Twitter and Facebook.

Until then, we’re to make due with days like today when three Canadian news organizations – the National PostGlobe and Mailand Toronto Star - all reported on the wife of Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer undergoing a disgusting bit of persecution on Twitter, presumably because she dared to marry someone who was unable to stop pucks to the satisfaction of miscreants with a primitive understanding of the written word.

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All day long, we make compromises. We jump through hoops designed by others — often meaningless and almost alway arbitrary — so as to achieve something that we can genuinely appreciate for ourselves.

We learn from an early age that any individual revolt against the system to which we’re born will be met with less comfort than merely going along with it, and so, excluding a few heroes, we mostly agree to play the game. We turn a blind eye to great injustices, step around challenging authoritative structures, and lead an inauthentic life for the sake of amenity and contentment.

You and I share a lot in common with the guy from The Matrix who sells out his team. We know it’s all an illusion, but we’d rather live undisturbed there than deal with the reality of our situation.

We’re frequently reminded of this by devilish misanthropes, forever eager to broach the subject of a far more disturbing trend whenever we complain of something trivial.

Lines at the airport got you down? At least you’re not in Aleppo being bombed by the Syrian army. Are you tired of the cold weather? At least your child wasn’t infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis. And so it goes.

Recently, I’ve found myself feeling similarly about the ongoing — and admittedly trivial in a grand scheme of things sort of way — NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

It’s a sporting event unlike any other. 68 teams of comparable age and varying talent compete in a massive three week tournament, in which the representatives of a single school have to win six straight games against what’s meant to be increasing levels of competition before being crowned National Champions.

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Despite its overwhelming success, it’s easy to understand why the new purveyor of Hockey Night In Canada would seek to change the broadcast’s brand. A difficult balance has to be achieved: After paying $5.2 billion for broadcast rights over the next 12 seasons, Rogers wants to adjust the flagship hockey broadcast in Canada enough to ensure the acknowledgment of Sportsnet’s ownership, but not so much as to alienate a long devoted audience.

Enter George Stroumboulopoulos, an “alternative” voice on which all Canadians can agree.

Stroumboulopoulos is the perfect choice to replace Ron MacLean as host of Hockey Night In Canada. Boasting a style that gives the illusion of rebel, the talk show host consistently reinforces the values that most Canadians hold dear. He appeals to a younger demographic while simultaneously possessing the ability to placate the old.

Having their cake, and eating it, too, Rogers also announced on Monday that MacLean would stay on not only as Don Cherry’s handler for Coach’s Corner, but also to fulfil hosting duties for Sunday night’s coverage. Once a year, he’ll continue his fine work anchoring the Hockey Day In Canada broadcast.

It says more about MacLean’s history than Stroumboulopoulos’s capability that expectations of the new host have been mostly tempered. Roll your eyes all you want at the cliches about big shoes to fill and a tough act to follow, the sentiment remains true: MacLean offered something to a Canadian institution that no one else could.

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The previous week’s thaw combined with the recent freeze to make large potato chips out of the frozen sections of snow and thin layers of ice. The crunch of every step would break multiple sheets, but never so much as to leave an imprint on the eighteen inches of ice below. It felt like you could see forever on the frozen lake, but look back after trudging for ten minutes and your starting point was immersed in fog, illusory curtains covering the recent past.

The plan was simple. I’d leave Saturday morning, and my brother would meet me halfway. From there, we’d travel to his ice fishing hut that was less than an hour’s drive from his home. In the days leading up to our excursion, my brother would send pictures of the inside of the hut. It had a heater, fishing rods, tools I’d never seen before and whiskey. It also had a tiny grill.

I asked him if it was for cooking the fish that we’d catch, and he let me down gently, “Oh, we won’t catch any fish to eat.”

My brother and I lead drastically different lives. He’s country. I’m city. The population of his town is under 10,000. Mine is over 2.5 million. He has cross-stitching and family photos on the walls of his house. I have movie posters and art work on mine. He can build stuff with lumber. I worry about splinters. He owns a fully stocked chest freezer. The inventory of the freezer atop my fridge consists of ice cubes, vodka and a couple of dark chocolate bars I’ll never eat.

Despite the overwhelming amount of differences between us, we share a similar outlook on life. Generally content to watch it unfold, we’re spectators deriving no shortage of amusement from all of the hullabaloo that others cause. This characteristic occasionally extends beyond a healthy detachment, but on the whole it seems a better perspective than most alternatives.

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The email chain lasted for four years. After graduating university, most of us – friends from high school and college acquaintances – started our careers in positions that took about a tenth of our brain power. We fried a good portion of the remaining percentage every night on the type of substances that single men in their early twenties often acquire when they find a disposable income being added to their bank accounts following four years of student poverty. Any leftover creativity that wasn’t wasted on pleasing bosses or succumbing to peer pressure was spent on writing emails to one another.

That’s how it all began.

The messages were awful. We mistook crass – misogynistic, homophobic and sometimes racist jokes – for being clever. We were cynical and cruel, imagining ourselves to be smarter than we actually were. We corresponded throughout each day about the most mundane topics, trying to one up each other with sarcasm and bitterness, all for no apparent purpose. We wrongly considered ourselves too smart to be appreciated by the general public, and so, found appreciation in the inboxes of one another, never considering for a moment that we might not be nearly as unique as we supposed ourselves to be.

For the purpose of the narrative, it would be nice to pretend that it all fell apart because of the Toronto Blue Jays. However, truthfully, we got older, more mature. Our responsibilities at work and in life increased. Nonetheless, it was at the insistence of other members of the email chain that Andrew Stoeten and I take our baseball conversations elsewhere. Days later, I received an invitation from Stoeten to join a newly created blog called Drunk Jays Fans.

We blogged and blogged, received a little bit of notoriety, then a little more and a little more still. We’d grow giddy over gaining mentions on local sports talk radio, and get even more excited for thinly veiled references to our work popping up in newspapers. I think our proudest moment was learning from a journalist covering the Beijing Olympics that we were banned in China. Eventually, a television sports network contacted us about working together, and in a real-life meeting, an executive with the company spoke about us lending them our cool-factor. We were so serious about our future in sports media that we proceeded to mock the term the very next day in a post. So punk rock. So stupid.

Thankfully, the executive looked past our juvenile behavior and allowed us to record a podcast and associate ourselves with something that was a little more credible than Blogger. After a year, they hired Stoeten to write for their website, and a couple years later, extended a job offer to me to write about baseball. We sold our website to them. It went from Drunk Jays Fans to DJF, and we found ourselves writing about sports as a profession.

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Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin

At a time when party lines are toed so deeply as to create ideological trenches in the United States, President Barack Obama might have found a unifying force to bring all Americans together: A hatred of Russia. Between remnants of Cold War hysteria and a lack of social progress in the land of a former enemy, Republicans and Democrats, rarely alike, both have reasons to despise the hosts of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

And so, it’s without much consternation from either side of the political spectrum that the White House announced its delegation to the Sochi Olympics wouldn’t include a President, First Lady, Vice President or even an acting cabinet secretary. Instead it will be comprised of two openly gay delegates: tennis legend Billie Jean King at the Opening Ceremonies, and two-time Olympic medalist in ice hockey, Caitlin Cahow, at the Closing Ceremonies.

A statement from the White House coyly suggested that the President believes the delegation “will showcase to the world the best of America – diversity, determination and teamwork.” In case that was too subtle, the statement repeated that this delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States.” The only way the statement could have been more implicative would be if the statement was read by Ellen Degeneres while holding rainbow flags.

Why is the United States going through all this trouble to say something, while not really saying anything?

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