uspw_918186 2There’s a certain pleasure to be gained through the discovery of metaphors. It’s a quirky bit of nature, but we seem to understand ourselves better from a perspective that excludes us entirely. Without this, parables, poetry and playwriting likely wouldn’t exist, or at least wouldn’t carry as much significance as they do.

The amount of amusement we derive from piecing together parallels between narratives and our own lives is enhanced when those analogies seem almost accidental instead of crafted. It’s one thing to read a novel that’s meant to be an allegory, and quite another to come across something that’s not intended to mirror anything, but does so in a fashion that causes reflection.

Matching the sports we watch to the culture we inhabit is hardly new. It’s been done many times before. Perhaps the best example is the book Brilliant Orange, which rationally ties so many aspects of Dutch culture to voetbal. In Canada, before gift buying holidays like Christmas or Father’s Day a new book is released tethering hockey to what it means to be Canadian. Meanwhile, the United States has long stood by baseball as its country’s pastime, a connection that was most exhaustively made by documentarian Ken Burns, who dedicated more than 18 hours on public television to explaining the relationship between the sport and the nation.

The Emmy Award-winning series was broadcast on PBS in 1994 – not an especially good year for baseball – but even as Burns was preparing his epic ode, the rankings of relevance had shifted. Not so long before Baseball first aired, the tenure of National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle concluded. Under Rozelle’s three decade long stewardship, the NFL blossomed: Attendance increased by almost 600%, and every subsequent Super Bowl set new records for television viewership. It all combined to create fertile ground for his successor, Paul Tagliabue, to reap an even larger harvest in increased television coverage and the accompanying lucrative contracts from broadcast partners.

Football is enormous, it’s become far bigger than baseball in terms of popularity. Nonetheless, baseball still clings to tradition, backed by its long standing connection to America’s history, and all of its struggles, conflicts and contradictions.

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Canada's Pospisil reacts after losing to Serbia's Tipsarevic after their Davis Cup semi-final tennis match in Belgrade
The last thing I want to do is make this a dear diary post, but it matters in this context. ‘Matters’ is being used loosely.

My love for tennis was the biggest thing I had in common with my dad growing up. We used to play a lot until his knees no longer allowed it. We lived and died on every point Pete Sampras won or lost. It was the same with Roger Federer. When I lived away from home our calls would focus on what happened in Rotterdam or Gstaad. Wherever the tour set up shop for the week.

My dad is no longer the person he once was. Age, issues both external and internal have conspired to make him unrecognizable. My family has battled through, but in the end we face the inevitable. We’re just riding out the last few years. Writing that one year ago would’ve been a lot more difficult, but here we are.

Canada almost made the Davis Cup final. They almost did the impossible, beating Serbia, on clay, in Serbia. A bunch of Canadians with great cutouts made their presence felt in Belgrade. Milos Raonic gutted out an intense five set win over Janko Tipsarevic on Friday. Milos Raonic gutted out a five set win on clay. That will never sound normal to me.

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osuhelmetThere are both advantages and disadvantages to democracy, but the most favorable aspect that trumps all others is that, in its truest form, common people are represented in a way that allows them to influence the creation and application of law so that it reflects the generally accepted values of a society. Yes, this has and will continue to pose problems for minorities living in a society that doesn’t account for the comfort of others, but at the core of the democratic ideal is an allowance for social change and a protection against the elite hoarding power.

These are good things. However, we’re sometimes susceptible to trickery by the upholders of the status quo – who often have the most to lose through social change – exerting their influence to cause us to believe that certain values are more generally accepted than they actually are. This is frequently done on a political level, a cultural level and less seriously, on a sporting level.

In college sports, we’ve long been taught the virtue of amateurism. It’s a patently false virtue, originated by the high society organizers of the first Modern Olympic Games as a means of glorifying the accomplishments of the aristocratic athlete at the expense of the working class who required professional status as a means of paying for training. When we attach any amount of reason to the discussion around compensation for college athletes, it becomes abundantly clear that they should be paid for generating revenue for their school and risking their own ability to make future income by participating in athletic competitions where debilitating injury is always a possibility.

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Britain's Murray kisses trophy after defeating Serbia's Djokovic in the men's singles final match at the US Open  tennis tournament in New York

The moral degradation of society continues unabated. This isn’t about barbaric laws, athletes committing crimes or authority figures abusing their power.

Professional tennis has come to symbolize everything that is wrong with us.

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The greatest lap ever raced

McEnroe-Borg, Prost-Senna, Ali-Frazier, Rossi-Lorenzo…

Valentino Rossi winning a race was not news. It was expected. And yet, the Italian legend found new ways to amaze each time on the track.

His 99th win would be remembered for an ending that can only be described as remarkable. The 2009 Catalan motorcycle Grand Prix saw Rossi fend off his closest rival and teammate, Jorge Lorenzo for the victory.

Sport is at its best when the legends they create compete against one another. You don’t have to be a racing fan to appreciate how special this was.

Amazing.

Rogers Cup

With most of the Tennis world’s focus on Montreal, a Romanian in Toronto became more than just another runner up.

Sorana Cirstea’s week in Toronto will be remembered for the giants she slayed and the one she couldn’t. Along the way a supporters group that consisted of half of Bucharest and a smattering of folks who live to cheer for the underdog took over the grounds at York University.

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unknown-artist-the-wild-wild-east

The German Democratic Republic may have had a relatively small population – 16-million people – and a short history, but it was extremely successful at the Olympic Games. From 1976 to 1988, the country came second in three summer Olympics, only behind the Soviet Union. They also finished second at four Winter Olympics, and won more medals than any other nation at the 1984 winter games in Sarajevo.

It was just before 7:00 AM on an autumn morning in 1978 when 18-year-old Renate Neufeld was awakened by the Secret Police. Her dormitory, which was off-limits even to her parents when they visited, was invaded by Stasi officers, who – in their mechanical compliance to indiscernible demands – took the young sprinter away for questioning.

As a relative newcomer to the TSC Berlin Sports Club, Neufeld was unique. Like her classmates, she grew up in East Germany, but unlike the rest of the sequestered school, her daily routine through adolescence hadn’t been meted out by the Socialist Unity Party. Most of the students there were hand-selected at the age of twelve to become future representatives of East Germany at the Olympic Games. Since being chosen, they trained constantly to reach this goal. From physical exercises to nutrition, regimen and unconditional obedience was a way of life.

Neufeld, a champion hurdler in her teens, didn’t join the school until after she turned 17-years-old. Immediately, her trainer set her up on a sophisticated program that would make up for lost time and reap increased ability from her surprising and untamed talent. Included in this plan was a supplemental diet of grey pills and green powder that he referred to as vitamins. Once she began consuming these “vitamins,” her legs suffered frequent cramps, her voice deepened, facial hair grew on the top of her lip and she ceased menstruating.

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