I love baseball. The way that talent mixes with randomness to consistently deliver exciting outcomes is almost perfect to me. It’s a social sport, with a slow pace that lends itself to conversation. It’s my favorite by a good measure.

I really like soccer, too. There are few vicarious moments that allow me to lose myself as completely as the build up to a potential goal in soccer. Football is fun to watch on Sundays, but if I’m honest with myself I’m just as likely to use it as an excuse for afternoon beers and unhealthy food as I am to thoroughly enjoy a contest. Basketball is like a people aquarium to me. It’s something I’ll keep on in the background and check into from time to time, but it doesn’t grab me the way that other sports do.

I’m too old to argue that my order of preference to sports is better than anyone else’s, and I only bring this bit of self-indulgence up as a means of comparing my relationship with other sports to hockey. I’m a casual fan. I’ll follow from the periphery during the regular season, spending the odd Saturday night – when there’s nothing better to do – in front of the television to watch a game. During the playoffs, I’m a bit more active. I’ll follow along with late night highlight packages in the early rounds, watch elimination games and pay close attention during the Stanley Cup Finals.

On Tuesday night, the 2013/2014 NHL season opened, and in the marquee matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, a fight – the second of the night between Colton Orr and George Parros – broke out.

This is nothing new. These two players are employed by their respective teams in the unofficial role of enforcer. They’re both in the business of ice hockey fighting. What is new, or at least rare (a similar incident happened last year to Orr, who at the time, was once again performing a duet with Parros), is that the fight concluded with Parros missing a punch, falling, and landing chin first on the ice.

The Canadiens tough guy was eventually stretchered off the ice and taken to hospital, where he was unsurprisingly diagnosed with a concussion. There are few ways of better understanding the term blood curdling than to see a grown man attempt to pick himself up and fail after suffering a significant blow. Reduced to a fumbling fawn by violence, Parros was without pride, recumbent on the ice.

This was the lasting image for many who shared their outrage the next day. The first wave of which questioned the role of fighting in hockey, the second questioned those questioning it. Claims that hockey fighting was absurd were countered with arguments ranging from exaggerations on the importance of momentum to claims that the removal of fighting would lessen the entertainment of the game. And on and on it went throughout the week, and it continues even now.

The arguments are largely futile, only serving to further entrench two sides in a fruitless debate. I’m typically hesitant to express much when it comes to hockey, specifically because I don’t know it as well as most. I’m a casual fan of the game. I understand its virtues and I comprehend its challenges, but I’m not too interested in investigating either. I’m a Canadian who prefers the pastime of my Southern neighbor, not a general columnist attempting to feign expertise on a subject about which he knows little.

I’m even less eager to enter a fray in which both sides have reduced opposing viewpoints to the most base stereotypes. Anyone in favor of hockey fighting is an underdeveloped Australopithecus. Those who despise punch-fights on ice are presumed to house a collection of Baby Butterscotch Magical Show Ponies in a prominent position at their abode – they’re only taken out of the case above the mantle to be brushed, and then they’re returned.

Nonetheless, I began to wonder if both sides in the debate weren’t a bit too dependent on group think in their analysis, sheltered by their own social media feeds and failing to consider how it all seems to an outsider. For once, I thought, maybe the voice of the non-expert might provide some value.

I’m not trying to convince anyone or make someone see things my way. I have no scorer in this shootout. I merely want to share my thought process in coming to the conclusion that I have in the hopes that it provides something of value to the discussion. I don’t like fighting in hockey, but the last thing I want is for someone else who doesn’t like it to point to this, and use it against someone who does. That’s not the purpose of this. I’m not a hockey expert by any means. I’m a casual fan of the sport, and this is how I feel.

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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.


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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