Firstly, Paul McNulty of 13th Man Sports is a heck of a writer, bias acknowledged, so this will be a tough assignment. I am likely gonna need one of those bear suits for protection after this one. I will dare to write the counterpoint to the justifiable rage about “THAT” Chris Jones article.
Ok let’s start with the stuff I can’t justify to myself:
The racist undertones. Why Chris Jones had to resort to negative hip-hop-Esque tropes to say Alphonso is rich is beyond me. Well, actually it isn’t. I think a lot of old white writers have biases and prejudices they don’t recognize. It’s exactly that reason that a lot of people of colour, like myself, maybe don’t scream out as loudly as our allies, as this ain’t so shocking to us.* It’s about a Tuesday. (*I am not the official speaker for all Black folks. Due to Ye’s latest actions, and Herschel’s Senate run, we’ve not had anyone brave enough to step up and represent all of us). But thank you to those allies and POC who have called Chris out on it. Well done.
⁃ The injury thing. Paul covers this well. No offence to the Canada Soccer staff, but you aren’t taking better care of Alphonso Davies than the richest club team in Germany. Davies arriving late is not a prima donna thing, it’s a “protect our valuable assets thing.” If any argument is to be made here, it could be that other injured players came earlier, Stephen Eustaquio comes to mind. But again, Porto is no Bayern.
On to the defence. The media seems to think Davies needs them as much as they need him. He doesn’t, that is correct, but soccer in Canada does. Badly. After this World Cup ends, all we are likely to see in the local fish wraps is talk of the CSA and CanMNT at loggerheads, the inequities the CanXNT face despite being the more successful program, and whatever else the CSA screws up between now and the 2023 World Cup. Positive stories like “Davies Faces the Music and a Nation’s Empathy Follows” or “Davies Takes on the Pressure Because He Feels It’s His Role – And Who Could Argue”, would really help the game. Alphonso can give Canada what it needs any time he wants because he is that great on the pitch, and so loveable off it. Just watch a Twitch stream of him and try to be mad. You can’t.
Let’s face it, being the face of a nation is hard and pressure-filled. But it comes with the territory. And Canadian Soccer players have the advantage of very little public pressure. This is not like the expectations of a Sid Crosby at the Olympics, or even a Kyle Lowry interview on the way to an NBA title. Sure 4.4 million Canadian eyes were on the game, but how many are invested in a day-to-day way? As a result, very few want to rip a 22-year-old kid over a miss. Vince Carter going to his graduation got more negative press than Davies is ever likely to get. This is soft-sell PR for the Canadian sports scene.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
How about the “he’s too rich to get it” stuff? Well as Paul put it – we’ve seen this before. And the terrible tropes of rich Black men and their jewelry and extravagant expenditures. That was inexcusable from Jones, and should have been noted by an editor. (The fact that he doubled down rather than admit a bias is more troubling). But that’s not the only place we’ve seen the haves vs have-nots dichotomy in the Canadian Soccer scene.
Anyone who follows MLS to any extent, which is nearly every soccer fan in Canada, has heard about how this can impact a team on and off the field. It can be the outsized expectations of a player on the pitch of his teammates to do their jobs in the way they can. Let’s face it, everyone on Bayern is well-drilled and part of a well-oiled soccer machine. Davies doesn’t have to do anything more than his job to make the team go. And he is great at it. That can’t be said about this Canada team.
A complaint sometimes bandied about in Canadian soccer circles is that Davies is trying to do too much. Of course he is. His single-biggest signature move was a half-field sprint to keep a ball in play followed by a skillful run with the ball at his feet that saw him ignore a possible square ball to shoot back across himself for glory – which he did with seeming ease. Of course, that has only been eclipsed by becoming the first-ever men’s goal scorer at a World Cup. It wouldn’t be hard to get an ego as a result. After all, all the greatest players know they are great. Messi and Neymar don’t think they are just cogs in the machine. They know they are the biggest parts of them. I don’t know that Alphonso has a big ego, and neither does Jones, unless he had a source that he didn’t cite. But by not saying “sources say” it means he took a guess and that ain’t good enough to slander someone with.
But also, that big difference off the field shows too. Again, Jones did a terrible job of reporting. I wish he had asked questions of people behind the scenes if he was going to write this stuff. A job made easier by fostering contacts over years of covering this team, which he hasn’t done, but I digress. We have all heard about MLS players arriving to practice in their affordable automobiles to park beside the Bentleys and exotic Italian sports cars. (Another trope used to maybe single out the new TFC players, or a mention of Ferraris and Lamborghinis. I am not perfect, and a little stir-the-pot-like). It could play with your head as a Canadian player whose role is discounted on the pitch and bank account partly because of your birth certificate.
These guys have seen it on the teams they play on in Canada where they are almost guaranteed to be on low terms because they were built here, not in Brazil or the Netherlands. How much better did Carlos Salcedo play for TFC than Miller, Waterman or Johnston for CF Montreal? Not at all. But check those bank accounts. Players are being reminded of that, while they are doing all they can to grow the game, including doing extra media for the guy who benefits the most financially can play with your mind. Again, you should ask those questions of someone instead of assuming them, Mr. Jones.
The argument goes through that maybe Alphonso just isn’t comfortable talking to the media. A great example from Paul was that of Naomi Osaka. Her reluctance to do press due to her mental health wasn’t accepted by the media. She was cast as weak. So, imagine what the media will do to Alphonso, when he is making himself the face of Soccer in Canada, something Osaka is not necessarily in tennis (but maybe in Japan, I am ignorant of her status there). But Osaka has blazed a trail for Alphonso. Those media members that are all about sucking it up and pushing through are much more commonly found in the more macho sports like hockey and football. Soccer is seen largely as a soft sport, fairly or not. And Alphonso is likely to have an understanding of media if, in fact, anxiety is an issue for him. Think of how DeMar DeRozan was treated by the fans when he reached out about his mental health. Canada can be a kind place when it comes to mental health and sports stars. Ask Clara Hughes.
And unfairly or not, a large segment of the sports-watching population will say, “if I can see you lending your voice to BMO and BioSteel on every other commercial during the World Cup, surely you can give a throwaway phrase or two to the press gallery.” People do get a little cynical when they think you will do it for gobs of cash, but not for country.
The issue of negotiating jersey deals solo is a potentially sore one too. I, like many, assumed/hoped it was an example of a player using his economic heft to force a deal that would trickle down to his teammates. But anyone as old as me has a difficult relationship with trickle-down anything. I have worked in a unionized environment for a long time, I have thrown my support behind everything from education workers and home care nursing to beer can makers and the fledgling pro soccer union in Canada, PFACan. Rarely have I ever seen a group happy about a member making a deal without them.
It doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, or that this one wasn’t backed by the boys, but I wish someone would investigate how the talks are going, and where the shortcomings are. Jones again misses the professional part of this, which is the investigation rather than the accusation. And as an outsider, I am left to wonder how this solo deal, on top of announcing he is donating all his CSA/WC money when others are “greedily” demanding more, helps the group. Again, it could simply be a good kid doing a great thing. But it also can be interpreted as hanging the boys out to dry when Dr. Nick says “Wow, what a real hero Alphonso is, why can’t the rest of you be more like him and let us ‘donate’ this money to the grassroots and women that need it.” Wherever you fall on this issue, you probably realize solidarity is key. And without any conversations with anyone, we are all left to pick sides in a debate that drives us apart in a Golden Age. (I’d argue the men need to show that solidarity with the women too)
Another argument was that this was somehow this was an act of “work-to-rule” by players, doing the bare minimum until a deal is made. Again, to me, that is the same kind of assumption over evidence that Jones is guilty of (of course we are fans, not journalists). If it is work-to-rule, why are Atiba, Johnston, and others available for the print press? And why is the Canada Soccer site splashed with photos of players and their families with the CIBC training gear fully front and centre? It is an ineffective-looking work-to-rule if it is one, in my opinion. Though maybe Davies is taking the lead on it, and the others have been slow to follow. But it doesn’t pass the smell test without some good journalism.
Finally, if we are becoming a soccer country, we are likely in store for more of this than less. Have a look at the stories written about young superstars from humble beginnings around the world. And in the race for clicks and follows and money, journalism is often sacrificed for commerce. Evidence of this is rife in the tawdrier tabloids of soccer media. (CBC do better). A rush to scoop the rest often leads to poor journalism. As the game grows here, so will the coverage. Both the good, and unfortunately, the bad. And if this seems like I am being dismissive of issues, consider this. The majority of comments I read were on a tax-funded entity like the CBC being responsible for racist dog whistles, despite not supporting the game meaningfully in Canada.
But the hypocrisy of this view, at least from my eyes, is that the credit for soccer coverage is given to the CSB, the group that hired Kurt Larson. In August of 2018, Kurt was announced as Managing Editor (for CanPL.ca) and Director of Content for the Canadian Premier League. He has since moved on to OneSoccer. Neither group was much into vetting. But OneSoccer promised to respond to what they were going to do with their Head of Content after his very racist, misogynistic and islamophobic comments were made public. He made a non-apology and talk of him disappeared. It has been over a year, as shown in this countdown clock Casey Telford shared with the Canadian soccer community.
I always wondered why our national team looked so diverse, but the coverage teams at OneSoccer so…well not. I mean we had Asa Rehman at one point. But he was let go due to a lack of work at OneSoccer over Covid and was never brought back under Kurt. Hopefully, we as a community are going to rise up and demand more of our soccer saviours, OneSoccer and the CSB. One racist article from the Ceebs and the pitchforks are out, which is good, because racism sucks. (But as a POC following sports in Canada, this seems like par for the course. Doesn’t Steve Simmons still have a job?). I guess what I am saying is if we are gonna call this out at the CBC, then follow us over to OneSoccer where it isn’t one journo, but the Head of Communications.
When all is said and done, Jones’s article fell short of journalistic integrity and relied on some terrible tropes. Do better Chris.
But as part of the Soccer community in Canada, we’ve all gotta do better too. And it can’t all be a happy upside. We have an inept federation, a mistreated women’s game, and a Men’s pro game being grown from the top down. Attacks are coming. Good stories are welcome and everything Phonzie touches turns into gold. That can’t last forever, but I do wish we had better journalism to point that out. Chris Jones does come off as entitled, and angry at being ignored. And the story shouldn’t be the journalist.
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