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Nazem Kadri was late for a meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was disciplined by the team for his tardiness. The world continued to revolve around the Sun.

Or so it would have, had it not been as high profile a player, on as high profile a team, in a terrible season, in a market that is incredibly saturated with media coverage.

Instead, it’s led to questioning the level of respect he has for the organization and his teammates. It’s led to asking if his teammates in being such terrible leaders have failed him in some way by not policing the situation. It’s led to radio opinions (such as that of TSN’s Darren Dreger, below) and surely will follow with a barrage of newspaper pontificating and televised scolding.

All this is nonsense. We don’t know the circumstances and we don’t know how many other times this has happened (by Kadri or others on the team). It’s a tempest in a teacup as far as I can tell.

The problem is that the insatiable beast that is the media machine is constantly hungry and thirsts for anything remotely controversial to drive page views and pay the bills that keep the lights on.

Instead of carefully analysing what has gone wrong this season for the Leafs, in terms of measurable things that are obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention (e.g. poor defence, leading to being outshot by large margins in most games, a drop in goaltending from Vezina-worthy in previous seasons to average in this one) the focus has been on trying to build narratives around the things that can not be measured.

“Where is the leadership on this team?”, they ask plaintively, after spending the past two off-seasons signing veterans who boast the kind of intangibles that in their view ought to right this capsized ship. The problem, though not many would like to admit it, is that these players aren’t necessarily improving the on-ice product at all.

So, when the team plays poorly, it’s due to bad leadership, bad attitudes, and it’s to be inferred, bad morals. These are the bad guys, fans, boo to your heart’s content. Throw jerseys on the ice.

It has nothing to do with signing inferior players (based on measurable skills, abilities, and track records) and has to do with signing inferior people (based on the select opinions of media members who shape the opinions for the wider public).

It’s dangerous to draw this line, and it’s what leads to the observed antipathy that many players express towards the media. There is an imbalance between the actors and the writers. The actors are cast in this morality play without auditioning and the writers are hostile and malevolent when roles are not played as intended.

The athlete’s true role is to be an athlete, to play the sport for which he has trained for his whole life. That’s it.

As a sidenote, I’d like to tell two quick anecdotes about lateness from my own life that took place in the last two days. This is to provide some context outside of the Kadri story.

I coach rugby and yesterday I was assisting at a training session aimed at high level athletes who play for representative teams. It is a mixed group in terms of age and gender, but they’re all teenagers, and among the most promising players in the region. The scheduled session was to take place at a university campus, and the invitations were a bit unclear (even for the coaches) and I headed to the wrong locale (an indoor turf field) before realizing that the group there wasn’t mine. I re-checked the invitation and saw that I needed to be in a different building, in a gymnasium instead. I took a few wrong turns, but eventually got to the correct location, and because I had intended to arrive early, I was just on time. We got the session underway, took attendance, and began with the first activity. Maybe ten minutes into the two hour session, a handful of athletes showed up, promptly got changed, warmed up, and joined in.  It happens. I had previously worked with each of the “late” athletes and could only say that they are bright, well-mannered kids. They practiced hard for every minute of the session and were not a distraction to the others, nor were they viewed as being disrespectful. If them arriving late was typical, perhaps things would be different, but it wasn’t. It was one time.

I was late to work today. I didn’t intend for it to happen. I left my home with plenty of time to spare. I walked to the station where I am supposed to catch my bus. It runs every fifteen minutes for two hours in the morning. Except many days it doesn’t. While the station I catch the bus at is the first stop on its route, some days it misses the stop (as in actually driving right by us as we wave). While it is scheduled to arrive every fifteen minutes (on the hour, on the fifteen, on the half hour, on the forty-five, etc), some days when it does arrive it’s on the ten, or the twenty, or the fifty. While it is scheduled to arrive every fifteen minutes, sometimes it arrives every thirty or forty minutes. I waited thirty-five minutes for my bus today. It missed two of its intervals. I don’t know whether I’m getting to work at 8:15 or 9:15 on most days.

I don’t think any of those kids are bad people. I don’t think that I’m a bad person. These are the people I know. I don’t know any of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I wouldn’t use their tardiness as a judgment about whether they are good or bad people. That’s disingenuous at best, and dangerous at worst.

We might want to save our moralizing for when actual moral crises occur in sports, and they do from time to time, whether it’s allegations of match-fixing or accusations of domestic abuse. And even then, we might want to make sure that we’ve got the facts straight first.

The fact that these athletes earn large sums of money to play sports doesn’t make them actors in a morality play, it makes them professional athletes, and that is all we really are entitled to judge them by.

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2 thoughts on “On Lateness, The Media, Context, and the Danger of Morality Plays

  1. As the saying goes Food for Thought 😊😊️️️️️️️️️Grandma

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  2. Food for thought,who are we to judge except when we both know people who are always late ❤️😊️️️️️️️️️Grandma

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