Saturday, July 6, 2013

All Star Awards

Those who know me well can very likely compose the remainder of this blog. I not a fan of "all star awards", especially in the sport of curling. Make no mistake, I'm not opposed to the recognition of exceptional performance. But I am adamant that the process to identify worthy recipients be appropriate. But more about the all stars in curling later in this blog.

Hockey fans, or  should I say NHL fans, were bemused unless you're an Edmonton Oiler follower (Oiler Taylor Hall was the second highest vote getter at left wing) then you were likely much more than bemused when the Professional Hockey Writers Association voted for the first and second 2012-13 All Star Teams. Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL's Hart Trophy winner (the NHL most valuable player award) was voted to both the first all star team at his normal right wing position and to the second all star team at left wing. Now to be sure, the Russian super star does, on occasion, play on the left side but it's common practice and indeed a directive from the PHWA, at the end of each season, to name players to a particular position for the purposes of voting for all star team inclusion.

The honour of being a member of the august body of scribes charged with the responsibility to establish each season's all star teams is not taken lightly by most of its members. In many cases, for a player to be named to one of the two all star teams means dollars in that player's jeans. When a player negotiates his contract, incentive clauses are often included and a common one is all star selection.

The PHWA association sent out an email to its members to make sure that they understood that Alex Ovechkin's position for voting was that of "right wing". Many NHL players, in specific circumstances play a position which is different from the one they play on a line change by line change  basis. On the power play for example, it's not unusual to have one defence man and a forward on the blue line. That forward playing defence might amass a significant number of power play goals & assists which are assigned to him and just might make him a candidate for all star selection but when the members of the PHWA association consider his candidacy, it will be for his "regular" position. Forty-five of the approximately 180 members of the PHWA failed to read the memo and voted for Ovechkin on the second team at left wing. To say the other 135 members of the PHWA who did read the directive are embarrassed is an understatement. Voting for the all star teams and other NHL awards is one of the most important tasks each of the members takes on and to not read the most important of directives is unconscionable. To call yourself a "professional" writer at the same time is disingenuous.

From what I gather, the voting is done secretly even though many members of the PHWA make their selections known in the media outlet they represent but not all. I would hope that those 45 members who acted in the most unprofessional way possible in this voting procedure voluntarily withdraw from the PHWA! Let's see how many do.

When one earns then accepts the designation of "professional", that individual's performance is held to the highest standard of conduct and accuracy. No one is perfect, but best practices are not only expected by a professional in all fields but in the case of the medical profession, it could be a matter of life and death. That's clearly not the case here but nonetheless it's of sufficient import to be a cause for concern for those in the media, players, fans and the PHWA.

I shake my head in dismay when I hear or read about a professional athlete when he/she says he/she can't seem to get up for certain games or state that it's sometimes hard to be motivated to perform. What?! I would like to ask that same athlete, if they were injured and needed career-saving surgery, would it be OK with them if the surgeon indicated, prior to the operation that he/she just wasn't feeling up to it or that he/she was not motivated to be the best he/she could be in that operating room? Hmm, I think not! Professional athletes not only accept that their performance will be held to a high standard, they are paid large, very large sums of money as well, in most cases more in a short span of time than most of the people who buy the tickets, products and services that support the athlete/team will see in a life time!

Although not the focus of this blog, in the midst of all the adulation paid to professional athletes who are touted as bigger, stronger & faster, my late father would also add, dumber! And he was correct in my view. I see more "mental mistakes" made by professional athletes than ever. Baseball is particularly susceptible it seems. Players throw the the wrong base. They get caught off base and become the back end of a double play because they didn't let the line drive get through the infield. I could go on and on as I watch major league games on television.

But this blog is about all star awards. Of the four main professional sports in North America (hockey, baseball, basketball and football) the baseball "all star game" is clearly best. I never miss it on television even though it's far from perfect, very far! Look, every all star game is a fantasy to some extent. It's not a genuine athletic contest and in most cases is nothing more than a showcase of entertainment for fans and league officials. That said, when the teams representing the National & American Leagues match up, there is something on the line. The team that represents the league that wins that season's all star game, will get home field advantage in the World Series. At least it's something for which to play. The final score matters to some extent. Baseball is also the only one of the four to include fan balloting. It's the fans who choose the eight "position players" to start the all star game. The managers of the teams who played in the preceding season's World Series select the pitchers.

But the fans get to vote as often as they like which I guess is OK but it seems somewhat of a popularity contest as much as a sober decision re. a player's skills. Here's what I'm proposing for professional all star games. Voting is done by three separate groups. One group are the fans (and OK, vote, and vote often). The second group, despite what's happened with the PHWA, are the accredited reporters. The third group are the players themselves who will vote by the position each plays. If a player receives the highest number of votes by all three groups or two of the three, he is the starting all star at that position. If three different players are at the top of the groups vote tally, the player who has been voted by the players themselves will be the starter at that position. The remainder of the team can come from fan voting.

Also, remove the caveat that all teams must be represented. No explanation required for that one and make the game mean something, anything! Put a wheelbarrow full of money on the side line which goes to the winning side if that's what it takes but try to win the game, not just make sure all players play, as is the case many times in the baseball all star game.

Now to curling and many of my regular readers (thank you for sticking with me) already know what I'm going to say here. There is nothing more inappropriate than all star selection that's based upon shooting statistics! Every shot is a team shot, every shot! To say that a lead shot 87% is just wrong. The team shot 87% on the first two shots of each end played. If the "team" with the best shooting percentage is honoured at the end of a competition, fine! I rather like that! Now, shooting statistics are  appropriate!

And, I'm not suggesting that all star awards be removed. But make them relevant. I'd be most happy if the players who play each position voted for the competitor they feel played exceptionally well in all phases of the skills required at that position. Now you have all stars that have really earned that designation.

Before my days end on planet Earth, I want to see our all star awards changed. I'm only one voice. If you also feel the way I do, please speak to your provincial/territorial representatives to the Canadian Curling Association Congress and AGM next June. If enough representatives at the annual CCA powwow put their hands up on this matter, it will happen. We can do this and it's the right thing to do!

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