Sunday, July 29, 2007

What do Michael Vick fans do now?

Michael Vick was in court today (July 26, 2007) to plead not guilty to the federal charges against him in a disturbing dog fighting venture. No surprise here. And yes, due process is in action and he is innocent until proven guilty. But the evidence leaked thus far is pretty damning.
To read George Dohrmann’s special report “The House on Moonlight Road” in Sports Illustrated, June 4, 2007, it really hits home how Vick’s innocence may be questionable. After all, whether he was on the property or not, it was still his property. It’s like giving someone else the keys to your car. If they get into a wreck and hurt somebody, you’re responsible. You can cry ignorance all you want but your insurance company isn’t going to buy it.

With additional charges looming, even if Vick gets off on a plea bargain or a light sentence, the images are hard to shake. You’d have to think it’s impossible for anyone with any sense of decency or humanity to even watch the clips of dog fighting for more than 30 seconds, less than five seconds if there is sound. It’s why the issue is so volatile.

For the people who were close to him, like Falcons owner Arthur Blank, this behavior is not the Michael Vick they know. They can’t picture how such a warm and generous individual can watch or take part in such inhumane cruelty toward another living being. Some will say it’s because he has such a big heart that he’s involved, helping out his childhood friends. Well, it doesn’t matter how much anyone loves their friends, few would engage in such a venture because their friends were into it. They’d more likely start dissing their friends. And if the company you keep determines your character, it’s not looking very good for Michael Vick right now.

So what if he gets off? He’s most likely done from the Falcons. The club is probably waiting for the right moment to release him so it won’t cost them as much money. Unless the league bans him for life (probably only a possibility if he is convicted), then he could potentially play for the Raiders. (Who else but Al Davis would bring him in? Okay, maybe Dallas.) And if he’s banned altogether from the NFL, you know some team in Canada will try and pick him up. PETA members better start making sure their passports are up to date.

Even with all of these scenarios – guilty, not guilty, acquitted, plea bargain – what are Michael Vick fans supposed to feel? If you want to know how big a Vick fan I was, my friends have been holding off calling me for days because they knew I needed time to digest and mourn.

Regardless of where the trial goes and how it ends, we can’t erase the images, knowing it happened on his property. How can we look at a picture of Michael Vick without thinking about what those eyes have seen and that he might have enjoyed it? But – then there are the highlight reels.

How do we erase the jaw dropping plays that endeared us to him in the first place? The magical runs. The touchdowns. Do we feel cheated? Can we ever enjoy the historic football plays that are forever etched in our minds? Do we all become Vince Young fans and hope that he carries on as the Human Highlight Reel? (So far, from his first season, it’s not too far a stretch.)

What do Michael Vick fans do now that they have been cheated out of some of the most exciting football the league has ever witnessed? Maybe someone can start a support group: Michael Vick Anonymous. But as our initial anger subsides and gives way for mourning – mourning what was and what can never be again – we can only hope that maybe this was a good thing for the American Pit Bull. It’s made our conscious more aware of a disturbing sub-culture – one that we will be paying a lot more attention to from now on. Perhaps we’ll be more vigilant about noticing the condition of our neighbor’s dogs from now on. I suppose we can thank him for that.

© 2007 Debbie Elicksen

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Arthur Blank teaches us all a lesson in strength of character

Just about everything Arthur M. Blank touches turns to gold, or rather, orange. He is a man who believes in strong employee-management relations, and that by investing in his people, he is present and accountable for the community. He is a man of strong convictions and morals.

The co-founder of the home improvement chain, Home Depot, created a company where employees matter and where people could be free to make mistakes -- a philosophy he took to all his ventures. He could never anticipate the costly error made by his most famous employee -- the face of his Atlanta Falcons: Michael Vick.

Vick was federally indicted in a dog fighting scandal, where the operation was said to be funded by him, housed on his property, and taken across state lines. If only that was the worst of it. The 18-page indictment tells graphic detail of the barbaric operation, which included dates, names of dogs, and manner of execution of some of the losing animals. It's not easy reading and Blank noted in a 90-minute press conference today (July 24, 2007) that Vick's name was listed 50 times amongst the pages.

Arthur Blank is a billionaire with six children from two marriages, his youngest being a 10-year-old boy and twin six-year-old girls. Also note, this is a man who considers his dogs as his seventh and eighth children.

Born in 1932, Blank grew up in New York with his brother Michael, father Max, and mother Molly in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens. After his father died (when Arthur was 15), his mother took over the family business: a small mail order pharmaceutical company called Sherry Pharmaceutical. Although she had not worked outside the home, she managed to build the company into a multi-million dollar operation. Her determination and acumen rubbed off on her youngest son.

Blank started up a landscaping company, laundry firm, and babysat at the same time. After a stint with an accounting firm and putting in time at the family business, he took a job as vice-president of finance with Handy Dan, a Daylin division company. He and fellow employee Bernie Marcus helped build the company to over $155 million in sales before they were unexpectedly fired in 1978. As it turned out, it was the best thing that ever happened to them.

Drawing up a business plan on the back of a coffee shop napkin, Blank and Marcus invented Home Depot. They had almost no money to get it off the ground and the company has since grown to $50 billion in sales with over 1,500 stores. He explains it all in his book, "Built From Scratch" (Times Books, 1999).

He bought the Atlanta Falcons in 2002, and in his first year, the team's increase in season ticket sales was an NFL record. He also purchased the arena football team, the Georgia Force, in 2004. That club also set attendance records and won a National Conference Championship.

With all his success, Blank then launched two companies (AMB Group, LLC and The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation) dedicated to giving back to the community via money and personal involvement. He has granted over $220 million through his philanthropic efforts.

In 2000, he was named Georgia Philanthropist of the Year by the National Society of Fundraising Executives. In 2006, the Walter Camp Football Foundation named him Distinguished American. He was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2006 and named Ernst & Young's National Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005. The list goes on.

So when Arthur M. Blank took the podium during today's press conference, accompanied by team President and General Manager Rich McKay and Head Coach Bobby Petrino, you could see he was a man deep in devastation. It was clear the Falcons were ready to throw the book at Michael Vick, to wipe him from the face of their season. But the maximum suspension a team could impose was four games, hardly enough for such acts so despicable as those laid out in the federal indictment. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the team to wait before taking action (so the league could assess its next move), then told Vick to sit out training camp, and you have to know with reading between the lines that Vick is done as a Falcon and perhaps as an NFL football player. (My biggest fear, however, is he will end up in Canada in the Canadian Football League.)

Throughout the 90-minute grilling session by the media, the trio held their composure and exuded class, especially Blank. It was so very clear that this whole mess was very personal to him. He pulled no punches and answered every question uninhibited. While he couldn't say everything he was really thinking, the message was loud and clear. And if you look at his own personal history, his leadership, his integrity, Mike Vick's actions were also a direct betrayal towards the man who made his career.

So with all this drama and distraction of continuous telephone calls between Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association President Gene Upshaw (who admits he owns a dog and loves them), imagine Arthur Blank trying to explain to his 10-year-old the meaning of this indictment, what dog fighting is, why people do it, and why Michael Vick. This is a kid that grew up personally with the star quarterback, who was probably his biggest personal hero. How does a kid relate his own dogs to the accusations in the indictment? Exactly. Nobody can. It's not a position anyone should have to be in, especially Arthur Blank.

© 2007 Debbie Elicksen, All Rights Reserved

Right or Privilege

I guess the question could be asked of all professional athletes, which is the same question being bantered around the National Football League media desks, thanks to the league’s recent scandals: is it a right or a privilege to play in the league?

From covering the National Hockey League for over 12 years, yes, there are exceptional individuals, just like in any other circle or profession. There are probably more good guys than jerks. I can name the All Star jerks on one hand, and they’re not all players.

What is sometimes clear, even with the good guys, is there is an inherent disconnect as to what the media’s role is and why they congregate in the bowls of the arenas and stadiums, waiting for the illusive clip to add to their stories. The media essentially markets teams, leagues, and players to the fans through exposure, and in essence, that exposure is what enables the fans to care (or not) and let the athletes keep their jobs as people continue to buy tickets and support them.

The media is really the voice for the fans. They get inside access to players and staff and see what is really going on behind the scenes. Of course, they can’t always write about everything they see or hear or they may not be allowed back inside the venue. Every reporter uses their own discretion as to what they, or rather their editors and producers, deem a story.

Whether or not one agrees with the message, the media basically takes what happens in the room and on the ice and writes the story. They’ll use different angles to try and get a fresh perspective, but overall, they can only report what they see or their impression of what is happening. It’s the only way the fan can know what’s going on.

Although, it’s not always possible to get the true story. Cones of silence permeate some teams, thus this is how rumors and speculation stem as a result. Getting even a one-sentence answer out some players is like physically pushing a Hummer out of a parking stall singlehandedly when you weigh 110 pounds.

Every reporter in every news organization receives, on average, 150 press releases a day from companies and individuals who want them to do a story about their business, event, or what they’re doing. Getting media attention — good or bad — is great advertising, for free. However, with the good, does comes the bad. You can’t pick and choose. It’s why so many firms hire public relations staff.

Usually, when bad press permeates for, say, a week, after a month or so, the general population forgets. Especially in business. You may forget what XYZ company did, but you remember reading about them somewhere. It’s not alway a bad thing. (That may not be the case for Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, but see Baltimore’s Ray Lewis as an example.)

Bad media can sometimes expose the true character of an individual. Remember Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s steroid scandal years back. If he would have owned up at the very beginning, the story might not have gotten so out of control. Anyone who faces the music up front, admits their mistake, and promises restitution will usually garner both the public’s and the media’s respect. We all like to see someone rise from adversity.

There are some media who sensationalize and angle a story to put a player or team in a bad light intentionally (thus they may also believe having a media job is a right, not a privilege). However, if every media decided to boycott a team or a league and there was absolutely no press coverage, you can be sure the attitude of disdain would change in a hurry.

Post-NHL lockout, I’d have to say, given the overall “warmth” towards media in some cases is that some players and team personnel are taught to believe that it’s a right to play or work in professional sports. However, if it were a right, 17,000 people sitting in every single arena would also be employed in the same profession. Translate the same scenario to other sports.

When those particular athletes finally realize it is a privilege is when they retire. Then they seem to want to be in the media.

© 2007 Debbie Elicksen, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Feeling violated

Nobody was a bigger Michael Vick fan than me. Ask anybody. To me, he was the most magical player I had ever seen. The way he ran, the unpredictability of his moves, how he could make three guys miss him in a row. Mike Vick was a football God.

I knew he had his problems off the field. We all recall the Ron Mexico fiasco. Trouble seemed to follow him wherever he went, much like his brother Marcus during his final year at Vi Tech. But this, this is beyond redemption.

Yes, I have had pets all my life, including dogs. Like many pet owners and parents, we all get frustrated and anger at some animal behaviors (like my cat Luke's attempt to run away from his vomit, thus equaling backwards projectile throughout the whole house). But dog fighting, for those who are wondering what the big deal is, is a dehumanizing systematic abuse of dogs, which are bred to tear each other limb to limb while sub-humans cheer them on and bet on the outcomes. There is no affection towards these animals. In fact, quite the opposite. They are void of affection and sometimes food so that they will become more aggressive. Domesticated dogs in heat don't usually need a rape stand for breeding. That's how aggressive they become. It's doubtful any rescued dog can ever be integrated into a family environment, but at least they would be put down humanely. We've all read the indictment about how they are destroyed by their breeders. Sub-human, indeed.

I personally feel betrayed, sickened, and punched in the stomach. How anyone human can be involved in such heinous and systematically abusive acts -- it puts Michael Vick a step down from serial killer (there are scientific links to animal abuse and serial killing). He is in the same pot as a child molester, who do much of the same -- the systematic abuse, breeding, and sometimes killing of smaller humans who are incapable of standing up for themselves or fighting back.

While the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is growing some balls, the Falcons need to suspend him indefinitely -- now -- and permanently should he be convicted. If not, the team might as well mail in all the two points to its opponents because the media circus has just begun. It's the only way for the team to redeem its fans.

I wished it would have been anybody else, even any other team. Nobody wanted to believe Mike Vick more than me. He betrayed me, the commissioner, his team, and is now what I would call box office poison. For the sake of the NFL fans and players as they embark into training camp this week, Mr. Goodell and Mr. Arthur Blank, please end this now.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The NHL Entry Draft Mirrors Life

Imagine you are 18 years old. Your parents, who truly believe you are the next coming of Mario Lemieux, insist you fly alone to Columbus for the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft so you can accept your team’s jersey in person-- against your agent's advice. Preceding scouting reports indicate you’ll likely go in the fourth round. Your parents can only afford the one ticket and stay home with your siblings to watch the draft on TV.

After your plane lands in Columbus and you pick up your bags from the baggage turnstile, there is a van waiting for you and a group of other players who arrived from other destinations. With the belongings all loaded and players strapped in, the van then proceeds along International Gateway, steering towards the 670 West/US-62 West/Cassady Avenue exit. Along the 670, the van turns left on Neil Avenue and pulls in front of the media entrance of the Nationwide Arena alongside Nationwide Boulevard. This will be your home for the next few days.

Draft day comes and you’re sitting in the lower bowl of the arena – by yourself. There is quite a buzz of activity. About two or three whole sections of the stands are set up as a media area, with tables and plug-ins, where some familiar well-known faces are sprinkled in, talking, working on their laptops, and mulling around.

The floor of the arena has no ice. Instead there are 30 sets of tables with numerous chairs and each table has a sign with its team’s name and logo. You can see Brian Burke of the Anaheim Ducks on the phone and several individuals you don’t recognize talking all around him. You see Wayne Gretzky from the Phoenix Coyotes, Jacques Lemaire from the Minnesota Wild, Glen Sather of the New York Rangers, and a host of other familiar faces and legends of the game.

There are people sitting intermittently throughout the stands: groups of people representing a player and his family; others who are probably agents assessing the mood of the floor; and interested bystanders who just want to see what the event is all about.

You took a tour of the building on the first night, when Round One was conducted, and saw the press conference area, where the drafted players have been directed to go after their names are announced, to face the media and questions. There is a podium with a microphone set up in front of a blue backdrop with the NHL logo and the Columbus 2007 Draft logo. The area is basically set up for just the first two rounds.

Your agent checks in on you periodically but he has three other players attending the draft, all touted for the first two rounds and there is an anticipated bidding war for one of them. He does his best to make you feel comfortable and ease your nervousness, but his cell phone is going off every two minutes. It’s almost better without him there.

The first round took the better part of three hours to go through. The second round is almost as long. The whole thing is real long. Because the first round is televised and with there being a set time between picks for teams to make their assessments and put in their order, the day drags. There are a few people you can talk to, mostly rival players in your division. They are at the draft with their families, so it would be uncomfortable for you to sit with them for any length of time. You mostly chat with each other in the concourse.

You sit and wait. Round three rolls by…round four…round five. Your name is still not called. The sixth round comes and goes, and now, your stomach is really starting to clench. Your mouth is dry, regardless of how many bottled waters you drink. Your heart starts pounding. You think about why you’re there. Will you get picked? Why does nobody want you? You love your parents but can’t help but feel a bit of anger towards them for insisting you be here.

It’s the middle of round eight and still no call. You see the hub of tables on the floor area winding down. There are only a few picks left and you can see there are no more deals being made.

The last name is picked and it’s not you. You just want to sink into your seat and hide. You don’t want anyone to see you and know what a failure you are. You didn’t get picked. Out of all those names, yours wasn’t one of them. But what about that scouting report? It said you’d go in the fourth. Did everyone lie to you?

In 2000, I attended my first NHL Entry Draft. It was also the same year that Minnesota and Columbus were accepted into the league, hence the pick announcement for the Expansion Draft was held the night before. It was the year of Dany Heatley, Marian Gaborik, Marcel Hossa, and John-Michael Liles.

Although I filed a report for one of my usual sources, my main assignment was for the New England Sports Journal – to do a story on the players that were from the New England area.

It was exciting, boring, and a fabulous networking event. Everyone who was anyone in hockey was there: general managers, presidents, coaches, agents, scouts, media, and alumni.

From the media perspective, there wasn’t a lot of downtime. After the luncheon on the same day as the Expansion Draft, a media availability of players afterwards included most of the players that were slated to go in the first 10 spots. I remember being able to get in a couple of one-on-one questions with Gaborik.

The entire hockey world was set on its heels on the first pick when New York Islanders General Manager Mike Milbury picked Boston University’s Rick DiPietro. It was the first time in hockey history that a netminder had gone first overall since 1968, when the Montreal Canadiens drafted Michel Plasse. Back then only 24 players were picked altogether.

Of course, for me, the draft was over. My job was basically done in the first pick. What a story. I spent about three quarters of the rest of the first round sitting in the press conference when DiPietro was brought to the podium in the media area and then waded through the scrums, vying for a one-on-one, only getting to pitch maybe two questions total. My story was all about DiPietro with a few footnotes about the other New Englanders who were picked in subsequent rounds.

Over the years I’ve spoken with players about their lives behind the scenes, but not just the NHL guys, the juniors, too. I’ve always had a strong passion for junior hockey, stemming back to my adolescent days in Edmonton. One of the questions I talk to many of them about is the NHL Entry Draft.

The draft story that sticks out the most is the one that has inspired me throughout the last 10 or so years of my career – after Theoren Fleury told it to me. In his first year of eligibility (1986), Theo was at a wedding in Rosetown. He said he must have called his dad about 20 times. Nothing. No calls from anyone.

“I made the last call around midnight and nobody had called,” says Fleury. “It was a real disappointment to not be drafted the first year. I didn’t have a great year but I didn’t have a bad one.”

The following year, he had made the World Junior team and had a great season. He stayed home for the draft and was about to give up when in the final round, he finally got the call.

“It was about 3:00 when (Flames scout) Ian MacKenzie phoned me and told me I was drafted by the Flames. It was nice to be at home and share it with my family. We were all pretty excited. I think the biggest thing was, even though I was really disappointed the first year, in the second year, all I ever wanted was a chance and an opportunity. Fortunately, the Flames gave me that chance.”

He was picked 166th overall by the Calgary Flames. So what’s the big deal? Well, Theo was drafted at a time when teams were looking for size and strength – guys like Eric Lindros – big and bulky with some talent. Guys like Brendan Shanahan, Glen Wesley, Joe Sakic, who went in the first round. Theo was 5’7” and small by the 80s wish list standard.

But the story doesn’t end there. Unbeknownst to Theo at the time, he almost didn’t get drafted. When it came time for the Flames to make its final pick, they weren’t going to pick him. MacKenzie almost had to get on his hands and knees and beg then GM Cliff Fletcher to give this kid a shot. He said they wouldn’t be disappointed. And they weren’t.

To me, that story epitomizes everything that sports stands for. Every situation can be filled with high drama. And then, no matter how bad the odds seem to be stacked against you, anything can happen. And like in life, if even just one person stands in your corner, it’s all you need to get where you’re going.

For all of those fortunate to be chosen, it’s only the beginning. They still need to do the work to get to training camp and they are a long way off from making a team. For those who aren’t chosen or even on the list, it’s not always the end of the line. Some of the league’s undrafted players include Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph, John Madden, Andy McDonald, Martin St. Louis, and Dwayne Roloson. Some of those names are engraved on Stanley Cups. Then there are those drafted players, even in the first round, who never get out of the minor leagues or they go to Europe and disappear from the radar.

Sports is an emotional roller coaster in every aspect, be it the draft, a shift, a game, and even a career. Some of the best lessons are taught through adversity, but definitely, the easy ones are to learn are from watching others, like athletes, go through their own.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Diary of a Sports Diva July 12, 2007

Dallas Stars' President Jim Lites posted an "unfiltered" letter from the club, apparently in response to some of the criticism the team has been facing at home.

"There have been a lot of things written and said over the last two weeks, many of which have painted a negative perception of the Dallas Stars as a hockey club and where we are headed in the future. We've been called everything from 'stupid' to 'asleep at the wheel' to 'out of touch,' simply because we did not make a big splash in the free agent market.

"I'm here to tell you that these beliefs, columns, opinions and statements couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, it's downright unfair. Contrary to what some have written or said, we haven't gone stupid overnight and we do have a plan in place."

He reminds the readers the club has been very successful in its last 11 seasons and last year served as one of the best teams in the league with 107 points. Of course, all that was wiped out with a first-round exit.

Lites adds:

"Would we like to add scoring? Yes. But we have to operate under the salary cap and do the best we can with the chips we have to play with at the table. We want to give ourselves the best chance for success, both short and long term. What we can't do is take unreasonable risks on contracts, which was something we could do under the old system. We can't take an extra center on a long-term deal and see if we can make him change positions and make him fit into our system. We tried that with Pierre Turgeon and it didn't work. That was OK when it was just money. We can't take that risk now with the salary cap.

"These might sound like excuses to some but it is the reality of the business model we are in."

Hmm. That with his saying they refuse to mortgage the future on a free agent signing probably doesn't bode well with Dallas fans.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Diary of a Sports Diva July 7, 2007

I'm thinking that Edmonton Oiler's General Manager Kevin Lowe must think he's in a perpetual bad dream -- starting back at the 2007 Trade Deadline when he practically gave his team's heart and soul player -- Ryan Smyth -- away for practically nothing. Then he figures he has Michael Nylander tied up at the beginning of Free Agent Frenzy. As the Oil prepared to announce his signing, after negotiating an agreement and getting it in writing by Nylander's agent Mike Gillis, they learned that Nylander had been negotiating on his own and signed a four-year contract worth $19.5 million with the Washington Capitals. They can pursue legal action all they want, but chances are only Nylander's signature counts as a done deal.

So then Lowe opens the vault, shocks the hockey community (and at the same time, garnering its wrath -- more on that in a second), and offers Thomas Vanek a seven-year, $50 million dollar offer sheet. Finally! He should win this one. Nope. The Buffalo Sabres, which saw its team instantly plummet out of a playoff spot with losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency, quickly matches the offer and re-inks Vanek, whether they want to spend that much or not.

Kevin Lowe is left holding an empty roster spot and an open checkbook.

What is interesting is why now? Why couldn't he have signed Smyth for the now what seems to be a pittance at Trade Deadline? We'll never know. But what he did do was raise the bar back to pre-lockout stupidity.

We saw the salaries increase somewhat prior to the Vanek deal, and what has been the most surprising is the length of some of the deals -- like Daniel Briere's eight-year, $52 million dollar contract with Philadelphia. But for some reason, Lowe's offer to Vanek, from the "small market team," seemingly sends the message that the NHL general managers are back to the status quo. And Vanek, while is a pretty good player, could we really say he's the key guy? The Jarome Iginla, the Daniel Briere? Makes you wonder why we even had to endure the lockout season.

As if season tickets weren't expensive enough, the Michigan Legislature is mulling over a new tax -- a luxury tax on all professional sports tickets sold in Michigan. It would also include concerts, shows, and movies. According to the Red Wings, what it means is the new ticket tax could cost a family of four season ticket holders anywhere from $597 to $1,900 extra. The club is lobbying its fans to log onto to tell the governor and their legislator to take a hike or voice what they really think.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Diary of a Sports Diva July 3, 2007

The Calgary Flames hiring of Mike Keenan as head coach means one thing. The expectations from the fans to the owners is nothing but Cup. The time is now. Everyone is looking at this move as the seasoning to a somewhat full plate of talent.

I think we'll know how well it will be working around November, when everyone on the team is either a strong forward-moving unit, or fragmented to the point where everyone will be demanding a trade. We know that many core player contracts are up at the end of next season, so this is a make or break year. If there are results in the win column, and even if the players decide they hate Keenan more than stretching and warm ups, they will have bought in and become his disciples.

While General Manager Darryl Sutter and Keenan are adamant that last year's head coach Jim Playfair still has a place on this team in the role of "associate" coach, it has to be very difficult for Jim, but perhaps not a total surprise, considering the growing wave of unpopularity almost from the very start of the season. Maybe Jim was too nice -- at least he was not Darryl Sutter or Mike Keenan as far as aggressiveness when it comes to coaching. And that is what everyone seems to think will push this team to hoisting the silver.

Two Calgary minor hockey groups have had to cap their hockey registrations because there are not enough arenas or teams to house players. So far over 1,300 kids have been turned away from those two groups and it's a first-come first-serve basis. Calgary's growth has been phenomenal in the past five years but there have been not enough additional facilities built. It's only a matter of time before more associations follow with caps. It's not likely a problem to be resolved anytime soon as all three levels of government seemingly have not made sports a priority. If 10 new arenas magically materialized overnight, it likely still wouldn't be enough to meet the demand of minor and recreation hockey, ringette, and box lacrosse, which in a catch 22, affects the growth of all those sports. Even Hockey Canada, whose western home is based in Calgary, is feeling the pinch. It needs a bigger facility and new training center.

"I think one of the biggest issues in front of the game is facilities at all levels of the game, coast to coast in Canada," says Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson. "It’s not just an arena we’re looking at. We’d love to have a training facility for all Olympic athletes, national team athletes for all sports, and a place that all Canadians can come and say, wow, this is the way you should prepare athletes for world championships. I’d love to see hockey sort of become the leader in that."

The first pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft, Patrick Kane, doesn't have an agent. He doesn't appear to be vying for one any time soon. His reason? He's made it this far without one and when he was coming up the ranks, he watched agents preferring other players bigger than his 5' 9.5" 160 pound frame, so now, when they're deciding to give him a look, he's ignoring them.

The NFL gets a lot of things right, but one has to wonder what the fallout will be after all is said and done after the House of Representatives subcommittee hearings on the league's player disability plan.

It's been an understandably emotional issue. Former players are voicing their disgust at how flawed the system is -- that they have no voice -- and there is a massive pile of disregarded broken bodies of football pioneers that are being cast aside as if they never mattered. The sad thing is, the current players may have never given it a moment's thought. They can't forsee what their own future might be, although it's really their lavish salaries that will ultimately fund the disability pot for many years to come.

The point of argument is that there are too many hoops to jump and too much red tape to filter through for these players to receive the pittance they earned. And the main point of contention is that retired players are not being represented by the NFL Players Association. So what that means is, you can't walk at age 40 after five seasons as a linebacker, your headaches constrict your ability to hold a full-time job because of the six concussions you endured, and now you're being thrown aside like a used ticket because you just want to be heard.

Congress is considering action. They are disgusted at how these former players have been treated. A couple of these players have reported being threatened by NFLPA boss man Gene Upshaw -- who as a former player, you'd think he'd have some sympathy. In fact, Congress offered to change the hearing date many times to accommodate his schedule so he could attend. He would not make himself available so the hearings went ahead without him. Upshaw's office is stating that he was never contacted with a meeting date. But to his credit, he is reportedly meeting with Hall of Famers and other retired players on July 24 to talk about added benefits.

We all know about Congress's influence on professional sports (see Major League Baseball and steroids). If its members don't like the results of the July 24 meeting, it will be fascinating to see if it means new legislation, which will force the NHLPA and the NFL to take care of its players after their seasons are done.

The Internet is a wonderful thing. But it can be a nuisance -- especially for a Canadian League Football team. Last week, the Calgary Stampeders closed their practices leading up to game day. Apparently, videos of some CFL practices have materialized on YouTube.

The NHL free agent frenzy has resulted in some big surprises. What is Buffalo thinking, letting BOTH Daniel Briere and Chris Drury go? That will be a shell of a team come September.

How about the Philadelphia Flyers? Talk about instant playoff team. They could be laughing all the way to the Cup.

And just when you thought the Anaheim Duck defensive corps couldn't get better. Yes, Mathieu Schneider is insurance in case Scott Niedermayer retires. But think about it. Why would he now when they just might have cemented another trip to the final in 2008?

One thing is for sure. We will all need a program next season.