In mid-November, during the Wednesday lunch hour Graffiti meeting, the team was in the midst of starting the preparation process for the issue you are reading right now. As usual, Mr. Zohar was throwing different topics at people in hopes of sparking article ideas. He made his mark around the table, as recipients of his ideas were jotting notes madly, revving the engine for their article writing. Then, an idea was thrown my way.
Mr. Zohar gave me the challenge to broaden my journalistic skills and get an interview from any professional sports team inToronto. It was a big task, but I jumped at the chance.
I decided to focus my attention on a franchise that is assimilated with the term basketball in this city: the Toronto Raptors, Canada’s only current professional basketball team. Considering that the Raptors are a part of North America’s top-flight basketball league, a big talking point was stirred-up on the heels of last year’s National Basketball Association season which carried throughout the summer with talks of a possible lockout.
This affected the Raptors and all other 29 teams in the NBA as the National Basketball Players Association and NBA owners clashed heads when trying to come to terms with signing a new collective bargaining agreement. Fortunately, both parties ended up coming to terms with a contract that postponed the season for two months, shortening the regular 82-game schedule to a 66-game season.
With that in mind, I contacted the Raptors via email. This email was unusually daunting as it could make or break the lead. I opened with my role in Graffiti, attaching a link to our wonderful website to highlight our credibility. Finally, I expressed my interest with regards to interviewing a Raptor about the lockout and condensed season.
To my surprise, when I logged onto my email the next day, they had already responded to my email. My heart started pounding rapidly; this was the moment of truth.
I opened the email and read the first line:
“Hello, Alex,” I scrolled down the page slowly, peering closely at the screen.
“Thanks for your inquiry. Unfortunately…” The word that is synonymous with negativity. Unfortunately.
I knew from that word on, the response was going downhill.
“Due to the size of the media market in Toronto along with the requests received nationally and internationally [the Raptors] have neither the time nor space to accept requests from students and/or school publications.”
Not to mention, salt was added to my wounds.
“I wish there was an alternative outcome. However, if we did it for one in fairness we’d have to do it for all and that is just not feasible.”
How fair is it for the audience of this newspaper, the teenagers who support the Raptors, buy tickets to games, purchase team paraphernalia and admire the players not to be acknowledged with a simple interview? I didn’t ask for much and it is not fair.
With all the recent negative publicity the teams’ owners and players have experienced with this lockout and now this shortened season, you would think that granting a simple interview would make sense. But no, we are talking about our Toronto Raptors who are owned by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. And MLSE could care less about the product on the court unless they are putting butts in seats.
Along with the Toronto Raptors, there are three other sports teams owned by MLSE: Toronto Marlies, Toronto FC and the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the last five years, the Marlies are the only team to have made the playoffs. The Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup win of 1967 was the last time MLSE owned a championship team, when they operated under the name of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.
American Sports Broadcasters, ESPN, rank their Ultimate Standings every year under eight specific categories. These categories ranged from Fan Relations (the openness and consideration towards fans by players, coaches and management), to Title Track which is a measure of the championships won or expected in the lifetime of current fans. Note: this only includes MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises.
In this year’s edition, Toronto’s highest ranking was 63rd place, held by the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto’s next ranking was the Toronto Raptors at 116th. Coming in at last out of the Toronto teams, you guessed it, is the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs. Also note that there were 122 teams listed in the standings.
Contrast the rankings above to ESPN’s Ultimate Rankings, less than a decade ago, in 2003, where the Raptors, Maple Leafs, and Blue Jays ranked 54th, 65th and 69th respectively. What happened?
Next time you are ready to cheer for the Raptors, will they return the love? Unlike the Raptors, I respect my audience and students who pick up this paper, taking the time and making an effort to read the articles. Unlike the Raptors, and MLSE, I did not drop the ball.