Today is July 1st in the United States. Just another day on the calendar for most. Some are headed out for a long weekend vacation, preparing to celebrated Independence Day on the 4th and relax as best they can. In Canada, it is Canada Day, a day when Canadians celebrate their own national holiday. For hockey fans on both sides of the border, it is better know as the start of free agency in the NHL.
Everyone who cares about the NHL tunes into TSN or the NHL Network in order to get the latest on who is signing where, watching and hoping for their team to improve. The one thing this one day a year also provides is a glimpse inside the hockey-centric, seemly terrifying obsession of some north of the border with what is, at its base, a game.
Never has it been more clear just how badly some in the media north of the border need some perspective than today when Toronto Sun reporter Steve Simmons called Maples Leafs GM Brian Burke to the mat for not being in town for the first day of free agency. Where was Brian Burke? Kandahar, Afghanistan, visiting troops fighting to defend the rights for Mr. Simmons to be the pompous, self-absorbed buffoon he chooses to be.
Watch the video, then make the jump for my take on the comments.
Let's be clear on something. We all understand what Simmons was trying to say. It is important for the General Manager of an NHL franchise to be available to woo attractive free agents. The players deserve the attention of the man signing the paychecks, and the benefit of a conversation with the man in charge. Still, there are some people in this world who deserve that attention, and that conversation even more than millionaire players.
It is Canada Day. More so than it is the start of free agency, it is national holiday in Canada. A Day when the people of the nation get to be proud of their nation and to celebrate simply being Canadian. Imagine someone criticizing an American GM for being in Afghanistan on July 4th, even if it were the day they could sign free agents. Not going to happen.
Brian Burke did something many of us can only dream of being important enough to do. He took time out of his day, a very important day in his job, to visit those doing a job far from home and that Mr. Simmons is clearly unqualified to do. Burke made a sacrifice to go see the troops, to say thank you, to make it clear that nothing is more important than them. Not even free agency.
As someone who spends a fair amount of his life trying to find ways to help and honor the troops protecting my rights, I find Mr. Simmons' comments to be offensive to my core. I believe that if I were Burke, I would make it very clear to the Sun family of newspapers that none of their reporters would be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Further, I would be on every radio and TV outlet, including TSN, speaking about the experience of being in Afghanistan and what it meant to those troops to be there.
I wouldn't stop talking about it until Mr. Simmons begged to be allowed back in the building, and then I would make it a requirement for him to spend a month embedded in a Canadian front line unit, covering just what it means to be a soldier in the middle of a war zone.
Yes, Mr. Simmons, there are more important things in life than hockey. There are more important things in life that billionaire owners, millionaire players, and so very many things more important than wooing Brad Richards.
This is not to mention that just because Brian Burke isn't at his desk, or isn't sitting in front of Richards helping him make his LeBron James-esque decision, doe snot mean that Burke cannot speak to Richards, or any other free agent. We have amazing technology these days, and are able to have conversations of all types with people in the most remote of areas. Yes, Mr. Simmons, Brian Burke could still run an NHL franchise, and woo the prime free agent in the weakest class in recent memory and attempt to over pay him for his limited skill set, all from the friendly confines of an Army camp in a war zone.
The point is, Mr. Simmons, that the "optics" were perfect for anyone who isn't a self-focused jackass. The GM of one of the most prestigious NHL franchises in history took the day free agency started, made a major sacrifice, and did the right thing.
Maybe you could try that, Mr. Simmons. Until you get on a plane and spend some time in the hell those troops are living, until you leave your family behind and spend time in 100+ degree heat fighting in a country full of people who hate you simply for being alive, all in the name of protecting the right of pig-headed morons to shove their foot in their mouths... until you do that, I would prefer you shut your yap and simply say...