Monday, October 31, 2011

Quick hockey tip

Here's something they don't teach in hockey school.

After you score a goal, be careful who you hug.

A Swedish player found this out the hard way the other day:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Here we go again

Apparently I'm a published author. Again.

I worked on "Rayzor's Edge," the autobiography of Rob Ray, a few years ago. I was thrilled to see it become one of the best-selling hockey books of the season, as the hardcover copies disappeared from the bookstores in less than a month. At one point, it was number one on's list of top selling winter sports books. Considering that Dorothy Hamill is much more well known nationally than Ray, I think we did something right.

The book eventually went into paperback, although I had heard stories that the publisher was in financial trouble. The new version was printed, but came out after the playoffs and didn't get a great deal of promotion.

Sure enough, the publisher went bankrupt a couple of months later. I became one in a long line of creditors from Sports Publishing. I didn't even know how much money they owed me until the court case was closed, a case that apparently only made the lawyers and bankers happy since they got first claim on leftover assets. I did get a $2,000 advance, but lost more than $2,000 due to the bankruptcy. Oh well.

But last spring, a letter came out of the blue from Skyhorse Publishing. It had purchased the rights to Sports Publishing's catalog, and had picked "Rayzor's Edge" for reprinting this fall. As I said to Rob in a note, this was money from heaven.
Skyhorse changed its mind about adding an epilogue, which seemed like it would have been the logical move to make after a few years.

But the book is apparently out. is advertising that it is available immediately. You can find a copy here.

The funny thing is, I looked in the local Barnes and Noble for a copy this morning, and it was nowhere to be found. I haven't heard of any autographing sessions requests either. I do have pens at the ready, though.

People seemed to like the book, although probably not enough to buy the same words from a different publisher. Rob's story is quite relevant in the light of the concussion issues that NHL players have had lately (Rob says in the book he had five concussions in his career). For those who missed it the first time around, though, here's your second chance.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Use your head

I think I've figured out what the big story in sports over the next 10 years, minimum, is going to be.

Head injuries.

The evidence is piling up quickly when it comes to contact sports. Football players are dying far too young, and those who survive are often impaired. Stories about alumni gatherings of football teams, particularly in the pro ranks, are quickly turning into sad tales about the disabilities these ex-athletes now have.

And no wonder. Linemen have said they go through the equivalent of a car crash on every single snap. And if you haven't noticed, the players are getting bigger, faster and stronger -- thus making the collisions worse by the year.

In hockey, a few current enforcers died over the summer. The ex-players are showing signs of problems as well. A brain scan of Rick Martin, hardly a tough guy, showed damage. Sabre fans remember in the late 1970's when he took a nasty fall and landed on his head. He showed up for his next game, quite a bit later, in a helmet for the first time.

Here's the fundamental problem that face those who run contact sports. How do they make it more safe for the players without taking out some of the excitement that attracts fans?

If they don't do something, and soon, the problems are going to mount. They are going to get the reputation for turning their players into something close to "disposable" -- they play a few years, get their heads knocked around, and then are sent off eventually ill-equipped to handle society's challenges. There will be someone to take his place, eager to collect the money and glory for a while.

And you can guess what is coming too -- lawsuits. By the truckload.

We've gotten better at dealing with concussions during the past few years. Baseline teams are mandatory in many sports, and players aren't rushed back into action so quickly after "a rung bell."

But before long, sports leagues are going to have to take a look at how to make their games safer. The NFL has tried to cut down on the collisions on kickoff returns this year. The NHL is trying to be pro-active on the matter; league officials have to be praying for the return of one of its greatest stars, Sidney Crosby, from a concussion. (For more on the NHL, check out Ken Dryden's superb piece from Grantland, which wonders how much longer fighting in hockey can be tolerated.)

This line of thinking probably will filter down into other levels, such as the colleges. Other contact sports have to ponder the situation as well. Speaking as someone familiar with indoor lacrosse, which features sticks flying around heads, concussions have to be a concern as well.

I don't want to read any more stories about ex-football players like John Mackey, whose mental state deterioriated quickly in the final years of his life. But I know I will. I also don't want to read any more stories that end like those of late NHL players Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak. We need to take action soon to make sure we don't.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The next step

Way back in 2008, I wrote a blog about how The Sporting News was going to a biweekly format, and wondered about the publication's future.

Now three years later, I'm looking pretty good.

The digital publication mentioned didn't last long, at least in that incarnation. And the biweekly version has stopped publishing. It will go to a monthly now, merging with its preview magazines. I have no idea how that is going to work, and I have no idea how my subscription is going to work.

I do know that a run that dates back to the 1880's is essentially over, and there's something sad about that.

I liked what the Sporting News had been doing in the last couple of years. They had come up with a formula of providing interesting information that wasn't overly timely. There were some good features and unusual story angles. I didn't rush to read it, like I do most times for Sports Illustrated, but I liked it.

But that's over. The magazine said it plans to go back to some sort of daily format down the road in the relatively near future. That may not be a bad idea, in an age when the iPad is starting to catch on. The first time around probably was ahead of its time, and The Sporting News might become that "second read" that the National wanted to be without having to deal with the distribution problems that ruined the National about 20 years ago.

Still, I've been reading The Sporting News since 1965, and it was a thrill to write for them briefly in the late 1990's. It's not a happy time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Executive decision

It's been an interesting week in the political business here in Erie County.

We have an incumbent, Republican Chris Collins, who was overwhelmingly elected to the office four years ago. Collins ran on the proverbial "I'm a businessman, not a politician" platform that has proved popular in some cases. In this case, county government was a mess, with a control board overseeing expenditures, and Collins promised to clean that up.

Here we are in 2011, and Collins is running for reelection. He is running against Mark Poloncarz, the County's Comptroller. It figured to be an uphill climb for Poloncarz, mainly because of money. Collins has shown an ability to tap into donors to pile up cash in his bank account.

On Sunday, a poll came out on the race. Surprisingly, Collins only led by a couple of points, within the statistical error built into the survey. In other words, it's too close to call. The Poloncarz people were quick to point out what that might mean to his campaign, perhaps anticipating the idea that a donation would no longer be money down the drain. The Collins staff apparently cancelled a public appearance, said their own polling had their man well ahead (without releasing anything), and attacked the polling methods. In other words, the Collins staff said "Holy mackerel, this isn't good" in a variety of ways.

Therefore, we seem to have a horse race. And the reason is fascinating. I looked at the complete poll results, and "everyone" has agreed that Collins has more or less done what he said he would four years ago. He's balanced the budget and shrunk government. However, Collins has gone about his business in such odd ways that a percentage of people dislike him personally enough to not vote for him no matter what he does. That covers everything from charges of ignoring the city in favor of suburban issues (guess where this Republican's votes come from) to asking to lead a parade earlier this year. Among other things.

It sounds like a good recipe for the "Rose Garden" strategy, where a candidate stays out of sight and let's others do the talking for him. Why should your face if it only reminds people of what they think of you? That's a little harder when you don't live in the White House, of course.

The two men got together for their first public debate on Thursday. It was televised on public television. While it's easy to wonder how many people watched it, it certainly creates some conversation that pops up in other areas (radio, newspaper, TV, Internet).

It was something of a coming-out party for Poloncarz, who probably has never been on the news for longer than 20 seconds for a sound bite on county finances. This was a chance to see them both in action for an hour without commercials.

Collins certainly stuck to his talking points about cleaning up county government and keeping taxes low. He had some trouble, for example, when it came to why he took stimulus money that was designed to put people to work and put it in the county bank account to keep taxes down. The incumbent always has a hard time in these debates, because he has to defend a record while the challenge can merely say what he would have done and would do. But Collins did seem nervous and sometimes didn't come within a 3-wood of answering the question, which is always annoying. He also brought a typical bit of arrogance with him -- as one person put it, "He's the smartest person in the room ... just ask him."

Still, it sure seems like Poloncarz missed an opportunity. He seemed to know his facts and figures and attacked Collins whenever possible right after saying "good evening." But I wouldn't call his performance "warm and fuzzy" either.

I'm a firm believer that the more optimistic candidate often wins close elections, as people prefer to vote for candidates who offer a little sunshine down the road. Poloncarz never did that in an hour.

I still think Collins ranks as the favorite to win this race, mostly because of money. But there's a lot of anger out there at the current County Executive over his style of governance, and there's still plenty of time to turn that into votes and an upset win.

In other words, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Easy question

Mensa's monthly magazine often asks a question for the general membership, and then prints the best answers. This month, the designated question was along the lines of "When were you ever speechless?"

I got a good answer for that one.

I was working at WEBR Radio, no doubt on the early shift sometime in the mid-1980's. That means a starting time of about 5 a.m. Yawn.

The morning drive was starting to wind down about 8:30 a.m. when I went into the main news room. There were donuts on the writer-reporter's desk there for general consumption. At that point in my life, I never turned down a free cruller. I grabbed and started eating.

Suddenly, a rather short man appeared at the door to the news room. "WHAT ARE YOU EATING???!!!" he shouted. "THAT IS ONE OF THE MOST OBSCENE THINGS I'VE EVER SEEN!!! PUT IT DOWN NOW!!!"

He had curly hair, and I knew he looked familiar. But I had no idea what his name was. In other words, a total blank. Rather than try to fight back with someone who was well equipped to out-shout me, I said nothing and could only manage a giggle. After 20 more seconds of abuse, I at least stuck out my hand and shook it.

Then, walking out of the newsroom, the light bulb went on. It was Richard Simmons. Of course. I'm not sure why he was in our building, but he hadn't exactly been part of the culture for a few years at that point.

Simmons thus entered my list of "most famous people to shake my hand," ranking well behind Jimmy Carter. The full list, though, is another column.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Forever a Raider

I never had the chance to see Al Davis interviewed over the years. The closest I came to him was when I saw him come out of an elevator at a Buffalo Bills game, wearing a silver and black Raiders sweatsuit that was a little gaudy and odd.

Davis died earlier today, and much will be said about a football career that was unique. At some point in the past decade, Davis went from "crazy like a fox" to just plain ... well, odd. But here's the way I prefer to remember Davis. It's from a story that veteran football writer Larry Felser, I think, passed on to me at some point.

Davis was briefly the Commissioner of the American Football League, and worked with a man named Jack Horrigan, who served in public relations for the Bills and for the league. By all accounts, Horrigan was one of the best people you'd ever want to meet, and also one of the most devout.

Horrigan was dying in 1973; he passed away in June of that year. Shortly before that, Davis, who was Jewish, went into a church and lit a candle for Horrigan. As Davis started to walk away, he was told by someone in the church that he couldn't leave the candle unattended because of fire laws. Davis said fine, went back to the candle and sat down in front of it. He stayed there until the candle was extinguished.

Al Davis was a complex figure, but that side of him should be remembered today too.