The problem with symbols is they can be interpreted both ways.
When Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri reached out to the team’s fans directly last week, through select interviews, a carefully worded statement and an op-ed piece, he wasn’t so much trying to put pressure on the Canadian government — who had the fate of his team in its hands — as he was trying shed light on the potential benefits of having the Raptors play at home this rapidly approaching NBA season.
“Going into the winter months, approaching our second calendar year with COVID, I think sports has a role to play in our collective recovery,” he wrote in an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star.
“I think we can bring people together, even when we are apart. I think we can inspire. I think we can set an example. I know we will share what we will learn playing this season under safety protocols, and maybe that experience makes it a little bit easier for all of us to get back to the lives we left behind in March 2020.”
By all accounts, the federal government and specifically Health Canada were open to finding a way to accommodate the Raptors — who submitted a plan both for their own protocols as they sought to be exempt from quarantine rules in hopes of travelling to games back-and-forth across the U.S. border, and on behalf on the 29 other NBA teams they would be hosting in Toronto over the course of the season.
If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.
The Raptors had consulted both with the Toronto Blue Jays — who had applied for a similar exemption this past summer and were permitted to train in Toronto only to eventually be sent packing to Buffalo — and with the NHL, which was successful in establishing “quarantine bubbles” in Toronto and Edmonton to play out the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs.
In each case, there were no positive tests for COVID-19 and the cost of the testing was covered by the teams and the leagues.
Rather than be a source of community spread, the pro sports teams were proof that with diligent testing, tracing and other protocols, the virus could be kept at bay.
But in the end, with the Raptors desperate for an answer so they could properly plan for the opening of training camp on Dec. 1 and the regular season on Dec. 22, the government said they couldn’t offer Toronto and the NBA the exemptions they needed to play at home.
“The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal level to secure a plan that would permit us to play our 2020-21 season on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena,” Ujiri said in a statement released Friday afternoon, just hours before the negotiating window for free agents opened at 6 p.m.
“These conversations were productive, and we found strong support for the protocols we put forward. Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida.”
Instead of being a symbol of renewal and a hint of normalcy, which was what they were pinning their hopes on, the Raptors likely ran into the reality that with case counts rising and governments at all levels being forced to ask people to co-operate with further restrictions, and quite likely for a lengthy period, this was not the time to be seen to allowing anyone to gain special privileges.
The irony being that perhaps no industry (outside of health care) has been more vigilant, compliant and, on the whole, successful in carrying on in the midst of the pandemic than sports and the NBA in particular.
The Raptors and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, in particular, have been leaders both in deed and in their messaging. Their platforms have effectively communicated the need to wear masks and respect social distancing, and during the first-wave lockdown were quick to pivot their facilities to be used for food preparation for frontline workers and food banks.
But there were no chips to be cashed in or favours granted.
This wasn’t politics, it was a matter of public health and – not that Raptors were pushing them to – there were no shortcuts to be taken or exceptions made.
On a rational level, the possibility of Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics – themselves subject to near-daily testing — flying into Toronto on a private jet and then travelling by private bus to an otherwise largely empty downtown hotel for a night, before taking a bus to an empty Scotiabank Arena being the source of an outbreak of any sort is laughably remote.
Similarly, the Raptors – also subject to routine testing – somehow becoming super spreaders after playing a game under similar circumstances in Boston or anywhere else doesn’t really stand up to logic.
But this is an emotional time. Logic doesn’t necessarily matter.
Even the relationship between Ujiri and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was of no help, if anything it likely required the government to be even more careful, rather give the appearance that a matter of public health could somehow be influenced by friendship.
And so now, the Raptors have to shift their gaze south and undertake the massive logistical challenge of temporarily running an NBA team out of a new city in a different country – one where the pandemic is raging, seemingly out of control.
Nearly everything that gets taken for granted when the NBA circus is in town has to be recreated from scratch.
Initially, the Raptors will be holding training camp north of Tampa at Saint Leo University, a Division II school and afterwards will be using a downtown Tampa hotel ballroom outfitted as their practice facility, separate from the public.
Now begins the work of sourcing two NBA regulation floors, for example, and outfitting a world-class weight room and sports medicine clinic.
It’s estimated a party of nearly 60 staff, players and coaches will have to relocate on barely 10 days notice.
To avoid these hurdles, and for many other reasons, the Raptors were hoping that they could play at home and conduct business as some version of normal.
But even the appearance of allowing one business to operate outside the rules being imposed on everyone else was the wrong symbol at the wrong time.
Inside look at New York Rangers – NHL.com
NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers are confident they’re entering training camp with the blueprint for how they need to look and play to be a Stanley Cup Playoff contender.
“We found that balance toward the end of last season, the last two months, from playing with a defensive conscience and also being productive offensively,” Quinn said. “That’s what we have to be. We found some continuity with lines and [defenseman] pairings, and that was really the first time that had happened in the last two years. I think for the first time going into training camp we have a little bit of a clearer picture of what we’re going to look like.”
The disappointment of the Rangers’ quick exit from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season — they were the first team eliminated, swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in three games — hasn’t stolen from their belief that they’ve grown into a contender to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It starts with familiarity with who they have returning, a list that doesn’t include Henrik Lundqvist. They bought out the final year of the goalie’s seven-year contract, making the Rangers’ leader in wins (459) an unrestricted free agent to solve the three-goalie issue they dealt with last season and pave the way for Igor Shesterkin to be their new No. 1.
Shesterkin was 10-2-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 12 starts last season after being recalled from Hartford of the American Hockey League on Jan. 6. New York also re-signed goalie Alexandar Georgiev to a two-year contract Oct. 15.
“I just love his demeanor,” Quinn said of Shesterkin. “I just love how confident he is.”
Artemi Panarin proved last season, when the left wing had 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists) in 69 games (1.38 points per game), that he’s comfortable in the New York spotlight, solving one of the questions the Rangers had going into last season.
Panarin, entering the second year of his seven-year contract, is expected to start camp playing with center Ryan Strome, who re-signed with a two-year contract Nov. 5.
Quinn is eyeing 19-year-old Kaapo Kakko to be the right wing with Panarin and Strome, replacing Jesper Fast, who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent. Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 66 games last season.
Mika Zibanejad delivered as a No. 1 center last season, scoring 41 goals in 57 games, including an NHL-high 23 in 22 games from Jan. 30 to the end of the regular season. He is again expected to have Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich on his line, giving the Rangers continuity in their top six forwards.
“No final decisions have been made, but certainly you want to start that way and hit the ground running,” Quinn said.
The Rangers expect Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, will be an impact player in his rookie season. Lafreniere is penciled in as the left wing on the third line, likely playing with 21-year-old center Filip Chytil.
Lafreniere arrived in the New York area from his home in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, in November and is training and living with a billet family in Connecticut.
“He has the whole package,” Rangers assistant general manager Chris Drury said. “His skating, his sense, his shot, his passing, you name it, it’s all very elite. His internal drive is exceptional.”
The Rangers are comfortable with their returning defensemen, even if there are issues to iron out, namely filling an opening on the left side they created by trading Marc Staal to the Detroit Red Wings.
Quinn said the Rangers could move a right-handed defenseman (Jacob Trouba, Tony DeAngelo or Adam Fox) to the left side.
DeAngelo, who led New York defensemen with 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) last season, is the most likely candidate, but Quinn said he knows Fox would be comfortable too. It’s unlikely they ask Trouba to switch.
K’Andre Miller and/or Tarmo Reunanen, two of New York’s top defenseman prospects and each a left-handed shot, could play well enough in training camp to win a job and remove the need to move a righty to the left side.
“That probably is the one position that we’re going to have to really let it play out,” Quinn said.
The Rangers have far fewer uncertainties than they’ve had entering the past two seasons, fueling their optimism.
“We feel real good about where we are,” New York president John Davidson said. “We’ve come a long way. There’s been some very difficult decisions, but to get to that end, to the championship, this is what you have to do.”
Canucks anthem singer Mark Donnelly axed for planned appearance at anti-mask rally – Global News
He’s long been a staple of Vancouver Canucks home games, but it appears Mark Donnelly has sung the national anthem for the last time in Rogers Arena.
Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini took to Twitter Friday, responding to a Vancouver Sun report that the Canucks’ anthem singer would be performing at an anti-mask rally in Vancouver on Saturday.
“Hey @VancouverSun, change the headline to ‘Former Canucks anthem singer.’ #wearamask,” wrote Aquilini.
Global News has requested comment from Donnelly.
Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned by public health order in B.C. since March. In November, the province extended that ban to all social gatherings.
Saturday’s planned “B.C. Christmas Freedom Rally” is being organized in part by Ryan Kulbaba, who has spearheaded several other anti-mask rallies in Vancouver since July.
The events have featured a variety of anti-vaccine speakers and decried what participants say is censorship and government overreach.
Others have expressed fears that a vaccine would be made mandatory, or argued that the fatality rate from the virus does not justify the economic effects of restrictions.
Previous Vancouver rallies have also drawn believers in a range of conspiracy theories, including debunked myths that masks cause cancer or other health issues, baseless accusations that Bill Gates plans to use vaccines to implant microchips in people, and the U.S.-based QAnon fantasy which claims a cabal of U.S. pedophile politicians are consuming children’s blood.
British Columbians opposed to wearing masks hold Vancouver protest
Posters for Saturday’s rally declare “we oppose government orders & will gather for the holidays.”
Along with Donnelly, the event features a message from Santa, singing, speeches from vaccine opponent Ted Kuntz and the group Hugs over Masks, comedy, an anti-5G presentation and evangelical anti-SOGI123 activist and former People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura Lynn Tyler Thomas.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canucks anthem singer to perform at anti-mask rally in Vancouver – News 1130
VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A rally in Vancouver protesting COVID-19 orders will feature music by Mark Donnelly, the man who has been singing the national anthem at Canucks home games since 2001.
The BC Christmas Freedom Rally is being held in Vancouver Saturday.
“We oppose government orders and will gather for the holidays,” the poster for the event says.
Donnelly is set to perform after a musical parody act and before closing remarks by the organizers.
A previous rally drew a crowd of around 1,000 people to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
In the past, Donnelly has performed the national anthem at anti-abortion rallies.
NEWS 1130 has reached out to Mark Donnelly and the Vancouver Canucks for comment.
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