Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Feschuk Uncomfortable in Leading Role


NASHVILLE (Nov. 16) - As a reporter that has occasionally risen above the subject-matter of his own story, I can empathize with Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. What began as a fairly innocuous, multi-intentioned phone call to Manitoba last week has blossomed into a saga involving Canada's largest newspaper; the Toronto Maple Leafs; the filtering of information, and the varied hypotheses of journalistic integrity. Suffice to say the Leafs and "hockey people", in general, see it one way; the Star and unaffiliated "media people" the opposite.

In a nutshell, here is the sequence of events:

Just more than one minute into a Saturday-night game at Montreal nearly four weeks ago, Leafs goalie James Reimer was steam-rolled at the lip of his crease by forward Brian Gionta of the Canadiens - a player with no history of administering cheap-shots. Crossing from left to right in front of the Toronto net,  Gionta collided with Reimer's shoulder and head, violently dis-lodging the goalie's mask and helmet. Briefly stunned, Reimer took a moment to regain his senses and continued playing for the balance of the period. When he complained, during the intermission, of what the Leafs described as "neck soreness" and a "whiplash-type" effect, doctors pulled Reimer; the visitors turning to back-up Jonas Gustavsson; coach Ron Wilson suggesting afterward to reporters it probably wasn't a serious injury.

Save for the occasional practice; morning skate and press-box appearance, it's the last we've seen of arguably the Leafs most important player.

During an era in which the scrutiny of head and neck ailments in hockey has finally risen to a commensurate level - driven by the absence, since last January, of the game's top player - it hardly requires a Medical Doctorate to gather when a concussion has been sustained. The major determining factors are precisely those which have beset Reimer: an absence far beyond what is reasonable for a muscle strain in the neck (or any other part of the body), and sporadic participation in on-ice activity. The latter is most significant, for it indicates a recurrence of concussion trademarks (headache, nausea, vision irregularity) during strenuous activity. Many athletes have considered themselves fit to resume such activity, only to be stopped in their tracks by a flare-up of symptoms. Reimer has been on the ice with his teammates only three or four times since the collision with Gionta - virtually assuring he has post-concussion syndrome.

In and of itself, this is hardly a matter of curiosity or contention. Not so many years ago, a hockey team's "trainer" - usually a person devoid of medical acumen - would split open a capsule of ammonium carbonate and wave it beneath the nostril of a woozy player. This "smelling-salt" compound would arouse the player toward consciousness - often without sacrificing a shift. More recently, such therapy was found to be the equivalent of putting a drugstore BandAid on a surgical wound. In the interim, professional and amateur sports teams have been lauded for their keen application of the rising standards that govern head trauma. Had the Leafs simply informed the media - and, therefore, the public - that Reimer incurred a concussion in Montreal, nary a peep would have been uttered in protest or bewilderment. Instead, the team maintained a nebulous position - acknowledging concussion-like symptoms only after it became obvious.

Now, this isn't to single out the Leafs for shrouding or filtering information; such practice has become routine throughout much of professional sport. It is one of the few control mechanisms still available to teams in the age of Internet and mass media. Unfortunately for these clubs, the concurrent growth of competition among media outlets has largely offset such measures.

This was proven beyond a doubt last week, when Feschuk made a telephone call to the home in Morweena, Manitoba where Reimer grew up. In a conversation with Marlene Reimer - the goalie's mom - Feschuk was assured of what most of us already assumed: that her son had received a concussion in Montreal and was unable to exert himself. The Maple Leafs viewed this as something of a witch-hunt, and Feschuk's name turned to mud. Wilson and GM Brian Burke were beside themselves over the temerity of Feschuk to seek alternate means - conveniently overlooking that the informant had the prerogative to deny any-such request. That Mrs. Reimer chose to speak openly and honestly to Feschuk became a blight on the reporter.


After arriving here in Nashville on Wednesday afternoon, I called Feschuk at home and wondered how he viewed the week-long dispute. "To be honest, I don't want this to drag on any further because I hate it when [a member of] the media becomes the story," he said. "I stand by what I wrote last week and am proud of it. My colleague, Damien Cox, defended the journalistic view as well as anyone possibly could in [Wednesday's] newspaper. It's important to me that people know I showed up at [Leafs] practice the day after the story appeared and spoke with James Reimer - face-to-face - for 20 minutes. I've also talked several times with Brian Burke. So, I'm not ducking responsibility."

Feschuk also contends the Leafs have distorted his motive for calling the Reimer home. "This wasn't a muck-raking exercise intended to out-smart the Leafs on information control," he insisted. "I wanted to speak with the mother of a significant player about the angst surrounding head injuries. I'm a hockey parent, too, and I talk to many other parents at the rink each week. Obviously, I didn't mind coming upon something newsworthy in the course of that discussion. But, it wasn't my sole motive for making the call."

Through all of this, fans of the Maple Leafs merely want an indication as to when the club's key figure might be ready to return. Ironically, and though it sounds like avoidance, Wilson has been dead-honest in replying that he simply doesn't know.

After all, how could he accurately assume the course of post-concussion syndrome.


  1. Howard, I disagree with the motive behind the phone call, has he called Colby Armstrong's mother, or maybe Franson's parents, what do they think of the benching
    Sorry parent's aren't in play for this type of information.

  2. I disagree as well. Calling a parent about injury information is crossing the line. I won't be buying The Star anytime soon. It really goes to show how much the media doesn't care about ethics and journalistic integrity. You want to know why the Toronto media gets a bad rap when it comes to the Leafs....this is it.

  3. I have to agree with 11Sharks and sonictooth.

    I also think its funny on how "upset" he is about a media member becoming the headlines while it's the media that have been scrutinizing this team to no extent. Even when they're doing good.

    This act of his was solely intended to ignore the teams wishes, and gain him access to what other media members could not for his own personal gain. I understand its a journalists job to uncover truths, but this went too far and backfired. I support them team 100% in this.

    James Reimer concussion - 3 page spread throughout every newspaper brand in Canada for a week.

    Leafs visit Sick Kids - Lucky to get a quarter page blurb with picture.

    You media folks need to learn how to prioritize.

  4. I also agree with the posts above. Feschuk stepped over the line and shouldn't of called Mamm Reimer. She doesn't work / is employed by the leafs / MLSE. There's no need to go to her.

    That being said, I don't place all the blame on Feschuk. Mrs. Reimer could have and should have declined the interview. She's allowed.

    Yes, I understand that everyone is getting frustrated on no news. But hey, how do you think they all feel down in Pittsburgh with Crosby and his situation? Did the media go and call his monther? No. There's no difference. It shouldn't of been done.

  5. I too very much question the motives of the call to Reimer's mother.

    The only thing I will say in defence of the media, is that sometimes the Leaf organization can be too restrictive in allowing access to some of its players and personnel. Had Feschuk had the same amount of access to Reimer and Burke before his call to Manitoba, as he did after, then he may not have had to resort to calling Reimer's mother. That being said, the end does not justify the means.

    Did Feschuk try calling Burke or Reimer ahead of time? Did he try calling the player's agent? Did he ask permission to call the mother, or is it just a media-given right to call and speak to anyone to get a story?

    Its all about getting "the story" and being the first to uncover new information and publish that information before anyone else. Does the end justify the means? If the media becomes the story, well who's fault is that?