Thursday, July 30, 2009

Schumacher Has Formula 1 Back on Track


For several months now, the Formula 1 racing circuit has witnessed courtroom battles, threats of a spending cap, calls for the dismissal of FIA President Max Mosley and the recent, near-fatal accident of Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. As a black cloud hangs over the season and interest in the sport declines in North America, a ray of hope has emerged. The best thing to happen to Formula 1 racing since Michael Schumacher has re-entered the fray and his name is, Michael Schumacher.

On the day that BMW announced they would be joining Honda on the sidelines as another manufacturer forced to leave the sport due to the current economic climate, Ferrari stole the headlines and announced that 7-time Driver's Champion Michael Schumacher would return to the Prancing Horse for the final five races of the season.

A veteran of 250 F1 races and a winner in 91 of those races, Schumacher returns to the track and many believe it will be as if he never left. Despite retiring in October of 2006, the racing legend never stopped being involved with Ferrari and he has maintained the cardiovascular and fitness levels that saw him on the podium 154 times during his career.

For the first time in years, Ferrari finds themselves in third place, well behind the leaders in the Constructor’s Championship; trailing Brawn GP-Mercedes by 74 points and Red Bull-Renault by 58.5 points. The return of Schumacher may not be enough to unseat Brawn GP in the Constructor standings but it will certainly help television ratings as F1 fans tune in to see if Schumacher can pull the famous Ferrari car across the line in a podium position.

News of the life-threatening injury to Massa shook up the racing world but recent reports indicate he will recover sufficiently from his injuries and if his left eye heals as expected, he could return to the track for next season. The 28-year old Brazilian driver, injured in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix when a broken part from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car hit him in the helmet and sent Massa into the barrier at 190 km/h, suffered an eye injury and multiple skull fractures in the crash. The quick efforts by track doctors and hospital staff are major factors in his recovery.

Now out of the critical care ward, Massa has begun to walk around his room; joking with family and staff that Schumacher’s comeback will only last for five races as he plans to be behind the wheel again in 2010.

At the official Formula 1 website, Massa’s personal doctor, Dino Altman is quoted as saying, “As far as the near future is concerned we have to be cautious, but I have to say that there are very positive signs.”

With Massa expected to recover and the return of Michael Schumacher, Formula 1 is in the headlines with some positive news. As NASCAR and a unified INDY Series take control of the North American market, F1 desperately needed some good news in what has become a season to forget. Only time will tell if Schumacher’s return is enough to keep the series in the headlines for the right reasons but for now, the clouds are slowly lifting. Have a great sports day everyone.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is There a Doctor in the House?


With trade rumours swirling around Blue Jays pitching ace Roy Halladay, the doctor was in Friday evening as Halladay pitched nine strong innings in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays that eventually finished 4-2 for the Rays in extra innings.

Reliever Scott Downs took the loss, giving up two runs in the tenth inning. Tampa’s Matt Garza saw his record improve to 7-7 as he put on quite a pitching performance himself, matching Halladay’s efforts, spreading five hits over nine innings and striking out nine Blue Jay batters. With the loss, Downs falls to 1-2 coming out of the bullpen.

In what could have been his last start at the Rogers Centre in front of the home crowd, the Toronto veteran displayed his talents for the Jays faithful. In his 300th career start, Halladay looked to be in fine form and if a trade is in the works, the price for the Blue Jays ace certainly went up after the game with his performance on the mound.

In nine innings, Halladay threw 115 pitches and struck out ten Tampa batters, while walking three and allowing only two runs - one unearned. Denied a victory due to a lack of offence from the Jays bats, the eleven game winner could not take sole possession of the American League lead for victories. Halladay remains tied with six other AL pitchers with 11 wins, a group that includes Boston’s Josh Beckett and Chicago’s perfect pitcher Mark Buehrle.

The trade rumours started slowly on July 5th when Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi told members of the media he would listen to offers for Halladay. The situation has now become a full-blown tempest and a war of words between the pitcher and General Manager. Halladay is set to become a free agent after the 2010 season and that is Ricciardi’s reasoning behind shopping the face of the franchise.

Halladay has openly stated he wants to play for a winner with the chance to compete in the post season before his career ends. He has repeatedly stated he loves the fans and the city of Toronto and he would prefer to be with the Jays on a long playoff run. Ricciardi appears to be selling the idea that Toronto will not be competitive for several more years; leaving baseball fans wondering why they should come to the ballpark to witness several more losing seasons.

Ranked 25th in average attendance among the thirty MLB teams, the Blue Jays are averaging 23,628 fans per game and that number will certainly decline if Halladay changes his address. The team has not reached the post season since their last World Series win in 1993 and fans are clamouring for changes at the top. Management is pleading for patience by the fans but seeing the face of the franchise traded away may be a blow to the fan base and it further fuels the speculation that in a year or two, the Jays may be in serious trouble as an organization.

Canadian baseball fans witnessed the slow demise of the Montreal Expos organization and while the Blue Jays are not that far into the danger zone, baseball fans in Toronto are ready to turn their backs on the team, especially if their beloved doctor leaves town.

A first round draft pick by the Jays in 1995, Halladay made his MLB debut September 20th 1998. In his 300 career starts, he has 142 wins, a 3.45 career ERA and he has struck out 1,410 batters. The 2003 Cy Young Award winner as the best pitcher in baseball, Halladay has established himself as a front-runner for the award again this year.

Perhaps that is the only good news in this situation; all of the trade talk has the American media taking notice of another strong season by Doc Halladay. Whether or not he finishes the season in Toronto, one thing is certain; the Blue Jays are gambling with their future more then they may realize. Halladay is more then just a baseball player in Toronto, he is the glimmer of hope the fans need if they are to dream of another trip to the World Series. Have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Are the Ghosts of Montreal Haunting the Nationals Franchise?


As the second half of the season gets underway in Major League Baseball, the division races are beginning to heat up. One team that will not be in the hunt for a playoff spot is the Washington Nationals. With a win/loss record of 26-65 and a league worst .286 winning percentage, the Nationals are out of contention yet again and one must wonder; are the ghosts of Montreal haunting the franchise?


An 11-3 loss on Sunday to the Chicago Cubs and interim Manager Jim Riggleman is still searching for his first victory in four games at the helm of the struggling team. After replacing Manny Acta, the Nationals franchise continued their downward spiral and is now 1-9 in their last ten games, on a five game losing streak and they find themselves 26 games back of the first place Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals are 8-31 within their own division and the light at the end of the tunnel may in fact be a train.


The franchise formerly known as the Expos may have switched cities and names but even at the worst of times in Montreal, playing in front of crowds of 6,000 people and watching one star after another get traded away, the Expos never had back to back 100 loss seasons as the Nationals are about to do. Washington has not finished the season with more then 81 wins since the move from Montreal, going 81-81 in 2005, their first year in the American capital. As a franchise, the Expos/Nationals club has not had a winning season since 2003.


The Expos at times appeared to be a cursed franchise. Qualifying for the post season in the strike shortened 1981 season, hopes were crushed when the Expos lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers three games to two in the best of five National League Championship Series. Another decade of rebuilding and Montreal was a serious threat to compete for the World Series in 1994 until another work stoppage led to the cancellation of the season and the World Series. Fans in Montreal turned their backs on the team after players like Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Cliff Floyd, Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez packed their bags and moved to contending teams. The franchise and the hearts of the fans never recovered from that 1994 work stoppage.


Rumoured to be one of the two teams facing contraction in 2001 - Minnesota was the second, the Expos found themselves without team owners until Major League Baseball took over the club. With a move to Washington to start the 2005 season, the third time a baseball team called Washington home, the Expos became a footnote in the history books.


The Nationals are assembling a crop of young talent via the draft and they finally have a decent home after playing in the Big Oh-No as the Expos for too many years but the lustre is wearing off after several losing seasons. Washington was 11th in attendance in their first year, averaging 33,728 fans per game but that number has steadily declined as the losses mounted. They now find themselves 24th in attendance with 23,931 fans in the stands.


Winning games is the best way to bring fans to the ballpark. With each losing season, the Nationals slip further into obscurity. How many seasons will the Washington baseball fans sit through loss after loss until they too stop coming to games? Shocking at the time, perhaps the best thing for this franchise would have been to disappear altogether through contraction. At least Expos fans could have mourned their team instead of watching their history and team records sitting in the cellar of the National League’s Eastern Division. Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More with Chris Nowinski...

A topic that will be in the headlines for years to come unfortunately is concussions in sport. In an effort to help raise awareness of this very serious injury, I recently conducted an interview with Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute for the July edition of Main Street and the July 17th Main Street Week. With permission from Jack Burger, Editor and Publisher of Main Street, I have posted the article here.



I encourage everyone to visit Main Street online at www.mainstreetweeknews.com to read an amazing community newspaper that I am proud to be part of each month. Watch for my interview with retired NHL player Keith Primeau regarding his involvement with the Sports Legacy Institute in the July 31st Main Street Week.



More with Chris Nowinski - Co-Founder of the Sports Legacy Institute



As discussed in the July Edition of Main Street, former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) are working for all of us, to understand the effects of repeated concussions and the debilitating injuries that can be the result of multiple head traumas.



His book, Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, released in 2006, brought to light the medical research already established on brain injuries. However, the NFL and the other major sports leagues were quick to dismiss the research. As the SLI investigated the Chris Benoit tragedy, revealing the presence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and the dementia type illness affecting Benoit's brain, the new findings rang the alarm bells among the leagues and they are slowly making the effort to protect their players.



"There have been changes," said Nowinski. "The NFL has changed a lot of rules on the field to reduce concussions, as well as mandating baseline testing and better neuro-psychological care but they are not necessarily buying into the long-term effects yet. Although, we did meet for the first time (with the NFL) last month. The WWE, six months after our findings came out on Benoit, did install neuro-psych testing as well. There are changes being made but there is certainly a long way to go."



Perhaps the most difficult issue surrounding the research of the SLI is the fact that only a post mortem tissue analysis can reveal the presence of CTE. More athletes have decided to make their brain tissue available after they pass but in many cases, it is immediately after a former athlete passes away under tragic circumstances that the SLI becomes involved. It is a very emotionally charged situation but it does provide the opportunity to gain insight and answers into the deaths. In these tragic cases, Nowinski reaches out himself to the families.



“The families do appreciate the goal of the research; especially because so many of them have dealt with and seen the effects of concussions but it is never an easy sell that close to a tragedy. I don’t enjoy doing it.”



Wrestling fans may remember Nowinski’s time in the ring. He was the RAW Newcomer of the Year in 2002 and the youngest Hardcore Champion, a style of match where anything goes. He was also involved in the Smackdown Your Vote campaign, encouraging young people to take part in the voting process and have their voice heard at the ballot box. Despite the long-term health effects that linger from his days in the squared circle, he enjoyed his time in the WWE.



“I still look fondly on my career, especially with the guys that I had the chance to work with. Just to be part of that world was very enjoyable. The things I have figured out long-term health related is not good news. Some of the reactions to this research some of my former employers have had, doesn’t make me look back fondly on them as ever looking out for me as a person but wrestling itself is still a very enjoyable enterprise.”



Chris Nowinski is a remarkable example of the phrase - role model. A man searching for answers to a complex brain condition. Research conducted by the Sports Legacy Institute may someday save the lives of our sports heroes and loved ones.



In the July 31st edition of Main Street Week, a look at concussions in the NHL and my conversation with retired NHL player Keith Primeau on his involvement with the Sports Legacy Institute. Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Concussion Research Leads to New Helmet Technology



The CFL season has kicked off and NFL training camps will open at the beginning of August. Many players in both leagues will now have the choice of several new helmets designed to prevent concussions. Players will now have a serious decision to make; continue using their existing helmets or make the switch to the new designs, which may prevent brain injuries.


Research conducted by the Sports Legacy Institute and other organizations has led to more awareness of the serious long-term health issues related to concussions and a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy; the result of multiple head traumas. Equipment manufacturers are now working towards new styles of helmets that protect amateur and professional athletes in a more effective manner.


One of the companies involved in creating new football helmet technology is Xenith. A partner of the Sports Legacy Institute, Xenith was founded by former Harvard University Quarterback Vin Ferrara MD, MBA in an effort to prevent injury and increase awareness of the risks involved in the high impact game of football. Their newest design, the X1 helmet, is now available to players at all levels.


Working with independent medical advisors, Xenith’s new X1 helmet design consists of a series of eighteen thermoplastic pucks under the outer shell, which act as shock absorbers when impacted. These absorbers help to dissipate more energy then the standard foam padding in older helmets. The chin piece and straps allow for a tighter, more comfortable fit on the player and helps to reduce the sudden movement of the head during impact.


Manufactured with a serial number and date stamp, Xenith offers a program that allows coaches and trainers to track the wear and tear on the helmets from year to year; components that are no longer safe are replaceable. All of the technical aspects of the new X1 helmets, ordering information and the programs offered are available at the company’s website, www.xenith.com.


One of the most recognizable names in football equipment for the past 75 years is Riddell. With new technology that works to prevent concussions and information obtained from a three-year study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the company’s website states that players using the Riddell Revolution helmets are 31% less likely to suffer a concussion.


Available since 2002, the Revolution consists of a polycarbonate outer shell that dissipates the energy produced upon impact. The source of many concussions are hits in the area of the neck, jaw and side of the head, the Revolution helmets are equipped with more padding in these areas. The helmet also includes six sensors that record the severity of each hit, which will allow for further improvements and gain valuable information for future research. A quick release facemask allows for easier access to players in the event an injury does occur. Further information on the various designs of the Revolution helmet is available at www.riddell.com.


While helmet manufacturers cannot guarantee that their products will eliminate the possibility of concussions, they are working towards reducing the risk of injury. The rules of the game are an important factor in preventing injury. Players must respect one another and attempt to avoid direct headshots and leading with their head, creating helmet to helmet impact.


Football is an exciting game to play and watch, devastating hits and contact are part of the game. Whether playing as an amateur or professional, it is important to remember that while we may live to play football, there is also life after football and with proper respect and innovations in equipment, a safer and healthier future will be the result. Have a great sports day everyone.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

CFL Week 2 - Hamilton Wins in Vancouver...



Needing only four victories to match Don Mathews career mark for wins as a CFL coach, many observers expected BC Lions Head Coach Wally Buono to be half-way to the record after week two. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were the visitors Friday evening in BC Place; they gained an unexpected victory, leaving Buono, and the Lions with a surprising 0-2 win/loss record to start the season.


For the first time since June 18, 2004, Hamilton won the battle of the big cats in Vancouver with their 31-28 victory. Led by rookie Running Back DeAndra’ Cobb and Quarterback Quinton Porter on offence and former Lion Linebacker Otis Floyd on defence, the Tiger-Cats are one-third of the way to matching last season's three victories.


A 0-2 start by Hamilton would have fans questioning which direction the Ti-Cats were headed. However, the 1-1 start to the 2009 season now has the city wondering if this is the year they return to respectability in the East Division. In the last three seasons, the Ti-Cats have recorded 10 victories. In comparison, the Montreal Alouettes, the elite team in the East, have won 29 games.


Making his first start in the CFL due to injuries on the Ti-Cats, Cobb certainly impressed his new bosses with his efforts this week. Signed May 29th as a free agent and recently activated from the practise roster, he rushed for 100 yards and caught five passes for 75 yards out of the backfield; including his first CFL touchdown. The former Michigan State Spartan and Atlanta Falcon draft pick averaged 7.1 yards per carry in his debut.


As impressive as Cobb was on Friday night, the story of the game had to be former Leo, Otis Floyd. The 10-year CFL veteran played an integral role in the victory over his former squad. He spent the past five years in BC with the Lions but moved on to Hamilton, joining the team as a free agent this winter. He recorded his second career interception with less then 30 seconds on the game clock to seal the victory for his new club.


He also played an important role in Jeff Tisdale’s interception that was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter, making the score 21-14 for Hamilton. Floyd zeroed in on BC Quarterback Buck Pierce and put the pressure on that led to the interception by Tisdale. In his CFL career, Floyd has 396 tackles and 30 sacks and Hamilton will need him to be solid on what has been a shaky defence in past seasons.


After dropping the season opener in Hamilton to the Toronto Argonauts 30-17, the Tiger-Cats and their 1-1 record are back home for week three to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. A 2-1 record headed into week four, when they head on the road to Montreal’s Molson Stadium, will have the Hamilton faithful talking playoffs for the first time in years. After years of struggles, the Tiger-Cats fans deserve a winner, perhaps this is their season to shine. Have a great sports day everyone.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ryan Released - Is There Money Left for Halladay?

The Toronto Blue Jays are fading fast in the hunt for a playoff appearance and Jays closer B.J. Ryan has officially made his last appearance in a Jay's uniform. In the midst of a stretch of games against their AL East rivals, the Jays have struggled on the mound and at the plate. Toronto’s win/loss record has fallen to .500 for the first time all season and they have gone 2-8 in their last 10 games; they have lost 9 of their last 11 games.


With questions surrounding Roy Halladay’s future with the team, General Manager J.P. Ricciardi released the struggling Ryan outright, making him a free agent. However, Toronto is on the hook for the $15 million in salary still owed to the former closer.



Ryan, a lefty from Bossier City Louisiana, signed with the Jays before the 2006 season and was at one point the highest paid reliever in baseball, earning more then future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera of the Yankees at the time of the signing. In his time with Toronto, Ryan posted a 5-9 record with a 2.95 ERA in 155 appearances. He struck out 160 batters, walked 69 batters and earned 75 saves. Despite respectable numbers last season, saving 32 games in 60 appearances, he never fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery in 2007 that replaced his left elbow ligament.



This season, Manager Cito Gaston pulled Ryan from the closer’s role and used him sparingly as a middle reliever. In 25 games, he was 1-1 with a 6.53 ERA and 2 saves. He struck out 13 batters while walking 17 batters. A demotion to the minor league Las Vegas 51’s was not an option with the veteran pitcher and so Ricciardi made his move to release Ryan.



The $15 million owed to Ryan may be a deciding factor in Roy Halladay’s future with the team. A free agent himself after next season, the team must decide whether to trade their Ace while his trade value is at its highest. Add Frank Thomas and the $10 million he received upon his release last season and the Jays have paid two players $25 million to leave the team, a staggering number when facing budget constraints and contemplating a contract extension with the best pitcher in baseball.



Re-signing Halladay becomes complicated when factoring in the long-term contracts of Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. Both are struggling at the plate this season and many baseball analysts believe the Jays will be unable to trade the players because of their contracts. Wells signed a 7-year/$126 million contract in December 2006 and Rios has a 7-year/$70 million contract.



The Halladay trade rumours continue to gain momentum as the team struggles on the field and in ticket sales. Much needed dollars are committed in the wrong places and fans are wondering if the face of the franchise is on his way out, as the Jays seem to be entering a rebuilding mode once again. After ranking 18th in attendance for the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Toronto has fallen to 25th this year with an average attendance of 22,839.



Sharing a city with the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argos and the MLS Toronto FC, the Blue Jays are in danger of sliding into obscurity. In their quest for fans in Canada’s largest city, a quick start to the season had fans talking Jays all over town. The recent slide in the standings and the possibility of a Halladay trade puts the team in danger of becoming the next Montreal Expos in Major League Baseball. A team full of rising stars, traded when they achieve too much on-field success. Only time will tell... Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Interview with Chris Nowinski


A topic that will be in the headlines for years to come unfortunately is concussions in sport. In an effort to help raise awareness of this very serious injury, I recently conducted an interview with Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute for the July edition of Main Street. With permission from Jack Burger, Editor and Publisher of Main Street, I have posted the article here. Thanks Jack!!

I encourage everyone to visit Main Street online at www.mainstreetweeknews.com to read an amazing community newspaper that I am proud to be part of each month. Watch for my interview with retired NHL player Keith Primeau regarding his involvement with the Sports Legacy Institute in the coming weeks.

Chris Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute

In 2002, Harvard University graduate, Chris Nowinski, embarked on a career as a wrestler in the WWE. While performing in a tag-team match, Nowinski suffered one of his many concussions that would eventually change his life and the lives of others. Athletes often play through injuries and it was no different for Nowinski, he continued to wrestle for several weeks before the effects of repeated concussions forced him out of the ring. A brain injury is very different from a sprain or broken bone and playing through the injury can lead to a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In a recent interview, Nowinski, author of Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis and co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), discussed concussion awareness with Main Street.


“A major problem that I recognize from my experience and it continues today is that there is no formal concussion education at any level of sport,” said Nowinski. “Concussions are very different from any other injury. When you sprain a body part, you basically play as long as you are not hurting the team and you are not hurting yourself further. That is usually the mentality we have and if you apply that to concussions, you get yourself into a lot of trouble. Nobody tells you that and so, because we don't know that playing through concussions can hurt you, we do it.”


While the SLI focuses on youth sports, Nowinski is working with professional leagues and their athletes as well. A change of attitude towards a brain injury among players, management and sports fans is essential.


“We are actually working on a document now with a current player in the NFL to try to change that behaviour. We really like to focus on the problem at the youth level but the NFL level is a specific and unique issue in that there is money involved and people are adults and they can make their own decisions. There are a lot of external pressures that do not exist anywhere else. There are certainly ways that you can restructure the way concussions are handled, procedurally and in terms of roster exemptions for injury. There are a lot of outside the box ways you can make things safer and get everyone’s incentives aligned.”


For amateurs and young athletes, the SLI has begun a program of coaching clinics to educate coaches on the serious consequences of concussions. The state of New Hampshire has passed a law making concussion education mandatory for youth coaches and Nowinski would like to see this become standard procedure in the sports world.


“I think some level of education needs to be mandatory in contact sports,” said Nowinski. “The idea that you are going to put a helmet on a seven-year-old kid, where he is definitely going to take shots to the head and probably suffer a concussion and yet not tell him or his coaches how to handle it properly is wrong. The coach is the only adult responsible for the kids or near the kids. To not tell them how to recognize when a kid has a concussion, why they need to send them to a doctor, it really puts the kids at a risk that they really should not be at.”


A common misconception is that Nowinski and the SLI are trying to change the way we play contact sports, which could not be further from the truth.


As Nowinski states, “People sometimes feel threatened that we are trying to get kids not to play or that we are trying to turn them soft. The fact is, that working with what we know, we want them to play more safely.”


Repeated concussions can lead to short-term memory loss, headaches, vertigo, depression, anxiety, paranoia, dementia, and irreparable damage to the brain tissue. In the most tragic cases, it has led to suicide. Unfortunately, a post-mortem analysis of the brain tissue is the only way to confirm CTE. Several former NFL and NHL players, as well as amateur athletes, have agreed to donate their brain tissue after they pass in the hope of furthering the research of the Sports Legacy Institute. As a non-profit organization, the SLI accepts monetary donations, as well as donations of brain tissue. There is a link at their website - www.sportslegacy.org for information on making either type of donation.


As an amateur athlete, I have personally suffered through several undiagnosed concussions and have considered a donation myself. It is a difficult issue but it could make a difference in the continuing research of the SLI. The interview conducted with Mr. Nowinski was very in depth and will continue in the next edition of Main Street Week. Have a great sports day everyone. Remember to have fun but play safe.