• Jeff Blair is either a bad reporter or a bad person. Possibly both.

    by  • January 23, 2010 • Uncategorized • 30 Comments

    If you don’t follow Matt Fenwick (@FenwickMatt) on Twitter, you really should. Matt had a good exchange with Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail about a piece that Blair wrote about Georges Laraque. The piece, was astoundingly petty and mean:

    You run into guys like Laraque everywhere in sports: self-promoters who practice being glib to curry favour with the media. It used to be that was enough for some of them to keep their jobs, but that’s not the case any more. It seems that with the advent of social media and around the clock news coverage the self-promoters get smoked out sooner rather than later because they talk too much. Not a bad thing, entirely. My guess is Georges will resurface as a hockey analyst – you know, the francophone version of P.J. Stock!

    JB: Posted: Unwritten Rules: Shed no tears for self-promoter Georges Laraque http://bit.ly/5GgIxS

    MF: Hey, @GloBlair: your blog post about Laraque was puzzlingly mean. And your last paragraph doesn’t fit with your opening sentence at all.

    JB: @FenwickMatt The guy has no cred. Talked to some of his former teammates? I have. The last line was tongue in cheek, cuz Stock is awful.

    MF: @GloBlair Thought your take was “from a distance”, not based on player gossip. But that info makes your piece make more sense, + also, less.

    JB: @FenwickMatt It’s a blog post. You want Shakespeare, I suggest “King Lear.’

    MF: Shorter @GloBlair: Georges may seem like a prince, if slightly dense, but he’s actually a poseur and a dink (not that we’ve ever met).

    Now, I could imagine that Laraque might be frustrating as a teammate. He probably never shuts up, his fight code is irritating as a fan and there’s always something going on with the guy. It might even be fair to call him a self-promoter, although it always seemed to me that he’s just a guy who likes talking to people. I like to think I have a pretty good bullshit detector and I have a hard time believing that Laraque isn’t genuine. I have a bias here – he’s one of my favourite Oilers of his era because he always seemed like he was having a good time and he was such a unique player.

    I did a little googling and found some quotes from other people who Laraque must have fooled. This story is from the lockout, when Laraque was thinking about heading to Sweden to play:

    “Georges once said to me, ‘Whatever you need, Brian, just call me,’ ” Salvation Army Capt. Brian Venables said yesterday.

    Laraque gave him his personal cell number, said Venables, adding not every celebrity supporter provides that.

    Venables remembers a trip Laraque made to the Salvation Army’s Clareview office. He visited kids attending the after-school homework club.

    Laraque took the time to talk to every kid, Venables said. “He was there for them. He engaged them. That says a lot.”

    Laraque also helps police educate kids through their DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

    “His presence will definitely be missed,” said police spokesman Andy Weiler. “He talks (to kids) about why he’s decided to go alcohol and drug free. And kids really look up to him.”

    Laraque shares time with the Stollery Children’s Hospital, too. He was their poster boy for a project launched two years ago to educate the public about shaken baby syndrome.

    “He’ll be missed,” said Pam Brown, a spokesman for the Stollery foundation. “We look forward to seeing him again.”

    Hah. Fools. If only they knew what his anonymous teammates told Jeff Blair, who doesn’t actually have a hockey beat and would seem unlikely to have a variety of good hockey connections.

    Here’s another from 2008 in Pittsburgh. I encourage you to go and read the story, which is just ridiculous:

    Mr. Laraque often goes beyond what groups ask of him, like the time he received a package in the mail the day of the Penguins’ first game of the postseason.

    It was from Catherine Marmol, a fifth-grade teacher at Hatfield Elementary School in Uniontown, who had contacted Mr. Laraque after hearing television broadcasters tell of his good deeds.

    She wanted to involve him in a class project with Flat Stanley, a paper cutout man sent out for adventures to be documented with a camera and a journal.

    At practice the next day, Mr. Laraque introduced the team to Flat Stanley, posing him with teammates — including stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — and in different places around Mellon Arena, from the ice to the weight room.

    Instead of mailing the package back, as Ms. Marmol had requested, Mr. Laraque then hopped in his truck and drove to Uniontown — not realizing how far it was. He arrived just as the students were being dismissed for the day.

    There was enough time for Mr. Laraque to pose for pictures with the class and sign a few autographs before the buses left, and Ms. Marmol came away impressed.

    “I can’t stress enough what a nice person he was, how gracious he was,” she said.

    “What he taught my kids is priceless. It goes way beyond textbooks.”

    From the same story:

    During his own childhood, Mr. Laraque, who was raised by Haitian parents in Montreal, was always the only black kid playing hockey, and he has worked to promote the sport with minority children in Pittsburgh. Mr. Laraque is heavily involved with Hockey in the Hood, a local organization that works through the NHL Diversity program.

    Mr. Laraque, one of just 12 black players in the NHL, acknowledges that if he had grown up in the Mon Valley rather than Montreal, he would have gravitated toward a different sport, and hockey’s expensive equipment can be a barrier for poor families. But whenever he has a chance, he educates kids about famous black players in the NHL — including Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr — and tells them, “Hockey is for everyone.”

    Mr. Laraque also has made numerous visits to Boys and Girls Clubs, Imani Christian Academy in Penn Hills and a recent trip to The Doorway in Bellevue — which supports children with family members who are in jail or addicted to drugs — with eight Penguins teammates in tow.

    Those who encounter him tell the same story. Like Gary Lee, the front office manager at the Marriott across the street from Mellon Arena, where Mr. Laraque frequently stays. Mr. Lee said the Penguin was always kind to him, and as a result, he bought a No. 27 shirt to wear to Game 3.

    Sally Crompton, of Scott, who was wearing an autographed replica Laraque jersey, recalled his kindness to an ill co-worker. “He has a smile that will light up the room,” she said.

    Here’s a Mark Spector story from 2008. It’s kind of difficult to excerpt because he’s cut a letter into the story. I’ll excerpt the letter separately and then the bit about Laraque:

    My nephew [Jordon] was a victim of muscular dystrophy and was in the last stages of this mindnumbing disease. On Friday, after much deliberation, he decided to go off the ventilator and go along with whatever happened. The doctors said it was just a matter of time.

    Now, Jordon has always been a great fan of hockey. To make a long story short, on Friday the Oilers found out about Jordon’s plight. Somehow and with no notice, Georges Laraque came up from Calgary and visited Jordon at the University Hospital in the ICU ? He chatted with Jordon and even apologized that he had been so rushed to get to the hospital he didn’t have time to pick up some hockey souvenirs for Jordon.

    Georges might never know how much that visit meant to Jordon and his parents. Jordon, who was 19, died on Monday.

    The kid was 19, and he only had a few hours left. Maybe another night.

    Georges Laraque had just checked into a hotel in Calgary. Hadn’t even unzipped his bag when a secretary of a friend called his cellphone. Everybody gets Georges’ cell number.

    “She asked me if I could come to Edmonton,” he said. “There was this kid who was going to die. He had a couple hours to live, they thought, and his last wish was to see me.”

    Laraque was playing for the Edmonton Oilers at the time. He checked out, got in his truck, and made the two-hour, forty-five minute drive back to Edmonton “in an hour and 45 minutes.”

    “I was driving sometimes on the shoulder. I knew I wasn’t going to get a ticket, because of the reason I was going back for. Karma, you know?”

    “When you give someone a moral boost like that, sometimes you give them the will to live. The boost he got made him so happy, they said he lived another few days because of that,” Laraque said.

    “The fact I have the power to do this? I do as much as I can.”

    Boy. Laraque sure fooled that dying kid and his family. Just another glib self-promoter, doing his usual schtick and he fooled them into having an experience that meant a lot to them by making a five hour round trip from Calgary when it would have been entirely reasonable to say no.

    Jeff Blair isn’t fooled though. He knows what Laraque is really like. Even though he’s never spoken with him and is relying on anonymous gossip.

    About

    30 Responses to Jeff Blair is either a bad reporter or a bad person. Possibly both.

    1. January 23, 2010 at

      “I was driving sometimes on the shoulder. I knew I wasn’t going to get a ticket, because of the reason I was going back for. Karma, you know?”

      Indeed.

    2. Mike W
      January 23, 2010 at

      I noticed some digs at Laraque from media scribes before. Perhaps he makes them “uncomfortable.”

    3. January 23, 2010 at

      Thanks for that Tyler, BG is an outstanding human being and its unfortunate how things have turned for him recently.

      We scorn the Oilers for player loyalty, but BG wouldnt have been cast off mid-season like that in Edmonton. For better or worse.

      Back in 97 or so, i stumbled across BGs email address online. So I emailed him wishing him support and good luck on reaching his 20 goal season (his prediction).

      Well unexpectedly, Georges emailed me back, asked me where I was emailing from (Newfoundland) and told me to send him my mailing address. Totally unsolicited he emailed me a few autographed Oilers bits including an 8×10 glossy.

      The irony of a person distinctly lacking character, questioning the character of BG is mind numbing.

    4. Mike W
      January 23, 2010 at

      Above all else, the recurring theme and lesson of Tyler’s blog is: whatever MSM hockey scribes most assert to be true isn’t true at all.

    5. January 23, 2010 at

      Good background work … paints a different story ..

    6. Quain
      January 23, 2010 at

      Come on guys, clearly he’s a self-promoter I mean look at him, he’s bla– he’s a big mouth! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

    7. mc79hockey
      January 23, 2010 at

      This isn’t even really background work. It’s something that anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to Laraque knows about. All I did was stick “Laraque” and “charity” into Google News Archive.

    8. January 23, 2010 at

      In This Story, jaded and bitter newspaper man can’t understand somebody who’s relatively open about his work. Can’t be right, nobody’s actually like that, so he must be a self-promoter.

      BG always did have a bit of a self-promoting thing going on, but I think it came from the heart, not like some other players.

    9. Matt D
      January 23, 2010 at

      Thanks for this. I’m a Habs fan, and I groaned whenever Laraque was dressed for a game– he’s just not an effective player anymore. The objective, stat-consulting fan in me didn’t want him anywhere near the ice: his goal the other week came on his second shot of the year. It was the rebound from his first shot of the year. He played 28 games, had 2 shots and 21 hits, and was -6 despite playing 5 minutes a night against the other team’s worst. And his fight code is honourable, but unsatisfying: I wanted Lucic’s face turned to paste, and it didn’t happen.

      All that aside, though, there’s no one on the team that I *wanted* to be effective and successful more than him. If he had, he would have been the most popular player in Montreal since the Rocket, I think. I wish things had worked out differently for him in Montreal. And I’d love to see him in broadcasting.

    10. January 23, 2010 at

      I can’t understand that article at all. I mean, sure, criticize him for being a useless hockey player, and you can even criticize him for being seemingly disinterested in the only NHL-level skill he has. Glib self-promoter? Who the fuck is he talking about? Surely he’s got the wrong disgruntled ex-Hab or something?

    11. January 23, 2010 at

      Have had two run-ins with Georges. Both were more positive than any other experiences with any other NHL players.

    12. Pete
      January 23, 2010 at

      Most NHL players that I’ve met have been arrogant pricks with a sense of entitlement, especially the young guys. A few have been at least civil (Moreau, Anson Carter), and a couple were pretty cool (Niinimaa, Semenko, Stortini). Laraque is the only one who has always come across as an exceptionally friendly, nice guy, not just in comparison to other NHL players, but in comparison to the population as a whole.

      Blair obviously has some axe to grind. It’d be intersting to know what his problem is.

    13. January 23, 2010 at

      Run-ins, Loxy? Sounds like you guys dropped the mitts in a bar somewhere. ;)

      LeGG is a talker and in most sports but especially hockey, talking is frowned upon. Selfish, you know?

      Its a foolish idea but I would bet that Blair got his quotes from that type of source, the guy who thinks oyu should just give the old ‘we gave 100% etc etc’ whenever a mic is shoved in their face.

      I actually like Blair for the most part but he’s really a baseball guy. Now he comments on various sports with his new blog. He should stick to baseball. Most if his non ball stuff strikes me as a guy giving his opinion, nothing more.

    14. mclea
      January 24, 2010 at

      Blair has been like this for as long as I can remember. In fact, he’s a lot better nowadays than he used to be. When he used to fill in for McCown a couple years ago, he used to go on ad nauseum about the stuff he didn’t like, the people he didn’t like, other things he had problems with. He had an issue everybody and everything. It was hard to listen to. Someone must have told him to tone it down a little, because he’s a lot better now.

      His issue has always been that he’s been around professional athletes enough to know (or believe) that they don’t deserve anywhere near the adulation they receive, so when he gets a chance to boot one to the face when they are laying on the ground, he takes that chance 100% of the time. I don’t necessarily blame the guy; if I had to spend my whole life trying to get empty quotes from guys who made 50 times as much money as me I did (and treated me accordingly), I’d probably have a chip on my shoulder too.

      But the fact that he doesn’t even attempt to disguise that this is the way he obviously feels about professional athletes is his problem. He’d probably be a half decent guy if he had a job he didn’t so clearly despise.

    15. January 24, 2010 at

      Spectacular piece.

      Thanks for this.

    16. mc79hockey
      January 24, 2010 at

      His issue has always been that he’s been around professional athletes enough to know (or believe) that they don’t deserve anywhere near the adulation they receive, so when he gets a chance to boot one to the face when they are laying on the ground, he takes that chance 100% of the time.

      The funny thing is, I basically agree with him most of the time. I just think LeGG is the rare case in which what you see is about what you get. He has to have done no research for this piece, although I emailed him the links to some of the stories here and congratulated him for having Georges figured out.

    17. Lindsay
      January 24, 2010 at

      I’m just a casual NHL fan but even I knew of Big Georges’ charity work and how its gone above and beyond. It seems to me the NHL could use some self promoters – they get casual fans interested, and really by self promoting, they are NHL promoters. I just asked Rick to name some Oilers from the ’06 run. He named four skaters and two goalies before he stalled out. Think of one more I said. He came up with Laraques. My point is just that these players who are deemed short on talent, but huge on personality can be good for the marketability of the game, because they actually leave an impact in the memory of a fan. It’s not something a coach should care about, but you’d think the media might not mind it so much, and the NHL might actually try to exploit it, and get some return on it, these players who are actually interesting and want to say more than, “uh we all gave 100%.”

    18. January 24, 2010 at

      The best/worst part is Blair’s excuse/admission that it’s just a poorly written blog post. Oh, well okay then, if that’s all it is. My bad.

    19. mc79hockey
      January 24, 2010 at

      Linds – Smyth, Pronger, Hemsky, Horcoff, Roli and Conklin? Is that right?

      Pat – Yeah, that’s the weird thing. I’ve always liked Blair when he writes about baseball. When he writes about hockey, he sounds like a moron.

      I actually had an email exchange with him last year. I’ll repost it

      “Jeff,

      I’ve been a huge fan of your baseball writing for years. I think that you’re the best baseball writer in the country. Lately though, I’ve been reading your hockey stuff and one particular expression is giving me some difficulty: your use of the phrase booty call. For example:

      “…the Sutters are Alberta’s version of a hockey booty call, all dewy-eyed, Wild West romance and grit and all that drivel, and it’s doubtful anybody has the stones to stand up to them.”

      “…So don’t beat up Burke over “losing out” on the Sedins. Day 1 of free agency went pretty well. Colton Orr is a booty call for a guy like Burke.”

      Now, I’m just a 29 year old guy and maybe booty call has meanings of which I’m unaware but, as far as I know, it is overwhelmingly used to refer to a sexual encounter with a perosn with whom you are not in a relationship. Nothing wrong with that – the Sexual Revolution was 40 years ago and it’s a brand new world; we’re all libertarians on social issues.

      The problem I’m having is that I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t like the Sutters, which I think you were trying to convey and I’m not fan of Brian Burke, who I think that you may well have been calling gay which, again, if that’s how he rolls, I’m ok with that and it doesn’t really seem like an appropriate gibe for a newspaper.

      Am I missing something here? Does booty call have some other meaning? Are the copy editors just fucking with you? What are you saying?

      Cheers,
      Tyler”

      To which he responded:

      “Make what you want of it.”

      Weird dude.

    20. Lindsay
      January 24, 2010 at

      replace pronger and hemsky with raffi torres and jason smith. otherwise ya.

    21. lowetide
      January 24, 2010 at

      The only things I know about Laraque is that he is something of a local legend in St. Albert for playing street hockey with kids in town (bastard that he is) and that he was actually a blast with people in my industry back when he did a radio show in EDM (this was several years ago, possibly before he began kicking babies).

      Thanks goodness for people like Mr. Blair.

    22. Chris
      January 24, 2010 at

      I have to agree with the general surprise that Georges would have that kind of malicious post written about him. I’m not saying the guy is above criticism as Oiler fans long mooted his reluctance to fight in some instances or his ability to be a productive hockey player beyond his enforcer role. But really everything I’ve ever read or heard about the guy suggests he’s a genuinely kind human being who attempts to use his celebrity to help other people so where this sports writer comes up with ‘selfish dink’ is somewhat baffling.

    23. PunjabiOil
      January 24, 2010 at

      BG is a good person

      http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/story.html?id=81cf2e83-6cda-4ed8-89c0-9fd092e34913&k=93584

      Just no longer an effective hockey player like he used to be. I recall him being HS for game 7 in 2006 – but there he was, encouraging his teammates and slapping them high-fives as they entered the ice.

      I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Katz brings him back to the Oilers. That said, you can’t keep both of Stortini and Laraque around – and removing the sentimental aspect, Stortini is a better player.

    24. Dennis
      January 24, 2010 at

      I have my own BG story.

      There was a guy that used to post on Oilfans years and years ago and then he got a job with the club and I believe his name was Andreas Schwabe??

      Anyway, I sorta knew the guy and I’d been a BG fan since I saw him play down here as a member of the Bulldogs so I asked Andreas if he could ask Georges if he’d do sorta of an interview with him where I’d send him a list of questions and he could answer.

      Well you know that BG did in fact do that and this was pre-blogging and when fans had very little interaction with players.

      I never forgot that and I”ve always always rooted for BG.

      Blair’s a guy I’m familiar with because he would write about the Expos and he had a lot of cool old timey Expos stories. But I emailed him with a couple of times and he was curt and odd and contrary and that’s fine and I didn’t hold it against him.

      But this piece about Georges crossed the line.

    25. slipper
      January 24, 2010 at

      Georges signed my chuck taylors when I met him in the food court under the Telus building. I didn’t have piece of paper or anything so I asked him: “could you sign my shoe?”

      “As long as dey do not steenk”

      Air Laraques. I’ve kept them for over a decade. Let the bidding begin.

    26. January 24, 2010 at

      As much as it pains me to admit it, Matheson’s article on Le GG today was pretty perfect. Highlighted how he has played himself out of the game, while emphasizing that he’s a total stand-up guy.

    27. Hawerchuk
      January 25, 2010 at

      A friend of mine from AB is friends with a guy who played AAA with one of the Comries. They all hung out with Georges in a bar in EDM maybe 10 years ago. My friend said Georges was awesome, and that tons of hot blond women with huge implants were all over him (my friend) as a result of Georges even being in the bar.

    28. Grunt
      January 25, 2010 at

      I concur with Lowetide about the kids and road hockey. Here in Clareview, George was getting braids in his hair at his stylists (yes, NHL players have stylists) house. As he was leaving, he noticed kids across the street at the school playing hockey in the parking lot. Without hesitation or prodding, and much to the delight of a dozen kids, he joined them for about a half hour.

      These types of stories are common. The guy doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, that’s why his career is/was such a paradox. His fists got him where his is, but he loathes using them.

      A shameless self promoter? No, one of the few genuine people in pro sports.

    29. nightfly
      January 26, 2010 at

      Seconding Andy above… really, it’s just a blog post?

      Let me copy-edit you there, Jeff: it’s just a blog post for your employer. As such, it deserves a modicum of attention… say, like Googling “Laracque” and “charity” and seeing what comes up. Takes ten minutes, you never have to leave your mom’s basement corner office.

      Or to be more serious – it’s absurd as an industry to twit bloggers for their poor standards, and then hire people for blogs who do not advance the standards. The whole point of a professional journalist is to be professional, to check facts, to do the necessary research, no matter which medium one’s work appears in.

    30. Mark
      August 22, 2012 at

      Nice article. Honest question: Can George sue for defamation?

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