“The dead know what they’re doing when they leave this world behind
When the here and the hereafter momentarily align
See the need to speed into the lead suddenly declined
The dead know what they’re doing when they leave this world behind
And as much as we might like to seize the reel and hit rewind
Or quicken our pursuit of what we’re guaranteed to find
When the dying’s finally done and the suffering subsides
All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind
All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind
Nights that won’t happen
Time we won’t spend
Time we won’t spend
With each other again”
“If outrage ends, what is life”
It’s been over a year since he passed, but I still spend a fair amount of time thinking about Jason Botchford.
Having said that, I must admit that I did not expect to be thinking about him at 12:05 yesterday afternoon, when I received the news that the coroner had finally released his cause of death.
Anyone who has followed me for a decent length of time will be well aware of the fact that I consider myself among Botch’s chief admirers. I was also lucky enough to correspond with him on an infrequent basis for a couple of years. Today has been hard on me. I cannot imagine how hard it has been for others.
I miss Botch for a lot of selfish reasons. He was such a monumental figure in Vancouver sports media that it has been tangibly worse to cover the team this season without him. I did not know him particularly well as a person, so I’m left feeling the loss mainly when something crazy happens or when someone has an awful take he almost certainly would have dunked on. I miss the stories, obviously, and the inside jokes. I miss the way he could put a bad talking point to bed with a couple of well-timed paragraphs. But most of all I miss his unflinching willingness to rock the boat.
I had hoped, foolishly, that some of Jason’s colleagues would make up for his absence by committee. In some ways, they have. Drance, Harman, and Wyatt have done an excellent job with the Armies; and Patrick Johnston continues to do an admirable job covering Jason’s old beat at the Province. But unfortunately there hasn’t been anyone around to channel his contempt for authority. Few hockey writers have the platform or influence botch did. None possess the joy he had for pissing people off.
Botch once told me to never let the mopes win. Well, it’s been almost a year and a half and I can say with confidence that the mopes are indeed winning. Or at least it feels that way a lot of the time.
I’ve written about Jason once before, and I think I did an okay job of channeling what he meant to the Vancouver hockey community, but I was still constricted by the boundaries of my platform, the expectations of the market, and good taste. None of that is the case now. It’s been over a year, I have nothing to lose anymore, and I feel that I can now speak more candidly about why Jason’s death hit me so hard.
There were a lot of things I loved about Botch, but the thing I loved the most was that we hated all the same things: double standards, nepotism cases, journalists who are more interested in Standing Near Athletes than in telling a story that might qualify as compelling or even *gasp* critical. His writing also revealed a deep resentment of laziness. Not the charming, slacker, Jeff-Bridges-in-Big-Lebowski kind of laziness, but the kind that can only be manifested when a person has been so devoid of accountability for so long that they don’t think twice about spending more time looking at the spread in the press box than at the game. Nothing sets me off more than an unearned sense of accomplishment, and while I can’t say for sure, I suspect Botch felt similarly.
I went for drinks the other night with a couple friends who are part of what could loosely be described as Vancouver’s hockey media scene. We spent most of the time talking about all the stuff we know to be true, but can’t say in public, engaging in the kind of petty media gossip that informs all the best sports content. It was the kind of life-affirming experience that reminds you of everything COVID has taken from us, and of how easy it is to take something like a dinner date with a couple of friends for granted.
Botch inevitably came up multiple times throughout the evening, and as I walked home that night, I thought about a Purple Mountains song that I’ve been listening to a lot recently: Nights That Won’t Happen. I thought about how I never got the chance to have a night like this with Botch. Then I thought about all the other friends I’ve made who knew him much better than I did who were potentially deprived of decades-worth of nights like these.
As someone who has always treated hockey less like a hobby than a pathology, Botch’s writing was to my tortured psyche what a lighthouse is to a capsizing boat: not quite enough to save you in and of itself, but enough to make you believe you have the strength to carry on and save yourself.
I’ve always laughed at the idea that hockey could be an escape from the problems of the world. After all, a small group of out-of-touch old white men getting recycled in and out of positions of power with little to no accountability isn’t exactly a problem that’s unique to hockey.
A year or two ago, when I first got a bug in my brain about trying to discuss the intersection between hockey and politics and the way one arena often rhymes with the other, I felt like a crazy person. As the sport becomes increasingly politicized, however, I have felt increasingly vindicated. Today, when the sports world collided with the opioid crisis, (an issue I had been deliberately pushing out of my brain because it was too depressing,) I was angry and upset, but my conviction that hockey can be a useful vector for meaningful change given the right circumstances had never been stronger.
When you spend as much time obsessing over politics and culture as I do, it can be easy to come to the conclusion that the problems we face are so entrenched and complex that untangling them will take multiple lifetimes. What makes the overdose crisis so frustrating is that it’s an issue with a simple, straightforward solution. The end of prohibition and a safe supply are the masks and social distancing of the opioid epidemic, and yet we’ve seen none of the urgency or action from the federal or provincial government that has been applied to the COVID-19 pandemic despite the fact that its effect on British Columbia has been deadlier and longer-lasting.
I didn’t know Jason Botchford well enough to know whether or not a safe supply would have saved his life. But to paraphrase Stephen Jay Gould, I am somehow less interested in this question than in the near-certainty that people of similar talent have died preventable deaths from overdosing on contaminated drugs.
Whenever someone passes, mourners open themselves up to being accused of making the death “about them”, especially if the passing is unexpected and the deceased is far too young. I know I am opening myself up to those same accusations, but the truth is that the real suffering is done by those who are left behind, and I refuse to feel bad about how angry I feel at the moment. I refuse to let this moment pass without at least acknowledging the possibility that myself and countless others were robbed of the work and company of a great man because of a policy failure. One of the things Botch taught me is that if you aren’t outraged, you are missing out on a basic part of the human condition. I am outraged. I am alive.
I don’t know how to end this fucking thing so I’m going to break one of my only rules and conclude by quoting someone much smarter and more accomplished than myself. I turn once again to the inimitable David Berman, another genius gone long before his time:
“‘Course I’ve been humbled by the void.
Much of my faith has been destroyed.
I’ve been forced to watch my foes enjoy,
Ceaseless feasts of schadenfreude.
And as the pace of life keeps quickening,
Beneath the bitching and the bickering,
When I try to drown my thoughts in gin,
I find my worst ideas know how to swim.
Well, a setback can be a setup
For a comeback if you don’t let up
But this kind of hurtin’ won’t heal.
And the end of all wanting
Is all I’ve been wanting
And that’s just the way that I feel.”
“The first freedom of the Press is not to be a business.“
– Karl Marx, Rheinische Zeitung, May 1842.
“Who needs a house out in Hackensack?
Is that what you get with your money?
It seems such a waste of time
If that’s what it’s all about
Mama if that’s movin’ up
Then I’m movin’ out”
-Billy Joel, Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), November 1977.
Over the course of the past two months, my seemingly abrupt departure from the Nation Network has been the subject of an increasingly bizarre series of rumours, which I intend to dispel.
Before I do that, though, I want to reiterate my admiration and respect for all the CanucksArmy staff, and my liaison to upper management (who will remain unnamed, out of respect). The Nation Network was, in many ways, a lousy employer, but I remain unconvinced that it was especially lousy, especially in comparison to its peers. I want to make it clear that while I left my job partly because of moral qualms I had with the way they were conducting business, I do not expect others to do the same. It is nearly impossible to be gainfully employed in 2020 and be in 100% agreement with your boss about how their business should operate, and I would be very suspicious of anyone for whom that happens to be the case. It has always been my belief that unless you are personally in charge of deciding who lives or dies, the compromises you make for your own material stability are basically between you and god. Almost any media organization of sufficient size is going to do things that are highly questionable, so attempting to differentiate between the “good” ones and “bad” ones is essentially meaningless, at least in a hockey context. An outlet is only as good as its writers, and your support should always be for the people that create the content, not the other way around.
Now that all that is out of the way, I now feel at liberty to discuss why I decided to take a step back from writing about hockey. There are a myriad of reasons, but each falls into one of three basic categories: material, mental, and moral. (It is only by happenstance that these reasons are alliterative.)
This is the big one I have to get out of the way right off the bat. A few weeks before my departure, my pay was cut significantly. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was as defensible as cutting pay can ever be. My liaison to the NN hierarchy explained that the move was temporary, and that my workload would shrink, and for all I know it’s entirely possible that they had no other options.
Money was never a huge factor over the course of my time with CA, especially because I spent so much of it hardly getting paid at all, but I would be lying if I said the pay cut had no effect. For reasons I’ll get into in a moment, the work I was doing at CA no longer felt fulfilling and I could feel myself beginning to check out as the season was coming to a close. I was already considering leaving at the end of the season, but the 60% cut (plus the removal of bonuses,) and the uncertainty surrounding the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the short-term future of the sport was enough to give me the push I needed to make a clean break.
So, if you need a cynical, self-serving reason for my departure, here it is: I didn’t want to get paid less to edit the site. At the end of the day, it’s always about money.
As a general rule, I tend to downplay the effect my mental health issues have had on my professional life for two reasons. The first is my overall distaste for the way the mentally ill are expected to share intimate details of their private lives in an attempt to be taken seriously, and my belief that this would not be necessary in a society that respected basic human dignity. The second is that in many ways, “mental illness” does not feel mine to claim. For the most part, I show up to work on time, maintain healthy relationships, and keep my self-esteem as high as could be reasonably expected. In other words, while my mental health has certainly caused me to struggle in areas others don’t, I don’t feel as though it has cost me any serious opportunities.
A few weeks ago I was finally, officially diagnosed with adult ADHD, which largely manifests itself as an inability to maintain focus over a long period of time and a near-constant craving for stimuli. One thing that will come up over and over again whenever you talk to any of the former editors at CanucksArmy is the round-the-clock nature of the job. Even on the days that the actual “work” of editing and scheduling only took up a total of a half-hour of my time, I was constantly fielding messages and staying updated. As you might expect, this didn’t exactly make for a harmonious relationship between mind and body or work and home. It felt like I was constantly everywhere and nowhere at the same time; moving at breakneck speed while maintaining complete inertia. I was working all the time, but never getting anywhere, and I tried to offload as much post-game coverage as possible for a very embarrassing reason: I was finding it increasingly hard to keep my eyes on the game, and would routinely have to rewind whenever I realized I hadn’t looked at the screen in ten minutes.
I also happen to be (to the best of my knowledge) one of the few people to hold the position of managing editor while also working a day job that expects me to be on my feet and constantly moving, and with few exceptions, does not allow me to be on my phone. (In fact, I had been reprimanded at jobs in the past for fielding work inquiries related to CA while on the floor.)
In some ways, I must admit that I was uniquely ill-fitted for the position. I worked hard, tried to behave with the utmost integrity towards the staff, and exhibited a near-obsessive attention to detail to make up for my shortcomings, but my ADHD, class position, and generally dismissive attitude towards “paying your dues” (ie doing tons of labour for little to no money) meant that I had a lower ceiling than say, a neurotypical true-believer with a nest egg.
Again, you can take these accounts in as negative a direction as you like. Perhaps I wasn’t the right fit for the job, either due to a lack of skills or simply my overall disposition, but I worked hard and tried my best to always put the staff first. If you go looking for evidence to the contrary, you won’t find any.
For those of you that came here looking for a conspiracy or sordid tales of abuse of power or editorial malfeasance, this is as close as you’ll get. Anyone hoping for acts of malevolence on my part is likely to be disappointed, though.
The first inkling I had that my days with NN were numbered came in the wake of the Don Cherry fiasco. In the days following Cherry’s dismissal from Sportsnet, I bore witness to two events that I found more than a little disturbing. The first was the decision the Network made to sever their relationship with an unpaid freelancer (and personal friend) Ramina Shlah.
This post is getting long, so I’ll avoid going into detail, but the important thing to understand is that Ramina was essentially barred from continuing to freelance at NN over a controversial tweet from her personal account. This would be a red flag at the best of times, but the situation was compounded by the fact that the situation was handled poorly, she was offered no explanation, and I happened to agree with what she said. This not only put me in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to give up income I relied on and leave my staff in the lurch in a show of support, or to stay on and be seen as hypocrite for espousing views similar to Ramina but failing to back her up when it affected me personally. In the end, the network was receptive to my insistence that I publicly express support for Ramina and my disagreement with their actions, but the entire situation still left a bad taste in my mouth.
The second thing was equally disturbing. For the past few years, the network had been taking an increasingly active role in dictating content to the point where posts would often show up on the site without the knowledge of the staff. It was a development I disliked, but I figured that as long as myself and the staff could cover whatever interested us with minimal interference, handing over a certain amount of space to Nation HQ was a fair compromise. I had only assumed that was the case because I had never really tested the boundaries. I was wrong. After writing the news hit regarding Cherry’s dismissal, it was politely suggested to me that I avoid discussing the story any further. While I suppose it’s possible that this was a smart business decision, I find the idea highly suspect. Being told not to cover what was the biggest story in hockey at the time felt more ideological than practical, although I have no concrete evidence to suggest that’s the case. At any rate, the network seemed to be moving towards increasingly low-effort content that is fairly narrow in scope just as I was broadening my horizons. I was becoming increasingly bored writing weeklies and speculative pieces and wanted to cover the game in interesting and unique ways that hadn’t been attempted before while the network seemed to be getting more heavily invested in being a pure fan blog. It was at this point that I realized my continued employment was untenable and I began to devise an exit strategy. I would do my best to set the site up for success for the 2020-2021 season, and step away at some point during the off-season.
Unfortunately, that plan fell by the wayside in April when the season was put on hold. The pay cut was tough to swallow, but the final straw came in the form of a tone-deaf wanted ad posted on the site in the aftermath of widespread layoffs across the network. I was assured that it was all a miscommunication, but the fact of the matter was that the site had posted an article announcing that we were looking for contributors mere moments after the majority of the staff had been laid off, and a few of those laid-off contributors were furious. Even if it was an honest mistake, the fact was that it wouldn’t have been made if I had been kept abreast of the content the network was posting on the site without my knowledge or consent. Simply put, a healthy, well-run organization would have avoided it. I took a day to mull it over and told my boss I would be leaving at the end of the month. (I think I gave about 3 1/2 weeks notice.)
When I look back on what happened, it’s honestly not clear to me if most people would have made the decision I did, or the degree to which what happened over the course of the season would be considered “wrong” by my peers. I just knew that didn’t feel good about what I was doing anymore, and felt like I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be while being attached so directly to the NN brand. Perhaps most importantly, I felt like I couldn’t continue my work and still be taken seriously. There were already ridiculous rumours flying around that I had “fired” a contributor over personal disagreements (which was wrong on three counts; he was fired for essentially harassing his fellow contributors, editors have never held hiring or firing power, and I hadn’t even officially taken on the role when the decision was made) and I wanted to make it abundantly clear where I stood. When it comes to the conflict between labour and capital, I will always side with labour. For the most part, I don’t care what people say about me, but this is one area where I will not allow myself to be slandered.
Regardless of how you feel about any of the parties involved, I hope it is clear now that the decision to leave was mine and mine alone. My goal is not to pass judgment on the network, but merely to explain why I felt I could not square my moral compass with some of the things that happened over my time as managing editor.
To be quite honest, I’m actually not sure if I can square it with being gainfully employed in media at all. I’m going to continue to freelance, host the podcast, and write freely about topics that interest me on the blog, but I have no idea where that will lead me. For the time being, I’m going to try to carve out a decent side hustle covering hockey, but if I can’t do it on my terms, I won’t do it at all.
Yes it’s true!! The worst kept secret.. ladies and gentlemen I am pleased to announce the debut of a fantastic new website for Roxy Fever. Our grasps remain as unbounded as ever, and as a result, I decided the podcast alone was simply too small an arena for the kind of falsehoods and directionless negativity we wish to disseminate/spew.
I started this site for two reasons. The first is strictly practical. As some of you may have noticed, Roxy Fever has not been available on Spotify for the last few months, thanks to a copyright claim by Warner Music Group. The obvious solution to this problem would have been to go back and remove the offending music cue, but unfortunately, I ran into a couple of issues. As you might expect, splitting your time between yelling about hockey on the internet and cooking breakfast for office workers is not exactly the kind of thing that yields a ton of money, so when I ran out of room on my hard drive earlier this year, my solution was to delete the project files for most of the old episodes. I also had no idea what song we got dinged for in the first place, and the task of going through each episode and manually removing all the music was not something that seemed like a lot of fun.
I also could have just deleted the old episodes off the feed altogether, but frankly, they serve as a sonic time capsule of some of the most interesting and important moments in my life, so I wanted them to exist somewhere. At some point in the coming weeks, the first 25 or so episodes of the show are going to disappear off SoundCloud and Apple podcasts as I prepare to re-submit the podcast to Spotify, but thankfully, they’ll still have a permanent home, thanks to the magic of WordPress.
The second reason I started the site is perhaps a bit more selfish. As many people who’ve followed me for a long time have probably realized, my interest in covering the day-to-day minutia of games, prospects, trades, transactions, and cap constraints waned considerably over the course of my time at CanucksArmy, and my interest in applying a more critical political and social lens to world of hockey greatly increased. Unfortunately, I’m unsure that any platform exists for me to broadcast those thoughts in written form at the moment, and I’m even less sure that I’d be any good at it. So, for the time being, this space will be the outlet for any of the thoughts I’ve deemed too out-there for more traditional platforms. It’s a lot more difficult than pumping out listicles about the best potential free agents on the market, but it’s also a lot more rewarding. I don’t really know if any of my early efforts are going to be all that coherent or interesting, but after years of being constrained by the limits of traditional sports blogging, I feel like I need somewhere where I can be as crazy as possible. Thankfully, whatever I end up writing can’t possibly be as slapdash and rinky-dink as the site itself.
In the meantime, thanks for reading, thanks for listening, and as always, please direct any and all complaints to @jdylanburke on Twitter.