Whiskey and Cream: Episode VIII

Whiskey & Cream for January 23rd, 2021

Host: Ari Shapiro

0:46-8:30: “There is increased fire here”

It’s still very early in the abbreviated and pandemic-influenced NHL season, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are already feeling the weight of fickle fans who scrutinize their every win and loss in much the way you’d cheer for heavyweight fighters exchanging blows. But this year, there’s a bona fide sense of urgency and a real commitment to team defense. Although the Northeast division will undoubtedly make it easier for them to avoid some of the juggernauts of the past such as Boston and Tampa bay, the team is poised to succeed if goaltender Frederik Andersen can do his best to resemble Grant Fuhr rather than Andrew Raycroft. But with all their young and highly coveted talented players, this would seem to be the year that they could find a way to win a single playoff round.

Luke Fox (@lukefoxjukebox) is an NHL writer with Sportsnet in Canada and has published a variety of books on rap music. In covering the team on a national level, he believes that there’s increased fire in the way the team has been constructed under general manager Kyle Dubas, and that by adding players like Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and Jimmy Vesey, he believes that the team added a measure of toughness, leadership and skill that offers priceless intangibility and fire in a payroll that’s dominated by a nucleus of game-breaking talent short on professional success.

8:50-15:42: “A baseball team is a big company designed to make money”

Most fans of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021 have come to accept the limitations and scope of what their baseball team is all about. After decades of playoff futility and cultural rot, the organization seems to be a shadow of its former championship self. You know, that glorious platinum standard set by the exploits of Carter, Alomar, Molitor and company. But then suddenly and as quickly as it came, the steady development of 80’s talent and the cultivation of a family-oriented brand began to erase itself from the hearts and minds of an entire generation. For awhile there, it look like the sport itself was drifting into irrelevancy through doping, the cheating and the commitment to heartless austerity by billion-dollar corporate owners. Although 2015 brought a mighty reprieve to cynical fandom everywhere, the current front office has been besieged by lingering expectations of competitive play that hasn’t existed for half a decade.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) is a writer and multiplatform contributor with Sportsnet. He’s also the co-host of At The Letters podcast where he breaks down this team for a living. For him, the Blue Jays front office of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have been transparent with their intentions from the moment they arrived in Toronto, and although most people are turned off by their corporate doubletalk and public relations tone-deafness, it all comes down to a baseball team being a big company finding ways to make a profit. When asked about the recent George Springer signing and his outlook on the team in 2020, his responses were as refreshing as they are candid.

15:55-22:49: “Oh Canada! We stand on guard for thee”

Once upon a time, Canadians were known for the sport of hockey, maple syrup and peacekeeping. But as populism raged across the western world and took most of empathy and compassion with it, a nation respected for centrism and balance finds itself grappling with its identity amidst a global pandemic. It’s not a stretch to think that if things get worse and more people become unemployed and homeless, that this country could find itself facing an existential crisis that strikes to the very core of what it means to be a liberal and conservative.

Asif Hossain (@asifintoronto) is a social influencer and has worked with MLSE, Tennis Canada and the Canadian Olympic committee. His eloquent contempt for political misanthropes and posturing leaders comes from a belief that most Canadians have a generally favourable view of their government and are willing to work together and compromise. Perhaps that’s why it’s so disheartening for him to witness countless examples of elected leaders who continually let us down with their hypocrisy and lies.

23:07-28:51: “The power of a microstory”

Microstories might be better than teletherapy. I know that’s a bold claim coming from someone who isn’t a psychiatrist and hasn’t published a book in his lifetime, but nothing seems to bring me genuine catharsis more than a compelling short story wrapped in the mental shape of a bite-sized piece of chocolate. In a world where doomscrolling has become a tradition and reading a book seems blase, it’s nice to find true escapism through the musings of someone who combines delicious yiddishkeit humour with the cold, steel pragmatic irony of our modern times.

Eric Rosenhek (@TheHek) is the author of Dim Sum Stories, a series of heartfelt microstories available exclusively at arishapiro.ca. For him, the capacity to visualize intriguing narratives cobbled forth in small spaces offers him the chance to channel his stress and anxiety in all the best ways – through the promise of literary escapism where the white noise stops and all you can hear is the sound of your heart beating. Hearing his observations on the pandemic and what keeps him sane reveals a touching look into the mind of someone whose creativity defines the very essence of his soul.

“Whiskey & Cream Theme” written and performed by Chris Henderson.

Whiskey and Cream: Episode VII

Whiskey & Cream for January 19th, 2021

Host: Ari Shapiro

0:36-13:20: “On the outside and feeling betrayed”

The inauguration is almost upon us and most Americans are waiting with bated breath to usher in what should be a new era in US politics. But as the steam goes out on the Donald Trump presidency and the reality of losing a fair and democratic election sinks in, it isn’t a coincidence that anti-state and anti-law enforcement ideas are flourishing across all states of the union. The movement has taken on a decidedly militant turn across the board specifically because the outgoing administration crafted a brutal and convenient revisionist narrative that Trump supporters are stuck on the outside looking in on an election that was stolen and requires them to defend themselves and their honour. As a result, multiple forms of virulent militant activity ranging from The Oathkeepers to The Proud Boys are finding themselves with the kind of raison d’être that could end up creating a measure of public unrest not seen since the civil rights movement.

Brendan O’Connor (@_grendan) is freelance journalist and the author of Blood Red Lines: How Nativism Fuels The Right. He’s covered right-wing extremism since the end of the Obama administration and believes that overstating the danger of what may come can lead to poor analysis and even worse conclusions. But what he does believe is that what happens next will be a period of turmoil, and that The Biden administration will likely not be defined by healing and reconciliation. In his eyes, there will be a greater and far more spectacular reckoning of political violence in the US for the foreseeable future.

13:21-19:31: “When lightning strikes twice”

Most Canadians don’t realize how special and unique the Tampa Bay Lightning are as a professional NHL franchise, and with the return of hockey for a second season in a pandemic reality, there’s a great deal to be said for an organization which values their fans as much as their profit levels and industry achievements. In a market devoid of hypercritical fans and a vicious media backbite, the Lightning aren’t just winners on the ice – they are bona fide winners off it as well.

Dave Randorf (@DaveRandorf) is the play-by-play commentator for the Tampa Bay Lightning and a celebrated Canadian sports broadcaster. He’s never taken his success for granted and believes that in aligning his future with the Florida-based Stanley Cup champions, he can help fans of hockey feel better about their own personal struggles by enjoying a first class organization which has succeeded in winning the championship twice since the turn of the century. Which, for the record, is twice more than the Toronto Maple Leafs have accomplished since 1967.

19:32-26:21: “Coming back to normal, a little dark and colder”

It’s hard to keep your mind fresh and spirits high when the numbing reality of covid statistics exist to remind you that all is not normal. It makes one really wonder: how much of this can we take without going back to the normal things – you know, the simple things. Like enjoying a breakaway in overtime, an extra innings nailbiter or the last few remaining seconds of an alley-oop, centre court play to win the game in regulation. Having sports back, even under such abnormal conditions, is essentially a return to normalcy that gives us the kind of distraction needed to help absorb the hypocrisy of our times – the fact that politicians and corporate profiteers are treating this time as business as usual.

Tony Ambrogio (@Tony_Ambrogio) is a freelancer with TSN and teaches at the College of Sports Media in Toronto. He’s a highly respected sports journalist who finds himself becoming a colder, darker person when confronted with an endless barrage of pandemic statistics and political hypocrisies which make him pine for the simplicity of hockey, basketball or baseball. Amidst all the vitriol and hate associated with masks and vaccinations, he remains grateful that society can still rely on professional sports to bring us back to a time when arguing at the dinner table and mulling over the latest feats of athleticism were once the norm.

26:23-34:01: “The psychology of pandemic sports betting”

We’ve come a long way from the days when sports betting was frowned upon as a reckless or taboo indulgence. With 19 American states now legalizing the activity, it’s clear the appetite for gambling has reached a whole new level with the pandemic raging throughout the winter. In the first couple of months alone, Table Tennis became the seventh most wagered on sport as people sought to find ways to wager money on competitive spectacles that reminded them of something other than negative media news and gradual societal decay.

Ben Fawkes (@BFawkes22) is the VP of Digital Content at VISN The Sports Betting Network and has done work with ESPN. For him, the concept of sports betting is all about psychology and economics and shouldn’t be for the faint of heart. In a changing world of easy to use technology and unlimited access, his mantra of making informed decisions and playing within your boundaries is an absolute prerequisite for anyone who is serious turning this pursuit into a money-maker, and that having consistent success relies more on studying and learning the craft well before embarking on it.

“Whiskey & Cream Theme” written and performed by Chris Henderson.

Whiskey and Cream: Episode 005

Whiskey & Cream for December 23rd, 2020.

Host: Ari Shapiro

0:36-7:35: “A kinder, gentler brand of politics”

It always comes down to the fundamentals, that we’re different from them. That’s how it feels looking at the United States from a distinctly Canadian perspective. The pandemic has caused immeasurable harm to the very fabric of their society in ways that defies the imagination and begs the question: why isn’t more being done to help their citizens during a time when compassion is needed more than ever. And why does their culturally innate suspicion of government and resistance to being told what’s best for them – inevitably finds a way of steering them into the realm of greed, paranoia and conspiracy? Furthermore, one has to wonder if a correlation exist between populist and progressive governments when it comes to empathy in their political leaders?

Warren Kinsella (@kinsellawarren) is a celebrated Canadian lawyer, author and musician who has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post. He’s collaborated and interacted with numerous prime ministers and political bigwigs during his time, and when it comes to understanding the true merits of effective governance, his take on the differences between Canada and the United States during this global pandemic is squarely focused at our existential differences and how having trust in government is essentially what separates our two democracies.

7:44-13:48: “The men and women of science were correct”

Toronto is heading towards a lockdown on Boxing Day, an announcement that sent shockwaves through those living in Ontario and across Canada. A first wave that was met head-on by the conservative government in the province has long been forgotten in the face of a second wave that’s exposed a shocking level of excuses, pivoting and the passing of the coronavirus buck. With Ontario averaging over 28 deaths a day, the sense of urgency has never been greater even if the credibility of the messengers seems minimized by their tendency to speak out of both sides of their mouths.

Mary Ormsby (@MaryOrmsby) is one of Canada’s most respected journalists who has covered Olympic games, World Cups, and major professional leagues across North America for over three decades while writing for The Toronto Star. She’s spearheaded features about concussions, women in sports, homelessness and clergy abuse with award-winning features spanning over three decades of investigative journalism. For her, Doug Ford presents two phases – or “faces” as she calls them – that’s tested her limits when it comes to political leadership. Whereas she felt he was the right leader at the right time for the first wave of COVID-19, his foot-dragging disposition and chronic insistence of ignoring the men and women of science who were correct is making her wonder why a lockdown didn’t happen sooner.

13:51-18:22: “Always eliminate the window dressing”

Vaccine-hesitancy has quickly become one of the most controversial terms of the day, and when you eliminate the window dressing, it essentially bogs down to a tempting desire to reach for conspiracies over having the gumption to explore the real truth. Behind masks, behind social distancing, behind a vaccine to help keep us safe and healthy. But in an era where the written word has caused so much harm, are we perhaps underestimating the power of the spoken word?

Adam Corsair (@AdamCorsair) is a professional baseball and basketball podcaster whose literary passion for the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays makes him an instant favourite here at Whiskey & Cream. His heart may be Canadian, but his family lives in Rhode Island – where faulty information and propaganda remains a daily battle for sweet, lucid sanity. His craft is reflected nicely in the gorgeous tonality and dissonant manner to which he passionately explains his plight in a world where fiction becomes fact in the click of play button.

18:35-22:44: “The Coronavirus Athlete”

Living during a global pandemic as a sports fan means settling for a new reality where your season, playoffs, rules and regulations seem permanently amorphous and subject to change. And that’s left some armchair fans scratching their heads and wondering if an asterisk needs to be deployed as a reminder that these achievements are happening during exceptional times. But as the business side of hockey, baseball, football and basketball continue to forge ahead amidst all this societal doom and gloom, there’s immense solace to be found in the astonishing power of sport and what it can do for a stir-crazy, cabin-fevered audience that can’t leave the house to enjoy Pascal Siakam, Auston Matthews or Bo Bichette.

Jim Lang (@JimLangSports) is Canadian sportscaster, writer and radio host who has covered major sports… For him, escapism is about savouring the real stories of courage and fortitude that exist to help soothe our burgeoning layers of anxiety and depression. That means embracing the notion that things will get better if we support those who train, excel and overachieve in pursuit of sporting excellence. In doing so, he tips his hat to the modern day coronavirus athlete.

“Whiskey & Cream Theme” written and performed by Chris Henderson.

Whiskey and Cream: Episode 004

Whiskey & Cream for December 18th, 2020.

Host: Ari Shapiro

0:35-6:51: “A Hill To Die On: The Future of the NHL”

It’s not hard to admire the way Gary Bettman and the NHL handled their season in the face of a global pandemic. Although they lost millions of dollars in playoff revenue, they ultimately succeeded in bringing their sport back to the masses in a way that made the Stanley Cup seem like a holy grail during dark times – and all you had to do was take one look at Victor Hedman’s face after the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars to win their second Stanley Cup to really understand what it meant to the players and their fans.

But now there’s trouble in paradise, as is the case with any league that has a profit-oriented group of owners who love real estate development taking on a powerful union of players who won’t back down after the lockout fiasco in 2004. With a healthy league growing in non-traditional markets and hockey related revenues firmly and fairly where they should be, it’s hard to fathom that the NHL could easily shoot themselves in the foot if they aren’t careful.

Luke Armstrong (@armstrongthings) is a Canadian sports blogger and writer whose work has been featured on Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. His recent article entitled “COVID-19’s Impacts on the Future of the NHL” looks deeper at what sort of options exist for the NHL as they enter the daunting reality not trying to ruin a good thing.

7:03-11:55: “The Pandemic Never Ended In July”

It took Senator Republican leader Mitch McConnell six weeks to recognize the new President of the United States, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, finally, after nearly 10 months, their Congress is on the verge of putting together bona fide economic stimulus legislation that’s presumably designed to take care of their weakest and most downtrodden citizens.

But considering that 40 million Americans are at risk of losing their homes due to an inability to pay their rent or mortgage, and that millions more are flocking to unemployment insurance and food banks, it’s hard to imagine that the world’s richest country has failed so miserably to help their own taxpayers – especially considering the way Canadians have witnessed their own federal government from the start of the year.

Emily Stewart (@EmilyStewartM) is a business and politics reporter for Vox News, and has been seen on MSN, CNBC, Yahoo Finance, to name but a few. Her recent articles on how the United States government is tackling COVID-19 from an economic perspective reveals a colder and harder reality where the concepts of empathy and fairness of leadership seems harder and harder to find as time goes by.

12:02-16:35: “The Tampa Raptors in the Land of COVID-19”

The Toronto Raptors basketball club will be spending their 2021 season in Tampa, and that means learning about COVID cases from afar and having to endure the physical loss of the only Canadian team playing in one of the worst pandemic outbreak states in the union. But that being said, it’s also a chance for the NBA to prove that their league is a cut above the rest – and that a harmonious relationship between players and ownership has commissioner Adam Silver and company to dream bigger and bolder than ever before.

Josh Weinstein (@joshhweinstein) is the NBA editor for The Score and has written for the Raptors Republic. For him, the team is embarking into uncharted waters with their new digs down south, but he’s optimistic that the league will continue to lead by example and show their fans that the future is bright and worth believing in.

16:48-21:35: “Profit over Practicality”

It’s not a stretch to think that Major League Baseball and the National Football League really blew it when it came to monetizing their seasons. Sure, they wanted to bring back their respective forms of entertainment and escapism, but in the end of just seemed like a stumbling, bumbling mess of execution. The end results were appalling; endless cases of infection, oddly disjointed travel schedules, and a sense of general calamity.

Sam Mendelsohn (@Mendy_Island) is an NFL writer and sports betting analyst for Odds Shark, and he understood early on why baseball and football were choosing profit over practicality when it came to ushering back their limited seasons.

“Whiskey & Cream Theme” written and performed by Chris Henderson.

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