Whiskey and Cream: Episode XVI

Whiskey & Cream for April 7th, 2021.

Host: Ari Shapiro

0:34-11:21: “Peanuts, crackerjacks and COVID-19”

Major League Baseball has returned…and with a mighty vengeance. First, it was all about bringing back a 162-game extravaganza season in the midst of the worst that a pandemic has to offer. Then, it involved confronting the state of Georgia and rescinding an All-Star game promise that’s drawn the ire of Trump loyalists everywhere. And finally, they went along with having the Texas Rangers host their home opener in a brand new billion dollar facility with over 40,000 humans all eating, drinking, and potentially superspreading themselves into baseball oblivion.

Laura Armstrong (@lauraarmy) is a beat writer with the Toronto Star covering the Blue Jays and their seasonal travails. In her eyes, the city of Toronto has much to look forward to when it comes to competitive and worthwhile baseball around these parts. But in welcoming the return of peanuts, crackerjacks and the chance to one day root for the home team in person, she’s also willing to confront certain gruesome realities that simply can’t be ignored – including the profound risks taken by big business in pursuit of pandemic profits.

12:48-17:45: “On fire and passing the generational torch”

Here’s the thing about the subject of voter suppression that seems be getting lost between the battle lines of left versus right: at the end of the day, it’s all about democracy. It’s really as simple and elegant as that. Now, you can go ahead and choose to debate the merits of how and why the United States chooses to tackle the grim reality of gerrymandering and the brutally unfair district demarcation that’s transpired across the union for decades, but in the final analysis it really comes down to empowering people and having them succeed through elected officials who care more about their actual dignity than the almighty dollar.

Aaron Parnas (@AaronParnas) is lawyer, writer, podcaster and social influencer based out of Florida. His work with the MeidasTouch political action committee has galvanized his passion for reaching the largest possible audience when it comes to pursuing his agenda for fairness and justice in modern day America. Stuck between the conservative nature of the Gen-Y demographic and the predisposed liberal tendencies of the average Millennial, his thoughts on the passing of the proverbial torch from one besieged generation to another are as frank as they are indelible.

19:23-25:43: “One shift, one period, one breath at a time”

The NHL is doing many things right in the quest to keep their audiences happy during times of trouble. But a deeper look reveals that all that glitters isn’t necessary gold. Minor league hockey franchises all over North America are folding left, right (and pardon the pun), centre, while recent virus outbreaks like the one that subdued the entire Vancouver Canucks team is a stark reminder that, in some ways, the worst is yet to come. And that means hockey will need to demonstrate the kind of leadership and resolve that’s kept it ahead literally ahead of the game when it comes to running a business for themselves, their players, and most of all: their fans.

Eric Engels (@EricEngels) is a writer, radio host and senior hockey columnist with Rogers Sportsnet. As someone who professionally and personally covers the Montreal Canadiens and has dedicated most of his adult life as an authority on the sport of hockey, his opinion on the manner and method to which Gary Bettman and the league have battled the coronavirus is one balanced equally between a healthy sense of optimism and an idealistic desire to see things improve without sacrificing the integrity of the game he so dearly admires.

26:05-39:28: “And now for something completely different…”

Between Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford, it’s become almost a picture of banality to hear the average Canadian sounding off on the nature of the job that our elected leaders are doing as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. The predictable criticism and fatalistic scorn of traditional red and blue pylons debating their ideological views at a time when some human beings are sleeping in makeshift tent in downtown Vancouver and Toronto is beyond surrealistic; as is the simultaneous realization of having to reconcile a mind-boggling reliance on outsourced and incompetent vaccine rollouts along with dubious lockdown strategies in the struggle to keep our fragile population healthy and safe.

Abhijeet Manay (@AbhijeetMonet) is the deputy leader of the Green Party of Ontario. For him, the battle of moving forward from dystopian times has little to do with human ideology and everything to do with our connection to nature. Slowly but surely, the growing trend of citizens more concerned with their children’s future rather than the need for instant gratification is essentially the reason why his party is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds thus begging the question: can the Greens find a way to cut through the hot air of political hypocrisy and evolve into a mobilizing force that can one day offer the country something more than the usual string of false promises and smug excuses?

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

Whiskey and Cream: Episode XV

Whiskey & Cream for April 2nd, 2021.

Host: Ari Shapiro

0:35-12:21: “Raconteur Troubadour”

It never fails that during times of real trouble, we tend to lose perspective about a great many things that are important to us in life. But what always seems to remain is that aching need to feel inspired that, deep down inside, the human condition comes with a seemingly indomitable spirit and a will to survive, especially when we least expect it. The Paralympian athlete remains one of the better examples what happens when empathy and opportunity mixed with courage and dignity produces just the right kind of story that makes us all proud to be in this together.

Teddy Katz (@ktazt) is a journalist who worked at the CBC for over 20 years and is the owner of Think, Redefined. Crafting inspirational narratives has always been second nature to him, but with the arrival of the pandemic, it has become paramount in his quest to find a balance between right and wrong and good versus evil. His eternal love of storytelling has elevated his consciousness in ways that makes him a truly respected and admired raconteur during the darkest of hours.

12:22-24:19: “In basketball we trust”

Norman Powell of the Toronto Raptors was pretty much everything you could ever ask for in a beloved fan favourite. An anchoring force years in the making, his growth in the spotlight produced a player with the pedigree of a champion, the developed skills of an elite shooting guard, and the demeanor of a pure and absolute winner. So, you can imagine why the decision to trade him to the Portland Trailblazers resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of grief from the faithful. After all, trading an in-his-prime coalescing force that existed in a young nucleus featuring Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet was the kind of decision that left many scratching their heads in anguish and wondering what’s next on the horizon.

Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) is a multi-sports, multi-platform author and basketball insider with Sportsnet for over a decade. Although the Toronto Raptors chose to part ways with such an entrenched fan favourite during the prime of his career, he remains convinced that the cultural reality of the sport in the hands of authentic, brave leaders will be the lasting legacy of an organization that an entire city has come to admire and cherish.

24:20-35:59: “Passing the literary torch”

Modern journalism has been under siege long before the pandemic, and it’s only gotten worse. As profit-oriented, duopolistic media companies circle the wagons of discontent by downsizing talented employees and removing iconic outlets for sports with an almost slavishly nihilistic attitude, it makes one pine for the days when old-school writers stoked the collective imagination of a city through typed words, memorable interviews, and honest narratives that invited a critical and unbiased look at the remains of the day. But with the relentless rise of digital monetization inside heavily polarized camps of ideologically-bound content publishers, the freedom to enjoy the press has become a struggle for anyone who values critical-thinking and empirical conclusions.

Sean Fitz-Gerald (@SeanFitz_Gerald) is the senior national writer for The Athletic, has appeared in the National Post and the Toronto Star, and was named Canadian sports writer of the year in 2015. Sports journalism has always been embedded in his DNA; his entire family and ancestors resonate with creative and literary ambition that’s fuelled his resolve for the longest time. But on the eve of yet another lockdown in one of the world’s most populated and cosmopolitan cities, he’s convinced that a love of the written word might also be the cure to what ails us most.

36:00-48:41: “King Clancy. Art Ross, and Franke Selke walked into a bar…”

In the struggle to remain relevant and pure during difficult times, the National Hockey League has quietly and surreptitiously achieved a balance where rival leagues have failed. Unlike football and baseball, notorious for their aggressively profit-oriented schemes to keep fans interested and involved at all costs, hockey has endeared itself enormously to those of us who value parity, possibility and potential in a sport. And as the playoffs loom on the horizon, it’s no surprise that between a rising (and powerful) memorabilia market and the arrival of the most talented generation of players ever witnessed – now is the time for every generation to embrace the good ole’ hockey game.

Dr. Mike Commito (@mikecommito) is an author, blogger, and a teacher of Canadian history and all things hockey. The spirit of the game was infused in his soul at a young age, which explains not only his lingering desire to chronicle its history, but also to identify the elements that sets the NHL apart from not only their competitors, but in the hearts and minds of their ravenously loyal fans.

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

Whiskey and Cream: Episode XIV

Whiskey & Cream for March 27th, 2021.

Host: Ari Shapiro

0:39-9:35: “When a strong minority silences a weak majority”

Oh, the glorious absurdity that remains Israeli politics. And now with their fourth election in two years, the world’s most genuine version of participatory democracy once again finds itself rudderless and at cross purposes. Benjamin Netanyahu remains the quintessential “Teflon” braggadocio incumbent who’s cobbled together a vast network of unholy alliances that not only betray his ideological views, but cements his place as an irredeemable opportunistic force during vulnerable and perilous times.

Gregg Carlstrom (@glcarlstrom) is a Middle East correspondent with The Economist and the author of How Long Will Israel Survive? The Threat From Within. For him, Israel remains a fascinating study into how the more things change, the more they stay the same. In his recent book, he postulates and laments on the very historical and spiritually existential reality that’s gripped the nation for the better part of multiple generations.

9:35-18:54: “Synonymous with baseball, he reveals only truths”

True admirers of the Toronto Blue Jays have long coveted the history and lore associated with the only baseball franchise in Canada. So when a local favourite sportscaster whose voice had become a staple with the radio broadcast and whose literary prowess established him a trusted authority was unceremoniously let go by the media company that owns the team..the outrage was palpable and fierce.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness) is a baseball columnist and podcaster who writes for the Toronto Star. His passion and love for the game is not only entrenched in the hearts and minds of countless fans who have come to appreciate his talents, but is also on display with a measure of humility when he’s recognized as the voice that was synonymous with the team for the better part of two decades.

18:55-27:34: “An explosion of false and misleading narratives”

North Americans recoiled with horror at the site of yet another massing shooting in the United States. This time, it was the turn of Boulder, Colorado – and once again, the familiar narrative of racially motivated violence permeated the media cyber-waves as we steel ourselves to the white noise of conspiratorial conjecture and the relentless spread of social media disinformation.

Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) is a European journalist investigating online disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremism for the BBC. He’s mortified that not only does social media allow others to chronicle and display chillingly brutal acts of criminality, but that it sets yet another standard of exhibitionist viewing that does nothing more than sensationalize our appetite for violence rather than provide ointment for our grief.

27:35-33:15: “I haven’t seen a winning baseball or hockey team in my lifetime”

It took a mid-season pandemic swoon for the Toronto Maple Leafs to realize their own limitations; that they remain an offensive juggernaut constrained only by the limitations of their goaltending. While Frederik Andersen has yet to win a single playoff round and the feel-good story of Jack Campbell refuses to go away, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the team rides the hottest hand available – especially if that hand has a catchy nickname and is beloved by teammates.

Braydon Holmyard (@BraydonHolmyard) is a sports writer and editor for The Toronto Star. For him, the triumvirate of pro sports teams in the city has opened up endless possibilities for glory and escapism; that’s why he remains vigilant that the local Original Six franchise in particular might make him forget this pandemic altogether.

33:15-40:52: “It’s about unspoken hockey integrity”

When veteran NHL referee Tim Peel was caught articulating his thoughts on camera recently, the mountain of outrage that was generated by the subsequent viral video was as predictable as it was disturbing. Sure, he was scheduled to retire by season’s end and was perfectly positioned to be the sacrificial lamb in this particular controversy, but the heavy-handed, sanctimonious manner in which disciplinarian Colin Campbell and the rest of the league responded to the issue at hand seems to mirror the level of self-righteous overreaction that’s become synonymous with our modern social media culture.

Matt Best is (@bestofmatt) a video producer and podcaster who does work with the Mayo Media Network, Penalty Box Radio and Locked on Predators. His decision to expose evidence over YouTube of a professional league’s unwritten rule that’s frequently manipulated and generally accepted by fans as “a part of the game” ended up creating precisely the kind of quagmire that the NHL was looking to avoid.

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

Whiskey and Cream: Episode XII

Whiskey & Cream for March 15th, 2021.

Host: Ari Shapiro

0:44-9:01: “A different kind of Kryptonian”

Once upon a time there was a civil servant who lived in Canada who dared to question what his government stood for and believed in. An organic on-line crusader of the old school who took a half dozen followers and turned them into tens of thousands of admirers; he unexpectedly began to grow into a national social media celebrity of sorts when it became abundantly obvious that a love of thinly-veiled sarcasm and delicious irony would serve him well in skewering a country’s elites who insisted on manipulating the masses during a pandemic with their corporate doubletalk and penchant for dark and dirty lies.

Neil Waytowich (@WaytowichNeil) is better known as Neil before Zod, a powerful social influencer in Canada on all things related to ideological politics and humanistic philosophy. When it comes to dissecting the truth and exposing hypocrisy in all forms, Neil is a throwback to an era where you were called out for bullshit and forced to pay the piper. He’s a true empiricist living in an era where superstition and conspiracies may run amok like galactic villains, but if they happen to cross the path of this pseudo-Kryptonian while he’s delivering his gospel of truth and fairness, they simply won’t stand a chance.

9:02-19:31: “Introducing the 3HL Tour”

Imagine going to an arena and watching a 3-on-3 hockey tournament. Think about that that for a moment as I’ll let it ferment in hockey-crazed minds across North America and allow you to savour what has been arguably the most important advancement in hockey since Jacques Plante and his revolutionary idea of wearing a protective hockey mask. The NHL turned a page in their history by endorsing a newly proposed format in June of 2015 that heralded a paradigmatic shift in the way the game is enjoyed. It instantly created more space on the ice, more goals scored during overtime, and more thrills and chills in way that’s brought the faithful out of their seats and often to their knees.

Justin Fox (@itsJustinFox) is the CEO and Founder of the 3HL Tour – Ontario’s first ever professional three-on-three hockey league that exists to bring small-town Ontarian communities together through their shard love of Canada’s national sport. Be it in Collingwood or Sarnia, Orangeville or Georgina, Wasaga or Grimsby; this is a form of escapism not seen in many years and one that’s meant to inspire young and old alike in their love of grass roots hockey.

19:32-28:29: “The guardians and destroyers of Dr. Seuss’

As the toxic winds of our cancel culture and penchant for historical literary revisionism grows, who knew that it was time for Dr. Seuss to become the latest victim of our collective existential angst. Who knew that a writer and illustrator of children’s books, someone who identified as a Democrat his entire political life and fought endlessly against the forces of fascism – could also be found guilty of imperfections in his work. And while Theodor Geisel was always heralded as a champion of our collective childhood sensibilities in his prodigious works of cartoon satire and fable story-telling, it’s sad to see how easily his reputation is being politicized between the forces of the offended left and the righteous right.

Brian Bradley (@brianjbradley) is a digital content publisher and podcaster with the Toronto Star. He’s a pleasure to interview; not just because of his intelligent perspectives on freedom of speech and the daunting reality that is modern day racism, but because he genuinely offers reverence where it’s warranted and not because it’s been superimposed by the digital forces of the day.

28:30-33:59: “Rolling with the punches, jabbing with your words”

The pandemic has devastated an industry that once gave hope to many young writers and ambitious university grads looking for a career in sports journalism. But in an era where resiliency and perseverance will become their hammer and sickle, it’s nice to hear about success stories in the form of a former athlete who embraced sports journalism on all fronts; as an accomplished writer, an engaging host and a bona fide media personality.

Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) is the co-host of Hockey Central on the FAN 590 and writes hockey for Sportsnet. For him, the city of Toronto is essentially right on the cusp of a golden era with their hockey, baseball and basketball teams. Never has it become more important to believe in the spirit of their accomplishments, and that has him excited about what the post-pandemic future has in store.

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

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.

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