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 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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