Game Fixer

Context is the message

BRIAN BAKER, The Game Fixer

There’s a culture in football that not everyone gets, Councillor Mike Layton included.

It’s a primordial, break-every-bone-in-your-body sport. O-linemen retire with hands looking like forks of chain lightning, and that’s after four seasons, on average.

Those injuries are badges of honour. You waged your trench wars. You gritted your teeth while suffering through turf toe. You got the breeze squeezed out of you like an accordion at a hoedown.

If you wanted something light and airy, you should have taken up croquet. Or perhaps soccer.

In Toronto, on the savage steel beast we call the TTC, a promo poster depicting Argos defensive end Ricky Foley — in charge of sacking opponents’ QBs —  shows him standing imposingly, tattooed arms folded behind him, chin tilted upward and wearing a look of disdain.

In the background: “Home is where the heart is. It’s also where we hurt people”.

This incited the public to attack mode, accusing the Argos, one of the most community-involved teams via their Huddle Up program, of advocating domestic abuse. The Double Blue pulled the ads so as not to mar their hard work.

Now with Marshall McLuhan’s 100th birthday passing us by, it would be right to invoke the basics of his media expertise while refreshing some of the fundamentals.

One football player. Home opener tickets for sale. The game is against  Winnipeg. There was no woman in the ad — clearly the audience was the football crowd.

Now you really have to be stretching to take the words “home” and “hurt” out of their football context.

Regardless, in a recent interview Layton asked me to say the words out loud, with my eyes closed.

“I know it’s a weird exercise, but go ahead and do it,” he insisted. “Taking out the context of football, because not everyone is a football fan.”

There are two problems with that: Print ads are intended to be seen, and when we close our eyes we don’t know who the company is.

Let’s stretch this out. If we said the same home-hurt phrase and then opened our eyes to see a Greenpeace ad with a caribou on it, the context is different. Canadian hydro projects have flooded out lands, drowning the ungulates on their pilgrimage up north. That’s “home”, that’s “hurt”.

Another example could be associated with the United Way advertising how people who are homeless hurt because they are sans domicile. I know I’m stretching, but no more than the offended TTC patrons or Mike Layton did.

Referring back to the culture of football, like every group, there arise stereotypes.

These days football players haven’t been the most astute role models. Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Pacman Jones, Plaxico Burress and the 2005 Minnesota Vikings boat cruise come to mind.

What I’m getting at is incidents involving athletes, even from Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant, have skewed society’s perception of athletes.

So anything tough, male-oriented and jock gets people’s hackles up. Ergo, the castration clippers come out.

I’m not insensitive to domestic abuse. My approach to the nothings that call themselves men and beat their wives is that of L.A. Confidential’s Wendell “Bud” White.

Russell Crowe’s character in the film had a penchant to offer quid pro quo measures on the men imposing their rule of thumb.

What baffles me, though, out of a metropolitan area of over five million people, factoring in more from the 905, it takes a minimum of five people to get an ad reviewed on the TTC — a transit system that sees hundreds of thousands pour through the turnstiles a day. That’s more than the Argos see for games, unfortunately.

Karen Stintz, TTC chair and head of the review committee, admits to me she had no problems with the Argos strategy.

“It’s clearly a sports ad and that’s the game,” she said, adding that she believes Layton was playing spoil sport. “I think it was not an appropriate comment given that was what the ad was trying to promote.”

Though this is far from related, Layton’s December comments about Joey Votto being honoured raised some concern with me. Frustrated at how council referred to the MacLean’s apology motion for their “Too Asian?” article as a waste of time, he compared congratulations of Votto as being in the same argo.

Now with Layton complaining a blue streak, it’s becoming a habit at how quickly he’s willing to throw athletes under the subway car.

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