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The Official Site of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Leafs Latest Defeat A Sign Of The Times

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Okay, let’s recap here.

The Maple Leafs piddle away a three goal lead in Florida, a week or so after they piddled away a two-goal lead against Florida.

Guy Lafleur will stand trial in Montreal on a charge of obstruction of justice.

Robbie Alomar’s girlfriend says in a lawsuit that he has full-blown AIDS.

A-Rod is a drug cheat.

All-star shortstop Miquel Tejada admits he lied to Congress.

Let me tell you the story of the snake and the eagle.

The snake is about to be killed by the bear when it spies the eagle.

“Help me,” calls the snake. “No,” says the eagle, for you will kill me with your venom.”

“I promise, I won’t.” says the snake. Moved by his plight, the eagle scoops up the snake. He is about to drop him to safety when the snake plunges his fangs into him, injecting the deadly poison into his body.

“You promised you wouldn’t bite me,” said the Eagle.

Answered the snake: “You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”

We are, invariably, what we are. It’s just that magnificent feats on the diamond or rink obscure that. You don’t notice the fire hydrant while you are gazing up at the CN Tower.

Our frailties, vanities and shortcomings will invariably present themselves, either on the field or pond, or in the case of now-renowned cheapskate Manny Ramirez, a few steps from the action.

The Maple Leafs, magnificent in Montreal, are not a very talented team. Don’t take my word, ask the coach, ask the general manager.

They are, at this writing, team number 26 out of a 30-team NHL. Against a desperate and moderately talented opponent, they will often fold. It’s not that they are not trying. They are trying, trying very hard. But they have neither the necessary collective winning experience nor the individual clusters of talent to thrive. That defeat comes in the 62nd minute instead of the 10th or the 40th compounds the disappointment but does not mask the truth. This is going to be a long, long process and it will never seem longer than it is right now. Cheer, by all means, and when everything coalesces into a perfect night, God bless you and enjoy. But see it for what it is.

Are they good people? I think they are terrific.

Guy Lafleur agreed to monitor his son and make sure he followed a curfew in connection with previous charges. Instead, the crown says Lafleur drove the boy to a hotel for a tryst with his girlfriend. Lafleur is a father whose mistakes may or may not have contributed to his son’s trouble with the law. A singular talent on the ice, he won’t be the first person to wonder if his parenting resulted in his son’s missteps.

An unparalleled man of the moment, Alomar won’t be the first man, if the story is true, to unwittingly write his own death sentence through AIDS.

That the married Rodriguez has only a nodding acquaintance with good judgment was splashed across the New York tabs when he summered here in the company of a stripper companion. He lied to 60 Minutes and Tejada lied to Congress for the same reason we all lie. They thought they could get away with it.

In the end, we often aren’t the people we think are, or the people we hope we can be.
We are human and therefore capable of being stupid, vain and dishonest.

But in our best moments, we can be something better, far better.

Athletes get lots of opportunities for their best moments and in the splendour of those moments, we forget that they don’t necessarily say anything about the athlete past the blessing of genetics and superb hand-eye co-ordination. Athletes and the rest of us are separated by a talent that has no more inherit merit than the ability to keep a bunch of plates spinning on bamboo stalks.

I honestly believe it is harder for athletes to be good people. They are given so much. The fact that so many think they have truly earned their station and cast their votes accordingly in national elections, is disquieting but no real surprise. The self-made man or woman does not exist. We are not the sum total of our sacrifices and ambitions, but the sum total of the sacrifices and ambitions of those around us, our parents, siblings, teachers and high school coaches.

Charles Barkley said he is not a role model and lately he has gone out of his way to prove himself right. But there are athletes past and present, who move with a lasting grace whether their skates are on or not. Everyone has their own list but mine includes the names: Kennedy, Armstrong, Beliveau, Bower, Sundin, McDonald and Clark.

Maybe someday, they will let me down as well. I doubt it, but somewhere, there are those who believe that Rodriguez and Tejada got a bad deal and that they are clamping down on Sean Avery in the name of political correctness.

We know what athletes are when we pick them up. They are no better, no more wise, than you or me. They are, and this might be the ultimate indictment, only human.
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