In Canada, hockey is on the five-dollar bill. In America, it is known as another of ex-Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s vices.
In case you missed it, something of a media scrum occurred over the weekend. The Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF), the Toronto-based institution that venerates the sport’s greatest players and contributors, announced that Rob Ford had been selected as one of three Toronto politicians the city appoints to the HHOF board.
The nomination of Ford, who admitted to smoking crack cocaine while in office and once half-tackled a city councilwoman on live television, among other unprofessional acts, has now upset many hockey red bloods, who see it as a pratfall by the Hall and a slight to the good conscience of the hockey world.
Sportsnet broadcaster Damien Cox tweeted a slew of incendiary responses to the nomination, including “So Toronto Catholic school board won’t let Rob Ford coach football. But Hockey Hall of Fame embraces him. Someone should be fired.”
Yet, and this is to the Canadian media’s credit, the overall response to this news has been amused skepticism. And perhaps that’s because the former mayor has recently undergone cancer surgery. Or, it could be a matter of distance making the heart grow fonder and the press is happy to see the Great White Ford back on the social scene. And after all, as the Toronto Star points out, it could be worse. Ford, who is still involved in politics as a city councilor, could have been appointed to a board with some actual power such as the Affordable Housing Committee or the Budget Committee.
In some ways his appointment to the HHOF board is not such a bad decision. Whether anyone cares to admit it or not, Ford does more or less embody the spirit of hockey. He’s a Toronto Maple Leafs fanatic known for his loud, crass, incredible candor. Outspoken, patriotic, indulgent, and brazen, Ford is not the face that hockey needs, but the mug it is going to deal with.
Ford’s role on the board will not be to nominate anyone for the Hall. He will be a part of the process that chooses the selection committee — the group of 18 journalists and Hall of Fame members — who vote on the nominees. Similarly, as it was Toronto that nominated Ford for the board, it is up to the city to remove him.
The Hall, for its part, was quick to distance itself from Ford and the controversy his nomination has stirred up. A couple of snarky tweets and a statement made it clear that the city of Toronto has the right to nominate and elect up to three individuals to the 18-member board. They added, somewhat cheekily, that the HHOF doesn’t get to decide whom the city of Toronto chooses as its representative to the board any more than it decides who gets to be the mayor of said city.
Promising to do everything within his power to promote the sport to children, Ford said, “I like rolling up my sleeves and showing up to meetings and getting it done.” (Ford’s appointment occurred in December; he has attended one meeting so far.)
A Hall of Fame, by its nature, stokes controversies. But Ford’s appointment is not an injudicious snub. After all, the controversy appears to be a good distraction for a sport that would rather avoid questions of drug abuse to self-medicate concussions, racist behavior towards black players, and of course, the perennial question of whether fighting should be condoned or not.
As the sixth most popular sport in the States, Rob Ford’s nomination to the HHOF board may just be the kind of publicity the sport needs. Just in time for the playoffs.
Photo: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford via Facebook