Raptors lost some class as result of Bernier...
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Dec 08, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Raptors lost some class as result of Bernier incident: DiManno

Leaf goalie made a mistake at Mandela tribute that revealed a puzzling depth of cluelessness. I was even more dismayed, though, that the Raptors posted the clip on their club Twitter account

OurWindsor.Ca

In politically incorrect language, Jonathan Bernier may very well be the sports version of an idiot savant.

Brilliant at the thing he does but obtuse — oblivious — about stuff that’s widely known to everybody else.

This is an affliction not uncommon among elite athletes, who grow up so intently focused on themselves — the drive to succeed, where 99.9 per cent fail — that the rest of the world slides right by. It’s a kind of blinkered detachment. Many live in a bubble un-penetrated by matters of substance.

That said, Bernier is a nice guy, a kind person from what I’ve seen in the dressing room, soft-spoken and still not entirely adept in English.

What the Toronto Raptors did to him over the weekend — however inadvertently — was just plain rotten.

His blunder on the red carpet last Friday was cringe-inducing, yet spontaneous.

Their role in the affair was careless.

The No. 1 Maple Leaf goalie has been absolutely roasted in recent days for obviously not knowing who Nelson Mandela was. That’s shocking, given that Madiba was arguably the most famous prisoner on the planet and global icon for human rights, a lifetime spent fighting against the apartheid horrors of South Africa before becoming its president, and a beloved statesman until his death a year ago.

The anniversary of Mandela’s passing was beautifully marked by the Raptors in “The Giant of Africa” tribute incorporated into their game against the Cavaliers. Mandela was himself an athlete — a boxer in his younger days — who believed passionately in the power of sport to transform society. The event drew luminaries such as Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley to the Air Canada Centre to celebrate the man and his legacy.

Bernier and several teammates were among those in attendance. He was also, I dare say, the only person there who evidently had never heard of Mandela.

This became apparent in his jaw-dropping comments to reporters who stuck a microphone in his face.

It pains me to resurrect those remarks but unfortunately they will live on in infamy:

“Well obviously he’s been, uh, a tremendous, uh, athlete and you know obviously what, uh, he means to all the sports . . . when you know the world can, uh, be changed by the sports, it’s pretty amazing. And I think he’s definitely, uh, got a lot of respect in every sports and, uh, he’s definitely one of the athletes I watched growing up as well.”

Further: “You know, I love supporting uh any kind of cause obviously it’s for the Afri-, in African it’s obviously uh a great cause and enjoying, I guess, the basketball game.”

You’d think somebody in the organization might have better prepared Bernier about the event he was attending. I suspect it never crossed anyone’s mind that a Mandela tutorial was necessary.

Bernier tried to wing it with a generically courteous answer. He flew smack into a firestorm of jeering and derision. And maybe the guy deserves the ridicule that poured into the social media river of vomit. After Saturday’s game — wherein Bernier was outstanding in a 5-2 win over Vancouver — he apologized: “I’m embarrassed. I didn’t mean to offend him, his legacy. I got flustered with the red carpet and I was nervous. I think everyone makes mistakes and that was me that night.

A mistake that revealed Bernier’s puzzling depth of cluelessness.

I was even more dismayed, though, that the Raptors posted the clip on their club Twitter account.

Raptors spokesperson Dave Haggith was clearly upset by the discomfort provoked all around. The clip popped up on the Raptors site late Friday and was removed Saturday morning, about half an hour after Haggith saw it.

“The clip was posted in error and those involved are mortified that it caused Jonathan embarrassment,” told the Star yesterday. “He is always the first to get involved in community events like Friday’s tribute and he deserves a lot of credit for the work he does.”

Sources told me the video was removed only after the Maple Leaf club, understandably displeased, made the request of their corporate sibling.

It’s also since disappeared, far as I can tell, from YouTube. Can’t be deleted, however, from metastasizing social media cancers, nor erased from memory.

The Raptors are hot. They are the sports darling in Toronto right now, an entirely legitimate status. I do not begrudge them an iota of the love-frenzy engendered by their record and what seems the innate character of the squad. But they shed a bit of that classiness over the weekend, if only because some no-name in the digital media department slapped the clip online without ever watching it. Or worse, did watch it and was too dimwitted to appreciate the consequences of wide distribution. Or worse-worse, was motivated by mischief.

I’ve never comprehended why some people insist on drawing divisive either/or equations — Raptors or Leafs — between Toronto’s basketball and hockey franchises, a metaphysical question endlessly debated on sports talk radio. They are corporately yoked, if inhabiting their own distinct orbits. Leaf Nation may be envious of the Raptors’ current dominance but I’ve never encountered a single hockey fan who wishes the basketball team ill-will.

Raptors fans may likewise resent the shadow cast by the hockey club. That shadow is reflected in TV viewership, where the Raptors lag hugely.

This episode had the odor of deliberate nastiness, a gotcha moment: Tee-hee, look at the dumbass Leaf goalie. That may not in fact have been the case — I’ve no reason to doubt Haggith — but, in cyberspace and among the professional talking heads, by Monday the incident had segued from how can Bernier be so ignorant to why did the Raptors do this?

It may be that the sports culture in Toronto is changing. But we’ve seen with the Jays — hottest ticket in town a couple of decades ago — that the ardor peels away when the team goes south. With the Leafs it sticks, throughout all the downs-and-downs. Their fans are mortified, I think, on Bernier’s behalf and angry that the guy was sandbagged by the organization down the hall.

Whether in error or as deliberate cheap-shot by some cog in the franchise machinery, it took that nice lingering glow off the Mandela evening. And the Raptors will have to wear it, whoever was responsible.

Regrettable for them, regrettable for Bernier.

Maybe we’d all do best by emulating Madiba and forgiving.

Toronto Star

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