Episode Two - Steve Simmons (Sports Reporter for the Toronto Sun)
Saul Colt: [00:00:01] Does Cito Gaston still hate you?
Steve Simmons: [00:00:10] No, It's funny because years ago he called me out as a racist in a column that Heather Bird wrote for The Sun. He he referred to Bob McCowan and myself and a guy named Dave Langford and he tapped us as racists and that's pretty upsetting to be tapped that way into. And so what happened was and I'm I was pretty close at the time with Paul Beeston who was president of the bluejays and Paul phoned me that day and basically said I'll fix this. And so this is how we fix it he called me to a meeting at the dome you know in a board room in one of the boxes. And I walk in and there's one of those long boardroom tables and sitting at the end is Cito. And so me being me I sit at the other end. So there's two of us one at each end. And in that room Gord Ash who was the general manager at the time and Paul and they said Cito Steve and the two of them left him and it was like Here we are in this room. This has happened. We weren't getting along before this. Now it's gotten worse. And I like what I had done I prepared for the meeting. And I had gotten copies through our library of every reference I had made to him in the past ten years in writing. And and I highlight penned all of the references so I had a file about you know two feet thick. And I walked down to the end of the table I dropped the file in front of him. I went back sat down at the table and said find me where I'm racist. Show me where I am racist and what happened over the next hour or two in a conversation. And it was a conversation of how I do my job and how he does his job and what he grew up with and how he views whites in the world and how he's very how explain it. Paranoid might not be the right word but how he grew up at a time in baseball where blacks and whites did not share hotel rooms where where he couldn't go to the same restaurants were all that was happening at the time in America. And so he's leery of black white man from his upbringing. And what we decided in our conversation. Well what he took is what I wrote as criticism he took his racism and and I said to him once in a conversation I referenced Don Baylor who was at the time was one of the better players in baseball I think. And I said if you'd like to have Don Baylor on your team wouldn't you. And he said yeah and I said Well I'm kind of Don Baylor of newspaper columnists. I go hard into second base. I run the bases very hard. I don't take any days off. If I was a player for you you would love me but because I do it in the venue that I do it. You don't like me at all. And we had this really you know got to know each other conversation and at the end of that one or two hours our relationship was repaired. And it's funny because McCowan went in with lawyers and other people and the meeting was a disaster I'm told. Nothing got accomplished and nothing happened at all. I just went by myself and talked and Cito talked. And from then to the end of his time managing the bluejays and to today we have a reasonably good relationship in fact. When Jose Bautista was playing his last games for the Jays last time about this year I called Cito who lives in Michigan a lot of the year. I called him when we had probably an hour conversation on the phone talking about Battista and how he changed his career around him the part that Jose part CEO played in it all. And every time I see him I get a hello how are you and a nice handshake.
Saul Colt: [00:04:03] So you're the Don Baylor of reporters and.
Steve Simmons: [00:04:06] I mean you can use you can use a million different you can use it. Josh Donaldson does more than the people who go hard. Go hard sell.
Saul Colt: [00:04:14] So you're very opinionated in you. You know there's been controversies around your opinion. Yeah. You've been doing this a long time. Have you always sort of been very strongly opinionated or was there a time where you realize that this was beneficial for your career.
Steve Simmons: [00:04:29] I think it's who I am. And it's funny. I covered the Calgary Flames was my first beat when they moved from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980 and in the second season in Calgary the flames just had one of those seasons from hell. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. The team was a disaster the coach was a disaster. All the stuff was happening and I had just started. I didn't like a year at the Calgary Sun. And I'm 25 years old at the time, and I wrote a piece about November of the second season. And the premise of the piece was everything's going wrong. The Calgary Sun being a some paper being a tabloid you know going for it. So to speak runs a headline across Page 1 of the paper with thick thick. Typed that says fire the coach. Well I didn't exactly say that in the story but I kind of hinted around it and meant it. So I get up the next morning and I see this headline and I realize oh my god this is my first moment of professional controversy and I'm feeling a little insecure about it even though I really believed in the piece I wrote and and the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing in Calgary that night. So I'm at the rink for the pregame meal and Frank Gore of the Toronto Star and longtime Hall of Fame hockey writer. Now you know it was one of the icons of the industry. I never met him before. And he walked over to the table where we're sitting and he puts his hand on my shoulder and he said Great story kid. And it was like you know hearing from God that you had well. And for me at that moment you know Frank but in many ways I can say changed my career or changed my life because he showed me at that moment it was OK to be bold and different. And. I wrote opinionated stuff when I wrote for the Western Gazette in University. But it was it was a university paper so it didn't really play that way. And and but just since then I've always if I believed in something and it was and it was what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I think it's a it's distinguished me in many ways. And B it's hurt me at times depending on you know the circumstances.
Saul Colt: [00:06:54] Going back to the Cito thing I to be all over the place that this just popped in my head you know wasn't part of my research was the timeline of the Cito stuff around the same time. I could be getting it wrong with vaguely remember Toronto star had a big story about the Bluejays being too white. At the same time.
Steve Simmons: [00:07:13] I don't think I think a completely different times. This was almost at the end of the CEO's managerial time in Toronto. So he had. And again I can't remember the comeback. I think he came back after this a second time but this was at at the end of his post World Series time. And and and so you know unfortunately years don't pop in my head very well anymore they all kind of blend. You know when you've been doing this you know almost 40 years it kind of things just flow into other things. But it had nothing to do with that at all.
Saul Colt: [00:07:51] So your career. How is how a sports journalism changed and we can talk about it from you know access to the players to all sorts of things. But I think the thing that I'm I'm most curious about is how does change for the writer from being able to write something maybe getting a little criticism or maybe having you know some people write a letter to the paper or something to people having you know a computer in their pocket and basically saying like you should die hard things like that.
Steve Simmons: [00:08:23] The biggest change for me has been has been access. When I started in the business and I again I was working in a smaller market. So it was different. But if I wanted to talk to someone I talked to them if I wanted a long interview I had a long interview if I wanted to explore things about their lives I could explore things about their lives. If you're doing all I'll use the Maple Leafs as the best if you're doing the Maple Leafs today and you're down at practice this morning there's probably 50 other reporters. Some reporters some TV people some online people social media people did very various degrees. You can't get any one on one time unless you're just privately arranged and go around people's backs together. So on a day to day basis you show up. Your access is limited. Not only is it limited you're in a group doing the interview. It's almost always a scrum. It's very difficult to get you know anything that someone else doesn't have. So if you try and write original things and what's happened over time because of this is writing has become far more important. And interviewing has become far less important. And so how well you write what is your take on something. What is your view on something. How do you approach it. That's that's changed dramatically where some of my favorite stories I've ever written were sitting down one on one with a guy and getting him to tell me about a really important thing that happened in his life or something that happened to a family member or things like that.
Saul Colt: [00:09:57] So how did the access change is that the players as a team as a league.
Steve Simmons: [00:10:01] No I think first of all there's a preponderance. There's way more media than there's ever been before in terms of numbers. I think the blogs and online and Web sites and teams covering themselves in all of this has increased over time. When I started there were no sports television networks there were no sports radio stations there were not. So now if you go to a practice the sports radio stations are there and the sports television networks are there. I don't know how many was it 15 cameras that only practice on a daily basis. So to sit there and try and get out one on one that's going to. Set your story apart is quite different. So you have to approach a little bit differently and sometimes you have to arrange to meet somebody somewhere else or you know if you want to do something that kind of thing. But it's the it's funny media has shrunk. I mean there's Bell there in Canada there's Bell and there's Rogers owning so much of it. But numbers in terms of. People at events. Now again from block you know from bloggers from websites from newspapers this is still a four newspaper town. It's about the only one left. I think anywhere that it's a four newspaper town. And so there's for. You know four newspapers a wire service probably French reporters. Now you've got you're got into all of the different online websites. Now you're into guys who do blogs. Now you're into like it's just it's just so many people.
Saul Colt: [00:11:37] Does anyone have an original like does anyone actually break news anymore. Oh yes. At the same like it's so one person comes up to something and everyone piles on.
Steve Simmons: [00:11:46] Well what's happened over time and I think it's happened in all sports is the quote the big time insider guy has become now that convenient news breaker. So if I'm in the NBA and I want to break a story and I'm a general manager in Memphis I'm probably going to call Adrian Wodgenowski and he's going to break the story for ESPN and it's going to go online and everybody's going to follow up because they know that everything that Adrian Wodgenowski writes is true. Ninety nine percent of it is true. It's Bob McKenzie and Aaron Drager and Eliot Friedman and those kind of people in Hockey. So every once in a while all of us are going to get our own story or a scoop or something. But the majority of the big story Eric Karlson gets traded off. This guy signed a contract. Here or Tavares coming to Toronto. That's almost always broken by the insiders because their entire job is to just do that. It's a miserable job. I mean there are some of them are my friends and I know the life they live in. And are they living on their cell phone in their living texting in their living checking their e-mails and golf with me. I golf regularly with one of them. And and he sits there and when they were playing golf he broke four stories on the golf course just because his phone kept telling him things. And it's amazing to watch that kind of thing in my world because I'm. I'm kind of the one of the last of the Mohicans. I'm a general sports columnist. I write about the Leafs I write about the Raptors I write about the Blue Jays. I read about the Argos or write about Toronto FC I write about international sport or what's happening around the world or or any Olympics or anything like that. So you can't possibly be spending 24 hours a day on one subject when you have all these other things to write about and interview people about and and talk to people about. And so you know it's it's it's just not feasible to be that high and nor would I want to frankly.
Saul Colt: [00:13:42] But taking Josh Donaldson trade as an example. I felt like everybody was just sort of sharing the same opinion. And then you came out and you wrote the comparison between Doug Gilmore Josh Donaldson and that was so refreshing because everyone was basically saying the exact same thing over and over and over. You know the one interesting thing that I saw that you know the fact that we gave away three million dollars for him as well or the that the cardinals offered a shortstop but besides that everyone was just kind of saying you know it's like oh the Indians get another bluejay or thing like that. You came from a completely different angle.
Steve Simmons: [00:14:20] Well I think that's one of the things that I do and that's one of the things I'm proudest of frankly is is I have a real good idea for stories. And so because I I have a pretty good idea from stories I can approach things differently and want to. Yeah I was offended and wrote about it in my Sunday Notes column about the Bluejays paying money for Cleveland to take. I still am offended. I cannot believe that they're getting away with paying.
Saul Colt: [00:14:46] I was surprised it wasn't a bigger story.
Steve Simmons: [00:14:48] I am too. To be honest I think you know what trade I'm fine get a little for him fine. I understand that pain for him to go. And. That's bothersome to me. But so I've seen that I'm thinking about how do I write something different here. And I thought OK they traded him. They got him for almost nothing. They traded him away for almost nothing. He won an MVP here. He had that team the playoffs it's first and all of a sudden Gilmore clicks in my head. He got here for almost nothing. He almost won an MVP here. He had the team in the playoffs the first two years to two best league seasons anyone can remember. And you start the parallels with that I got on the phone and I called them and I found out it's his favorite player. And so Doug was so excited to talk about this. And he's not the world's greatest interview at times. He's a nice man but he's not a bully. And how we talk but he got to Donaldson. I hit a nerve with him and I hung up the phone thinking I got something here and I went to write it and I wasn't sure it's going to work. And the response was overwhelming. So it was really nice to see that when you when you have a piece and you think it's good and you hope people are going to like it. The one thing I can tell you from years and years and years of doing this is you never know what people are going to respond to. You can write something that you think is going to get enormous response and it gets almost none. You write something that you think is just so so and it gets enormous response.
Saul Colt: [00:16:14] I have heard that about hit records. The one that comes within five minutes you think that no one's going to connect is the one that goes crazy and the thing the late is a labor of love nobody cares.
Steve Simmons: [00:16:25] Yeah. I can't tell you most. In fact I wrote a column for today's paper about bluejay broadcasters and sort of the mess that this season has been with different radio crews and different TV crews people meshing in and out. Jerry Howerth retiring. And I thought it was an interesting piece when I put it together. But I had no idea that my paper was going to put it on the cover of the section and then played up on the first page and the response today so far has been enormous. And so sometime again you read the piece. It's interesting to you. Like the records you write. Like anything else. Mean I know authors that you know thought their best book was the one they didn't sell. You know that's that kind of thing you don't know day to day. And here's the difference between today and and you know previous world. Response is instantaneous like the column is perusing online before it's in the paper. So reading it in fact Jerry Howerth read the paper. Read the column online yesterday and wrote me a note yesterday. Then he wrote me a note today saying I didn't realize it was in today's paper. I thought it was yesterday's paper. So it's how people view things.
Saul Colt: [00:17:35] Well it's interesting because like comments are also permanent. So sounds like if somebody called in to talk radio talk radio is the height of the the you know fan outreach you still get this word wrong ephemeral it like it vanished after some and talked about nobody was archiving. You know the Bob McCowan show or anything like that or when you were on you know that fan 590 and stuff like that and now like somebody said something and you know three years from now nobody looks at dates of columns either. So let you Google something here you see something and people don't realize it's like you know.
Steve Simmons: [00:18:10] And there's a good in that and there's a bad in that. I'll just take it from my own personal perspective. There's a tweet between Jose Bautista and me that gets tons of online play now I think it was five years ago maybe four and a half years ago my timeframe is again I apologize for that. It was a situation that was one day in the making. At spring training that year. We talked shook hands said you know everything is well and everything was well. There are people to this day. If I if I if I would put something about Jose Bautista in a column or something like this to online someone will re-tweet that four and a half year old file out of context completely thing and have a laugh about it. And then a bunch of people will then re=tweeted and then it will go and go and go stuff on Twitter doesn't die it just and no matter how out of context it is no matter how irrelevant it is and all that stuff it just hits. It's amazing how people like nothing than to have a good laugh at someone's expense even if it's not true. Like you know this is a it's a great giggle fest out there for people who enjoy doing this.
Saul Colt: [00:19:29] So this may be a broader society question but why is fandom almost always turned into like anger and depression like no people does. And you know people just aren't kind on the Internet to begin with. But when you add a layer of like sports or fandom you know like there's like you know you get attacked all the time for stuff like so many other people and there's like there's almost just no regard for the humanity of the person.
Steve Simmons: [00:19:59] You start with the root of fans comes from fanatic. Now you add the anonymity of of being able to say whatever you want and it will never come back to you because no one knows who you are.
Saul Colt: [00:20:13] You mean I'm super Jaye's fan. Ninety nine out their birth name.
Steve Simmons: [00:20:17] No it's not there. Now what I've discovered over time and this is not scientific in any way but what I've discovered over time is the louder the voice the more obnoxious the response the more angry the response means that that person will not put their name to it and b has very few followers. So there's almost a correlation between number of followers and anger. And I think what happens is people start accounts they become Mr. angry and then they start another account and they have nine followers and they become Mr. angry again. I always check a person's how many followers do you have. Because I think it's telling to me and I read more often than not. I do read responses just because I'm curious and I'm I'm thick skinned enough not to care what anyone says. But I like to read because once out of one out of ten maybe or one out of five are pretty good or are intelligent or say something that you know one side or the other I mean you don't get to do what I do without liking an argument. I like that argument. I like both sides. I want to hear both sides. I don't like being the one who yells at you and threatens you and swears like you and wants you to die and then all the other things that they want you to do. You know I don't pay much attention. I don't block people. Now I've discovered the greatest button in the world on Twitter is mute. You can mute people they don't know they're muted. They think you're getting their stuff. You're not getting anything from them. It's somewhat peaceful and it's fun. So. You know
Saul Colt: [00:22:01] Sort of going back to access the thing X is really interesting because I don't know if you would frown upon this or not but when I was in my last year of high school I would I would write to the Bluejays like I think it probably did like three times and I would damn I would get a press pass basically saying as a high school newspaper reporter which I wasn't. I just wanted to run around and Tony Gwynn favorite player of all time a spot at last season and you know final tour and they were in Toronto for a inter league game or whatever. And I don't remember feels that it was just after the 3000 hit that happened in Montreal and called the Blue Jays got access had lunch and the thing the whole deal. But Tony Gwynn like we arranged it ahead of time. He let me watch batting practice he shows up before anybody. I think it was like 10 or 11 in the morning and we sat and we did an interview sitting in the visitors dugout. I still have like a micro cassette dictation machine like and I should transfer it to his or whatever but it was just like it was no big deal to him it was like the biggest deal in the world to be. And like I think he spent 20 minutes with me. And then he just went on with his day and I imagine like that would never happen anymore.
Steve Simmons: [00:23:16] It depends on the team it depends on the player. And that's that's a big thing. Baseball is the sport you'd have the best chance of doing that just because of the accessibility you're in the clubhouse before games. You know players are available if you can get them to be available which has become a greater challenge over time. But every once in a while there's that guy. And I suspect Tony Gwynn was one of them that you know would probably be happy to do that. Probably said to those guys later. You know I just talked to a kid and I made that kid's day and some people will really take joy and something like that. That kind of thing doesn't exist very often. I tell you interesting story remember Bob Probert the hockey player he had all kinds of problems drugs and alcohol and different things. And he and he had spent time in prison. And and he came out of prison. And all four Toronto papers sent reporters to the Red Wings practice the day he got out of prison to do Bob Probert stories. They brought Bob Probert out to meet the four of us or that was more the Detroit writers and local media were there as well. And Bob Probert who was not a great interview at the best of times I think spent about 30 seconds with us and mumbled a couple of answers to eight questions and really not much happened of anything that you could possibly have made a story out of. So we're all kind of discouraged and standing around and I get a tap on my shoulder and Jacque Demers the coach of the Redwings go on into my office and sit down and close the door. So I walked around where those office was and I went and I sat down and I closed the door and about two minutes later Probert walked and sat down in his chair and the desk. And and and Jacque left to you know basically saying you got him. And I got like 20 minutes worth Bob Probert by myself. Even though all the other reporters had had zero that day nobody knew that I had them. And just because I had a good relationship with Jacques you know he had decided to give me. A bonus of some kind that day. And it was just you know sometimes sometimes you don't know what you're going to get. You know you can show up and you know you could show up try and I could show up and try and do Tony Gwynn on the same day and he can say sorry I got I got to do my batting practice. I can't talk now.
Saul Colt: [00:25:51] Or have already scheduled a very important interview.
Steve Simmons: [00:25:54] I mean Josh Donaldson is a good example of just arsenate spring training had this one interview a day policy like so if he was talking to Rogers that day he wouldn't talk to you. He was talking to bell that day. And so you had to almost schedule your Josh Donaldson time you know to to talk to him and you'll learn over time who you have to do this with or who is easy and who's not who you go through agents or he goes to Team PR people or how it all works. And you try your best to do all you can to get people as often as you can do because it makes for a richer stories.
Saul Colt: [00:26:31] Who your favorite interview ever.
Steve Simmons: [00:26:36] Probably a guy named Charlie bourgeois. Well there's a lot of coaches are like people of Dwayne Casey and John Gibbons who'll be up there who's a hockey player and him. Charles bourgeois who played for the Calgary Flames when I covered them and we got to know each other reasonably well just to the day to day stuff and he was a long shot to make the NHL Jonny played at University of New Brunswick. I think he just wasn't look you know you're likely early draft pick kind of going to be a star player. When we're sitting out at a pool in St. Louis Saints playing St. Louis in the playoffs and we start talking about family and friends and things like that and he starts telling me about his father. Turns out his father was an RCMP officer. In New Brunswick who was buried alive when he was 12. And and he starts telling me the story of what happened to his dad and what happened to his family and all the things that went on because of it. And I think we talked probably for an hour or thereabouts and I had one of the I think one of the best stories in my career. You know at that time at least my opinion one of the best stories of my career. And so you don't forget people like that who for some reason chose to open up to you and to tell you something that he never told anybody else. And he was sitting there saying you know how much it would have meant for his dad to be here now and to be seeing him in the NHL in the Stanley Cup playoffs this close to playing for the cup. I think they were one round away at that time from going into the cup final and all that kind of stuff. You know and as someone who spent a lot of time and minor hockey. And it hits me more now because I coached my kids and I spent time with you know all that how much something like that would have meant to a dad in that circumstance and how for some reason he chose me to tell a story to.
Saul Colt: [00:28:31] Is there still a place in for human stories in sports was like you know if you read the sports pages it's all stats driven or trade driven or rumor driven. But the human stories like this like you know it's like the NBA is slogan is you know like you know it's why we play the game or have here they just changed that blank and it's.
Steve Simmons: [00:28:54] It's getting harder for the daily newspaper guy without giving extra time or access to do what you're talking about. But there are things like players Tribune which now players are telling their players have taken a lot of ownership now of their stories whether it's been on Players Tribune whether it's been on their own websites whatever. So you're finding out about people's lives and you're finding out things about them more than ever before but there still are know real stories like this. Yeah I think a lot of them are and I mean that to me a friend of mine who works for the athletic which is now a an online sports Web site. She's the one who you know she did an awful lot of work on that. Dr. Nasser's story out of Michigan State and I think she's now going to be writing a book about it. But when you do I mean there were so many interviews to do and so many people stories to tell and so many stories about. It's an awful story obviously. But to get people to open up to get them trust you to get them. There's still a certain skill. And not my friend Mary Ormsby who works for the Toronto star. Just two recent pieces on George Chavalo I don't know if you saw them or not but George is starting to now. You know draft a bit he's in his 80s. And it's not from boxing. I think it's just from life it's what happens to people. And there's been fights about him. And he's not his ex-wife because they're still legally married. And who has the money and who controls the money and where is it going and and and who's in charge of George and who's making sure of the things. And she she did two tremendous pieces on sort of this Canadian legend who. Has suddenly fallen on hard times you know for things that happened I think all the time to people who are less famous now.
Saul Colt: [00:30:51] Well it's interesting you bring up George Chavalo. Where was I think as Ossington there. There's a condo building that just walking kind of minding my own business and they actually have a plaque on this fancy new glass condo. That's it. This is the gym. It was either the gym where George Chavalo trained or he was wearing them where he trained for Muhammad Ali's flight. And they have a plaque sort of commemorating it's not a historical killing is brand new. It just sort of you know add to the lore the building but I'm like you know you think it's like George Chavallo and Muhammad Ali and all these people. I don't think people think of Muhammad Ali as a boxer anymore. And I think George Chavalo which were a local story. I kind of wonder like I grew up with boxing. I was on the biggest boxing fan but you know like Tyson Holyfield those were events they were spectacles Boxing used to be such a big spectacle. And as someone who is a fan but not like a hardcore diehard fans it's sort of interesting to see like a sport has almost vanished it's been replaced by MMA and there is still boxing but like you know the last big fight of Pacquiao and remember the fun. It just didn't have the same appeal or draw to me like I'm sure there was still a zillion people who bought it.
Steve Simmons: [00:32:07] But what's happened is it's become niche sport and there's a lot of things have become. But it's become niche sport and by niche sport it still has its large events. There was one just this past Saturday enough to not Gennady Golowski and fought Canelo Alvarez and those names may mean nothing to you but they did over a million pay per views in the United States. So there's still business being done. What's happened is it is. I grew up in the ali era and you could turn on your TV set on Saturday afternoon and you hope that Muhammad Ali would be on Wide World of Sports. Talking to Howard Cosell and that was an attraction and you hope that the next fight you know wasn't on TV would be shown at the local theater or at Maple Leaf Gardens. You could go down and see it that way. Close circuit television. And everybody I know every friend that I had that was you know in those days there were no leafs and Argo's in toronto there was no Raptor's there was no Bluejays. Everybody was into boxing and in particular into the heavyweight boxing. And so there was Ali and there was Frasier and there was foreman and later Larry Holmes. And after that Tyson and then Tyson into Lennox Lewis and it was a long run of Pretty good North American boxers. And then Lennox Lewis retired and it was like a heavyweight boxing stop stopped that day an Eastern European heavyweights like the Klitschko brothers and others became the. Story and heavyweight boxing and the one by one people you'd ever heard of were fighting for titles and people who didn't care about or fighting for titles. And then boxing got chopped up into WBA WBC and IBF and too many organizations with too many champions we didn't know or care anyone about. And then every once in a while there was an anomaly. Floyd Patterson. Floyd Mayweather Floyd Mayweather made more money in boxing than anyone who's ever thought anyone public who ever will fight.
Saul Colt: [00:34:05] He finally gets it all in cash in his prime. Yes.
Steve Simmons: [00:34:09] Or in the strip club that he's out almost every night. Picking up more money. But he he found a nieche and an audience and a persona and it worked. And there was enough fighters from Pacquiao from Oscar de la Hoya or from others that he fought most recently Conor McGregor and that sort of semi farce that they fought in Vegas and I was at. But on a week to week month to month there's no conversation there's no it could be the big fight and HBO and ESPN still put on big shows a few times a year. It's what happens between the big shows almost doesn't exist to the mainstream unless you're really into it. And so. It might change again if a group of American heavyweights become prominent. Because there aren't any and there aren't many that will get us excited when Tyson came in and started knocking people out in one round. Everybody wanted to see Mike Tyson. When Ali and Frazier thought everybody wanted to see Ali Frazier and so I still believe boxing there's a place for it. It just isn't the place that it used to be. And your own ever be that place again until there's a bevy of American contending boxers. I grew up at a time where Ali became the champion after Liston and he could fight Fraser and he could fight forman it and he could fight Jerry Corey and he could fight Oscar mana. He got such was that you could go down to Jimmy Young he'd go down to eight nine 10 in the division. There were guys you knew it was the names. I'm in the business I couldn't name you three heavyweight boxers right now.
Saul Colt: [00:35:51] Going on Tyson towards i dont know if it was pre jail or after prison. But they like it always seemed like there was the Tyson fight and there was the rematch like them and they would fight twice a year as opposed to going down the list.
Steve Simmons: [00:36:07] Yeah things like. Well one thing that's happened with too many promoters and too many networks and too many people fighting for a piece of the pie is. I don't fight you anymore because we're the two logical people to fight. I fight the one that I know I can win. So I will build up his record fighting easy bouts and other guy will build up his record fighting easy bouts and then eventually they'll fight each other. But in between you have nothing and you really want to watch. And so everyone's protecting their there commodities so to speak so that they can make as much money as possible when the big thing hits has them.
Saul Colt: [00:36:48] Has MMA made sort of made boxing irrelevant or the two lived completely in a different world.
Steve Simmons: [00:36:54] I think the two live in completely different worlds and I think the whole UFC thing has hit its zenith and is now a little bit in decline. What it was three to five years ago it isn't now now it's lost some of it's great. I mean I was there five years ago at UFC had Jon Bones Jones as its best champion and had had Conor McGregor and had Ronda Rousey you know it had name George St. Pierre Jumbo's Jones has had nothing but drug issues and legal issues. Ronda Rousey is now wrestling for the WWE George St. Pierre hasn't fought in years and so all of the stars. Which are on the sales point of any kind of combat sport are not the same. And so now it's there the fans are still engaged. The one who is engaged I've never been one of them but they are engaged and they do watch and they do go to shows and they do paper reviews and all of that but it's not like it's not the overwhelming success seemed to be heading towards because it lost too many stars and strangely enough at the same time pro wrestling which sort of runs cycles all the time has is in another up cycle and it goes through periods of where it's really hot and then periods where it's not and the periods where it's really hot again and this is a period WWE each stock in the last six months has more than doubled. So we're all sorry we didn't buy it.
Saul Colt: [00:38:30] So NBA is just around the corner. I think this might be one of the most interesting years for the Raptors maybe since inception. Besides the fact that they've got you know quite Leonard and it's a bit of a question mark you know all those sort of things from a journalist's standpoint from your standpoint. You know as an outsider I look at the two stars of the team Lowry and Leonard. One doesn't like to talk to the media and one doesn't talk at all. So how does like and you know we think about the last few years forget forget Derozan as a player. But he was he was like the spokesperson the team and Lowry kept you know they'd come out together Larry and let him do the talking. You know granter you know sort of piping. Like who is even a spokesperson this year it sounds like you can let Fred Van Vleet be the face of this team.
Steve Simmons: [00:39:19] It's not so much being the face and being a spokesman is important for guys in my business. It's not really important for when you win and lose or how you win it or lose it and maybe put on a happy face to the public. But the actual meaning of it isn't very meaningful and so is it going to matter that Kwali speaks or doesn't speak so long as he plays to the lofty level. He can play. No it doesn't matter as long as it doesn't disrupt the balance of a team. Now what can happen is that you've got a guy like Demar when he was here. He liked being the go to media guy. He enjoyed being having that role. He enjoyed being the leader and the spokesperson but if he is there and other players resent what he's doing on a regular basis then that can have a negative impact as well. And so I think right now by proxy it's going to sort of have to be a combination of Fred Van Vleet and and you know what is Fallon shrewdness and what we don't know either is how his neck nurse going to be the new coach on a day to day basis. When we were truly spoiled by Dwayne Casey for so many years and so Dwayne Casey was the perfect media deal with interview guy on a day to day to day to day basis. You know one of the best I've ever been around for that. And so Dwayne Casey is gone and tomorrow is gone and that team is new. But I also think this is the first season that I believe I can see this team going to a final where I've never said that at the beginning of a season. Strangely enough it's the first time I've ever seen the Leafs in this position and it's the first time I've ever seen the raptors in this position and who knows it possibly is neither will it will happen. But there's also a possibility that either one will opt out or both them.
Saul Colt: [00:41:12] So I lived through the Jays World Series as you know of course you did too. So while you are in the building probably for the World Series I was outside selling t shirts and things. I was I was around it all and you really saw like how amazing of a of a sports town Toronto can be. Transactionally it like so this year the Leafs have all this optimism that wraps it all. But is Toronto really a sports town like do like you know there's been times where the 12000 people are Rogers centre.
Steve Simmons: [00:41:44] Toronto is a trendy town. If it becomes the place to be. Everyone wants to be there and I'll use 2015 16 as the best examples I can come up with. Halfway through the 2015 baseball season Alex Anthopoulos makes the trades for for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price Ben Revere and all of a sudden the 500 blue jays play 750 baseball or 800 baseball the rest of the way win their division. And what happened suddenly and you couldn't get a ticket. Suddenly for for from 1995 to 2014 you can get a ticket any single night other than opening day. You could sit wherever you wanted most times. There was not great demand. All of a sudden it became that place. This is our hot team. This is a winning team. When I noticed was and this was this something really changed to me was the demographic of the fans changed. Suddenly it wasn't a bunch of 40 plus old guys scoring the games on their score cards which is sort of the traditional older baseball fan. This was young people this was men and women. This was girls on a Friday night not going to a bar. But six of them going to a bluejay game and taking selfies of each other. It became the place to be. So it translated to leading attendance in 2015 and leading in 2016 as it carried over. And it actually carried over into last year because people were still expecting the team to be decent. And then as soon as you know it was apparent that they weren't. You know I think the Jays are down 10000 a game this year. They're down the largest amount of any team in the major league. So is this a great sports town. I don't think it's a great sports town but it's a town when you become a hot place to be. Everyone wants to be there. Same with TFC is a good example of that. They have they have developed a culture. People just want to go to those games they don't care if the team wins or loses for the most part. It's part of it it's just that's a place to be. So people want to do that. I think the Raptors games with that outside thing in the playoffs that they do a pile of people standing up
[00:44:02] Standing out in the rain you know watching a game on a screen. It's you know it's funny how that works in that way but I don't I agree with you. I don't think it's a tremendous sports town. I think we are like a hot movie or the hot TV show. You know people will other than the Leafs which are a whole other entity the Leafs are the own world. They are one of the unique if not the most unique franchise in professional sport.
Saul Colt: [00:44:38] So LeBron James he's he's already said that he'd like to try to stick around the league until the Suns playing me play one year with his son which is a cool story but when you look at athletes in general they make so much money now or at least you know a percentage of the players make so much money. It only seems like there's no reason to stick around and break records like you know their goals are no longer to be the leading scorer. It's to eventually on the team. Do you think records are going to become reasonably irrelevant because of these facts.
Steve Simmons: [00:45:11] No because every time I think that way or you think that way we're not thinking the way athletes think athletes want to play. And I think the minute they stop playing they rarely ever find anything in their lives after that that matches the joy and everything that playing with them. And so you get Patrick Marleau with the Leafs. He's 39 years old. He retires he wealthy enough. Absolutely. He's still playing. He's still trying. He's still training. He's still doing all the things that keep him going because he loves to do it. And most athletes that I know want to play as long as they possibly can. Some some some of them their bodies don't allow them to. So it depends on can you continue. Can you. Are you still a commodity that someone's going to want or are you willing to do that. Sure. You know in LeBron's case there's always a story around the story whether it's his son or whether it's Hollywood whether it's being in Los Angeles whether it's owning teams whether it's you know making movies or or whatever it's going to be he can afford to have as many interests as he wants because you know he has that kind of financial freedom but even those who don't lot most athletes I know want to play as long as they can and they want to walk out on their own terms and very rarely do athletes ever walk out on their own terms are almost always told to leaveChatted a while,
Saul Colt: [00:46:33] Chatted a while covered a bunch of stuff. One thing I didn't ask you and I've always been curious about people in your position with no enormous followings lots of attention and no big spotlight. Do you ever second guess yourself or like you know before you press send on that article or anything like that. Do you think about what the reaction could be or if you're happy with that. You know that's all that matters.
Steve Simmons: [00:46:59] I don't think you think about what the reaction could be you think Have I told the story the way I want to tell it how I made the point I want to make. There are days that I've done things that I wish. Two days later I hadn't done that for the most part. You trust your instincts and not only your trust. See what people don't realize is you right. It goes through two rungs of editing before it hits a newspaper. So if there's a problem with the piece and this has happened at different times where I headed or will say you know I don't know about that and then they'll throw it back to you and then you look at it again and then you make a decision whether is that what you want to say or is that how you want to say it. And so that happens on occasion. But for the most part you have instincts you have professional instincts you know what works and what doesn't. You know every once in a while surely you'd like one back. But more than anything else I think I trust my instincts and I come to trust them over time because I think they've been pretty good to me.
Saul Colt: [00:48:03] How often to talk to a Cito and you know he made his displeasure public. How often you just get a back channel e-mail or phone calls saying like that was uncool.
Steve Simmons: [00:48:15] Less than you think you would. Often what happens is it comes from a PR person and it comes from PR person who has been yelled at by the person that you've written about. Who who will say something along those lines. But it doesn't happen very often. What you're also get I'll give you the story. I'm in Cleveland for the Raptors and the Cavaliers playoffs few years back and I'm an insomniac And so because I'm an insomniac I find things to do in the middle of the night and I wander over to the casino where it's right beside where our hotel was not very far from where the arena is. And I will sit down at a blackjack table. Turns out there's three or four other media guys already in there playing a little bit of blackjack and all of a sudden I look up and there's Demare Carole and Joseph the point guard. That's. And and and I and some other group of guys. And I thought to myself it's like 2:30 in the morning and they're playing tomorrow. What are those guys doing out in the casino. And I go to bed after thing in the morning like what do I do with this. Do I write it. Do I not write it. How do I write it. What's the approach. And I didn't want to go did the what they call the shoot around in the morning and ask about it because I think that would get to many people somehow tipped off what was going on or something along those lines. So I thought I'm going to wait until game time and I tried to get Dwayne Casey before the game and wasn't able to and I tried to get I guess Musai wasn't able to. And so the game happens and the Raptors absolutely get obliterated. And I thought to myself afterwards I have to write this. And I checked with all of the people who were at the table with me. Are you going to say anything or are you writing some were broadcasters somewhere right. Most of them are television people actually and none of them thought that. And then it hit me. It's this is the Super Bowl. This is the night before the Super Bowl. This is Tom Brady in the casino. Don't you think that's going to be reported. There's always been without question has disappeared. So sorts. Yeah. And so I said I have to right. So the game is played. I get Dwayne privately in his room after he's finished his interviews and he was a bit perturbed about what happened here buddy. For the record said you know what you think he would say and I waited for Demare Carol and Joseph to come out of the dressing room area back where they change where we can't go. And I'm right on deadline like it's as close as you can get. I'm giving my I'm pushing my time to the point where I've got like a minute to go. And I'm I think what happened is one of the PR people pulled them to stay in the in the room and not come out. Knowing that what I was going to ask and I think it would have been actually in their best interest to come out and explain what it is they were doing. And so I wrote a piece saying this Well the public was one of those pieces got huge attention and huge reaction. I would say 50 percent for 50 percent against maybe a little more against than for people in my industry is where the strongest reaction came from. And there was a huge debate as to whether it was the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do and people who have great regard for told me it was the right thing to do. People I have great regard for told me it was the wrong thing to do. And so you just have to go. And I went back to you know what if it was the Super Bowl was my sword in my head as to why I chose to write it. It wasn't to tear up anyone's life it was. It was like it's 2:00 in the morning what are these guys doing out.
Saul Colt: [00:52:23] It's just it's not like you're a singer with like you know a hooker without really.
Steve Simmons: [00:52:26] Just they were in a casino and they were they were there. And then of course you get how do you know who it is who's sitting in fair play blackjack while it up. Like sometimes things just happen in front of you. Not very often but this was one of those.
Saul Colt: [00:52:42] Two questions that I let you go OK can you even still be a sports fan. Can you watch sports and still enjoy it or are you watching the out trying to you know connect dots and find where the story is.
Steve Simmons: [00:52:58] Two things I've found have happened over time. One is if you were a fan a lot of that's gone. You're now a fan of the story. What is the story. How do I get it. How do I tell it. What's the best way to do it. But what I am a fan of I'm a fan of artists and by that I mean when you see the best I guess it's like if you get if you can hear Sinatra you know what's it like to hear the Beatles at their best. What's it like to be in the stadium when Usain Bolt runs the 100 like that. I'm still excited by the by greatness. So when I see you Connor McDavid doing what he does or LeBron doing what he does or bolt is the one that always comes to mind for me because I've I've covered nine gold medals that he ran. It seems like when you see that that still gets you you get your blood going so to speak and it gets you excited not as a sports fan per se. But as someone party to greatness. And here you are seeing you know Kobi shoe score 81 or more. I was lucky I did. I did. I was in Edmonton in the 80s when when the Edmonton Oilers were you know me the greatest offensive team in hockey history. And so when you can see that. It still takes my breath away.
Saul Colt: [00:54:21] Last question you've been you know a dozen or more Olympics you've been to Super Bowls NBA Finals World Series as I so you know I've been to a couple really interesting sort of milestone sporting events for like what. What is the big game or the moment or something we're like you know exactly what you. You talked about where you are just like wow look at a sort of remember this one like whether you were there for you know Frank Wright. The big turnaround the bills or something like that.
Steve Simmons: [00:54:57] Sometimes the biggest story isn't the biggest story. Sometimes it's the moment and it has nothing to do with something you'd remember or anybody else would remember but as a storyteller it's something I remember for actual actual moments. Watching Donovan Bailey run the hundred and then when the Saturday night after the four by 100 are things that will be in my head forever. But the story from the 96 Atlanta Olympics that sticks with me forever was I got assigned to doing road cycling which is one of them most boring events of all time. They just they're on a bike and they're on a bike for hours and then in the boiling heat and you wait at the finish line for guys to come in several hours later. And I was assigned to write about a guy named Steve Bauer a Canadian who had won medals in the Los Angeles Olympics and this was his swan song this was his end. And Steve Bauer as I'm looking we have computer screens you can see where they are. It's thirty fifth and I'm thinking what. How am I going to write about a guy finishing 35th in his last olympic race like. What's the story. And I'm and I'm getting sort of paranoid as this is happening and wondering when am I going to write. And what happens as people cross the finish line they don't leave the area they stay in the area waiting for everybody else to finish. And so all of a sudden you see guys who are down in the end of the valley there waiting for the race to end. They're all making their way towards the finish line. And they all got on their bikes sitting on their bikes. And Steve Bowers about 100 yards to the finish line. And I'm going I'm going to get emotional here. And everybody gets on their bike and starts applauding. And it the whole scene was like like all of the sport was paying tribute to his career. And it was just remarkable watching and nobody knew really what was going on. He didn't know who he was or what was happening here. He had been a very good writer for years but he never won a big race or anything like that. And this the gold medal winner and the guys who are second third or fourth and fifth are all on their bikes applauding and he crosses tears running down his face. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. And that stuck with me for I've been to 17 Olympics and that's the one that story that always stands out to me.
Saul Colt: [00:57:33] That's awesome. I tell people who you are.
Steve Simmons: [00:57:36] Steve Simmons a sports columnist for The Toronto Sun and post media doing this for the last thirty nine and a half years. That's awesome. Thank you so much for doing.
Steve Simmons: [00:57:45] Really enjoyed it.
Aspiring Voice Over Artist Jenny Gershon: [00:57:49] You've been listening to that we now join the program already in progress hosted by my best friend Saul Colt. A new episode drops every week. So if you like what you hear please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or any of your favorite podcasts providers. Right now you really like what you heard. Please leave a review on iTunes or say hello to Saul on Twitter Instagram on Facebook. So easy to find just look up Saul Colt. Or you can email saul at Saul@saul.is I am Jenny Gershon, Saul's best friend and aspiring voice over actor reminding you to follow your dreams.