THE SPORTS ESTABLISHMENT
You can’t lick it, you can’t join it—it’s
It runs sports, sportsmen and (whether they know it or not) the spectators. It’s snobbish and arrogant, with rites, rituals and rules—mostly to keep outsiders out. It’s a moneyed tyrant with all the appeal of an off-side call on a scoring play. So what else is new? The fans actually seem to like it!
“SPORTS,” SYL APPS WAS SAYING at the first Boy Scout father-son banquet I ever attended (I went in the role of son), “is the greatest leveler in the world.” Syl Apps, you remember, was the great centre-ice player and great gentleman of the preand postwar Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team — “Meet my captain,” Conn Smythe used to introduce Syl, “who doesn’t smoke or drink or use profanity worse than ‘by hum’” — and when Apps laid on us Scouts the message about sports, we listened. So for years I walked through life believing, as Syl Apps went on to say that night, that sports, besides being fun to play and watch, were democratic, liberal, equalitarian, non-U, free of social bias, encouraging of generosity to all, and generally the greatest force for good that a grateful world has ever been blessed with.
Well, I believed wrong, I now recognize, and Syl Apps, by hum, gentleman though he may be, was not laying on the word about sports as it really is. Sports impart none of the qualities he mentioned that night. And the real truth is that there is a wide streak of totalitarian snobbishness running through the entire world of professional sports in Canada. Sports do not inspire a liberal spirit (have you ever met an athlete who voted NDP?), as reading good books often does, nor do they expand the mind, the way the contemplation of art might. They are the John Birch wing of human activities. Sports are a force for conservatism, an inculcator of narrow-mindedness, and their world, what’s more, is divided into a series of jealously protected social levels.
This state of affairs, I should point out for those who may envision me a bitter Spoilsport, has nothing to do with performances on the playing field. They remain to me, as no doubt to you, as thrilling and absorbing and as free of any color of doubt as they were in the days when Í believed with Syl Apps. The performers on the field, likewise, are still to me supreme heroes.
No — and this is my point — the snobbishness in sports is fed from the top, from the owners and executives and promoters and wheeler-dealers, from the men who own the teams and run the games. It is they who are responsible for the exclusivity and the social levels and the conservative image of Canadian sports.
What has confirmed me in this view beyond all doubting is my clinching discovery, sup-
ported, as they used to say in my Eng. Lit. classes, by intensive research, that there exists among these sports owners and moneymen a delinite, far-reaching and deeply influential hierarchy of power: an Establishment of
Sports. This Establishment has forced on sports various levels of Establishment consciousness, which are, in turn, leaving their marks on the way sports in Canada are run and the way we, the sports fans, are invited — or permitted — to view them.
The Establishment has only become aware of itself as such in recent years, and it can’t be stratified in as hard-and-fast terms as, say, the Social Establishment of Montreal or the Financial Establishment of Toronto. There are still defining factors missing. There isn’t yet, for instance, a men’s-club parlor or a hotel dining room where top Establishment men habitually gather to experience the simple pleasures of their radiating power — though there are a few informally recognized gathering places, such as the Hot Stove Lounge in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. Nor is there yet a nationwide linkup of Establishment men; they remain isolated geographically and there is still a tendency among eastern men to distrust any repository of power west of Toronto. In Canadian sports, western money simply isn’t old enough.
Nevertheless, the Canadian Sports Establishment does exist and is expanding. It has members and nonmembers, rituals, rites and ceremonies. It has its very private rules, mostly to keep people out, and it is becoming structured along increasingly hardening lines. My research indicates that, in fact, there are six basic categories of power consciousness that must be examined in order to comprehend the Sports Establishment: there is the Establishment itself and there are five subsidiary levels that depend upon it for their meaning. It probably remains to a PhD thesis to explicate fully these categories and their implications in Canadian society, but, for starters, I offer my own definitions of the six and a few guide notes to each :
Some names: John Bassett, David Molson, Clayton Delbridge, Stafford Smythe, JeanLouis Lévesque, E. P. Taylor.
John Bassett is chairman of the board of Maple Leaf Gardens and of the Toronto Maple Leafs and board / continued on page 51
continued from page 20
chairman of the Toronto Argonauts. David Molson is president of the Montreal Canadiens and president of the Canadian Arena Company, which owns the Montreal Forum. Clayton Delbridge is a director of the Vancouver Lions. Stafford Smythe is president of Maple Leaf Gardens and of the Toronto Maple Leafs. JeanLouis Lévesque is president of Blue Bonnets racetrack in Montreal, a director of the Montreal Jockey Club and of Trans-Canada Corporation Fund which owns Blue Bonnets and the Richelieu Raceway. E. P. Taylor . . well, if you don’t know who E. P. Taylor is, you are probably missing the whole point of this exercise.
Another name: Charles Fowler
William Burns. If there is one man who by his example implies the Establishment’s standards and typifies all Establishment men, who sets the tone of the Establishment, then that man is Charles Fowler William Burns. Burns possesses, to begin with, impeccable social credentials: Trinity
College Schools; Zeta Psi; Toronto Hunt Club, York Club, Halifax Club (NS); residence at Kingfieid Farms, King, Ontario. He is chairman of a highly reputable investment firm, Burns Brothers & Denton, and holds directorships in some dozen corporations, including Canadian Breweries Limited (where he encounters E. P. Taylor at board meetings) and the Telegram Publishing Company (ah there, John Bassett). And an examination of Burns’ sporting connections reveals just how widespread his Establishment power base is: holder of
1,387 shares in the Toronto Argos and a team director; director of Maple Leaf Gardens Limited; president. Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. 1957-58; director, Jockey C lub Limited; owner of a stable of racing horses.
Charles Burns is omnipresent on the sports scene (though a recent illness has slowed his pace). He may be seen in the Turf Club at New Woodbine, in the Double Blue Club before Argonaut home games, in the Hot Stove Lounge, at the chairman’s elbow during any of half a dozen board meetings (that is, when it is not he himself who is in the chair).
1 picture him, in these inner conclaves, advising here, making a motion there, conferring all over the room. “Men like Charles Burns,” Stafford Smythe told me, “give substance to your board.” Burns has impact. He is even said to have once entertained at luncheon an athlete (sec Category 6).
Charles Burns is, in short, the secret chairman of the Canadian Sports Establishment.
Burns got into sports primarily because he is, first, a sportsman, an admirer, a connoisseur, of athletics. This motive accounts for the entry into sports, and ultimately into the Sports Establishment, of a great many Establishment men. “It isn't just a cold-cash proposition.” said Senator Hartland de Montarville Molson. fifth generation member of the brewing
dynasty, when he bought the Montreal Canadiens and the Montreal Forum in 1957. “The family has just always been interested in sport.” That speaks nicely for a lot of the Establishment.
But many of its members, especially among the younger generation, are more than just sportsmen; they
are. or were, fine players as well, gifted athletically in the same way that Tom Buchanan was, in the Scott Fitzgerald novel. The Great Gatsby. Buchanan, you remember, was wealthy, privileged, handsome, and, as if Providence couldn’t resist bestowing on him her ultimate gift, he was also a superb All-American end.
With some of that kind of patrician superiority David Molson (of the family’s sixth generation), who assumed the Canadien’s presidency from his cousin the senator in 1964, played a good left wing for the Montreal Royals Juniors twenty years ago. Paul McNamara did better than that; McNamara, ot the Gunnar Mines and
construction McNamaras and a member of the Silver Seven, a committee of young bloods that helps run the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team, was a truly outstanding player on the St. Mikes Juniors and on a couple of senior teams just after the war. “Paul McNamara was one of the handful of great hockey players I’ve seen,” says George Mara, another member of the Silver Seven who is handsome, rich, successful, young, athletic, etc. For men such as these, it was a natural sequence to move from sports participation — the Silver Seven and their friends still get together for informal pickup hockey games on several Sunday mornings through the winter — to sports management. And given their status in society, it was just as natural for them to gravitate to the top of the Establishment.
John Bassett arrived in the Establishment by a different route. “John Bassett is a hero worshipper,” says Stafford Smythe, who isn’t. “He’s a lot like the late George McCYiilagh, the newspaper publisher and Gardens’ director, whom John admired so much. Both of them like being around great athletes, the champions.” Bassett is, of course, one of the most highly visible wheeler-dealers in Canadian life — not a quality that Establishment men generally admire, but acceptable apparently in Bassett’s case — and he brings the same flamboyant touch to his sports operations. He is, admittedly, highly effective in his assigned roles with the Leafs and the Argos. “John is very skillful at handling our board,” Staff Smythe says, “and that board, remember, has on it twçnty-three of the top businessmen in Canada.” But his brash enthusiasm for his heroes on the field and ice (“He carries on just like a fan sometimes,” an Establishment man told me with some chagrin) makes him susceptible to Non-Establishment conduct and brings him perilously close, in outward appearance at any rate, to those unfortunate members of The Incompleat Establishment (see Category 4 below).
But whatever differing motives impel different men to seek admission to the Establishment, all Establishment men approach their sports with one quality in common: they are, as befits successful businessmen, businesslike. Lew Hayman, managing director of the Toronto Argonauts, recently said, “I don’t know of one person who is in this business to make money.” (He should talk; his sixtythousand-dollar salary makes him the highest-paid sports executive in Canada.) But Hayman is wrong. Establishment men may not always make a profit from sports, but, purely from force of habit, if nothing else, they don’t set out to lose money.
When Clayton Delbridge, for instance, was brought into the British Columbia Lions’ management in 1962 (as unpaid president) to rescue it from the organizational chaos visited on it by a thirty-man board of directors, his first act was to lecture the players on the subject of success. “I don't know anything about football,” he told them. “But I do know a lot about business. You take care of the football and I’ll take care of the business.” He did, and the BC Lions have become one of the most lucrative promotions in Ca-
nadian sports. And at the same ti. ^ Delbridge’s success elevated him into a position as chairman of the Sports Establishment, western division.
The Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team of recent years provides an even better example of the Establishment's persuasive way with money. Since ownership of the team and of Maple Leaf Gardens was acquired in 1961 from Conn Smythe, an Establishment man emeritus, by Stafford Smythe, John Bassett and Harold Ballard, the Maple Leaf organization has become the Fort Knox of sport, exceeded in financial success only by the New York Yankees. Stafford Smythe, a rather shy person for an Establishment man but a fiercely competitive and cunning executive, is largely responsible for the Leafs’ affluence. Smythe himself gives the credit to the solid foundations on which his father built the Leaf organization (which is to say that Smythe senior used good Establishment money — Bickle and Eaton money — to finance the Leafs and the Gardens), and it’s true that the Gardens began paying dividends to its shareholders in 1934, in the middle of the Depression, and have paid out three million dollars in dividends since then. Still when Smythe, Bassett and Ballard began to buy up Leaf stock five years ago, they paid forty dollars a share for it; today, if you can come by a piece of the Gardens, it’ll cost you one hundred and ten dollars per share.
It is a simple axiom that you can always count on an Establishment nun to show a profit.
2. The Ghost Establishment
It isn’t enough to give the appearance of belonging to the Establishment. You must also be accepted by the Establishment. Ted Workman isn't. Workman is the president and half-owner of the Montreal Alouettes; he is a successful businessman and a man of weight and probity. But I’m w-illing to bet he will never gain admission to the Sports Establishment.
For one thing, he makes unbusinesslike football deals that embarrass other Establishment men. He once gave an American college quarterback named Sandy Stephens a contract that required Workman to keep Stephens on the Alouettes for three years and pay him thirty-five thousand dollars each year. Stephens was a complete bust, as any Establishment man could have told you he would be.
But, what is far w'orse, Workman is a passionate devotee of Moral Rearmament, the strict, right-wing religious organization. To Establishment leaders, most of whom are Anglicans and consider the United Church about as farout as religions can reach, this fact makes Workman a total oddball. Workman is not only an MRA devotee, he is a tenacious prosyletizer for it. Perry Moss, a former Alouette coach who suffered from Workman's religious zeal, is writing an account of his experiences. “Workman was using the team as a tool of MRA,” Moss says. “The players became confused and so did 1.” This kind of behavior makes the Establishment cringe, and they’ve been trying for years to brush Workman out of sight. The most recent attempt came two years ago when Senator Molson, acting in the Establishment interests, offered to buy out Workman. Workman turned him down.
In this respect, Workman is a latter-day Harry Sonshine, the one surviving charter member of the Ghost Establishment. Sonshine is the Toronto businessman who took over management of the Toronto Argos, of all teams, ten years ago and set them on a streak of losing seasons from which they haven’t yet recovered. Establishment men shrunk in horror from Sonshine’s gauche ways — the manner in which he fired old Argo retainers and raided U. S. teams. The late Leo Dandurand of Montreal sporting circles, and a pillar of the old Establishment, said that Sonshine set back Canadian football’s relations with the American pros by twenty years.
But, curiously, Sonshine is still an interesting figure, Establishment-wise, and an active one; he's just changed categories from Ghost Establishment to Establishment Climbers.
3. The Establishment Climbers
Sonshine, these days, owns a two-percent interest in another Toronto football team, the Rifles, and though he has no hope of gaining acceptance by the Establishment, there are some other two-percent-interest holders on the Rifles who do. The Rifles are a new professional team in a new league, the Continental; they are owned partly by two brothers from Montreal named Katz and partly by
Arrogance—but nobody seemed to care
two dozen bright young professional and businessmen in Toronto.
In their first year of operation they are enjoying a surprising success on the field and at the box office. They are successful enough, in fact, that they can afford to make patronizing remarks about the miserable season the Argos are experiencing. “We don’t like to see the Argos’ continuing losses,” says Herb Solway, a clever, persuasive young lawyer who is the unpaid chairman of the Rifles executive committee. “If they’d do well, it would help the cause of football in Toronto generally.” With that kind of attitude, Solway should make the Establishment any day now.
And that’s a lot more than you could have said for J. D. Fienberg. Fienberg tried to buy his way into the Establishment, something mere money can never accomplish. In 1958, Fienberg, who was president of Consolidated Building Corporation and had no previous sports connections, announced that he intended to purchase the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team for four and a half million dollars. He also announced that he would change the name of the team to the Regency Rockets. By a not-especiallycurious coincidence, Fienberg owned a hotel named — got it? — Regency Towers. Conn Smythe, expressing the emotion that all Establishment men felt, was simply outraged.
William Bell and Robert Moran, two Toronto insurance executives, may, on the other hand, successfully buy their way into the Establishment, via the Toronto Argos. Their difference from Fienberg is that they have credentials. Moran, a former Argo president, already owns 1,387 shares of Argo stock, and Bell, whose onemillion-dollar-offer for the team early in 1965 was treated at least with respect, recently acquired, with three associates, five hundred shares of Argo stock (at ninety-five dollars a share). Bell’s group has now linked forces with Moran—who has in recent years been muscled out of power by the Bassett wing of the Argo directorate—and they are knocking hard on the Establishment door.
4. The Incompleat Establishment Men
Some men appear on the surface to deserve Establishment status but they miss attaining it through sheer misfortune. Baseball men best typify this category; they are apparently forever excluded from the Establishment, and I’m not sure why. It may be the way they dress (they tend to suspenders and wide lapels), or it may be their social habits (an Establishment man would never attend something called a Meet-The-Ballplayers Dinner, which to him is hardly a cut above a Kiwanis luncheon). At any rate, this exclusion extends to Sam Starr and Robert Hunter, two suffering Toronto businessmen who have lost a couple of hundred thousand dollars with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and to Nat Bailey, who has done the same with the Vancouver Mounties. It even extended to Jack Kent Cooke, who once owned the Toronto team and who was sophisticated and impeccably tailored.
But one man, Fred Hume, who owns the Vancouver Canucks hockey team and who properly belongs in the Incompleat category, may be on the verge of an amazing piece of upward mobility that could carry him all the way into the Establishment. This will happen if his group—which also includes poor Nat Bailey of the Mounties — is accepted by the National Hockey League as the franchise holders of a new NHL team in Vancouver. The only trouble is that there’s a group bidding against Hume’s group and it numbers among its members Clayton Delbridge, westcoast Establishment chairman.
5. The Non-Establishment
Boxing, wrestling, lacrosse, soccer, most track, swimming (especially long-distance and Channel-crossing swimming) — no one from these sports, even though he may be wealthy, titled, well-groomed and a shareholder in Argus Corporation would ever be admitted to the Establishment, simply because he is from these sports. This excludes, for all time, wrestling promoters like Frank Tunney and Eddie Quinn, boxing promoters like Vic Bagnato, boxing managers like Irving Ungerman, who handles George Chuvalo; and it means that Whipper Watson, the wrestling politician, will never be more than an Establishment jester.
6. The Establishment Properties
There are two kinds of Establishment properties. The players of the games are one kind, and Sydney Halter, commissioner of the Canadian Football League, and Clarence Campbell, president of the National Hockey League, are the other kind. Establishment men treat both kinds with disdain, even though they pay lip service to these their servants in public policy pronouncements.
THE ESTABLISHMENT, by its very nature, is, of course, snobbish, but from this snobbery stems another, worse fault: arrogance. The Establishment can behave arrogantly toward the players, as the CFL did last summer when it decreed that only three naturalized Canadian citizens, if they came originally from the United States, could play on each team. It can behave arrogantly toward the fans, as Maple Leaf Gardens did this autumn when it required season-ticket holders to purchase tickets to ten Rochester American games.
But the astonishingly curious thing about these displays of arrogance is that nobody—certainly not the fans— really cared. The players were upset about the naturalized-citizen ruling, but they're only Properties. And a few sportswriters got exercised over the Gardens’ ticket requirements, but the fans ignored the whole fuss—I haven't heard of a season-ticket subscriber who cancelled his privileges. Maybe, just possibly, the fans like the Rochester Americans.
But what concerns me more is that maybe, by hum, the fans actually like the Sports Establishment, snobbery, arrogance, conservatism and all. ★