My original intent this morning was to write a post ranting about Megan Rapinoe’s diss of Canada’s soccer team. Rapinoe said losing to the underdog on Monday was “a bitter one to swallow. Obviously, we never want to lose to Canada.” I’m not certain what teams Rapinoe prefers losing to, but I don’t care because I have no interest in soccer. My only interest in Rapinoe is the poor example she sets to impressionable youths and her selfishness promoting CBD. I’ll get to the latter issue in a bit.
Reflecting on Rapinoe’s unsportsmanlike comment got me thinking about my childhood sports hero and the example he set. His name was Dave Keon, a center for the legendary Toronto Maple Leafs of the 1960s. I, and countless other Canadians of my generation, revered him. We still do. When Keon returned to Toronto in 2007 and appeared on-ice for a celebration, he was given an extended standing ovation. The Maple Leafs retired his number 14 in 2016, and there’s a statue of Keon on Legend’s Row in front of Scotiabank Arena, the Leafs’ home stadium.
Keon is ranked among the top 100 players who ever played in the NHL. His incredible speed more than compensated for his slight build, and even competitors marveled at his dogged determination. He led the Leafs to three consecutive Stanley Cup championships, four overall in his 15 years with the team.
Keon played hockey with unrelenting focus. “Sitting on the bench, you’d watch Keon and you’d see how he went from here to there to here,” defenseman and longtime teammate Jim McKenny told Dave Bidini, author of Keon and Me. My Search for the Lost Soul of the Leafs.“Through Davey, you saw the ice as being more than just a place where a bunch of players were runnin’ around.” Gordie Howe, another legendary hockey player, marveled, “Keon could do it all.” Even people unfamiliar with hockey quickly appreciated Keon’s intellectual style of play. After watching his first hockey game, my Israeli Hebrew school teacher commented, “That Keon. He plays like a Jew.”
Although Keon was a top scorer for the Leafs, there were many other players racking up more goals in the league, including Detroit’s Howe, Chicago’s Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, and Montreal’s Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard, and New York’s Andy Bathgate. Keon’s scoring stats didn’t tell the full story. He threw a mean forecheck and the number of opposing goals he prevented likely exceeded the number of goals he scored or set up for his teammates. Keon invariably won faceoffs and somehow still managed to score when he was killing penalties and the Leafs were shorthanded.
I idolized Keon for the same reason Bidini, author of Keon and Me, did. As kids, Bidini and I weren’t fighters, and neither was Keon. He played a clean game and rarely incurred penalties. He won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy multiple times, an award given to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a standard of playing ability.” Keon distinguished himself for his playing prowess, not his goon skills.
Keon’s leadership is what made the 60s Leafs so legendary. Although the team was comprised of talented players, none of them were league superstars. It was a team where the sum was far greater than the parts, and Keon was the glue who held everything together.
Growing up, I admired everyone on the team. There was longtime captain George Armstrong, known to fans as “Chief” because he was part Ojibway. I imagine the PC-correct crowd would take offense to that name, but the moniker was coined by residents of the Stoney Reserve when they presented him with a ceremonial headdress and dubbed him, “Big Chief Shoot the Puck.” Fans cheered for Armstrong because of his Native heritage.
Another legendary player was defenseman Bob Baun, who was so tough that he returned in game six of the 1964 Stanley Cup finals after blocking a slap shot with his ankle and was carted off on a stretcher late in the game. Baun refused to have his leg X-rayed and insisted on having it frozen so he could continue playing. He scored the winning goal at 1:42 in overtime. It was later revealed that Baun scored the goal with a fractured ankle. I think of Baun every time I read a major league baseball game is called for rain.
Then there was Eddie Shack, who when he played for the Leafs wasn’t particularly effective, but was an incredibly fast skater and quite the entertainer. If the Leafs had a comfortable lead, they’d play Shack and the crowd would go wild. Shack was illiterate, and when he retired became an advocate for Ontario’s literacy programs. As I recall, many, if not most, NHL players in the 60s were high school dropouts.
One of my greatest thrills growing up was meeting Leafs defenseman Tim Horton and wingers Bob Pulford, and Billy Harris at “Father and Son” night at my synagogue. They were all so gracious signing autographs. (Yes, there really was a Tim Horton and he played hockey before going into the doughnut business.) My father ran into a few Leafs players while fishing alone in the wilds of Ontario and they graciously invited him to join them.
Professional and Olympic sports was once rife with inspirational Dave Keons. Former Chicago Bears halfback Gayle Sayers is remembered not only for scoring touchdowns, including a record-tying six in one game, but also for the friendship and care he displayed for cancer-stricken teammate Brian Piccolo, the inspiration for the made-for-television movie Brian’s Song. Sayers and Piccolo were the first interracial roommates in the history of the NFL. Another inspirational NFL great was Pat Tillman, who turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the army in the aftermath of 9/11. He was killed while serving in Afghanistan.
The Olympics has a long history of selfless athletes remembered for their sportsmanship. During the 1936 Olympics, German long jumper Luz Long offered pointers to his U.S. competitor, Jesse Owens, who went on to win the gold medal for the long jump. Owens was African American and the growing Nazi Party, which was decidedly racist and on the rise, so Long’s graciousness was unpopular and potentially risky. In 2014 at the Sochi winter Olympics, Justin Wadsworth, head of Canada’s cross-country ski team, rushed to give Anton Gafarov a replacement after the acclaimed Russian skier tumbled and broke one of his skis.
Reading up on Rapinoe I’ve learned that she is a very gifted soccer player who has parlayed her athletic talents to score about a half dozen endorsement deals, including one from Nike. She also aggressively promotes the use of CBD oil and has co-founded a company to sell the product. It’s troubling that Rapinoe is aggressively promoting CBD oil at this juncture.
CBD oil is derived from cannabis and in its purest form isn’t hallucinogenic. But according to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, CBD products aren’t regulated and often they contain undisclosed levels of THC, which are hallucinogenic and can become addictive. For that reason, HBFF recommends that people recovering from addiction avoid CBD oil unless it is FDA-approved and in a prescribed form. HBFF also warns that little research has been done on CBD oil and interactions with other medicines.
I know first-hand about how taking CBD oil can lead one down a slippery path. I started taking it about a year ago, and then discovered the euphoria one can achieve taking a CBD/THC combination. Mix some CBD/THC oil with a THC-laced gummy bear and a stiff martini, and you’re off to the races. I’m very careful using the stuff. With America recovering from an opioid crisis and in the midst of a mental health crisis, a high-profile athlete promoting widespread and unregulated use of CBD oil doesn’t strike me as all that responsible.
Rapinoe is sympatico with Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback who initially showed great promise but was benched after racking up one of the worst passing records in the league. While cooling his heels on the sidelines, Kaepernick began taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem in support of Black Lives Matter and he became a national media hero. Rapinoe and her teammates do the same.
If Kaepernick and Rapinoe wanted to do something especially meaningful to save Black lives, they’d protest the ubiquitous presence and widespread use of Coke’s Gatorade among their fellow athletes. A bottle of Gatorade contains 36 grams of sugar; elite athletes, particularly those who train and play outdoors in the heat, can easily absorb the carbohydrates. But most Americans aren’t particularly active, and sugary drinks are known to be a leading contributor to obesity and related illnesses like diabetes and cancer. Blacks disproportionately suffer from these diseases because companies like Coke-a-Cola target them.
A growing number of athletes like Kaepernick and Rapinoe think activism is about tweeting, taking knees, and making provocative statements to corporate media reporters who are always happy to applaud and amplify them. It’s all talk, which is why I don’t take them all that seriously.
I don’t recall, and can’t find evidence, that Dave Keon ever endorsed products. His contribution to the betterment of society was his continuous display of character, leadership, and fair play. Despite his hero status, he remains as humble as ever. In a 2016 interview with the Toronto Star, he was asked about the cult status he enjoyed decades after hanging up his skates.
“I am dumbfounded by it 40 years later that there’s this emotion pushed towards me,” he said. “I still don’t understand it.”
That humility is what made Keon such an inspiring example to those of us fortunate to have witnessed it.