If you enter the keywords “US media disrespect Raptors” into Google, you’ll get about 400,000 results. It’s a narrative that springs up every time a Canadian team makes it into the playoffs (with the exception of hockey). But what’s surprising is that it’s not just the US media cashing in on the narrative.
It starts with puff pieces on ESPN about American teams being “held up” at customs trying to get into Canada to play a game. Then, if it’s around the trade deadline or towards the end of the season, quotes from high-profile free agents will surface about how they don’t really see Toronto as a potential landing spot. Stuff about having to take your passport on roadtrips, the freezing winters, the higher taxes. Stuff that outweighs getting paid millions of dollars to play a game in North America’s fourth largest city.
It’s easy to see things from the media’s perspective. They need to fill pages and get web traffic, and they know that stories about manufactured drama between countries will draw interest from more than just serious sports fans. For US outlets, it’s about page views. For Canadian outlets, it fuels the underdog image that Toronto fans love to hate. But when the narrative becomes so prevalent that the media begins running these stories as a matter of habit, it creates a dangerous environment that allows for double standards and borderline behaviour from players.
Before Game 4 of the Heat-Raptors series a few weeks ago, a video was captured of Dwayne Wade putting up practice shots as the players from both teams lined up for the singing of ‘O-Canada.’
When asked about it, Wade said he meant no disrespect, and that it’s his routine to shoot until he makes his last shot before the anthems. That’s an excuse, not an apology, but Wade was not disciplined and the incident didn’t blow up. If Kyle Lowry continued to shoot during ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, it would’ve been a national scandal.
It doesn’t end there. Just in this year’s Raptors playoff push there are so many more instances of this narrative being exploited by both the US and Canadian media. Ahead of Game 1 against Indiana, the Toronto Star ran a story about Toronto Head Coach Dwane Casey feeling ‘disrespected’ about the inferior broadcast time the Raptors were allotted. Entering the conference semi-finals, Sportsnet had a story about how the U.S. media heavily favoured the Heat over the Raptors despite Toronto being the higher seed. Just recently, the Toronto media went crazy over a poll run by CBS Sports on the most likely winner of the NBA Championship that excluded the Raptors entirely.
The media frenzy is harmless in the moment, but over time it normalizes the narrative and leads to ugly behaviour from players and fans. The Dwayne Wade incident was followed up in Game 1 of the Toronto-Cleveland series. As the Cavs pummeled the Raps in the 4th quarter, Cleveland fans began to chant ‘USA’. And to make things fair, let’s not forget when Toronto GM Masai Ujiri shouted “Fuck Brooklyn” just last year. Sports doesn’t always have to be classy, but it should never be outright disrespectful.