Handlers barrier to athletes

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

Some years ago, a group of boxing writers sat around a hotel suite the morning after a big fight in Toronto, awaiting final financial details and any word of forthcoming matches.

Somebody asked the publicist, who'd been successfully hounding the writers for publicity for weeks, whether he could get some coffee sent up.

"What for?" he asked. "The fight's over."

In other words, the George Chuvalo-Ernie Terrell fight was history and we were no longer of any use to the promotion.

This came to mind yesterday while awaiting a call promised by an agent representing Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore. We wanted a brief interview with Theodore before his autograph-signing session at Source For Sports on Wharncliffe Road.

It was a call that never came.

While it had some humorous overtones, it highlighted an interesting development -- a growing wall between the media and athletes, a wall manned by their handlers.

Some, if you are of use to them or their client, are as available as a Hong Kong hooker. If you are of no value, forget it.

We've seen it with the toweringly arrogant group that handles golfer Mike Weir's affairs, International Management Group, and we've seen it in various forms with some other operations. The Theodore one comes as mildly surprising, however.

He is represented by Newport Sports Management, an agency operated by the estimable Don Meehan. Alas, the courtly Meehan was legitimately out of reach on business.

Next was a call to Colin Hopper, who runs Source For Sports. He'd love to have you drop by and have a chat with Theodore but says it's not his call. There's a hesitancy in his voice.

But Hopper kindly puts you on to somebody named Dan Kuzmarov, presumably a sort of sub-agent of Meehan.

"What do you want to talk to him about?" he inquires.

Nobody ever asked that when I wanted to interview goalies such as Johnny Bower or Jacques Plante or Dominik Hasek or Martin Brodeur. But what the heck, I want to ask him about how he's staying sharp in the unlikely event the current lockout ends and what his plans are.

Theodore is going to be pressed for time, Kuzmarov says, and won't have five minutes to spare at Source For Sports. How about a telephone conversation?

He promises to get back to me in an hour. He never does, of course.

This is not an everyday event, it should be pointed out, and I wouldn't bring it up normally, except it's indicative of a trend. Usually, player reps are accommodating sorts who perfectly understand their role, the athlete's role and the media's role. The good ones don't leave people in the lurch if something can't be arranged.

But in some cases, that wall is growing higher. Some of these people want to manage the media as well as their athletes.

It's all mysterious enough to make one wonder what is happening in Theodore's life. Has a loan-sharking scandal involving his family resurfaced? Is he about to take up the rumoured offer to play for a Russian team during the lockout?

Even more curious is the fact the talented goaltender represents a London-based equipment manufacturer that pays him for his appearances around the country. Surely they'd like as much media exposure as possible.

In the end, one who is about to hit the 40th anniversary in the daily newspaper business Oct. 15 can only acknowledge the changes, celebrate the positive ones and dismiss the negatives.

And, oh yeah, a reminder of how the half-million dollars worth of free publicity embarrassed the p.r. flack mentioned earlier into springing for a five-buck pot of coffee.


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