Some of the emails and twitter messages Sy received are shockingly vile. And believe me, I know vile. Try taking a shot at Mike Weir sometime.
For questioning Burke’s trip on Free Agent Day, Simmons has been called every bad name imaginable. And some you just could never imagine.
And for what? For doing his job.
For writing what many people were thinking.
That’s the point. He wrote what many people, particularly Leafs fans, were thinking.
But here’s the thing. Not once did Sy write that visiting Canadian troops in Afghanistan is not a noble endeavour.
What he tried to say was that the timing of this particular trip by the Leafs GM was wrong. The optics were wrong. Burke’s priority on free agent day, Simmons wrote, should have been signing free agents, not visiting the troops in Afghanistan.
“You don’t, if you’re running the Leafs, if you’re struggling to make a lousy team better, if you haven’t been in the playoffs yet under your watch — even if it is a Canada Day trip for the Canadian troops — go to Kandahar on July 1. You just don’t.”
That’s the general point of Simmons’ piece.
He never wrote — as Jay Paxton, the director of communications to Canadian defence minister Peter MacKay, suggested in an email — that he “values free agency more than our Canadian troops.”
Simmons wrote that it was Burke’s job to stick around on Free Agent Day and, by all means, go to Afghanistan another time.
And I’ll tell you what else he did.
He put his thoughts “out there” and he didn’t hide behind a pseudonym, like many of those who have accused him, quite ironically, of being a coward, or much worse.
Burke, for his part, told the Sun’s Lance Hornby that he had no intention of “dignifying Steve Simmons’s garbage with a response.”
It’s funny, he responded to the article in the National Post.
Frankly, I wasn’t shocked Simmons was one of the few, if not the only, writer or broadcaster in Toronto to take a stand concerning the timing of Burke’s trip — even though it was an action many people questioned.
To me, it all comes down to this. For whatever reason, Burke’s been given a pretty easy ride in this town, by the fans and the media.
I don’t know if that’s because of his force of personality or for other, let’s say, more practical reasons. But he’s been treated with kid’s gloves and he’s more often than not — despite his gripes to the contrary — given the benefit of the doubt.
And believe me, that’s been noticed in other markets.
Personally, I like Burke. It’s hard not like the dude, despite his grumpy outward demeanour. Maybe that’s what makes him likeable. He’s gruff, but really smart, and witty. He’s a man’s man.
Even when he’s mean-spirited, like when he famously said that “The Sun has great value if you own a puppy or a parakeet”, it’s hard not to like the guy.
But you should be able to question his decision to fly to Afghanistan when his team is trying to land the only real star free agent, without being threatened and ridiculed.
Simmons did question that. Most didn’t.
One thing I do know about Burke, and I don’t know him that well. I’m pretty certain he would never stoop to the name-calling practised by his so-called supporters in messaging Simmons clever descriptions like “retard.”
He’s got too much class for that.