Commentary: ‘Cracked Open’ by Paul James

Paul James. Definitely one of the more polemical characters to don a national team jersey for Canada. There was enough there to warrant an autobiography without the stunning crack cocaine usage that has emerged as the focal point of Cracked Open.

At least that’s the lead. It’s the hook that draws people in. It fascinates us that people who  seem to lead a particularly normal, achievement-oriented life can have that life crippled by hard drug use. But the drug use portions of the book are competing with a ghost that lingers over the rest of the book. That ghost is in the form of James involvement in the match fixing controversy surrounding Canada’s participation in the Merlion Cup in Singapore in 1986, shortly after the World Cup.

These two leads, crack and corruption, dance around each other over the course of the entire book. Throw in the assertions that he’s never been given a fair shake professionally in this country and you’re either biting your tongue or scratching your head as you flip through this true page turner.

Initially, I was going to write a review of the book but I’m not going to now. For those that want that, Benjamin Massey at 86 Forever has written a good one so click here to read that. After reading through the overly long notes I’d put together for this post, I came to two conclusions. The first is that for all the darts thrown in his book, Paul James does not need a load of venom thrown his way right now. He’s battling addiction and has hinted that he’s not entirely out of the woods yet. Stress triggers his impulse to drive around Toronto looking for crack and the second conclusion is that I’m not comfortable with being a part of the choir that puts the car keys in his hand.  So he doesn’t need attacks in general and I, specifically, don’t want to be part of those attacks. This is a small time blog but James seems to hang on the word of virtually every little soccer voice in the country from the looks of his Twitter (scratch that, he’s erased almost all his recent posts related to the book) and that isn’t healthy for anyone never mind a recovering drug addict. Some of the Voyageurs aren’t too happy with how they’ve been portrayed in the book and some long time anti-James types there are up for a feud but I’m not.

I wish him well and I hope he comes to terms with the demons in his life. That said, I have considerable empathy for the many people who he has really thrown under the bus in this book.

I do however want to make points on the three main issues in the book. Points that I think James may want to consider.

1. The 1986 Singapore Scandal

In 1986, Canada participated in a tournament in Singapore. According to James, four players (Chris Cheuden, Igor Vrablic, Hector Marinaro and David Norman) were approached by reps of a gambling syndicate and deals were struck to fix games. Initially, it was to win games (a bit less unsavoury) which was likely a ruse to create a future obligation. For the semi-final they were instructed to lose to North Korea and were paid $10 000 each. Problem was that the players involved were all pretty much attacking players and they needed a defensive player to be involved to make sure there was a good chance that Canada conceded goals as they could only regulate the scoring at the other end of the field.

James was approached by the other four and he agreed to participate. He admits this much in the book.

“While I should have stood up and ran to the management, I instead made a huge mistake. I said yes, I would be  part of the fix, which ignited my personal nightmare.”

Now look at the statement above. James agreed, as an adult, to participate in an organized attempt to lose an international soccer game for $10 000. He did so the first time he was asked. By his own account, he did not seem to need persuading. He then went with the others to meet the gambling syndicate and finalize the details. He then accepted his $10 000 after the game. Only the next day did he decide that he did not want to keep his share of the money and gave it to the other four. In some strange version of the moral high ground, James sees this as having never accepted money to throw a game. For me, what you do with the money after the fact is irrelevant. The only way to mitigate the damage at all would have been to ensure it was returned to the gambling syndicate. This was not done.

On his performance in the semi final against North Korea:

Being nervous at right fullback, I am not sure how I played even to this day. I genuinely just tried to compete as best I could…

James, to this day, maintains there is nothing wrong with what he did in Singapore as per this tweet which has now been deleted from his timeline

4 thse in the media tred delicately re Sing. as I state in CO, it is not a crme to play well for your cntry for no finan gain

You simply can’t have it both ways. He says in the book he doesn’t even really know how he played but then wants to claim he played well and received no financial gain.

Well, yes he did.

If you pay me $10 000 to renovate your bathroom and I come do the work, accept the money and then give it to charity, it does not negate the fact that the agreed upon task was completed and paid for because of what I chose to do with the money.

While it’s too late to give back the money to the gambling syndicate now, there is one thing that would actually mitigate the act of throwing that game. An apology. Complete ownership of what happened at that tournament in 1986 and a formal, heartfelt apology. I think that most of the Canadian soccer community not only deserves that from all involved (and my apologies if I missed such an apology from any of them) but that most would now accept it, draw a line under the event and erase a lot of the taint surrounding the entire episode.


2. Addiction as inevitable

From the outset, James claims he is addicted to four things:  soccer, work, stress, drugs

Immediately, as the book opens, general quotes on addiction as a mental illness are laid out. A lot of modern medicine, in the form of groups like the American Psychiatric Association are on his side. But the reality is that as much as James tries to present the argument that addiction is a mental illness beyond the control of people like himself there are others who feel differently and see it as at least partially the responsibility of the individual and the choices they make.

The point is not that I know this is the case or that these three example prove James wrong but rather that there is a range of thought out there still about whether drug addiction is a mental illness or something that has an element of choice.

James is repeatedly adamant that there is absolutely not responsible for his addiction and there is not one shred of personal culpability in his personal health. It’s a mental illness. Period. He feels through hardships experienced in his upbringing he is medically pre-disposed to drug addiction.

The part I have a hard time with is that he managed to get through his adolescence with no drug episodes and he managed to get through the ‘roaring’ 20’s just as well. At worst, he was a light social drinker. It wasn’t until the the age of 35 that he tried cocaine for the first time, perhaps his first drug experience period, and found himself irrevocably drawn to it. Is that a normal usage profile who feels their addiction was made unavoidable due to childhood tensions?

Personally, I don’t know but there is clearly debate out there about the issue of whether drug addiction is an illness or a choice and James goes to great lengths to persuade readers that the tag of mental illness is universally accepted, and should be, when it is not.

A wider perspective that incorporates the possibility of some degree of accountability for his actions may lead to James to recognize he has more power than he thinks to affect change in his life and not simply believe his addiction was an inevitability and that that is an immutable fact. Then again it may not but he paints a picture that indicates his current mindset has not been working too well.

3. Inability to forge a career in the game in Canada due to “jealous” and “negative” people “undermining” him over past issues like Singapore or because he is a “threat” to them

It again identified to me that no matter what I did in Canada, I was limited with how far I could progress. Negative politics were always ready and waiting with my involvement in Singapore to be used as the “stick” if nothing else could be found

2007 was 
also the inaugural year of Toronto FC in Major League Soccer
(MLS). After sacrificing in 2003 by going to the University of
Liverpool, I was disappointed to have never been approached by 
Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment despite the dissertation I
 wrote and some original inquiries I had made. MLSE formed 
committees and spoke to many local pundits and agents about the
 soccer landscape in Toronto and Canada, but never once did I 
receive a call or inquiry, even after I approached them.
Considering
 the CBC and Toronto FC circumstances, I presumed somewhere along 
the way I had been undermined because I was a threat to some
people.

Both quotes from Cracked Open.

Here is James’ soccer career as described in his book:

  • Coach of London Lasers; hired by CSA who had taken control of the insolvent club for 1992 season. Result: team folded
  • Coach of Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York. Coached for two years. Result: resigned
  • Coach of Niagara University, New York. Coached for two years. Result: resigned
  • Coach of Canadian National U20 team, 1998-1999. Team does not qualify for U20 World Cup. Result: contract renewed for two more years, given the next U20 men’s team.
  • Coach of Canadian National U20 team, 1999-2001. Team qualifies for U20 World Cup. Result: resigned weeks before contract ended.
  • York University Master Coach: 2003-2009. Result: resigned
  • The Score TV Analyst. Show was temporarily halted while new format was re-developed. Offered similar position when it came back on air. Result: declined new position
  • GolTV analyst. 2006-2009. Result: lost job when it was taken over by Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment.
  • Globe and Mail columnist. 2009-2010. Result: resigned.

I just don’t see unfair limitations being put on James’ right to fairly compete for work in the soccer industry in Canada. When you compare him to the likes of other 1986 World Cup team alumni like Ian Bridge, Bruce Wilson and Randy Samuels who all work, to varying degrees, in the game still, he seems to have had a fair number of chances and left most of them by his own choice rather than because he was terminated (fairly or unfairly).

Closing the book

Paul James has really put himself out there to be torn apart. He’s come out as a drug addict but he’s also come out swinging at everyone from Bob Lenarduzzi to many unnamed associates and former players. It’s a bewildering book at times. It swings from harrowing personal ordeals to score settling based on minor slights from decades ago. There’s a lot of rage. Perhaps releasing that will be cathartic but because it’s being done so publicly, it will also likely be alienating. Not the best outcome for James if that proves true. But even if James doesn’t feel accountable for his drug addiction, he has to accept accountability for the book he’s published the muck he’s flung around. You don’t get this every day in Canadian soccer and I don’t think the chatter over the book is done yet by any stretch.

When I get emails and phone calls from incredibly upset parents who are giving what seems like incredibly one-sided version of an event regarding an experience their child is having in youth soccer, stories that have little foundation to them, or at least a shaky foundation, I take a step back and look at it in a different context.

The first thing I remind myself of is that these people are not crazy, though their story may sometimes lead to that conclusion. They’re hurt and it’s being vented as anger. And even the most successful, rational people around will lose these qualities when they feel something very close to them, their child, is being negatively impacted. They need to be listened to, calmed, re-assured that it will be considered and then given time to understand that perhaps they’ve over-reacted when a slightly different version is calmly presented to them after I’ve talked with other, more neutral, parties. At that point the hope is that they come around, gain perspective and accept a more grey version than their original black and white one. Cracked Open reads like some of the emails I get from angry parents. I hope the outcome I aim for with these angry parents occurs with Paul James and I congratulate the people in his book who have been criticized for what seems to be considerable composure.

 

 

Paul James’ Cracked Open is a self-published e-book. It can be purchased here.

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17 Responses to Commentary: ‘Cracked Open’ by Paul James

  1. K says:

    Want to make clear how proud I am of a man I’ve never met. A huge congratulations on James for releasing this book. I can’t imagine how stressful it was to write and release. I imagine it was determined after lengthy discussion/consideration. At least I hope that.

    Unfortunately he is likely not out of the woods. The reality is that once you develop drug dependence you are never not dependent on it. The only change is whether or not you use. He’ll need life-long support to stay sober.

    There are plenty of places he can go to aid his sobriety and I hope he is able to win the battle with the dependence to seek that help when it is needed, but also seeks that help before he “needs” it if you know what I mean – being proactive.

    Haven’t read the book, TBH. BUT, Tam Nsaliwa did and has made a few posts about it. Bit of a warning – Tam doesn’t pull any punches. For those who read this blog that don’t have intimate knowledge of the CMNT, Tam played for Canada a number of times, including v. Brazil in Seattle.

    http://tamnsaliwa.com/

    I work with people with addictions issues, and addiction is fairly widely accepted as being a mental illness. That isn’t to say that one must have mental illness to become addicted to drugs. However, once addicted mental illness may begin or become exacerbated. Some may or may not develop an addiction, some may or may not develop more serious mental illnesses or exacerbate current ones. Some with mental illness have it prior to using drugs and thus use drugs for one reason or another (wide variety).

    If James is addicted his addiction is probably classified as mental illness at this point.

    Having a “predisposition” to addiction is fairly common when you look at all those who use drugs and develop dependence. Generally they start much earlier in life though than James did. But there’s always someone outside the bell curve. James may just be that?

    Additionally, people with a predisposition to drug use tend to come from families of addicts or mental illness. Obviously I have no clue if that is James’ case.

    Anyway….amazing things have come out of this.

    • Gregor says:

      Good to get the perspective of someone who works with addicted people.

      Also, interesting to note that this post is getting loads of reads but, aside from yours, no comments.

  2. Paul James says:

    Disturbing Blog but thank you K for the comment which provides another point of view to Addiction which I share from personal experience.

    Please note I have commented to Ben Massey through his blog – it is the fourth comment down.

    I will now do so with this blog. It is not a sign of ongoing illness that I decide to do so but much more to balance the perspective you give knowing that most of your readers have not read Cracked Open and will very unlikely do so with what you present them.

    1. No need to worry about me driving around picking up crack or the fact I have left Twitter. I have no car and I do not have a cell phone – and have not had one for two years. Find it difficult to interact on Twitter under these circumstances. Not sure how people work and interact on Twitter – I was on for 2 weeks and found it difficult.

    2. There is an ignorance to what Addiction is in this piece and how it relates/related to my life. I sincerely hope it does not touch your life – if it does then I would be happy to help and assist you in some way.

    3. Reference to Voyageurs is in regards to a partial few – their reactions if they are sensitive speaks for itself.

    4. Please do not stereotype all addicts as the same. Demons? Its a little passe to be honest – like wearing glistening white shoes into an executive meeting at Apple.

    5. Singapore: you need to CAREFULLY re-read the chapters that are relevant. You are twisting points to suit your argument. Twitter reference of ‘well’ is used as opposed to intentionally playing poorly. Cannot emphasize more strongly: Read book again.

    6. Addiction paragraph you raise – better left alone. As I state if ever you are in trouble with addiction yourself I am an email away – you will then understand it more profoundly. One thing is for sure everyone as an opinion about it with little consensus because too many deny our science community – although this does not include the United Nations who endorse decriminalization because our approach to the ‘war on drugs’ has generally been a catastrophic disaster.

    7. The jealous, undermining and poor general approach of our soccer industry is everywhere we care to look – you are in denial of that fact. The book clearly points out the obvious. Compare backgrounds of all and sundry in Canada and then recognize that this blog itself has an agenda.

    8. In regards to people such as BL they are merely the cause and effect of them being in the book. Knowing the profound stigma which is associated with Addiction – which your approach to writing about Cracked Open highlights – plenty of work needs to be done.

    9. The resume you outline proves the hard earned path I had to take to get to the level I did. $16,000 at London Lasers for being player, coach, equipment manager, driver; $5,000 a year at LeMoyne; 17,500 at Niagara etc.

    10. In reference to your final comments of criticized people holding back their composure – well why doesn’t everyone come forward, lets put all the cards on the table, lift up all the many mats which are chock a block with “dirt” from past and present, have a government investigation of our soccer industry and then have a licensed outside committee from another country run our industry for us. Only then will we get some where.

    11. Looks like you went to great lengths to write this blog.

    Paul James

    • Gregor says:

      Disturbing? I can live with that. It’s been called much worse by those who know far less about the game than you ;)

      I’ll pair my responses to your numbered points to make this easier.

      1. No need to worry about me driving around picking up crack or the fact I have left Twitter. I have no car and I do not have a cell phone – and have not had one for two years. Find it difficult to interact on Twitter under these circumstances. Not sure how people work and interact on Twitter – I was on for 2 weeks and found it difficult.

      You should go back to it. Twitter. Not crack. Twitter. It takes some getting used to and for your current purposes, 140 characters obviously isn’t ideal but it’s a great tool for people in media and promoting things like ebooks. I’d suggest your give it another try but maybe hold off on challenging John Molinaro to another duel at dawn or whatever that was.

      Glad we don’t need to worry about you and crack and I’m very serious about that. I’ve questioned some of the things you’ve said and done as you’ve put them out there for the soccer community to consider, but I really can’t think of anyone I’ve ever crossed paths with that I’d wish a serious drug addiction upon.

      2. There is an ignorance to what Addiction is in this piece and how it relates/related to my life. I sincerely hope it does not touch your life – if it does then I would be happy to help and assist you in some way.

      I’d both agree and disagree with that. I’m very ignorant as to the ins and outs of addiction but my point was not convince you or others that your ‘definition’ of addiction is wrong but rather to point out that there is a plurality of opinion on what addiction is and that you are insisting there isn’t. There is a school of thought that does not see it as a mental illness but rather a condition that has come about through an element of personal choice. One of my favourite quote to live by is “The essence of man is in the form of a question.” In other words, as Bill Maher says in Religulous, “They (religious people) are selling certainty and I’m on the corner with doubt.” I question those that seem most certain of something, especially something very complex.

      3. Reference to Voyageurs is in regards to a partial few – their reactions if they are sensitive speaks for itself.

      Don’t know them personally and I probably should have stayed away from characterizing their comments on you and your book.

      4. Please do not stereotype all addicts as the same. Demons? Its a little passe to be honest – like wearing glistening white shoes into an executive meeting at Apple.

      Dude writes a book detailing multiple harrowing drug escapades resulting in black outs, serious personal injury, incredible episodes of paranoia that each time threaten to destroy a career he’s spent a lifetime building and you want to now say using the term ‘demons’ is a stereotype. C’mon…Besides, I wasn’t applying it to all addicts.

      5. Singapore: you need to CAREFULLY re-read the chapters that are relevant. You are twisting points to suit your argument. Twitter reference of ‘well’ is used as opposed to intentionally playing poorly. Cannot emphasize more strongly: Read book again.

      I have re-read them and I see no twisting of points. Sorry. I think this is incredibly clear. You were asked to take money to throw a game. You agreed to do that and accepted the money. What you do with the money after the game is irrelevant. How you think you played is irrelevant.

      6. Addiction paragraph you raise – better left alone. As I state if ever you are in trouble with addiction yourself I am an email away – you will then understand it more profoundly. One thing is for sure everyone as an opinion about it with little consensus because too many deny our science community – although this does not include the United Nations who endorse decriminalization because our approach to the ‘war on drugs’ has generally been a catastrophic disaster.

      I’m not sure if what this references exactly beyond the point you raised above and I replied to so I’ll just say that an argument for decriminalization can be made whether you believe drug addiction is a mental illness or not. Addicts need support. Period. Decriminalization is one path. It really only works as part of a concerted effort a la Four Pillars. I couldn’t agree more that the War on Drugs is an insult to humanity and a blight on western civilization.

      7. The jealous, undermining and poor general approach of our soccer industry is everywhere we care to look – you are in denial of that fact. The book clearly points out the obvious. Compare backgrounds of all and sundry in Canada and then recognize that this blog itself has an agenda.

      Sorry but I’m not sure what point you’re making here. That people are competitive to the point of jealousy and the willingness to undermine others? Sure, there’s always going to a bit of that in all aspects of life. Generally though, jealousy is transparent to most intelligent people and those who take that tact are found out in time. This blog has an agenda? Not sure what it would be other than to couple two things I enjoy: soccer and writing. I already work full time in the game and have done so for nine years so I’m not after a job. I enjoy this format and I appreciate the general intelligence of those who stop by to comment. It makes for a level of discussion I appreciate. Beyond that all I’ve got out of this blog is a free iPad coaching app, a press pass for the women’s Olympic qualifying tournament last month and a truckload of grief for daring to cover the BCPL.

      8. In regards to people such as BL they are merely the cause and effect of them being in the book. Knowing the profound stigma which is associated with Addiction – which your approach to writing about Cracked Open highlights – plenty of work needs to be done.

      Sorry, I don’t understand this at all. Bob is the cause and effect of his own appearance in your book?

      What I will apologize for is if I’ve caused any further feelings of stigma for you personally. That was never the intention. It obviously takes a lot of courage to write about these experiences and the candour you’ve put on the page makes for a compelling read. But it also, like all books, ignites a public conversation and my blog post is part of that conversation. I’m sure you must have realized a book like this would get people talking online and that not all of it would be exactly what you were hoping for. The comments I’ve read (from others) I think are the sort of cross section a neutral but informed person would expect. There are a lot of people really wishing you well for the future, myself included, but that doesn’t mean that every part of your story gets a pass because of that earnest desire to see you succeed in overcoming an addiction to crack.

      9. The resume you outline proves the hard earned path I had to take to get to the level I did. $16,000 at London Lasers for being player, coach, equipment manager, driver; $5,000 a year at LeMoyne; 17,500 at Niagara etc.

      That’s pretty much what everyone does when they’re trying to get ahead in a vocation they enjoy. Sorry but that doesn’t set you apart. Most people in dynamic work environments experience having to pay their dues and ongoing frustrations even once they’re established. Ask Dale Mitchell or Carl Valentine or many others.

      10. In reference to your final comments of criticized people holding back their composure – well why doesn’t everyone come forward, lets put all the cards on the table, lift up all the many mats which are chock a block with “dirt” from past and present, have a government investigation of our soccer industry and then have a licensed outside committee from another country run our industry for us. Only then will we get some where.

      Well, on the one hand you express the desire for there to be more compassion and understanding for those dealing with addiction and make it abundantly clear that stress has been the main trigger for your drug episodes and then you say you’re okay with people taking their best shot at you. I tried to walk the line on this one and you’ve come on here and said this is a ‘disturbing’ blog that is ignorant about addiction. You’re entitled to your opinion but you’re very quick to call people on expressing their own. I think people who have been criticized in your book have taken the approach they are most comfortable with personally.

      The idea of a gov’t investigation into the soccer industry, that’s something I’ve never heard suggested before. I don’t think there’s much of a constituency for that and personally I don’t really think that’s a good use of gov’t resources.

      11. Looks like you went to great lengths to write this blog.

      About the same lengths that you went to to write your reply ;)

      Seriously, I’m always very glad when people engage on the things I’ve posted and contribute insight. You have unique insight and a gift for sharing it in compelling ways so I appreciate you taking the time to elaborate on the points you thought were important. We don’t agree on some of them but I don’t mind that at all.

      I’ll add that the one thing I really wished you’d written more about was the experience, as a player, of being at the World Cup. I don’t know of any other members of the Canadian team that have recounted their memories of what that was like. Again, I haven’t read Bob’s book so it’s likely he spends time on that. You only gave it 5.5 pages which I thought was a bit light.

    • K says:

      Just wanted to thank you, Paul, for coming forward. Obviously I don’t know you so I am not one of those I am about to mention, but I do know people who care about you can’t support you if they aren’t aware they need to.

      All the best.

  3. Paul James says:

    Thank you for clarfying your stance on Singapore better you defend your comments on a different platform.

    pj

    • Ryan says:

      I’m going to post here what I posted on Ben’s review:

      this was an amazing book. no matter what approach paul would have taken he’d get stick anyway! he could have avoided Canadian Soccer and his book would be boring like bob’s and ppl would be complaining there wasn’t any of that in it. Or this way he talks about the dirt and now he’s a a bitter old man. he can’t win. also, the point is that the Cdn soccer industry is a load of horse sh** and Paul happens to have a perspective on it, may I add the right perspective on it! but no, noone wants to deal with it. Instead of looking at what the issues are, people decide to attack him instead. no matter what he says singapore is always held over his head and now you can throw the addiction in as the cherry on top. it’s ridiculous. but it’s irrelevant bc the BOOK IS FANTASTIC. bottom line – dirt sells. i’d rather read this stuff any day than some boring fluff like bob’s book.

      • Gregor says:

        Again, I didn’t review the book. I took exception with three specific themes. I definitely didn’t call him bitter and never suggested he shouldn’t have talked about Canadian soccer. Lastly, yes people do still hold him accountable for Singapore but I don’t see anyone treating him with anything but empathy regarding his addiction. As for dirt sells, I’m not sure Paul (we’re on a first name basis now that he’s called my writing disturbing and ignorant) sees it that way but I do think this has CBC movie written all over it.

  4. Ryan says:

    Well I would hardly call this piece ‘not a review’. And I did not say YOU called him a bitter old man, but you refer people to Ben’s review which does call him bitter. Like I said earlier, it’s all irrelevant, the Book is great and that’s a fact.

  5. Ryan says:

    Also, don’t see people treating him with anything but empathy – my god read the comments on the GM – he’s even had death wishes!

  6. Gregor says:

    What’s “the GM”? link?

  7. Burnsie says:

    I’ll be blunt and say that I think it is embarrassing for the CSA to ever give Paul a National team job. And Paul if you read this, I’m sure you can understand where this is coming from. Unfortunately, our National Program has gone down the toilet(for the most part) since 1986 and the decisions the CSA has been making in terms of coaching selections is obviously a part of big problem. The fact that Paul was involved with the initial bribe is enough to tell me that any of the people involved should never be involved with football again at the National level. Harsh? Maybe but it is the lowest thing one could do when it comes to playing and competing….at any level, let alone a National level.

    Having said that, I hope everything in Paul’s life gets better and he is able to live with a clean conscience and more importantly, state of mind. Good luck.

  8. Tom Mann says:

    Just wanted to say that Paul James taught me how to truly train as a soccer player even though I was cut from a team he trained i believe in 2004 or 2005. Thomas Mann

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