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.
- Here’s a 2009 Macleans article about new research that suggests addiction is a choice
- An American psychologist who believes the same in his book and has backing from several prominent academics.
- A UK recover clinic for drug addicts that takes the view that drug addiction “as a dysfunctional habit, while recognising that it is possible that certain people have a predisposition towards addictive behaviour.”
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.