It is, as Cal Murphy was wont to say, time to sack the bats. It’s over. I’ve had my innings.
Scribbling about the River City jock scene for the past 43 years has been equal parts rush, curse, joy, job, passion, privilege, hobby, obsession, fun and pain in the ass. No doubt there are many who believe me to have been a pain in the ass since my byline first appeared on the pages of the Winnipeg Tribune in 1971. I can’t say that I disagree with them.
Being a pain in the ass comes with the territory. I mean, when you’re a jock columnist, you traffic in opinion. That means you’re often poking and prodding good, ol’ Home Team. A great many readers do not embrace that. The Jets, the Bombers, the Goldeyes…they’re sacred cows. As are the players.
So, yes, I plead guilty, yer honour. I have been a cheeky, irreverent, screw-you-if-you-can’t-take-a-joke pain in the ass.
Today, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press are the two biggest pains in the ass in town. I don’t envy them. I read the comment threads that accompany their columns and I often wince. I empathize. I understand the gig. I know the difficulties of delivering a daily sports column. It’s burdensome. Some days you just want to mail it in. But you can’t. As long as your column flag flies at the top of the thing, you want your words to dangle, but never your participles. You stew over topics. You fuss over your turn of phrase. Sometimes you’re quite pleased with what you’ve written. Other times, not so much. Either way, it’s guaranteed that some reader is going to call you a moron.
I tip my bonnet to both Friesen and Lawless, and also to my favorite jock journalists of the day, not just in Pegtown but elsewhere—Ed Tait, Shakey Johnson, Cam Cole, Bruce Arthur, Cathal Kelly, Ed Willes. I admire them for their talent and their stick-to-itness.
I survived 30 years in mainstream media, which was approximately 15 calendars too many, and I’ve goofed around as a freelancer/blogger for the past 15 years.
So why have I chosen to stop now? I can’t say for certain. I know I find myself granting a greater amount of time to reflection. To what has been. To what might have been. And that’s odd, for I am a person who lives very much in the now.
Perhaps it’s my approaching birthday, which reminds me that I am about to begin my 65th year on the third rock from the sun and, at the same time, tells me that I should probably devote my attention to the two books I began scribbling months ago but put on hold. Both, like others I have written, are LGBT-themed with a sports and/or newspaper backdrop.
LGBT issues are important to me. Since my retreat from mainstream sports media, my writing focus has been on the gay community and its people, bringing their challenges, triumphs and ongoing crusade for level footing in society to a different audience. It has been rewarding, more so than anything I have written in sports, because it’s real life. They’re real people.
I think that is perhaps something we tend to lose sight of in our sports writing. We forget, or refuse to acknowledge, that we are dealing with people.
For example, we see Jennifer Jones and her Olympic gold medal mates as curlers rather than wives and girlfriends and mothers and daughters and sisters. We see Evander Kane as a hockey player and only acknowledge the human element of his being when he forgets to pay his parking tickets. We tut-tut and tsk-tsk their missteps, often to the point of being harsh and unforgiving.
This is wrong-thinking. Jennifer Jones and Evander Kane are not athletes who happen to be people. They are people who happen to be athletes.
I believe sports writing is much more dynamic, also credible, when we attach the person to the play. When we accept that athletes, like all of us, are flawed human beings who lead lives of imperfection. Phil Kessel should not be crucified for his refusal to discuss a lost hockey game with the Toronto media. He should be recognized as a shy, introverted person who is in considerable discomfort when placed in the spotlight. In other words, cut the guy some slack.
It shouldn’t be about the score. It should be about the people who produce the score. It should be about recognizing their frailties and strengths as human beings as much, if not more so, as their strengths and frailties on the playing surface. I can see what makes the player tick, so tell me what makes the person tick?
I confess to being guilty of all the trespasses I’ve mentioned at different stations during my 30 years in mainstream sports media. But being away from the arena has allowed me to learn the arena. To know the arena.
It’s the old story: I wish I knew then what I know now.
At any rate, my time is up. This is the final entry in The River City Renegade blog. That’s all she wrote.
(Sincere thanks to the more than 5,000 people who visited in the past 4 1/2 months, and to those who followed me in the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun for 30 years. It’s been a slice. I can’t say that it was all a slice of heaven, but it was a slice of something.)
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore). She also now knows when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.