Sports media: Who critiques those who critique?

I have been asked (more than once) why I am such a loud critic of mainstream sports media, most notably the lads who record the daily deeds of play-for-pay practitioners in Winnipeg.

The reason is quite basic: Because they’re there. And, because they’re there, it has long been—and remains—my position that jock sniffers ought not to be exempt from the same performance-based scrutiny and assessments that they themselves place on those who work in the business of frolic, whether their target is a player, coach, management or ownership.

Let’s consider the recent scribblings of Gary Lawless as an e.g.

He has written a stinging, aggressively worded piece advocating the ouster of Gary Etcheverry, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beleaguered defensive co-ordinator. He skewered the man. He wants him fired. No muss, no fuss, just kick him to the curb. Now.

“(Head coach Mike O’Shea) should Band-Aid his defensive co-ordinator and move on,” Lawless writes. “Tear it off quickly to minimize the pain. Keeping Etcheverry on staff is the wrong move from the tactical and survival perspectives. The entire city wants Etcheverry clipped. No one would question the move.”

Lawless cannot be discredited for delivering opinion (assuming it has a foundation in fact and fair analysis). That, of course, constitutes a large part of his gig as main sports voice at the Winnipeg Free Press. It is, however, one thing to act as the self-appointed adjudicant of all things Bombers and quite another to presume to speak for the totality of a populace. While others perhaps share his views, Lawless’s column speaks for himself and the Freep, not an entire city (unless I missed something and he actually won last month’s mayoral election). For him to believe otherwise suggests he is an extremely vain or horribly misguided man.

Those who follow this blog know that Lawless is among my favorite whipping boys. He and Little Stevie Blunder (Steve Simmons of Sun Media) have often been in my crosshairs, for a variety of reasons. Both are columnists and radio/TV commentators. They are public figures who flog other public figures. Thus, I ask: Should it not work both ways?

Ah, but who critiques those who critique?

Where in our newspapers or on their websites do we find writers taking writers to task? William Houston and Bruce Dowbiggen once scribbled sports media columns in the Globe and Mail. Gone. Chris Zelkovich did the same for the Toronto Star. Also gone. The print sports media in Canada does not eat their own. Not publicly, anyway. Privately, it’s a different head of lettuce. They are very much disposed to ransacking the reputations of other scribes.

Bottom line: If it’s sports media critique you seek, there’s only one place it can be found—in the blogosphere. And the MSM guys don’t like it.

I have written that there is no creature roaming the third rock from the sun with thinner skin than a print sports journalist. I have been advised, for example, that Lawless refuses to read my blog because I have been too biting in my criticism. Yet he freely trafficks in naysaying on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

As do most others in sports media.

Last week, I listened to Daren Millard, Scott Morrison and Gord Stellick of Sportsnet criticize the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee for bypassing Eric Lindros yet again. Then I listened to Dave Hodge criticize those who would criticize the HofF selection committee (without naming names, of course).

Yet, no matter how long and hard I search, I cannot locate a sports talk show on Canadian television that critiques sports talk shows on Canadian television.

Mainstream sports media (print division) in our country offers much to critique, not just for what is written and shown, but in its very makeup. It is, for the most part, a fraternity of white heterosexual men. An old boys club, if you will. Females need not apply because we all know women know diddly about sports, and men don’t want their daily dose delivered by a girl. And the thought of a gay man writing sports…ugh. Go cover the ballet, Nancy boy.

It isn’t much different on the electronic side. The chin-waggers on discussion panels are all white heterosexual men, the notable exception being TSN’s Off the Record. Host Michael Lansberg has often featured female voices, but not necessarily media-based female voices.

So, yes, I lift a loud voice in critique of the media. I’ve been there and I’ve done what they’re doing. And if they’re going to be there, I want their there to be top-drawer and all-inclusive.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know 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.

I didn’t need Pokey Reddick’s pearls of wisdom to do my job, so why does the Toronto media need Phil Kessel’s quotes?

Back in the day, when National Hockey League goaltenders weren’t the size of a Brink’s truck, tiny Pokey Reddick refused to talk to me.

Yup, he gave me the cold shoulder.

Seems ol’ Pokey was of a mind that I had displayed extremely bad manners by informing Winnipeg Sun readers that his performance level during a Winnipeg Jets training camp in the 1980s was in need of a serious pick-me-up. I submitted that, were there not an upgrade in his numbers, the other half of the Pokey and the Bandit goaltending tandem, Daniel Berthiaume, would be anointed the starter.

Thus, when I approached Pokey the following day and asked if we might have a brief chin-wag, he stomped his little feet, spat out a terse, “No!” and marched away.

I was not shocked, discouraged or upset. There were no knots in my knickers. And I surely did not view it as newsworthy. I mean, an athlete with his lower lip at half mast, acting like a sniveling, spoiled brat? Sorry, nothing to see here, folks. No film at 11.

I never attempted to have another tete-a-tete with Reddick. Didn’t matter if he allowed zero goals or 10 goals. I simply did not care what he might have to say, and I surely did not require his banal bromides to do my job. If he played well, I wrote it. If his net looked like a coal bin at the end of the night, I wrote it.

I am reminded of this because of the icy cold shoulder Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs delivered to TSN 1050’s Jonas Siegel on the weekend. I agree, the brusk brushoff can be filed under R for Rude. That is, when gab guy Siegel sought the zip-lipped Leaf to collect bons mots that might explain a mind-numbing 2-6 loss to the Buffalo McDavids on Saturday night, Kessel took the low road in hissing “Get away from me.” It was bad-mannered, with gusts up to surly.

But here’s what it wasn’t: News. At least not until Siegel took to his Twitter account and ratted out Kessel, and now he’s saddled a horse named Self Righteous and he’s riding her at full gallop. Siegel promises to engage in a one-man, non-stop, ratting-out crusade against the Leafs’ best skater. Oh, yes, each time Kessel doesn’t speak, Siegel will inform his TSN 1050 listeners in the Republic of Tranna that Kessel doesn’t speak. That is his vow. (I imagine that will score big with his boss during the next radio sweeps period.)

“It’s not up to us, I think as a media corps, to protect him,” Siegel said. “From this point, I’m not going to hide the way he acts anymore.”

Oh, so that’s what Siegel has been doing ever since Kessel’s arrival in the Big Smoke was greeted by a mainly hostile press five-plus seasons ago. He’s had his back. Lucky Phil. Had he known this, I’m guessing he wouldn’t have been so callously dismissive of Siegel on Saturday. At the very least, he would have said, “Get away from me…pretty please.”

Seriously. Siegel’s snit smacks of I’m-gonna-tell-the-teacher schoolyardism. Are we all back in Grade 5 here? So Phil Kessel doesn’t talk. Big boo freaking hoo.

I’m sorry, but Kessel isn’t wearing the black hat in this episode of Gunfight at the Not-OK Corral. Siegel is. He has gone diva (minus the feather boa and the over-the-top eye liner and big hair). He has taken a personal snub and transformed it into a sideshow at the Barnum & Brendan Circus (the next act under Toronto’s big top will feature head coach Randy Carlyle as a human cannonball). And for what purpose? To enlighten us that Phil Kessel would rather that he never saw another microphone or notebook beneath his beak?

Earth to Jonas Siegel! Earth to Jonas Siegel! We know already. It isn’t a recent discovery.

The Tranna media’s mania over Kessel’s no-speak is a peculiar bit of business. Prior to a 2013 playoff series, he was ravaged by Little Stever Blunder (Steve Simmons of Sun Media) and Damien Cox, then of the Toronto Star, for deking out on a post-practice gab session. Not more than a fortnight ago, Simmons topped his weekly 3-dot column with an anecdote about the Leafs winger that was an undisguised cheap shot, the sole purpose being to paint Kessel as every bit the boor.

This is what we call obsessing.

Another scribe, Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star, once wrote this of Kessel: “Can the Leafs win anything of significance if their pudgy designated goal scorer sports multiple chins in a league dominated by gluten-free, goji-berry-favouring fitness nuts?”

Charming. Is it any wonder he keeps his lips zipped?

Phil Kessel doesn’t need the media and they should realize they don’t need his quotes.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know 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.