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About cantankerous columnists…best burgers ever…lumberjacks…Eskimos…and a commish with his head up his something or other

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are some Grey Cup tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

waldorf and statler

Waldorf and Statler or Terry Jones and Steve Simmons?

The boys on the beat are not impressed with Pegtown’s pigskin party. Not by a long shot.

“My report card of Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg: Just so-so,” is how Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun describes the hijinks in River City leading up to Sunday’s argument over Canadian Football League bragging rights. “Not as much fun as Winnipeg usually is at Grey Cup time. A touch disappointing.”

Sounds like Little Stevie Blunder is as bored as some of his readers.

But, hey, perhaps the Edmonton Sun‘s been-there, done-everything wordsmith Terry Jones has a different, more favorable take on the preamble to the CFL championship skirmish between the Edmonton Don’t Call Them Eskimos and the Ottawa RougeNoir.

Nope.

“It was a Grey Cup Week that didn’t quite make it,” he harrumphs. “Maybe it was just because this is Winterpeg and folks are still thawing out from the Grey Cup here in 1991, the all-time record for ridiculous, the coldest Grey Cup ever played with a minus 16 degree game time temperature.”

And here I thought Statler and Waldorf were a couple of cantankerous, grumpy Muppet characters, not two flowers of Canadian sports prose.

vj'sActually, I hasten to point out that Grey Cup week was not a colossal waste of time for old friend Steve Simmons. During his stay, he stumbled upon a River City treasure—V.J.’s Drive Inn, a greasy spoon on south Main Street that serves up “great, I mean great, cheap lunches,” he tweets. Oh, yes, the way to a sports scribe’s heart is through his wallet (even when he has an expense account), and how convenient that V.J.’s is located no more than a Henry Burris Hail Mary pass from the Fort Garry Hotel, where you’ll find the official CFL media hospitality suite. What better way to wash down those greasy double cheeseburgers and fatty fries than with an endless supply of free booze? Party on, boys.

I worked Grey Cup games in every CFL city and, in terms of hoopla, the worst host towns were, by far, Toronto and Vancouver. In 1994, when American interlopers from Baltimore arrived on the West Coast with the single-minded purpose of taking the three-down game’s holy grail south of the border, colleague Ed Tait and myself were caught off guard by the indifference of locals, especially given the fact their B.C. Lions were to meet the Stallions from Maryland. One morning as we stepped outside the Westin Bayshore, an elderly gent noticed a gathering of out-of-towners in the lobby and asked, “Is there something important going on this week?” To which Tait replied, “Yes, the Grey Cup.” The old fellow then asked, “The Greek what?”

loggersportsSo, Football Follies Field in Fort Garry has been declared a chainsaw-free zone when the Don’t Call Them Eskimos and les RougeNoir grab grass and growl in the 103rd Grey Cup game. That is to say, the Ottawa tradition of punctuating a touchdown by lumberjacks/jills sawing a log has been forbidden by the CFL. Loyalists of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers simply cannot understand this directive. I mean, Big Blue fans are usually seen sawing logs by halftime at every home game.

If the deep-thinkers in Edmonton wanted to do something positive, they would worry a lot less about lumberjacks and listen a lot more to Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. Obed is the mouthpiece for Canada’s 60,000 Inuit, and he’s of the opinion that the name Eskimos is both outdated and offensive. What would a renamed Edmonton CFL outfit be called? Well, I suppose we can rule out Lumberjacks. So, what is Edmonton best known for, other than trading away the greatest scoring machine in National Hockey League history? A big mall and not much else, really. Tough call when the best the locals can say about their own burg is “at least it isn’t Winnipeg.”

Apparently, CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has been doing his grand poobahing with his head up the part of his anatomy that he sits on. Not until his inaugural Grey Cup chin-wag with the country’s football media the other day did the commish realize that there exists a barrier between the wants and needs of news scavengers and the control-freak messaging of the league’s nine member outfits. He vowed to address the matter of limited media access “if that’s an issue.” If? If? If? Yo! Commish! You have a head coach in Winnipeg, Mike O’Shea, who cannot answer a question without first watching the film, and he duct tapes his assistant coaches like they’re part of a Flashpoint hostage-taking. What part of that do you not understand?

No surprise that old friend Ed Tait would serve up the best read during Grey Cup week in Pegtown. His piece on the Blue Bombers circa 1980s-early1990s in the Winnipeg Free Press is boffo stuff. It is to Grey Cup coverage what V.J.’s is to the double cheeseburgers and fries. Worth every cent.

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 and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll.

 

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About self-absorbed sports scribes…the Egg Man…Scrounger Thorburn…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Paul Wiecek gets it. He really does.

The Winnipeg Free Press sports scribe last week penned a terrific piece on the grind that is covering a National Hockey League team on the road. It is entertaining and full of insight—and he takes a bite out of his own.

Did Oscar Madison have a galloping ego?

Did Oscar Madison have a galloping ego?

“There is a certain measure of what can only be called ‘reflected glory’ that comes with covering the NHL as a reporter—all of which can create a delusional sense of self-importance among the people who cover the league vastly disproportionate to their actual station in life,” he writes.

“Just because you use the player entrance doesn’t mean you’re a player and just because you talk to Blake Wheeler doesn’t mean you’re Blake Wheeler. But move long enough in this world of privileged access—where you are paid to do things others pay to do—and it takes a very grounded person to not let at least some of it go to your head.

“It can be annoying to watch, but mostly it’s just amusing to see it happen to the people around you. The guys who avoit it—and make no mistake, sportswriting is still among the most male-dominated professions in the world—are the guys who get the joke. It’s just hockey, after all. If the sport didn’t exist, the beer companies would have invented it. So get over yourself.”

Sports scribes rarely eat their own. There is some sort of unwritten code whereby it is considered ill-mannered and out of bounds to criticize the ‘other’ guys on the beat. So, Wiecek’s take on his brethren is refreshing. Also spot on, on two counts:

  1. Too many jock journalists are self-absorbed, puffed-up prigs. It’s one of the main reasons I didn’t run with the pack during my three decades in the business—I couldn’t stomach listening to them talk about themselves.
  2. Sportswriting remains very much a male bastion, with precious few female interlopers, even fewer people of color and zero gay voices.

The article is a wonderful read, the best in either Winnipeg daily for quite some time.

Wiecek’s piece on the demands of covering a pro sports team brings to mind not-so-fond memories of collapsing on an airplane at the tail end of a road trip during the Winnipeg Jets’ inaugural season in the NHL. It happened on a flight home from Buffalo. I was wheeled off the plane on a stretcher and taken directly to the hospital. Diagnosis: Extreme fatigue and exhaustion. My employers at the Winnipeg Tribune wouldn’t permit me to return to the fray without a doctor’s note assuring them I was in fine fettle, thus I was on the shelf for close to a month. I know, what a wuss, right? But, hey, trying to keep pace with Friar Nicolson and Sod Keilback was hard work.

eggman

The Egg Man, Dan Halldorson

I only interviewed Danny Halldorson once and remember the freckle-faced redhead from Brandon/Shilo as somewhat shy, friendly and not at all self-promoting. So it’s been interesting to read comments from the Egg Man’s peers in the wake of his death last week in Cambridge, Ill. They don’t talk so much about Halldorson’s accomplishments on the Professional Golf Association or Canadian Tour as they do what he gave back to the game. The way some tell it, the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada would not exist today if not for Danny boy, so it would seem that Halldorson’s contribution to the game had been understated until now.

Big tip of the bonnet to Global TV gab guy Joe Pascucci, who, along with Dave Naylor of TSN, goes into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame later this month during Grey Cup week in Winnipeg. I recall doing Jets-related, late-night gigs with Joe when his Global was still CKND. Always enjoyed our chin-wags. Also discovered that he would sit on a phone book so he wouldn’t look so tiny on camera when interrogating Chris Walby of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

If we were to fast-forward life to the year 2020, would the Edmonton McDavids still be in last place and making the first pick in the NHL entry draft? Yes, I realize Connor McJesus is injured, but even with him in the lineup that’s a bottom-feeder outfit. If they get first call at the draft table again next June, it’s time to rearrange the rules whereby there is no more rewarding chronic failure.

angelina jolie

Angelina Jolie: Definitely not my doppelganger.

I fell asleep during Curmudgeon’s Corner last night during Hockey Night in Canada, but before I nodded off I swear I heard Don Cherry proclaim James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs to be the premier puckstopper in the NHL. Yup. Better than Carey Price. Better than Henrik Lundqvist. Yes, Grapes, and Angelina Jolie is my doppelganger.

All hail Chris Thorburn. Often the chosen whipping boy (been there, done that) when the universe is not unfolding as it should in Jets Nation, the fourth-line scrounger had the decisive score—shorthanded, no less—in Winnipeg’s 3-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, and it was artful in its grittiness. I’m not sure his play will earn him the warm-and-fuzzies from the rabble over the long haul, but I hope the Scrounger enjoyed his moment in the sun.

I read a lot of newspapers and sports blogs. Nowhere do fans whine about officiating more than in Winnipeg. It’s as if there’s a global conspiracy to prevent River City jock outfits from winning anything more significant than a tiddlywinks title. Just saying.

There were five shutouts in the NHL on Saturday. There were only four shutouts in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday. Hmmm. And people say soccer is a boring sport.

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 and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll.

 


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Coach PoMo morphs into Coach Claude…the God squad…Bo knows quarterbacking…and Ronda Rousey isn’t so tough after all

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Okay, who stole Paul Maurice and why have you replaced him with Claude Noel?

Claude Noel

Claude Noel

Seriously.

That 7-0 wedgie the Nashville Predators delivered to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in Twangtown, Tenn., was 50 shades of gawdawful and conjured up flashbacks from the gory days, when most games seemed to be equal parts Keystone Kops and Chinese fire drill. It was slapstick shinny. Helter-skelter hockey.

That was circa Noel, the yuk-a-minute yet bewildered head coach who, when asked by news scavengers to explain the woeful ways of his workers, would reply, “I can’t give you the answers as to why.”

So there was Maurice post-paddywhacking in Music City on Saturday, parroting his predecessor.

“I don’t have an answer for you yet,” is how the Jets coach began his scrum with scribes and other gatherers of sound bites, then later adding, “we have to keep searching for answers.”

It’s one thing for Maurice to sound like Noel. Coaching like him is a more disturbing matter.

In that tire fire in Nashville, the Jets were scrubs on skates, an outfit in utter disarray and one that cannot possibly harbor any hope of qualifying for the playoffs in the National Hockey League’s most-challenging precinct, the Central Division. To be blunt, they looked poorly coached. You know, just like when the players stopped listening to Noel.

I agree with all those advocating an increase in the size of NHL nets. Why, with larger nets there’s no way the Predators would have shut out the Jets 7-0. It would have been more like 14-1.

It might feel like the sky is falling in Jets Nation because the hockey heroes are one-for-November, but losing four straight games and six of seven assignments is not cause for alarm. So says the team captain, Andrew Ladd, who assures us it is just “a little funk.” Yes, and Don Cherry’s clothing is “just” a little loud.

American Pharoah

American Pharoah

When I look at the list of finalists for Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, I don’t see any man, woman or animal who had a better 2015 than American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years of horses making left turns at North American race tracks, and first to the wire in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But wait. If the great Secretariat didn’t win the award in 1973 (it went to fast car driver Jackie Stewart), American Pharoah cannot possibly get the nod. Unless, of course, horses are given a vote. Then he’s a shoo-in.

So, how are we to summarize the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season? Try this: Paul Wiecek, in the Winnipeg Free Press, writes about them “laughing, joking and horsing around” during their final workout of yet another Canadian Football League crusade gone horribly wrong; defensive back Maurice Leggett believes there is a shortage of “mean jerks” in the changing room; and they have a placekicker, Sergio Castillo, who is convinced an invisible God has already predetermined which of his kicks shall sail off course. Apparently, the invisible God decided that Castillo would misfire on two of his five field goal attempts in the 21-11 season-ending loss to the Argonauts in Toronto. “I didn’t have the game I wanted to, but I enjoyed it,” he said. Who knew screwing up could be so much fun? Makes you want to rush out and purchase 2016 season tickets, doesn’t it?

Quarterback Henry Burris is certain to be named most outstanding player in the CFL, but I’m guessing that if you were to quiz the league’s nine head coaches, asking who they’d prefer behind centre, they’d all answer Bo Levi Mitchell of the Calgary Stampeders before Burris, the Ottawa RedBlacks greybeard QB.

Am I the only one who finds that Scotiabank Fifth Season commercial featuring the girl with all the Marie Osmond teeth painfully irritating? I mean, she’s a cute kid and I’m sure she’s lovely, but, geez Louise, did they have to make her out to be such a nerdy girl? Oh, it’s more than just annoying, Miss Woods.

Take that, Ronda Rousey.

Take that, Ronda Rousey.

I think Holly Holm did every fight fan a favor when she boxed Ronda Rousey’s ears and put the boots to her in their Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight title bout. Perhaps now people will stop making senseless noise about Rousey whupping convicted woman-beater and world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather. She isn’t even the toughest girl on the block, let alone the baddest ass in all of mixed martial arts fighting.

Shouldn’t the Winnipeg Free Press have hired a sports columnist to replace Gary (La La) Lawless by now? A sports section without a columnist is like a pub without pints or a church without prayer. I need someone to pick on.

Speaking of needing a scribe to pick on, there’s always Steve Simmons, thin-skinned columnist with the Toronto Sun. In making the case for Darryl Sutter to be considered for a coaching post in the World Cup of Hockey next September, Little Stevie Blunder advises us that the mumbling bench boss “has won three Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.” Really? Three? I demand a recount. No surprise he’d have it wrong, though. Facts are too often a casualty in today’s sports writing, which is a pet peeve of mine.

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 and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.


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Winnipeg Blue Bombers: The Teflon Triumverate is making Miller time look an awful lot like Mack time

Wade Miller isn’t going anywhere because…well, just because.

Kyle Walters isn’t going anywhere because…well, because Wade Miller says so.

Mike O’Shea isn’t going anywhere because…well, because Wade Miller told Kyle Walters to say so.

But, hey, when a team sucks as badly today as it did two years ago (to the day) when Miller became the official grand poobah of all things Winnipeg Blue Bombers, somebody has to take the fall. Actually, you can make that somebodies. Plural.

For those of you keeping score at home, what ails the Winnipegs is Joe Mack’s fault. Gary Crowton’s fault. Tim Burke’s fault. Gary Etcheverry’s fault. Pat Tracey’s fault. Marcel Bellefeuille’s fault. There’s possibly some blame to lay at the feet of Buzz and Boomer, as well.

The nasty stuff, meanwhile, fails to stick to the Teflon Triumverate of Miller, Walters and O’Shea, who have taken a 3-15 outfit that failed to qualify for the Canadian Football League playoffs in 2013 and transformed it into a 5-13 outfit that, once again, is on the outside looking in as the Grey Cup tournament commences this weekend.

Nice work if you can get it.

The thing is, the Teflon Triumverate finds itself in the most enviable position of working for mostly non-football-savvy bosses who no longer harbor an appetite for paying people not to work. Thus, there shall be no blood-letting by the board of directors. Not at the moment.

Apparently, the only man willing to wield an axe is O’Shea, the off-with-their-heads head coach.

Once upon a time there was a shop in downtown Winnipeg called the Man with the Axe. It was a discount men’s clothing store. Now it’s where other CFL teams shop for discontinued coaches. I mean, if there is a defining measure (other than wins and losses) of O’Shea’s two-year sideline stewardship, it is his penchant for firing the men he has hired. He’s whacked three co-ordinators in less than a year. Etcheverry, responsible for the defensive dozen, was the first to go last December. Next on the chopping block was special teams CO Tracey, in September. Now offensive CO Bellefeuille is gone, just when I’d finally learned to spell his name without looking it up.

That isn’t a coaching staff O’Shea is operating. It’s a McDonald’s drive-thru.

But, hey, he learned at the knee of the whack master himself, chief executive officer Miller. On his first day on the job as “acting” CEO, Miller whacked much-maligned general manager Joe Mack. On his second day as permanent CEO, he whacked head coach Tim Burke.

Welcome to Whack-a-Mole, Blue Bombers version.

It’s fair, two years after the fact, to assess the workings of Miller as CEO of the once-proud Winnipeg Football Club, and I find myself asking this: Exactly what has he done?

Miller’s first order of business was to hire a general manager and a head coach. He promised an “exhaustive” search for a GM. He would leave no stone on the North American football landscape unturned. As if. All he did was walk down the hall to Walters’ office and say something like, “Yo! Kyle! It’s about that exhaustive search thing I promised our fans. I can’t really be bothered. Too much of a hassle. I know you don’t have any experience, but the job’s yours if you want it. By the way, I’m hungry. Could you whip over to the nearest McDonald’s and get me some burgers?”

Nothing Miller has done on the football side (we won’t talk about the Heritage Classic hockey or stadium fiascos) has worked. Not Walters. Not O’Shea. The Teflon Triumverate is 12-24 in two crusades. Thus, it’s perhaps appropriate to revisit something he said shortly after his anointment as CEO.

“I’m not afraid to prove myself and let my results speak for myself,” he said. “That’s my calling card…so we’re going to bring it.”

All he’s brought is more misery for Bombers Nation.

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 and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.


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Winnipeg Sun sports: Still punching above its weight class after all these years.

It has been said of the 1960s that if you remember them you weren’t really there.

I sort of feel the same way about my dozen or so years working at the Winnipeg Sun—overwhelming evidence supports the notion that I was there during the 1980s and ’90s, but I’m not convinced that I was there.

I must have been there, though. If not, Paul Friesen wouldn’t be there now. Nor would Mark Hamm.

Oh, yes, I’m responsible for Friesen. If you enjoy his sports column in the Sun, all praise to him. If you don’t enjoy his column, blame me. I got him the gig. Correction: I got him the gig that led to the gig.

True story…

I was standing in the queue at one of the checkout counters in the Osborne Village Safeway store when Friesen stepped behind me. A young and bright, top-drawer reporter with radio station CJOB at the time, he had once confessed to me that he harbored career yearnings that leaned more toward the print division of journalism.

“Are you still interested in becoming an ink-stained wretch?” I asked him.

“Ya,” he confirmed. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Why do you ask?”

“Because something might be happening at the Sun. I can’t tell you what, but something’s going down. Let me talk to some people.”

So I did. I talked. To some people. They talked to Friesen and hired him. That was 1997. He’s still there. I think he’s grateful, but I suppose that depends on the ever-changing temperature of the sports columnist gig, which tends to run hot and cold on a day-to-day basis.

It was also in the summer of 1997 that I decided to make a one-day whistlestop in Kenora, a lovely, little resort getaway not far removed from the Manitoba-Ontario border. I mentioned my escape to one of the mucky-mucks who made all the decisions of loft at the Sun.

“While you’re there,” he said, “maybe you could meet with a young guy named Mark Hamm. He’s applied for a job here and you can do the interview.”

I did. In a pub. Then returned home to report my findings.

“I like him,” I advised the mucky-mucks. “Nice, young guy. Enthusiastic. Wants to get ahead. I got a good vibe.”

“Would you hire him?” the mucky-muck asked.

“Yes. I think he would fit in nicely.”

Apparently, it’s still a nice fit. Eighteen years later, Hamm is the Sun’s editor-in-chief.

Much has been said of the Winnipeg Sun since its presses started rolling 35 years ago this week, not all of it favorable. The Sun has been maligned, mocked and ridiculed. Scorned, battered and dismissed as a trashy, tits-and-ass tabloid that once attempted to make rock stars out of panda bears. Through it all, though, there has been one constant source of pride: The sports section.

From the formative days in the claustrophobic, cramped confines of a makeshift newsroom on Garry Street, with Vic Grant cranking out Winnipeg Jets copy and Jim Ketcheson holding the maestro’s baton, to the present, we punched above our weight class. We played Rocky to the Winnipeg Free Press’s Apollo Creed. Always and forever the underdog. Always and forever the scrappy, iron-willed fighter who could give as good as take. We embraced that role. We wore it.

No doubt we hit the canvas a few times, but we were always standing at the end of 12 rounds. And we scored a good many knockdown blows of our own.

I think of wonderful writers like George (Shakey) Johnson and Ed Willes (now the main sports columnists at the Calgary Herald and Vancouver Province, respectively) and Ed Tait (beat writer/columnist at the Freep) who gave their gift to the Sun sports pages. And that’s not to ignore creative layout people like Ketch, Dave (Homer) Connors and Dave Komosky, who, by the way, ought to be in the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honor.

The Sun is still a middleweight fighting a heavyweight. Whereas it seems as though the Freep has three or four scribes for every beat, the Sun gets the job done—and they really do get it done—with a skeletal stable of one columnist and two beat guys—Friesen, Kirk Penton and Ken Wiebe.

They’re fighting the good fight…always and forever.

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 and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.


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In the misogynistic world of pro sports, calling a man a ‘girl’ is the ultimate insult but they’re really insulting females

We all know what it means when one man calls another man a “girl” or a “ho.” He’s weak. Substandard. Inferior. Worthless.

Sometimes, of course, it is said in jest. Just flippant, laugh-it-off word play between buddies slumped on bar stools. Boys will be boys, right? No harm, no foul. Or so they believe. Other times, like when Simoni Lawrence brands Henry Burris a “girl” and a “ho,” the labels are delivered with scorn and contempt. They are insults meant to degrade.

This is not uncommon in the testerosterone-fueled man caves we call locker rooms, where misogyny is a ripe and plentiful fruit. “Girl” is among the main go-to insults for professional athletes. It is a default slag. “Fag” is another. There can be no creature lower than a man acting like a “girl” or a “fag.”

So let us harbor no confusion here. No misunderstanding. This is how many male pro jocks talk, and it’s disturbing.

Yet, it has been all but lost in the clamor that has ensued since Lawrence laid Burris low when the two men and their associates pitched battle on Sunday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. This was the opening salvo in a two-part engagement between the Tiger-Cats and Ottawa RedBlacks, a quarrel that shall determine top billing in the East Division of the Canadian Football League. The stakes were substantial. Ditto emotions.

Early in the skirmish, the temperature was heightened when Burris, the Ottawa quarterback, sprinted to his right in a hurried-yet-calm escape from the pursuit of the Ticats’ marauding defenders. A nanosecond after Burris had flung the football, Lawrence arrived, lauching himself at the QB’s left leg and striking it with considerable force between the hip and a knee wrapped in a protective brace.

Dirty hit, many yelped. Perfectly legal, others countered.

“I’m definitely angry,” Burris belched post-match. “For a guy to tell you he loves you during the coin toss, then try to take out my career…don’t tell me you love me and stab me in the back. He knows I’m wearing a brace on my leg…he chooses to go straight for my knee. Come on now. That’s bush league. There’s no room for that. I have a familty feed.”

Over in the Hamilton man cave, Lawrence was having none of that nonsense, saying, “If Hank is going to act like a girl…” before adding, “40 years old, acting like a ho.”

This from a player in an organization that, just three months ago, trumpeted its partnership with the Ending Violence Association of Canada in a crusade to curb abuse of women. All employees of the CFL and its nine member clubs are to be given mandatory training in anti-violence. The B.C. Lions, it should be pointed out, launched their own program—Be More Than a Bystander—in 2011, while the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week joined the Break the Silence on Violence Against Women alliance in Manitoba.

“It’s a learning process,” said Hannah Rose Pratt, community relations manager for the Blue Bombers. “Not every player will know what abusive language means. They won’t actually know what’s consider abuse…but it’s going to be made clear that this isn’t acceptable.”

What Simoni Lawrence said is unacceptable. It’s abusive. It’s insulting. It’s degrading. Kids hear it. Some will parrot it. Others might not understand it, something that did not escape the notice of Rick Campbell, head coach of the RedBlacks.

“I’m disappointed that a player in our league would call our player a girl or a ho, which is hard to explain to my neighbor’s daughters,” he told TSN 1200 in Ottawa on Monday.

Yet it’s not surprising that Lawrence would say it. That language and mindset is horribly ingrained into the male sports culture and, as much as the CFL is to be applaued for its initiative, it serves notice how much soil is to be tilled in this area.

Lawrence, be advised, has since apologized for his remarks, delivering his mea culpa on Twitter.

“My comments after the game was not acceptable,” he posted. “And for all the kids that had to watch my actions after the game I apologize that is not how you should handle yourself in any situation.”

You hope he’s sincere. You hope kids are listening. You hope other CFL players are, too.

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 and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.


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From diapers to diplomas, a lifetime of losing for a younger generation of Winnipeg sports fans

There are jock junkies in good, ol’ Hometown who have gone from diapers to diplomas without witnessing or experiencing a championship parade celebrating their sporting heroes.

Those of us with age in our eyes and grey in our hair regard this to be an astonishing bit of business, given that we were weaned on the wonders of Winnipeg’s Blue Bombers, circa Bud Grant and Ken Ploen, and Jets, circa Bobby Hull and the Swedes.

That’s one of the difficulties of aging. We remember the way it was. We sometimes struggle with the way it is.

Do not, however, confuse that as a yearning for the good, old days. As a wise person once said, the trouble with living in the past is that there’s no future in it. So, as much as I don’t pretend to be the voice of all folks my vintage, I believe I’m on secure footing when I submit that we would like these to be the “good, old days” for our younger generations. We want them to feel the way we did back in the day. And we wouldn’t mind feeling giddy again ourselves.

But that isn’t happening, is it.

The once-proud Blue Bombers have been playing bottom-feeder football for so long that most people would be hard-pressed to name the mayor of the day the last time they laid claim to the Canadian Football League title. I had to look it up. It was Bill Norrie. Gary Filmon was the Manitoba premier. There was no such animal as the goods and services tax (GST) in Canada. Doug Flutie was playing quarterback for the B.C. Lions.

That was in 1990, when the Blue Bombers of general manager Cal Murphy and head coach Mike Riley brought the Grey Cup home to River City. That’s a quarter century ago. A lifetime for some.

Alas, we know that this title drought shall be extended at least one more year, because the Bombers’ 2015 crusade has crashed and burned in the accustomed manner and there no longer exists any possibility of their participation in the Grey Cup game at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on the final Sunday of this month, Nov. 29.

Winnipeg Jets had three victory parades during the 1970s.

Winnipeg Jets had three victory parades during the 1970s.

Hockey fans have been parched even longer than their football brethren.

If you were in diapers the last time a championship parade crawled through the downtown streets of River City to salute our hockey heroes, you not only have your diploma, you also have a wife/husband, a second mortgage and probably a teenage kid who wishes you would stop talking about three old fogeys named Bobby, Ulf and Anders. And hey, pops, can you turn down the volume on that ABBA album?

We’re talking 1979 here, kids, when both newspapers in town were broadsheets and sportswriters kept bottles of booze in their desk drawers.

Would you like some more perspective on that? OK. Don Cherry’s collars didn’t have starch and his face didn’t feature Colonel Sanders chin whiskers. He was a loose cannon behind the big, bad Boston Bruins’ bench back then, not a loose cannon on Curmudgeon’s Corner between periods on Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts.

Grapes likely wouldn’t have cared much for our ’70s Jets teams. They were the anti-Bruins. Too many Swedes. We liked Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg and the rest of the Tre Kroner and Finns just fine, though. They won. Three World Hockey Association titles in four years. Yup, parades were as regular as mosquito fogging.

Hull, Nilsson and Hedberg were actually gone by the spring of ’79, but a handful of refugees from the Houston Aeros allied with the remaining Jets to win the WHA title. That was the league’s last gasp. It is gone. So is the National Hockey League franchise into which those Jets morphed. They live in the Arizona desert now and, to this day, remain the sole survivor from the WHA yet to capture the Stanley Cup.

It is no simple task, winning hockey’s Holy Grail. The Stanley Cup is perhaps the most daunting of pursuits on the North American pro sports landscape. In the Jets’ case, it was a matter of what if, as in: What if there hadn’t been an Edmonton Oilers juggernaut to always get in their way during the 1980s? John Ferguson assembled some terrific teams in his time as general manager, but the great regret was not having a scrawny kid named Gretzky in his lineup.

There is, however, no excusing the Bombers. Bad management has trumped bad fortune. They are hapless no-hopers who annually fail to qualify for the playoffs in an eight/nine-team operation.

Perhaps hope is harbored in Jets 2.0. Unlike the squatters in the Bombers’ ivory tower, ownership and management of the reborn NHL franchise seem to have a clue, even as the current coach, Paul Maurice, appears to have a blind eye when it comes to ruffians who ought not be in the NHL, let alone his lineup.

Were I a betting person, I’d be inclined to wager on hockey glory returning to River City before football glory.

One way or another, a sports championship isn’t something you want to tell your grandchildren about…it’s something you want them to live.

(Footnote: There has been no intention here to slight the achievement of baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes, who won the Northern League title in 1994 and the American Association crown in 2012. My focus was on the Jets and Bombers because they are the major sports franchises in the city and surely have the greatest following.)

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 and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.