So, what’s life going to be like without sports? How can TSN and Sportnet fill all that air time with the playground shut down due to coronavirus?
Not to worry kids.
Both our national sports networks have clever, innovative programmers, plus expansive libraries full of film featuring vintage, classic events that can be aired 24/7. And, hey, some of it might even include teams from outside the Republic of Tranna.
Just don’t count on it.
As a matter of fact, we’ve already had a sneak peek at what the Tranna-centric TSN and Sportsnet have planned while the coronavirus has all sports shut down. Here’s the menu:
Midnight: Replay (black and white) of 1967 Stanley Cup final, Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens. 3 a.m.: Interviews with every member of the Leafs who isn’t dead. 4 a.m.: James Duthie and the panel gather ’round a Ouija board and interview every member of the Leafs who is dead (black and white). 5 a.m.: Replay of Maple Leafs ’67 victory parade (black and white). 6 a.m.: Special edition of The Reporters, where Dave Hodge, Michael Farber and Steve Simmons pretend they remember ’67. 7 a.m.: Replay of Auston Matthews’ first NHL game. 10 a.m.: Interview with Auston Matthews about his first NHL game. 11 a.m.: James Duthie and the panel break down each of Auston Matthews’ four goals in his first NHL game. (Jeff O’Dog gets bored and hungry and leaves the studio after the third goal.) Noon: Leafs Lunch with Jeff O’Dog, Andi Petrillo and Noodles McLennan. O’Dog is still bored and hungry, so he rejoins James Duthie and the panel to talk more about Auston Matthews. 1 p.m.: Replay of 1991 Grey Cup game, Tranna Argos vs. Calgary Stampeders. 4 p.m.: Interview with Rocket Ismail about the beer can one fan tossed at him on his TD run in the ’91 Grey Cup game. 5 p.m.: Special CFL on TSN feature hosted by Rod Smith, who goes in-depth with the only six people in The ROT who still attend Argonauts games. 6 p.m.: Sports Centre; Rod Smith spends an hour to confirm there are no games scheduled. 7 p.m.: Glen Suitor Unplugged—Why I Left My Day Job to Become a Roadie for My Man Crush, Keith Urban. 8 p.m.: Celebrity Hot Stove special, featuring Drake, Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson in conversation with celebrity host Dr. Phil, who moderates a discussion that asks the question: What makes a grown man make a complete ass clown of himself at a sports event? 9 p.m.: Maple Leafs Poker After Dark. 10 p.m.: Maple Leafs 8-Ball After Dark. 11 p.m.: Maple Leafs Darts After Dark. Midnight: Repeat loop.
Midnight: Replay of Game 7, Tranna Jurassics vs. Philly 76ers. 3 a.m.: Interview with Kawhi Leonard about The Shot. 4 a.m.: Interview with Drake about The Shot. 5 a.m.: Drake interviews Leonard about The Shot. 6 a.m.: Replay of Game 6, Tranna Jurassics vs. Golden State Warriors. 9 a.m.: Interview with Drake about winning NBA championship. 10 a.m.: Replay of Tranna Jurassics victory parde. Noon: Highlights of Drake’s courtside antics. 1 p.m.: Drake explains his courtside antics. 2 p.m.: Replay of Game 6 of 1993 World Series, Blue Jays vs. Philly Phillies. 3 p.m.: Feature on Joe Carter called “Touch ‘Em All, Joe.” 4 p.m.: Interview with Joe Carter, who confirms he touched ’em all. 5 p.m.: A ‘Where Were You When?’ special featuring various celebrities from the Republic of Tranna, who recall where they were when Joe Carter touched ’em all. 6 p.m.: Sports Central with Carly Agro and Eric Thomas, who spend an hour to confirm there are no games scheduled. 7 p.m.: Replay of 1992 World Series, Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves. 10 p.m.: Interview with Drake, who explains why he isn’t a Blue Jays groupie. 11 p.m.: Panel discussion among Sportsnet anchors who discuss why they talk about Drake so much. Midnight: Repeat loop.
A special anniversary smorgas-bored…and it’s my doctor’s fault that I’m still doing this after all these years…
I walked into a newsroom for the first time 50 years ago today, fresh out of high school, and I still remember the hum of activity.
It wasn’t loud, not at that time of the morning in those days of PM papers, but it was steady and easy and soothing and vibrant.
I liked it, the way I liked Sinatra and Streisand.
I listened to the constant clatter of the teletype machines and discovered there was a hypnotic rhythm to their tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. There were three of them, as I recall, one for national and Southam news, another for dispatches from across Western Canada, and the third for United Press International. Every so often, one of them would send out a ding-ding-ding chirp. Breaking news. A copy boy would scurry over, read the alert, then tear off the story and distribute the front sheet to the appropriate department head and the carbon copy to the news rim.
City editor Peter Warren might have been on the Winnipeg Tribune news rim Sept. 10, 1969, or maybe it was Harry Mardon or Jim Shilliday, who later would become the first but not last editor to bark at me. (It was for messing up a coffee order, something about too much sugar or not enough cream. He was wrong, I was right, and desker Peter Salmon, noticing my body quiver like a kitten on a limb, told him so, for which I remain immensely grateful.)
I know Gene Telpner was on assignment in the Middle East that long-ago day, but I suspect Val Werier and Hugh Allan were on site. Jack Matheson, too. Matty would have been hunkered down and proofing sports pages in his bunker in the far left corner of the newsroom, opposite the artsy-fartsy department, a domain shared by Telpner, Frank Morriss and Joan Druxman, whose flair for fashion was extraordinary and resonates to this day.
As I soaked it all in, I decided then and there that the Trib newsroom was where I wanted to be. Where I belonged.
It took me 10 months to get up to the fifth floor from the business office, where I handled incoming and outgoing mail, but I made it as a copy runner and, not long after that, Matty had a notion to bring me into the toy department.
I wanted to stay at the Trib for 50 years, but the dark forces at Southam Inc. headquarters in the Republic of Tranna had other ideas and put more than 300 of us out of work, kicking if not screaming, in late-August 1980.
But here I am, half a century after my first day on the job in the rag trade, out of work again but still scribbling about Winnipeg sports, albeit from a distance. Go figure.
I sometimes wonder why I carry on with this carry-on. I mean, it’s not like someone is paying me to put this alphabet soup together, although I suspect some among the rabble might be willing to take up a collection to shut me the hell up, and I can’t say I blame them. The thing is, one of my medics tells me it’s best that I keep my mind busy, and I’m not about to go against someone who gets to stick a needle in me on a whim. So, on doctor’s orders, I look for ways to humor myself at 1:30 in the a.m., and poking fun at sacred cows and media mooks works for moi. I don’t know how long I’ll keep going, but I know the end is closer to 50 days away than another 50 years.
Now that I’ve mentioned mooks, I’m surprised that so many in mainstream media have saluted Bianca Andreescu as the first Canadian to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament. It simply isn’t so. Daniel Nestor won 12 of them in doubles play, and Gabriel Dabrowski has two major titles on her resumé. Ya, ya, I know. Doubles sucks and nobody cares. But a Slam is a Slam is a Slam, and I’m not going to insult Daniel or Gabby by saying their achievements don’t matter.
Here’s something else that gets up my nose: Our flowers of jock journalism wax on about the “greatest moments” in the history of game-playing by True North athletes, and they spew the same names and the same events. The Henderson goal. Sid’s golden goal. Donovan Bailey’s lickety-split at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Mike Weir at the Masters. Joe Carter touching them all. The Tranna Jurassics. And now, of course, Bianca’s victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in the U.S. Open. Which is fine and fitting, except for one glaring omission: None of them ever mention Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal. I don’t know about you, but nothing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics had my heart beating faster than Marie-Philip’s OT goal in Canada’s 3-2 victory over Uncle Sam’s Yankee Doodle Damsels. I still get chills watching the video. Alas, Marie-Philip’s goal fails to get the respect it deserves simply because it’s women’s hockey, which appears on the radar once every four years for most news snoops, and it’s quickly forgotten.
We all have our personal “Where were you when?” moments, and this is my top five in Canadian sports:
1. Paul Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series between the good guys and the Red Menace from Red Square Moscow.
2. Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal.
3. Kenny Ploen’s 18-yard skedadlde in OT to nail down a Grey Cup win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1961.
4. Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen winning curling gold at the Sochi Olympics.
5. Bianca Andreescu beating Williams in Queens, NYC, on Saturday.
Honorable mention: Brooke Henderson winning the Canadian Open golf tournament in 2018.
I try to stay in my lane when it comes to rating the events from a lifetime of watching sports, and that means 1957, or thereabouts, to the present. Anything that happened pre-1957, I don’t have a clue, other than what I’ve read about or watched on grainy, black-and-white film. I suggest young opinionists do the same. If you weren’t even on the breast when Paul Henderson slid a puck under Vladislav Tretiak in 1972, you have no business comparing Bianca’s achievement to that moment. Like, if you weren’t around when John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in Gotham, don’t tell me about Beatlemania. Stay in your lane.
Even veteran jock journos like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna make that mistake. Simmons likes to present himself as a sports historian, and he’s fooled TSN into believing it, but his point of reference can’t start any earlier than 1965, if not later. He tweets, “I choose not to make assertions about athletes I’ve never seen unless they’re Ted Williams or Babe Ruth,” yet he was arrogant enough to compile a list of the National Hockey League’s greatest 100 players. Except he never saw 20 of them play. He added a list of 40 honorable mentions. He never saw 16 of them play. Ergo, the list was a sham.
Here’s what legendary sports scribe Grantland Rice had to say on drawing parallels to events and athletes from one era to another: “Probably the greatest waste of time known to man is the matter of comparing some star or champion with another who lived and played in a different decade.” It’s a trap we all fall into, of course, and I’m convinced that Steffi Graf would kick Serena Williams’ butt six out of every 10 matches. But Ol’ Grantland is likely correct. It’s just that the then-v.-now debate always makes for such good barroom banter.
Best read I’ve had this week is Eric Duhatschek’s piece in The Athletic on Winnipeg Jets young defender Josh Morrissey. Really, really good stuff. If you’re looking for a reason to subscribe to The Athletic, this is it.
On the subject of Josh, why all the fuss last week about him saying he wants to stay in Good Ol’ Hometown for the duration? “I want to be a Jet” screamed a Winnipeg Sun headline, in type size normally reserved for a declaration of war, moon landings or the assassination of JFK. People, people. I agree it’s swell that young Josh wants to stick around, because he does boffo work on the Jets blueline and he seems like the kind of lad you’d want your daughter bringing home for Sunday dinner. But it’s dog-bites-man stuff. It’s not news.
Here’s Josh in May 2018: “I love playing here, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in August 2018: “I love being here. I love playing here. I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in September 2018: “I love playing here and love being a Jet. I hope I can be here for a long time in the future.”
So he repeats what he said three times last year and it warrants a screaming headline? I shudder to think how large the type will be when he actually signs long term.
Speaking of the Winnipeg Sun and headlines, what’s up with that sports front this morning? There are pics of Bianca and hoops guy Kawhi Leonard towering over the CN tower and the Republic of Tranna skyline, with this captioning: “Bianca Andreescu and the Raptors got the country buzzing—and have changed sports forever in Toronto.” Excuse me, but we care about the sports landscape in The ROT why? The article was written by a ROT scribe, Steve Simmons, and aimed at a ROT audience. Neither the column or the cover belong in a River City rag. But it’s just the latest example of Postmedia’s pathetic Torontoization of its newspaper chain, and it sickens me.
I really hope boycotting women’s shinny players are getting on with their lives, because Dani Rylan isn’t in any hurry to shut down her National Women’s Hockey League to make way for an NHL takeover. “I see us as an international league spanning both the U.S. and Canada with a great broadcast deal, the best players in the world, and a fan base that is continuing to grow exponentially,” commish Dani told The Ice Garden. “So I think the options are endless. The future of women’s hockey is incredibly bright.” As for the recently formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Dani reports that “unfortunately, they have refused to communicate with us.” The five teams have 83 players under contract for a fifth season.
Be advised that I scribbled a good portion of this post while groovin’ to the Rolling Stones album BIG HITS (High Tide and Green Grass), which might be the best 12-song, 36-minute set in the history of recorded rock ‘n’ roll. You’ve got Keith’s kick-ass guitar licks, the thumping beat of Charlie’s drum kit, Mick’s snarl and sass, and some of the best, straight-ahead rock songs ever written—Satisfaction, The Last Time, It’s All Over Now, Get Off My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown. Brilliant.
And, finally, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my entry into the rag trade, a quick tip of the bonnet to a few of my all-time faves, news snoops who made the journey more enjoyable and still inspire me: Dave Komosky, with whom I spent a sizable portion of 50 years in the trenches, young Eddie Tait, Knuckles Irving, Shakey Johnson and Ringo Mingo, Big Jim, Greaser, Uncle Tom, the Caveman, Homer, Ketch, Sinch, Swampdog, Scotty Morrison, Trent Frayne, Shaky Hunt, Willie Lever, Downsy, Jon Thordarson, Ronny (Les Lazaruk), Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Marty Falcon, Buzz Currie, Doc Holliday, the Friar, Sod, Pick, Witt, Cactus, Matty, Peter Young, Blackie, Reyn, Joe Pascucci. And thanks to the late Don Delisle for hiring me right out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate.
Tuesday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, in honor of its 35th birthday, I was going to list 35 things I like best about TSN, but I stalled when I couldn’t decide between Kaylyn Kyle’s hair and Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage and his food fight with Tradey…
Once upon a time, those of us who live in the colonies derisively referred to TSN as the Tranna Sports Network because, you know, it was like that old zen koan: If a tree falls outside the Republic of Tranna and there’s no TSN camera crew on site to record it, does the tree actually fall?
But, hey, just look at TSN today. No longer Tranna-centric.
Except, of course, for the daily Drake updates during the NBA season, the daily updates on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits, the daily Where’s Mitch Watch (which is the offspring of last year’s daily Where’s Willy Boy Watch), the daily Mike Babcock speaks-but-says-nothing feature, the daily Vlad the Gifted still isn’t speaking English report, the annual Day Of The Long Faces when they breathlessly and bitterly recount the night Wayne Gretzky used the blade of his hockey stick to part the hair on Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin, and the annual retro look at the Joe Carter dinger.
So, ya, TNS remains on Tranna overload, but at least they now have a camera handy if a tree falls in the colonies. And they even let Sara Orlesky or Farhan Lalji talk about it.
Okay, just kidding. I like TSN. A lot. It’s terrific, flaws and all.
I would rather, for example, listen to their natterbugs on all matters Planet Puckhead as opposed to the squawk boxes on Sportsnet, even if it means staring at O’Dog’s butt crack while he’s brawling over a bagel with Tradey.
I’d like to say the same about the Grid Guys, but they lost me last year when they morphed into teenage groupies with their cringeworthy, Beatlemania-like fawning over their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. By the end of the season, I believe Rod Black and Johnny Rotten were actually dating, although I haven’t been able to confirm it. The Transcona Kid (that’s Blackie) is still gushing over Johnny Train Wreck, so there’ll be more therapy sessions and, hopefully, Dr. Phil can have him detoxed by the time the Canadian Football League playoffs commence.
In the meantime, they’re celebrating 35 years on air, and I’d like to salute TSN with my personal Top 10 Reasons Why I Watch(ed):
10. Jim Van Horne, who let it be known in a recent tweet that he represented ground zero for TSN talking heads. “I was the first commentator hired by TSN. We hit the air 35 years ago today (Sept. 1). First media conference I went to with my TSN blazer was met with ‘what the fuck is TSN?’ I think the question has been answered. I had 17 yrs of fun there. Congrats to those who carry the banner proudly.” I recall golfing with Jim Van Mustache and the late Billy Powers in a charity tournament during the early 1980s, when all three of us worked in Calgary. I swear, at one point Jim was rolling on the ground, literally, in a fit of laughter. It was the funniest 4½ hours of my life.
9. Matt Dunigan. I sometimes wonder if Matty has tossed back a brown pop or two by the time the red light is switched on, but I get a kick out of the “let’s get ‘er done” former quarterback who often forgets that he’s in a TV studio or broadcast booth, not a locker room.
8. Skins. No, I’m not referring to the amount of flesh TSN’s bevy of cover girl teleprompter readers are told to flash. I’m talking curling. The made-for-TV Skins game was introduced in 1986 and it’s been must-see TV for us Pebble People ever since.
7. The women’s World Cup soccer panel of Kaylyn Kyle, Clare Rustad and Diana Matheson. Imagine that. Allowing women to do more than read a teleprompter. They were actually allowed to provide opinion. Strong opinion. So strong, in fact, that apologists for the Yankee Doodle Damsels were squealing in protest. What an overdue concept.
6. Kaylyn Kyle’s hair. Rapunzel ain’t got nothing on our soccer girl. Kaylyn’s mane is longer than a Winnipeg winter. And much prettier, which is okay to say because Kaylyn and her gal pals discussed makeup and girl crushes during the World Cup, so I don’t want to hear from the PC Police.
5. Jeff O’Neill, aka Jeff O’Dog. What can I say, the guy makes me laugh out loud, plumber’s cleavage and all.
4. The CBC did a dirty when it kicked Chris Cuthbert to the curb, but TSN was there to scoop him up, for which all Rouge Football fans should be grateful.
3. The CFL. I’m not sure Rouge Football as we know it would exist today if not for TSN.
2. Vic, Moosie, Russ, Linda and Cheryl. Show me your top game broadcast crew, any sport, and I’ll one-up you with TSN curling’s Vic Rauter, Moosie Turnbull and Linda Moore, followed by the current team of Vic, Hurry Hard Howard and Cheryl Bernard. Moosie’s left us, but he was one of my all-time favorite people, and it’s no coincidence that he called Winnipeg home.
1. James Duthie. As the Pepsi ad said (with the help of Tina Turner), “Simply the best. Better than all the rest.”
(FOOTNOTE: Many thousands of years from now, when archaeologists dig and sift through the ruins of our civilization, they will discover numerous subterranean hideaways full of sports memorabilia, nacho leavings, discarded pizza boxes, empty beer cans, flatscreen TVs the size of a Royal Family dinner table, and scientific proof of intense male bonding between members of the long-lost Jockosaurus species, who thrived in their secluded habitat without female companionship. After carbon dating, they will determine that—YES!—TSN and history’s first Man Cave arrived at the same time, on the same day, Sept. 1, 1984.)
In my previous life as a mainstream jock journo, I surely was guilty of a few sexist scribblings.
It doesn’t matter that it was during a more tolerant time and place. A time and place when we didn’t have the politically correct police parsing every syllable or turn of phrase we produced in print or on air. Even if written with a tongue-in-cheek quill—which it was—or to ruffle feathers—which it did—it still registered as sexist and today would result in a prompt and thorough scolding and scorn on social media. So, yes, guilty as charged.
I am reminded of my past indelicacies because the pungent odor of sexism is again awaft.
Everywhere you look, there is sexism in sports. On TV. On the Internet. In newspapers (what’s left of them). On the playing fields. In changing rooms. And, yes, in the press box. Definitely in the press box.
To believe, or pretend, otherwise is to believe Donald Trump doesn’t really live in the White House.
So, yes, sexism exists, most definitely in professional tennis, as we were reminded in the past two weeks.
Alizé Cornet strips off her tennis top at the back of a court during a U.S. Open match. Code violation. Novak Djokovic and numerous other male players strip off their shirts—multiple times—courtside at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Crickets.
That is an undeniable, undebatable sexist double-standard.
And, quite frankly, what happened to Cornet was, to me, far more offensive and egregious than anything that went down in the U.S. Open women’s final between young champion Naomi Osaka and her bully of an opponent, Serena Williams.
Unless Williams, or any among her mob of angry apologists, had access to chair umpire Carlos Ramos’s inner thoughts last Saturday, they cannot say with any level of certainty that he issued three code violations and docked 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams a game simply because she is a she.
The fact that Williams chose to play the gender card does not make it so.
Williams had been on the uncomfortable receiving end of a good and proper paddywhacking from Osaka when Ramos observed her coach, Patrick Mouratoglu, flashing hand signals from his perch in the viewing pews. For that, Ramos issued a code violation. Cue the sideshow. A racquet-destroying hissy fit earned another reprimand. The hinges were loosening. Branding Ramos a thief and a liar cost Williams a game. Completely undone.
Nothing Ramos did or said suggested sexism was on the table. He was governing the match according to the rule book. Williams—no one else—made gender the issue, on court and during her post-match chin-wag with news snoops.
So, is sexism something we should be discussing today? For sure. But not as it pertains only to tennis, which occupies a very small corner of the sandbox.
Let’s talk about sexism and the sports media.
In the fallout from the Williams meltdown, many opinionists—women and men—have been barking on air, in print and in cyberspace about the evils of sexism in sports, but they’re living in a glass house and throwing stones.
Surely you’ve noticed all the pretty faces and big hair that surface every night and day on TSN and Sportsnet: Jennifer Hedger, Tessa Bonhomme, Kara Wagland, Kate Beirness, Lindsay Hamilton, Natasha Staniszewski, Sara Orlesky, Caroline Cameron, Martine Gaillard, Evanka Osmak…all babes. Talented, but babes nonetheless. They look like they arrive at the studio directly from a Vogue shoot.
Is that by design or accident?
I think we all know the answer to that.
The men, on the other hand…meh. They can have a face like Yogi Berra’s old catcher’s mitt and a body shaped like an igloo and still get the job.
And, of course, the men have all the answers.
A woman is allowed to look pretty and read the teleprompter (stay in your lane, girl) because, you know—hair, cheekbones, eyes, lips, hips, legs and boobs are the only reason she’s there, right? It’s left for the men with their large brains to interpret, break down and make sense of what the woman has just read. The more the woman reads, the more mansplaining there is to be done. Let’s go to the boys on the panel.
Is that sexism? Absolutely.
It’s moderately different on the print side of the sandbox, in that the babe factor isn’t at play. A woman who doesn’t look like Michelle Pfeiffer can still apply. And find work. But she better have game, because there’s an entire world of men out there convinced she doesn’t know a football from a facial.
No one wonders if a male jock journo is a nitwit until he opens his mouth or writes his first article to remove all doubt. Conversely, it’s a given that a woman doesn’t have a clue right from the get-go. And she fights that misguided stereotyping her entire career, otherwise we’d hear more female voices in panel discussions.
Is that sexism? Absolutely.
Basically, sports media in Canada is a man cave and will remain sexist until it’s accepted that women have functioning brains.
Thus, before they tell tennis or any other sport/organization to clean up their back yard, they might want to look at their own first.
If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.
Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.
After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.
Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.
It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.
My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.
There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.
But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.
Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?
Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.
A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.
Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.
So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.
Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…
1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.
Last week in CFL quarterbacking…
It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.
Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?
For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.
And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.
Either Postmedia needs to get Steve Simmons some help, or they need to get rid of him. Immediately.
I mean, only someone struggling with serious inner demons would be so callous and cruel as to recklessly attack a man whose hockey career ended abruptly at age 33 due to blunt force trauma to the head. A man whose many years of post-concussion symptoms included headaches, memory loss, sight impairment, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness and exhaustion. A man who was required to live what he calls a “reverse lifestyle,” sleeping during the day and awakening in the small hours of the night to watch TV alone. A man who was diagnosed by one psychologist as suicidal.
That man is Marc Savard, last seen in the National Hockey League on the night of Jan. 22, 2011, concussed for a sixth time and being gently escorted from the ice surface by teammates after Matt Hunwick of the Colorado Avalanche had layered him into the corner boards with a clean hit.
Only in the last year has Savard begun to see the light again. Literally and figuratively.
Yet, his descent down the deep, lonely, seemingly bottomless rabbit hole didn’t prevent Simmons from making the former Boston Bruins forward the target of a vicious, repugnant attack in a Sunday column that appeared in Postmedia online newspapers nationwide.
“Marc Savard basically disappeared when his career ended in Boston,” Simmons wrote. “Media called. Nobody answered. Now suddenly Savard is a media guy. My advice: If he calls, don’t answer.”
Imagine being so bitter and vindictive simply because someone living on the dark side of life failed to pick up the phone when you called. But, then, drive-by shootings have become Simmons’s sick shtick. I might suggest that it must be bloody awful going through life spewing such undisguised loathing, but it strikes me that it’s his perverted pleasure, something only a woman or man with a PhD in psychology or psychiatry can correct.
He’s also a hypocrite.
In January of this year, on Bell Let’s Talk Day, this is what Simmons tweeted: “Everyone I know has been faced with a problem. His problem. Her problem. A friend. A relative. A colleague. No reason to hide anymore #BellLetsTalk please RT this and keep RTing all day long.”
We now know that sentiment to be as sincere as a politician’s election promise, because here he is skewering a man who was laid low with mental health issues for close to seven years.
I’m uncertain if Simmons has suffered blunt force trauma to the head (it’s a safe bet that he’s been dropped on his head, many times), but I know concussions. I’ve suffered 10 of them. I can relate to every symptom with which Savard has dealt. But I’ll allow him to tell you about it.
“I had these terrible headaches, and any loud noise or bright light was…I mean, it’s almost indescribable,” Savard wrote in a revealing article for The Players’ Tribune in May last year. “If you’ve never had a concussion, I don’t know if words can do the feeling justice. Every little noise is like nails on a chalkboard, and you feel this dread so deep down inside your body.
“So I pretty much lived a reverse lifestyle. I was in bed all day with the blinds closed, in total darkness, in total silence. Then I would get up at 11 p.m. and watch TV on mute, with the brightness turned way down. If somebody called to check on me, I didn’t want to talk. I can’t really explain it, but everything seemed so…what’s the word?
“I guess the word is daunting. Just the thought of talking to a friend on the phone seemed like a huge mental and almost physical effort. I was so irritable because of my symptoms that it was hard to be around people—even the people I loved.”
In a November 2016 interview with the Boston Globe, Savard had said much the same: “There was a couple of years there where I kind of went off the radar, but it was only because I wanted to get my health back and get everything straightened out.”
Yet Simmons’s massive ego is bruised because Savard doesn’t have him on speed dial. Boo freaking hoo.
Simmons is a disgrace and should be an embarrassment to Postmedia and TSN. He glorifies a convicted woman-beater—former boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.—and he eagerly advocates the signing of a confessed woman-beater—Johnny Manziel—to a Canadian Football League contract, yet he discredits Canada’s medal-winning Olympic curlers and figure skaters in the most-dismissive and derisive of terms. And now this, bullying a man once laid low by mental health challenges who’s finally finding his way back and doing the odd gig on Sportsnet.
Simmons often crosses the line of fair comment, but the Savard attack is so far out of bounds, so repulsive and gasp-inducing that it suggests he needs to be saved from himself.
If so, get him the help he requires. If not, how in hell does he keep his job?
Editor’s Note: I vowed I wasn’t going to write this blog anymore. I was fini. I mean, it’s not like my voice is essential, or that I expect my views to sway opinion. The sports universe can, and will, unfold as it should with or without my two cents worth. But geez Louise, the media mooks have gotten to me. I can no longer ignore them. So I’m back. Sort of. Kind of. This might be a one-off. But I doubt it.
Quiz me this, kids: If a sports writer doesn’t appear to enjoy sports or many of the athletes who play kids’ games, should he be writing about sports and the athletes who play kids’ games?
I agree. He shouldn’t be.
So why hasn’t anyone at Postmedia told Steve Simmons it’s time to sack his bats and go quietly into the night? Maybe find a hobby that doesn’t involve character crucifixion. I mean, the Tranna-based opinionist has fallen into a mosh pit of insulting, callous, demeaning, shameful, dismissive, bitter, unnecessary name-calling commentary. He doesn’t offer opinion so much as he delivers nasty. He isn’t a writer. He’s a hit man.
His latest victims are a fledgling, 19-year-old college kid and a group of amateur athletes who hold down daytime jobs and actually lose money in pursuit of sporting achievement and glory.
The college kid is Cale Makar, who, for reasons yet to be disclosed, reportedly declined an invitation to join the Canadian men’s hockey outfit for a few weeks of frolic at next month’s Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. For this, Simmons, without knowledge of the wherefore and why of Makar’s decision, calls the teenager “a damned fool.” It doesn’t matter if the young defenceman’s determination was based on counsel from his parents, his college leaders or his agent. Apparently a Postmedia columnist knows best. So the kid’s a “damned fool.”
Imagine that. Steve Simmons: Life coach. Who knew? And how utterly objectionable.
But there’s more.
Not satisfied with discrediting a teenager, the Postmedia mouthpiece has also put mixed doubles curling in his crosshairs. Admittedly a quirky event, it debuts as an Olympic discipline in PyeongChang, much to Simmons’ huffy disapproval.
“It’s a recreational pursuit,” he harrumphs from his soapbox of sourpuss stirrings.
“The winner of the men’s and women’s downhill at PyeongChang will get the same gold medal as the winners in mixed doubles curling. Doesn’t sit well with me,” he adds.
Well, excuse our Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris all to hell. The nerve of those two Olympic champions, turning a “recreational pursuit” into an Olympic dream. And, hey, it’ll be such bad manners if they earn the top step on the podium in South Korea and accept gold medals. Can’t have that in the world according to Steve Simmons. Daredevils of the downhill ski slopes are gold-worthy. The curlers? They’re lesser-thans. Give ’em trinkets made of tin foil, right Stevie?
Simmons is such a prig. His commentary is mean in spirit and gratuitous in nature and has become chronic.
On Olympic champion Rosie MacLennan: “She competes in a rather marginal pursuit: Trampoline. When you think Canadian sport, winter or summer, trampoline seems more backyard and gimmicky than it does Olympian.”
As for individuals, Kevin Durant is “gutless,” Venus Williams is “92 years old,” Marcus Stroman is an “annoying kid” who needs to “grow up,” Brooke Henderson also needs to “grow up,” John Farrell is a “traitor,” Phil Kessel is petty and “small,” Roger Goodell is a “flim-flam” man, Chad Ochocinco is a “big mouth,” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
None of that is necessary, and the steady outpouring of gratuitous cheap shots should be an embarrassment to Simmons and Postmedia.
But no. He insists on wrapping himself in the robes of the villain scribe, assuming them to be garments of honor in a profession that supposedly values the tell-it-like-it-is posturing of the late Howard Cosell. Well, there’s nothing honorable about Simmons’ contrarian shtick. He doesn’t write with the skill, the cheek, the witty irreverence, the knowledge, or the delicate touch of those who came before him or many of his peers today. He comes at the reader with the sledgehammer of the unpolished practitioner, and it’s become tawdry, tiresome and tedious.
And nobody at Postmedia has noticed this? Damned fools.