The Elliotte Friedman Flub: Will the sports media cut athletes the same kind of slack?

So, Elliotte Friedman had a Bill Buckner d’oh moment.

He didn’t simply stumble in his clumsy call of the men’s 200-meter individual medley final on Thursday at the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. He performed a full-on face plant into the compost heap. Misidentifying Michael Phelps and declaring Ryan Lochte the gold-medal winner when, in fact, the latter finished a distant fifth is as bad a broadcasting blunder as you’re apt to hear.

What I find interesting, however, is the fallout to Friedman’s epic faux pas.

Elliotte Friedman
Elliotte Friedman

Basically, the CBC gab guy has been given a get-out-of-jail-free card. From 95 per cent of tweeters. And, more notably, from 100 per cent of his brethren in the toy department of Canada’s Fourth Estate. The prevailing theme seems to be, “Hey, stuff happens. Nothing to see here, folks. Let’s move along.”

That would be fine, except for one thing—sports scribes/chin-waggers are the first to brandish the pitchforks and torches whenever a professional athlete, coach, manager, commissioner (hello, Roger Goodell) or team owner stubs a toe.

Glossing over the Friedman Flub, as they have, is hypocrisy unharnessed.

I realize that jock journalists, most notably in the print stable, are loath to eat their own, and I’m not advocating the kicking of a good man when he’s down. But if they’re going to pick Friedman up, dust him off, smooth his clothing and apply salve to his emotional owies, should they not extend similar sympathies and kindnesses to the athletes they write and talk about?

We won’t hold our breath waiting for that to happen, though, will we?

Hey, I feel for Friedman, because once upon a time I was in the media. I know the demands and the stress levels. So I get it. The thing is, some have gone to ridiculous extremes in rallying ’round their crestfallen and contrite colleague.

A Dave Shoalts column in the Globe and Mail provides an example of the sugar coating.

Twenty-two minutes after that horrendous miscue, in which he confused gold-medal winner Michael Phelps for his fellow American swimmer Ryan Lochte for the entire race, Friedman went back to the CBC microphone and delivered a solid play-by-play call of Penny Oleksiak’s historic gold-medal win for Canada.”

Excuse me? Solid play-by-play? Friedman mistakenly referred to Oleksiak as Emily Overholt. But Shoalts added yet more sweetness, submitting the gaffe was a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Spare me.

Whatever became of telling it like it is in sports? Friedman screwed up. Royally. Not once but twice. And the fact he immediately delivered a mea culpa on air and on Twitter doesn’t erase that reality. Fact is, he had no choice but to apologize during the broadcast. I mean, he had the wrong guy winning the race, for cripes sake.

Some look at the kid-gloves handling of the Friedman Flub as a ripe example of us being a kinder, gentler, more polite people. Road apples! Imagine the reaction had this been an American broadcaster bungling the call of a race featuring two Canadian swimmers. We’d freak out. It would be Harold Reynolds revisited.

Billl Buckner's d'oh moment.
Billl Buckner’s d’oh moment.

Look, Elliotte Friedman has been a solid reporter for more than two decades and oft has served as the voice of reason when natterbugs Glenn Healy and P.J. Stock were speaking no known language on Hockey Night in Canada.

Does his Olympics gaffe undo a lifetime of quality work? No. But this might stick to him like infamy has stuck to Bill Buckner. Few remember that Buckner had 2,715 base hits and batted .300 or better seven times during his lengthy Major League Baseball career. For Buckner, it always comes back to a baseball dribbling through his legs in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Hopefully, Friedman will be more fortunate than Buckner and his gaffe won’t become his Mary’s Little Lamb. Whatever the case, the next time one of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism has the urge to cut an athlete a new butthole, I hope he/she remembers how they cut Friedman large slack.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.

 

About Ed Tait’s defection…poaching Kirk Penton…abuse of female sports scribes…anonymous comments…and the Winnipeg Sun developing CFL executives

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

Ladies and gentleman, from the department of “Things You Thought You’d Never See,” I give you Ed Tait, once believed to be a newspaper lifer and now the official deliverer of glad tidings for those whacky practitioners of pigskin pratfalls—the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Oh, yes, my main man Eddie has gone over to the dark side of the moon. He is now one of them.

Ed Tait
Ed Tait

No more will readers of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section delight in Tait’s superb-yet-quirky brand of reportage, whereby his detailing of the daily tribulations of the Bombers and Winnipeg Jets was thorough, thoughtful and measured, and also often would include colorful descriptives that made reference to male body parts (read: gonads, cojones), passing gas, cans of whup-ass and bubbles of snot.

Tait has departed the rag trade and now is the exalted Director of Content for all things Blue Bombers on the Canadian Football League club’s website, which means, one supposes, that we’ll be reading not so much about cojones, farting, whup-ass and snot bubbles anymore.

It also means the newspaper business has lost a good one. Check that: It has lost one of the best.

I was privileged to have had a front row seat in Eddie’s evolution from pup reporter with hair to the big dog with a chrome dome. And make no mistake, he was the big dog on the Bombers beat, for both the Freep and the Winnipeg Sun, where he got his start just in time to witness the rarest of the rare—a Grey Cup celebration painted in Blue and Gold. That was more than a quarter century, about three dozen starting quarterbacks, one heart transplant (Cal Murphy), one biker head coach (Jeff Reinebold) and a whole lot of Bob Marley tunes ago.

Other than play-by-play voice Bob (Knuckles) Irving, I don’t suppose anyone has been as tuned in to the Bombers as Tait since that last Grey Cup crusade in 1990, so it makes sense that the deep-thinkers in the ivory tower at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would want him on board to trumpet their message. It can’t hurt to have the city’s top sports scribe/reporter preaching your version of the gridiron gospel, right?

Does this mean that Tait has sold out? Piffle. You will hear not but favorable natterings about Eddie taking his bon mots to the Big Blue side of town.

I’m convinced he’ll still be delivering the good stuff and, quite frankly, with his hands on the wheel, bluebombers.com quickly will become the go-to destination for the inside word on all issues Blue Bombers. For one thing, he’ll have something that none among the mainstream news scavengers has—uninhibited access to coaches and players. And he’ll know what to do with it. Eddie is in a position to unzip some lips, so perhaps now we’ll actually get to know the athletes on a more personal level, rather than be fed nothing but bland, stock-in-trade sound bites.

This is a huge (Eddie would call it ginormous) win for the Bombers and a huge (ginormous) loss for the Freep and newspapers.

Good on you, Eddie.

fish wrapTait’s is the second significant defection from the Free Press toy department in the past seven months. Earlier, of course, columnist Gary Lawless flew the coop for the bright lights of TSN, although his departure left a void that has been filled seamlessly, comfortably and competently mainly by Paul Wiecek, who, by any measurement, is a much better writer and columnist. The loss of Tait is a different head of lettuce, though. Freep sports boss Steve Lyons can put somebody in his place, but nobody can replace Tait. Unless, that is, Lyons were to poach Kirk Penton from the Sun/Postmedia. That’s what I’d be attempting to do. My guess, however, is that the Freep will operate on the cheap and promote from within.

Interesting piece this week by Wiecek about the abuse heaped upon female sports reporters via social media channels like Twitter. It’s disgraceful. It’s also one of the main reasons I now confine my scribbling to my own blog rather than write for other websites. I control the comments on my blog. If someone wishes to challenge my position on an issue, go for it. We’ll have a discussion. But if he (it’s always a he) can’t do it without making crude references to my body parts that rhyme with the words “bits” and “runt” his voice shall not be heard. It should be about what is written, not whether the writer has a penis or vagina.

Got a kick out of one of the comments that accompanied the Wiecek piece on sexual harassment on social media. A reader wrote: “Anonymous soapboxes are the death of civilized society. I would gladly pay double for my FP subscription if the paper did away with anonymous comments. Remove them altogether, or use real names.” And, naturally, he didn’t use his real name. Unless Graymalkin is his real name.

Say what you will about the Winnipeg Sun, it doesn’t win any National Newspaper Awards but it sure develops top-drawer talent for the CFL. Not only is Ed Tait now the exalted Director of Content for bluebombers.com, but Mike Petrie is entering his fifth season as assistant general manager with the Calgary Stampeders. Both are former Sun sports scribes.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.

What are the Winnipeg Jets afraid of…Big Buff a man of many words…no Sun in Twang Town…and a non-diving Dane

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

It’s almost Groundhog Day. Does that mean Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff is about to poke his head out of his hiding hole and do something? Or say something?

chevy
Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

That would be refreshing, since the man who does Saint Mark Chipman’s bidding hasn’t done or said much of anything since shuffling Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian off to Buffalo. For those of you keeping score at home, that was almost 365 days ago.

Chevy is the Howard Hughes of National Hockey League general managers. A recluse. He is the anti-John Ferguson.

When Fergy was at the wheel during the Winnipeg Jets’ initial whirl in the NHL, he took ownership of his deeds. Good (hello, Dale Hawerchuk) or bad (hello, Jimmy Mann). He didn’t hide from the faithful or news scavengers. From the moment he arrived in River City from Gotham until the day he was asked to leave, Fergy was up front and loud. His was the face and voice of the franchise.

What we now have with Cheveldayoff and the present-day Jets is complete non-accountability.

If there is a face and/or voice to this franchise, I can’t see it or hear it. No one can. Cheveldayoff says less than a street mime. The Winnipeg Sun recently requested an audience with the Grand Master for its three-part, state-of-the-union series on the Jets and was told, “Sorry, no can do. Chevy’s too busy doing stuff that is none of your business or anybody else’s business.”

That is so lame.

What I find myself wondering is this: Is Cheveldayoff standoffish by nature, or is he under some sort of gag order issued by team co-bankroll Saint Mark? I mean, it’s one thing for Chipman to operate a secretive society that suckles at the public teat in the form of tax advantages/subsidies and gaming revenue, but this isn’t about True North Sports & Entertainment profits. It’s about a hockey team, one in which the community has invested deeply, whether through ticket/merchadise sales or emotions. What is he afraid of?

If Chipman hasn’t instructed Cheveldayoff to keep his lips zipped, what is the GM afraid of?

Answering a few questions in advance of a looming NHL trade deadline ought not be an option. It ought to be an obligation.

big buff
Big Buff

On a similar theme, it was interesting to read dispatches from this weekend’s NHL all-star hijinks in Twang Town, Tennessee, because we discovered a side of Dustin Byfuglien seldom, if ever, seen in Winnipeg. Turns out Big Buff is humorous, witty, glib and an all-round nice guy who seemingly enjoyed his 25-minute parry-and-thrust with hockey scribes on media day. That Nashville scene, of course, would never take place in River City, because the Jets are so freakish about controlling the message that they shield their players from prying eyes and ears. News scavengers aren’t granted the opportunity or time to get to know players like Byfuglien as people and, by extension, Joe and Josephine Phan are also left out of the loop. Shame, that.

Not surprisingly, the Big Buff chin wag referenced his contract negotiations with the Jets. The all-star rearguard and pending free agent was asked point blank if his desire was to remain in Winnipeg, and, while he had some favorable comments about good, ol’ Hometown, part of his reply likely left a few in Jets Nation a tad uneasy. “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.” He didn’t say a Jets jersey. Apparently, any NHL jersey will do. He later said, “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, but business is business.” Reminds me of the answer Evander Kane delivered in July 2014 when Team 1040 Radio in Vancouver quizzed him on his status with the Jets: “Well, I think, um, I’m a Winnipeg Jet right now and, um, you know there’s been speculation and rumors for the three years since I got there. You know, we’ll see what happens, and we’ll carry on as if I’m a Winnipeg Jet.” We all know how that ended.

Sad, but not surprising, that there’s no Winnipeg Sun presence in Nashville. The tabloid was served by the Toronto-based Michael Traikos of Postmedia and Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun. Get used to it, people. Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Free Press has its own man, Tim Campbell, on site. Score one for the Freep.

Best reads this week were delivered by the Freep’s Paul Wiecek, whose piece on Saint Mark Chipman is superb. It’s Wiecek at his best and a prime example that the Free Press is well-served with him in the columnist’s seat. Meanwhile, the much-maligned John Scott told it like it is in a Players Tribune article that offers insight and humanizes one of the NHL’s dying breed—the enforcer.

Tell me if this is coincidence or an attitude adjustment: On Jan. 7, the NHL dinged Nikolaj Ehlers $2,000 for diving/embellishment. It meant he was a repeat offender. To that point in time, the diving Dane had scored six goals and 13 points in 40 games. Since the NHL dipped into his pay envelope, the Jets freshman winger has scored six goals and collected nine points in nine games. Apparently, Ehlers has concluded that staying on his feet is more productive than flopping around like a European soccer player. Skating alongside linemates not named Chris Thorburn likely helps, too.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 in 2015.

 

Winnipeg, the last two-paper town in the West…how Shakey Johnson got his name…promotion for Kirk Penton…and a long overdue induction for Dave Komosky

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

Once we get past the handwringing, the gnashing of the teeth and the anger/bitterness of journos across the land in the aftermath this week’s Postmedia print purge, what are readers of newspapers left with? This: Winnipeg is the sole two-paper town west of the Republic of Tranna.

Oh, sure, Postmedia continues to print both a broadsheet and a tabloid in Vancouver (Sun and Province), Edmonton (Sun and Journal) and Calgary (Sun and Herald), but this is a classic case of a one being dressed up as a two. If the deep-thinkers in one newsroom determine what is to occupy the space between the display ads of both dailies in those three bergs, it is one newspaper, no matter how it is packaged.

peg papersThink of this as beer. If you pour half a bottle of Molson Canadian into a mug and the other half into a tall, thin glass, you’re still drinking the same beer. Tastes the same, just looks different.

So it shall be in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Rather than two competing journalists chasing the same story and, hopefully, delivering different slants, you now shall have one reporter with no urgency to get the scoop and no fear of being beaten by the opposition. There is no opposition. No alternative voice.

Which makes Pegtown a unique market in the western flank of the nation.

The puppeteers at Postmedia pull the strings for the Winnipeg Sun, while FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership bows to its own master in publishing the Winnipeg Free Press. Unlike others in the Postmedia collective, the two Pegtown sheets are not Siamese twins, joined at the head. They are in competition, which serves the greater need, even though the end result each day might not always satiate the appetite of readers.

What I am left to wonder is how much Winnipeg will remain in the Sun.

Although not included in this week’s carnage, which involved the merging of newsrooms at eight dailies (the Ottawa Sun and Citizen being the others) and the kicking to the curb of 90 journalists, the after shocks were felt in River City.

Ted Wyman remains sports editor at the Sun. Sort of. He keeps the job title, but some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.?

My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.

Take curling as an e.g. It is the third biggest beat at the two River City dailies, behind only the Jets and Bombers. But will there be a Winnipeg Sun presence at next month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta.? Not likely. Thus, no local angle, even though there shall be two Toba teams in the event. The Brier, meanwhile, is in Ottawa. Will we be reading Manitoba-centric dispatches from Paul Friesen, Ken Wiebe or the aforementioned Wyman, or generic puff from a Bytown scribe?

I fear the worst, and all this because Postmedia bit off more than it could chew when it purchased Sun Media’s English-language properties last spring.

As mentioned, Wyman is not out of work. He becomes part of the Sun’s bare-bones stable of scribes, replacing Kirk Penton, an elite reporter who has been anointed the Postmedia chain’s national writer for all things Canadian Football League. Coverage of the Bombers shouldn’t suffer in terms of quantity, but quality will take a hit because Penton is the best in the business.

After scribbling a piece about George (Shakey) Johnson the other day, it occurred to me that most folks don’t know the story behind the deposed Calgary Herald sports columnist’s nickname. We don’t call him Shakey because he’s a nervous Nellie with constant jitters. It’s due to his golf game. Back in the 1970s, you see, a few of us from the Winnipeg Tribune sports department would gather for a round of golf on occasion. The cast would rotate, but it generally involved Caveman Dutton, Greaser Drinnan, Swampdog Rauw, Davey Boy Komosky, Shakey and myself. Shakey played a neat-and-tidy game of golf. He struck the ball straight and true, although not far, and we actually witnessed a hole-in-one from him one day at Tuxedo. But he could not sink a putt inside three feet to save his life. He had the yips on the green. After one astonishing display of unparalleled hopelessness with the blade, we retreated to the pub, whereby Caveman Dutton and I commenced to calling him Shakey. The name stuck.

Big night for my longtime friend and colleague Dave Komosky, who joins the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honour at their 60th annual awards dinner at the Delta Hotel. As I scribbled a few weeks ago, it’s a long overdue honor. I only wish I could be there to hear his acceptance speech. I have a feeling Davey Boy is going to put some people on the BBQ.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 in 2015.

It’s -30- on Shakey Johnson’s sports writing career…say it ain’t so, Postmedia

Scant years after the 20th century had arrived at its midway mark, author Truman Capote appeared on the television show Open End, whereupon he lashed out at the Beat Generation of American writers who delivered notable works in the 1950s.

“None of these people have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Jack Kerouac,” he told host David Susskind. “It isn’t writing at all. It’s typing.”

Whether his was an accurate appraisal of the scribblings of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke and others among the Beat wordsmiths is, of course, open to interpretation, but the core of Capote’s critique is unassailable: Some people write, others just type.

I am reminded of the In Cold Blood author’s quote due to the blood-letting that has taken place this week on the sinking ships we know as daily newspapers in Canada.

georgejohnson
George (Shakey) Johnson

Included in the Postmedia carnage that killed competition in four major cities and left approximately 90 people out of work was George (Shakey) Johnson, whose poetic way with words has graced sports sheets across the nation ever since he walked out of a Red River Community College classroom and into the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom in the 1970s.

Shakey Johnson doesn’t type. He writes.

Which makes the Postmedia resolve to deep-six him not simply callous and cold-hearted but mystifying in the extreme.

I mean, it’s one thing to merge the two newsrooms of supposedly competing papers in each of four bergs in the True North, which Postmedia has done in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, but surely the fallout from fiscal folly ought not to include your best and brightest people.

Shakey Johnson is among the best. And brightest. Still.

Shakey is unlike any sports scribe I have known, something I recognized early, when we were both novices learning our trade at the knee of Jack Matheson at the Trib. He would prattle on about his fave jocks like Ali and Jack Nicklaus, with the odd genuflection toward Davey Keon and Italian fitba, but he really got off on the theatre and movies. He was as apt to work Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton or Judy Garland and Streisand into a lede as Wayne Gretzky or Lanny McDonald. And don’t even think about getting him started on Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes was, is and always will be his main man.

That’s what makes Shakey special, at least to my way of thinking. It isn’t all about pucks and pigskins and point guards. He comes at sports writing from a different angle. He’s both high-end and high-brow. And he does it with such elequence and knock-’em-dead dry wit.

It’s why, as sports editor at the Calgary Sun in the early 1980s, I lured him away from our sister paper in Edmonton and installed him as our National Hockey League beat writer, his main focus being the Flames. I knew Shakey would deliver the same sterling stuff I’d read in the Trib and Winnipeg Sun, where he was among the plucky rogues and rebels who brought a newspaper to life out of the Tribune ashes.

That Postmedia cannot see this same talent is mind-boggling.

Sure, go ahead and merge the Calgary Herald and Sun newsrooms. Kill the competition. But do not kill the quality.

Shakey Johnson has been a chronicler of Calgary sports for more than three decades, first at the Sun then the Herald, and he’s done it with unparalleled polish. His choice of wording is as his choice of wardrobe—impeccable. Thus, it is most discouraging and disheartening to think he’s arrived at the end of the ride because some suit doesn’t know a noun from a nincompoop. Shakey still has so much more to share. Surely we haven’t seen the last of Sinatra, Streisand or Sir Laurence in the lede of a sports story.

If it is over for Shakey, I offer another Truman Capote quote: “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

I don’t know what inner music Shakey hears when he writes, but what I’ve always heard in reading his words is a beautiful symphony.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 in 2015.