The River City Renegade


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Shawn Barber can come out and be out on his own terms

Life is full of little surprises that sometimes feel like an ambush. Like when you realize you’re gay or transgender. What do you do now?

Coming out is seldom, if ever, easy.

It’s like there are two of you, one sitting on each shoulder, and both are engaged in push-me-pull-you mental gymnastics that can be crippling, if not paralyzing.

Shawn Barber

The positive of the two yous is determined to push you out of the closet, trying to sway you with comforting assurances that family, friends, co-workers, classmates and everyday acquaintances will welcome and embrace the gay you with inviting arms and adoring smiles.

“It’ll be safe,” she whispers. “You have nothing to worry about. You’ll be free and the world will finally see the true you. They’ll love you.”

Yet, just as you are about to step out, the other you pulls you back with words of caution, if not scare tactics: “Leave this closet,” she says, waving a red flag, “and you will be rejected, degraded, humiliated, bullied, sullied and maybe even beaten up. Is that what you really want your life to become?”

It is as I have written: Discovering yourself is the interesting part, accepting yourself is the hard part, revealing yourself is the frightening part that goes bump in the night.

It would be helpful, of course, were there a How-To Manual for Coming Out. We could simply turn to the appropriate chapter and, presto, we’re out and we’re proud gay, lesbian and transgender women, men and children. Life goes on tickety-boo. Except it isn’t quite as simple as picking up a copy of Popular Mechanics to learn how to change the oil on your SUV.

There is no right way to come out. There is no wrong way, either, although my personal experience taught me that the right and wrong of coming out is very much left to interpretation.

I advised those closest to me in a lengthy late-night email and, as I was to discover from a dear friend who has since basically disappeared from my life, it was callous, insensitive, hurtful and ill-timed. How dare I not advise her before all others, and how thoughtless of me to dump such naked honesty on her when she was dealing with her own level of personal strife.

“We had a special relationship,” she reminded me in an accusatory tone a number of years later, at our first get-together after the fact. “You should have told me first.”

“We have to do this in our own way and on our own timetable,” I tried to explain in an unflinching way that, I suppose, might have come across as clinical and unfeeling. “Each of us is different. We find our own way. We feel when the time is right, then we do it and expect the worst but hope for the best.”

Is there an element of selfishness in all that. By definition, absolutely. You are foremost and uppermost. Yet you also acknowledge that others might be wounded, which only adds more uncertainty to the original, push-me-pull-you pile of confusion.

It doesn’t end there, either.

Now that you’re out, are you supposed to behave and talk a certain way? That is, do you now immerse yourself into the gay collective and become a mouthpiece and advocate for the gay rights cause? Or do you simply go about the business of being you? Again, that’s an individual choice.

This past April, world champion and Olympic pole vaulter Shawn Barber came out in 54 words on his Facebook page. He was gay and he was proud. Nothing more to see here. Let’s move on.

“A person has the right to say as little or as much as they want about their orientation,” observed Jim Buzinski on the website Outsports.

Agreed.

But wait. Here we are three months later and the other main scribe at Outsports, Cyd Zeigler, has scolded Barber, who, at the recent Canadian track and field championships, told the Toronto Star that his being gay is “something that shouldn’t be a big deal.”

“Declaring to the world that you’re gay—even if it was in desperately early morning hours—then going into hiding is hardly the behavior of a champion,” Zeigler wrote in a gratuitous bullying, attack piece. “Barber, instead, has cringed. For whatever reason, he has decided that the whole ‘gay thing’ isn’t a necessary part of his identity as an athlete. So he’s pulled back. He’s stayed silent. No, even worse, he has belittled his own coming out.”

Zeigler has since softened his stance and rewritten the article, but his original remarks make it abundantly clear that Barber has let down the team, so to speak, and they serve as a classic example of not only a writer going well over the line of fairness in commentary but also of gays eating their own.

Coming out is hard enough and Shawn Barber is doing it his way, same as Zeigler did it his way and I did it my way. Expecting us to be anything more than who we are is not only unfair, it flies in the face of what gays desire more than anything from society—to be accepted unconditionally for who we are.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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Winnipeg Jets: No more excuses for head coach Paul Maurice

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

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Well, now that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and once-inert general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have addressed two of the Winnipeg Jets’ specific wants and needs, guess where the focus shifts? That’s right, Mr. .500 standing behind the bench. It’s squarely on you.

Paul Maurice

You know that annoying laundry list of excuses that you made a habit of trotting out during the Jets’ latest crusade that ended, once again, without a playoff whisker sprouting from your players’ chinny, chin-chins? Sorry, but whinging about the schedule, injuries, youth and the price of petrol won’t cut it anymore. Probably not even with mainstream news snoops, a number of whom actually bought your bunk.

Time to deliver the goods, Coach Potty Mouth.

You’ve got your goaltender and, even though I don’t expect Steve Mason to be the second coming of Terry Sawchuk, I’m guessing (hoping?) that he and the work in progress known as Connor Hellebuyck won’t be the second coming of Pokey and the Bandit either.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Pokey and the Bandit, Coach Potty-Mo. Two interesting, young dudes from the back half of the 1980s. One, Daniel Berthiaume, was mostly a cheery sort and the other, Eldon (Pokey) Reddick, had a tendency toward the sullen, with gusts up to sourpuss. Together, they combined to provide Winnipeg Jets 1.0 with the sort of goaltending that will cost a National Hockey League coach his job. Matter of fact, two head coaches and one GM drew pink slips during their tour of duty in the blue ice.

So, no Coach Potty-Mo, you don’t want your tandem of Mason-Hellebuyck to be Pokey and the Bandit II.

But, again, even if they bottom out, it’s going to be on you and your system(s).

Meanwhile, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy added one-vowel-short-of-a-full-load Dmitry Kulikov to shore up the left side of your blueline brigade. They’re telling you he’s an upgrade on Mark Stuart. You might not agree, given your fascination with greybeards of sketchy skill, but a left flank of Josh Morrissey, Toby Enstrom and Kulikov sounds better to me than Morrissey-Enstrom-Stuart.

On the down side, Coach Potty-Mo, they took away your favorite play thing, Chris Thorburn. I’m not convinced that means you’ll be less of a street busker with your forward combinations—your juggling Thorbs from fourth to first line and the two slots in between truly was annoying—because you’re apt to adopt a new teacher’s pet to infuriate the faithful.

You have your way of doings things, curious as they are, Mr. .500. They’ve seldom worked, but now they must work. If there are no meaningful matches being contested at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next April, you’re the fall guy.

Still no contract extension for Maurice, whose lifeline has been reduced to one more season as the ice-level puppet master. Not that I think he deserves a new deal, but Cheveldayoff repeatedly insists that he and his head coach are joined at the hip. So what’s the hangup? Could it be that the Puck Pontiff has grown iffy about Coach Potty-Mo? Naw. He won’t let Maurice go into the season as a lame duck. I say it gets done this month.

Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer celebrate the iconic goal.

I get a chuckle out of young people who weren’t even an embryo in 1972 telling those of us who were there that their goal in 2010 was more iconic than our goal. Our goal, of course, is Paul Henderson sliding a shot under Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, in a hostile, corrupt environment a world away to win a signature, culture-shifting series that was as much about politics as pucks. Their goal is Sidney Crosby whipping a shot through Ryan Miller’s legs to win an Olympic gold medal against a southern neighbor in front of friends and family in the cozy confines of our own back yard. Only someone who lived both can compare both, and there is no comparison. Yet Emily Sadler of Sportsnet submits that Crosby’s 2010 golden goal is the most iconic moment in Canadian sports history. I submit that Emily is showing her age.

Among other things, Sadler allows that the Crosby goal has earned “Where were you when…” status. I’ve got news for her. I don’t have a clue where I was or what I was doing when the red light behind Miller flashed. But I do know that I was sitting in my living room on Wayoata Street in Transcona, with my young son Tony on my lap, when Foster Hewitt yelped, “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

I get the drill. The Sadler piece was meant to stir conversation and debate, which it no doubt did. But, geez, someone at Sportnet might have clued in and had a writer who was at least knee high to Yvan Cournoyer in ’72 scribble that story. A 30something simply cannot relate to the Cold War intrigue of the times, any more than they can provide a first-hand account of what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived on our shores. Heck, most of them don’t even know who John, Paul, George and Ringo are.

How intense was the eight-game, us-vs.-them ’72 series between our guys and the Soviet Union? Here’s what Team Canada leader Phil Esposito offered years after the fact: “I’ve said this publicly and I’m not too proud of it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have killed those sons of bitches to win. And it scares me.” Can you imagine Crosby saying that about the Americans? After losing the opening skirmish, 7-3, head coach Harry Sinden detected a shift in attitude among the Canadian players. “They switched to a war mentality,” he said. “They understood the politics at play, the Cold War backdrop. Imagine a team playing the Germans in the middle of World War II—that’s what it was like.”

Moving to present-day topics, I note that a group of 40 guys in Buffalo have set a new world record for marathon shinny by playing an 11-day hockey game. Yes, 11 days. By happy coincidence, Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane has now gone 11 days without being in trouble with the law.

Just wondering: Would you want a field goal kicker who’s last name begins with the letters C-R-A-P? That’s what the Saskatchewan Roughriders have in Tyler Crapigna, whose wonky right leg has failed Gang Green twice when they needed it most. The Riders are already 0-2 on a new Canadian Football League season, leaving us to wonder what the before/after is on head coach Chris Jones being asked to leave that swanky, new building on the bald Saskatchewan prairie? I say he’s gone by Labour Day, especially if he doesn’t find a leg that aims straight.

Theoren Fleury

For those of you puzzled because Theoren Fleury isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, here’s the reason in his own words (from his book, Playing with Fire, in which he details his alcohol and drug addiction, his womanizing, his heavy gambling and his bar brawling): “The whole league reacted to my leaving the way you would feel after having a big, happy dump. There were a lot of guys like me in the game, but they didn’t want anyone to know that. My presence kept the bad news on the front of the sports pages. Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock, and I was really fucking with that image.”

Here’s proof that sports scribes carry no influence on the public: Steve Simmons of Postmedia pleaded with his readers to support the Toronto Argonauts prior to their home-opener vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats, writing: “Please, pretty please, pretty, pretty please, buy a ticket and take in the game against Hamilton.” Let’s ignore the deeper issue, that being a prominent Canadian columnist serving as a screaming shill for the Argos and the CFL. I’m actually okay with that because, like Simmons and most others who have covered three-down football, I love the CFL. As for Simmons’ sway with readers, the head count was only 13,583 for the opener and even less, 11,219, for their encore performance against the B.C. Lions. He has more than five times that many followers on Twitter.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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My morning take…

This morning’s Stanley Cup soundtrack:

Sidney Crosby—Ramble On (Led Zeppelin)
Pittsburgh Penguins—We Are the Champions (Queen)
Alex Ovechkin—(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones)
Washington Capitals—Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin)
Ryan Getzlaf—Get It While You Can (Janis Joplin)
Anaheim Ducks—Feelin’ Alright (Joe Cocker)
P.K. Subban—I Walk the Line (Johnny Cash)
Nashville Predators—Hotel California (The Eagles)
Erik Karlsson—A Well Respected Man (The Kinks)
Ottawa Senators—Dream On (Aerosmith)
Connor McDavid—You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (Bachman-Turner Overdrive)
Edmonton Oilers—Yours Is No Disgrace (Yes)

 


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About Blake Wheeler’s snooty attitude…the athlete-media dynamic…fake news…untouchable Winnipeg Jets…and needing 23 more wins

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

It was a simple question, one put forth in the wake of yet another failed mission in a crusade full of failed missions and an equal measure of frustration and angst.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

Your room was closed an unusually long time tonight. Was there a meeting?” Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press inquired of Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler on Friday night at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

What do you think?” replied Wheeler, turning and fixing Wiecek with a stare that suggested he was the worst form of pond scum. “What do you think, we were just silent in here with the door shut? Obviously there was a conversation had between us, obviously I’m not gonna give you anything that was said in this room.”

Obviously Wheeler was being a dink, obviously he didn’t have to be a dink.

Wiecek didn’t ask what was said behind those doors that stayed closed for 17 minutes. He likely didn’t care. He merely wanted confirmation that the Jets were late in allowing news snoops into their changing chamber because they had held a chin-wag following the 22nd loss of their National Hockey League schedule. He didn’t pose the question in a provocative, challenging or confrontational manner. Still…

What do you think?” came the snotty reply, the words dripping with unbridled contempt. “What do you think, we were just silent in here with the door shut?”

Look, I understand these are tense times in Jets Nation. That happens when your head coach has told anyone who cares to listen that all his players are “horse shit,” your supposed No. 1 goaltender can’t stop a runny nose, and you’ve just received a pair of paddywhackings, 7-4 against the Montreal Canadiens and 4-3 vs. the gawdawful Arizona Coyotes, who win about as often as Dustin Byfuglien passes on second helpings. Given those dire circumstances, the last thing a player wants or needs is a parry-and-thrust with people holding notepads and microphones. Newspaper deadlines be damned.

Trouble is, once that ‘C’ was stitched on to his Jets jersey, Wheeler became the official voice of the workers. Dealing with news scavengers, in good times and bad, is part of the gig. And I would expect he do it with a civil tongue.

The Jets captain could have—no—he should have said something like, “Yes, we had a players’ meeting and, before you ask, I’m not prepared to share what we discussed.” That’s how a true professional would have handled it. Not Wheeler though. He had to be rude, biting and dismissive. But, hey, if the president-elect of the United States can get away with calling the great Meryl Streep a bottom-feeding thespian, surely a hockey player dissing a news snoop is small potatoes.

I’ve never met Blake Wheeler. I doubt I ever will. I admire the way he plays the game, with a favorable blend of skill and naked intensity. And, really, that’s all that should matter. But, again, he’s the team captain. If Wheeler doesn’t like the media component of the job, simply surrender the ‘C’. Then he can be just like his mime-like buddy Big Buff, who apparently only shares his five-word pearls of wisdom with the Fourth Estate when the moon is full.

fake-newsFewer professional athletes genuinely embrace the ritual of news scavengers invading their space, before or after games. It’s tolerated as a necessary evil. But I’ve got news for Blake Wheeler and those of his ilk: Most news snoops I know and worked with don’t enjoy visiting changing rooms, either. I’m guessing that Paul Wiecek would be quite content if he never saw the inside of a sports boudoir again. But, as with the players, the athlete-media dynamic is a necessary evil. And without reporters in those rooms to ask questions, you get fake news. And fake news begets rancor, distrust and a Twitter-angry president-elect who can’t keep his thumbs to himself. So play nice and just answer the damn questions, boys.

While watching the Jets gag on a late lead and lose another hockey game Saturday night, 3-2 to the Kings in Tinseltown, it occurred to me that one of them is apt to be playing in Las Vegas at this time next year. So I scanned the roster, searching for the Jets whom I consider untouchable. I came up with seven: Jacob Trouba, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and the entire Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele. Vegas can have their pick of the rest, including Byfuglien.

It will take 90 points, minimum, to qualify for the western portion of the Stanley Cup tournament. The Jets need 46 points in 36 games to get there. In basic numbers, that’s a 23-13 record the rest of the way. Good luck with that.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About a guard dog for Puck Finn…the goalie blind Winnipeg Jets…soccer stupidity in hockey…a classy King…classy curlers…and adios to a classy Ken Fidlin

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

puck-finn2As Dire Straits advised us in the early 1990s, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. We know which one Patrik Laine was on Saturday afternoon, and let’s agree that the Winnipeg Jets rookie extraordinaire was the victim of a clean hit. Not clean-ish. Clean.

If you can’t agree, please proceed to another blog, because I’m not prepared to debate it.

I will, however, happily engage in a verbal to-and-fro re the suggestion that the Jets ought to send an SOS to former guard dog Anthony Peluso.

I mean, seriously? Anthony Peluso?

Yes, some among the rabble think it a swell idea to insert Peluso’s bare knuckles into the Jets’ lineup to discourage ruffians like Jake McCabe of the Sabres from taking liberties with the likes of Puck Finn, as he did in Buffalo. Well, sure. And some people also believe Donald Trump in the White House is a swell idea.

Look, it’s bad enough that a roster spot is occupied by Chris Thorburn, a loyal foot soldier whose sole purpose when not munching on popcorn appears to be dropping his hockey mitts and wrestling a foe of equally limited skills for 30 seconds or less. Unless this is 1975 and the Broad St. Bullies are pillaging the National Hockey League, adding another no-talent thug who would be tethered to the end of the bench or banished to the press box is not a wise use of personnel.

So no. Anthony Peluso is not the answer.

Puck Finn

Puck Finn

As one who has suffered multiple concussions (10 at last count), I know what a dark and nasty place La La Land can be. The nausea, the dizziness, the ringing in the ears, the headaches, the imbalance, the forgetfulness…horrible. I was first concussed at age 13. Got hit in the head by a baseball. When I awoke in St. Boniface Hospital, the kid in the bed next to me had control of the TV. I asked him to put on Hockey Night in Canada. It was mid-July. I thought it was winter. I hope Laine knows it’s winter and there’s plenty of hockey to be played. More to the point, I hope Puck Finn doesn’t miss too much of it.

Almost lost in the hue and cry that arose after McCabe sent Laine to La La Land was the numbing reality that the Jets coughed up a huge hair ball in losing 4-3 to Buffalo. Ahead 3-1 less than 20 minutes from time, they gagged and it didn’t help that they received more minor league-level goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. I’m not prepared to close the book on Hellebuyck, but I do find it odd, also annoying, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs can recognize blue-chippers up front (the Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele, as an e.g.) and on the blueline (Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey) but they continue to be goalie blind. Should it really take six years to find a legitimate starting goaltender?

Interesting to note that Jets head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t discuss the NHL standings with his workers. “I don’t talk about the standings and I don’t talk about any of that in the room,” he says. “It’s on a board somewhere and they can look at it if they like.” Perhaps that explains their lack of urgency some nights.

Netherlands' Arjen Robben, right, reacts after being tackled by Brazil's Michel Bastos, left, during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

We can do without this and the shootout in hockey.

At the risk of sounding like Don Cherry, it occurs to me that Europeans have brought two things to hockey—soccer’s twin evils of diving and the shootout. Yes, of course, some hockey players (hello, Bill Barber) were acting like Italian footballers in their death throes before the great European wave arrived on our shores, but it got so bad that the NHL was motivated to pass anti-diving legislation in an effort to nip it in the bud. As for the shootout, I’m sure most of us would agree that it’s the devil’s handiwork. Under no circumstances should the gold-medal match at the World Junior Championship be determined by gimmickry. The Canadian and American kids put on a boffo show the other night, and they deserved better than soccer stupidity to decide the issue. I mean, it’s not like anyone was in a hurry to leave the rink.

So nice to see Dave King acting like a kid on Christmas morning after Canada’s success at the recent Spengler Cup tournament in Davos. King, who was Luke Richardson’s associate coach at the Swiss event, is among the finest men I met in 30 years of covering sports in mainstream media. He was always classy, always honest and always obliging. No doubt he still is.

Speaking of classy, former world champs Kerry Burtnyk and Jeff Ryan were two of the reasons I enjoyed working the curling beat back in the day, and now their names are in the news again. Only this time, it’s their kids chasing glory. Laura Burtnyk and Hailey Ryan teamed up to win the Manitoba Junior women’s title, while J.T. Ryan skipped his team to the men’s crown. The kids will be wearing the Buffalo on their backs at the Canadian championships later this month in Victoria, and it’s never wise to bet against a Manitoba outfit at a national curling event. Especially if their names are Burtnyk and Ryan. Go get ’em, kids.

Ken Fidlin

Ken Fidlin

Another good one has left the toy department. That would be the now-retired Ken Fidlin, longtime jock journalist with the Toronto Sun. Fids and I arrived at the Sun at the same time, in late 1980, after his Ottawa Journal and my Winnipeg Tribune both ceased operation in the same 24-hour period. I bailed after a year and a half in the Republic of Tranna, moving to Calgary and then back to Pegtown, but Fids never left and the Little Paper That Grew was always better for it. He’s a terrific writer and an even better person.

Postmedia truly has done a nasty number on sports writing in Canada. Fidlin joins a lengthy parade of quality writers and people who have been bought out, forced out or walked out on the newspaper chain in the past 12 months—George (Shakey) Johnson, Cam Cole, Bill Lankhof, Dave Stubbs, Randy Sportak, John MacKinnon, Joanne Ireland and Kirk Penton, among others. I suppose Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun will be next on the chopping block. Sad.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing crap about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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In 2017, I do not resolve…

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. What’s the point? I know I wouldn’t keep them.

I mean, I could resolve to cease my regular criticisms of jock journalists. And I could really, really mean it. Girl Guides honor. Cross my heart and hope to die. But then one of the girls or boys on the beat would scribble or say something goofy, dumb, ridiculous or all of the above and it would be like a tub of chocolate swirl ice cream—I would have to have at it.

Thus, I do the opposite. I make New Year’s non-resolutions. That way, I can’t go wrong. I know I’ll break every one of my non-resolutions long before the year is done and I’ll be happy about it.

With that in mind, here are my New Year’s non-resolutions for 2017…

2017-not-resolutions

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.