The River City Renegade


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The sports media dealing with social/political issues is nothing new

Stick to sports? Why?

Why should jock journalists and opinionists be limited to one-trick pony-ism, writing and gabbing about nothing other than wins and losses, home runs and touchdowns, free throws and three-pointers, and how much air there is in Tom Brady’s balls?

Sam Lacy, Dan Bankhead and Wendell Smith.

I mean, I’m guessing that if Twitter had been around in the 1930s and ’40s, Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith and other black sportswriters might have used their 140-character allotment to say something significant about segregation in baseball. Twitter didn’t exist back then, though. So they used newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American as pulpits from which to openly lobby for desegregation.

For example, when Major League Baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis died in 1944, Lacy used his Afro-American platform to scribble this about the appointment of Happy Chandler as MLB commish: “It appears that his choice was the most logical one for the bigoted major league operators, of which there is a heavy majority on hand.”

Similarly, in the chaotic 1960s, when young heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam and became Cassius X then Muhammad Ali, (white) sports scribes refused to use his Muslim name in their copy (it wasn’t until October 1970, six years after the fact, that the New York Times issued a directive that sportswriters were to call him Muhammad Ali) and they weren’t shy about spicing their prose with biting social commentary re “Clay,” race and religion.

Here are two examples from New York columnist Jimmy Cannon:

The fight racket since its rotten beginnings has been the red light district of sports. But this is the first time it has been turned into an instrument of mass hate…Clay is using it as a weapon of wickedness.”

And…

Jimmy Cannon

I pity Clay and abhor what he represents. In the years of hunger during the Depression, the Communists used famous people the way the Black Muslims are exploiting Clay. This is a sect that deforms the beautiful purpose of religion.”

The noise became amplified, also more threatening and vicious, when the champ refused to step forward for induction into the United States military in 1967.

Red Smith, legendary New York columnist: “Squealing over the possibility that the military may call him up, Cassius makes as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.”

Really? Those protesting the Vietnam War were “unwashed punks?”

Jim Murray, legendary Los Angeles Times columnist, who mocked Ali by calling him Abdul the Bull Bull Ameer: “Cassius Marcellus Clay, one of the greatest heroes in the history of his people, has decided to secede from the Union. He will not disgrace himself by wearing the uniform of the Army of the United States…From the safety of 103 years, he waves his fist at dead slave owners. Down to his last four Cadillacs, the thud of Communist jackboots holds no dread for him. He is in this country but not of it.”

Really? Dead slave owners and Communist jackboots in a sports column?

So, you see, when ESPN anchor Jemele Hill went off on Donald Trump on her personal Twitter account recently, calling the United States president a “white supremacist,” she wasn’t digging a shovel into fresh, unbroken ground. Social/political commentary in print and on air is older than the contract Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in baseball’s major leagues. Do you think the names and words Jesse Owens, Adolph Hitler, Nazis and Aryan supremacy have never appeared in a sportswriter’s copy?

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star is among the elite wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism today, but social/political commentary on his Twitter account heavily outweighs the sports content. Why would anyone find that objectionable?

Red Smith

I think it should be a personal decision, based partly on who employs you,” he said as a member of a Sports Illustrated panel. “But if you’re informed—or even just feel strongly about something—and you’re comfortable making your voice heard, then you should be able to say what you think. Sports are great, but they’re not the world. It’s okay to live in the world a little, too.”

On the night of the 2016 American presidential election, with Donald Trump winning the White House, Steve Simmons of Postmedia tweeted: “The saddest night in American history.” That is, of course, a totally illogical comment, especially coming from a non-American, but is he not allowed his emotional, if uninformed, opinion? Does it reflect on Simmons or Postmedia? I would submit the former rather than the latter, and numerous followers suggested he “stick to sports.”

If I have an issue with sports opinionists and their social/political commentary, it’s when they say nothing at all. Or when they’re inconsistent.

Ray Rice is pilloried for beating up one woman. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is given a pass on his thick file of repeated domestic violence. (I suppose the arrival of Johnny Manziel to a Canadian Football League outfit will be greeted with literary high fives.) That isn’t merely inexcusable, it’s the abandonment of responsible reporting.

Sports and politics/social activism are bedfellows, and to think otherwise is to live in a Utopian world. Social media has upped the ante, to be sure, but jock journos have always been there to write and talk about it. Usually in more than 140 characters.

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 Blue Bombers-Saskatchewan Roughriders: Hey, spit happens, so let’s not lose our heads here (except maybe Gainer)

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

Duron Carter: Spit happens.

Duron Carter is spittin’ mad. Gainer the Gopher is losing his head. Rod Pedersen wants to call the cops. And Doug Brown is so PO’d that he almost forgot his thesaurus at home.

Where to begin?

Well, let’s start with Carter, a Canadian Football League pass-catching marvel whose strings are sometimes pulled a tad too tight and apt to snap at any second. Seems Chris Carter’s lad was engaged in some post-joust schmoozing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders faithful on Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field in Regina, scant seconds after Gang Green had rag-dolled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 38-24, when out of the blue (and gold) someone launched a loogie.

Splat!

A trash ass Bombers fan spit on me…worst fans in the league…can’t wait to kick y’all ass again!” griped Carter, who describes himself on his Twitter account as an “expert level troll.”

Thus, he continued trolling.

Gainer: Going out of his head.

The worst part about it, he definitely didn’t brush his teeth in about 20 years!!!” Carter ranted. “Who knows what creepy crawlers were hiding in there!!! The old me would have dragged him to the 50 yard line and gave him a beating like his parents failed to do in 1955.”

Whew. That’s a lot to absorb.

First of all, we know Carter must be some kind of ticked off because he used seven exclamation points!!!!!!! That’s a serious mad-on!!!!!!! Second, while some accuse the Riders wideout of fabricating the spitting story, I believe him. Yup, I’m convinced that a Bombers loyalist did, indeed, unload a loogie on Carter because he said the guy hadn’t brushed his “teeth” in 20 years. Had it been a Riders fan, he would have said the guy hadn’t brushed his “tooth” in 20 years.

Meanwhile, Gang Green play-by-play squawker Rod Pedersen, in a classic case of over-the-top hyperbole, went all drama queen in rallying to Carter’s side in Gobgate.

I think spitting on anyone is the most heinous act that anybody can commit, in sports or in society,” Pedersen spat.

Well, yes. There’s something sinful in saliva if used as a weapon. Still, it’s a most curious bit of logic from Pedersen. I mean, most of us in the rest of the country would place crimes like rape, murder, pedophilia and human trafficking higher on the heinous metre than unleashing a loogie. Must be a Saskatchewan thing.

Pederson also lashed out at a Bomber-ite who, in a shocking display of bad manners from a house guest, attempted to yank the head off the Riders prairie dog mascot, Gainer the Gopher. Gab guy Rod described the incident as a “disturbing act of violence” and, when asked if the long arm of the law ought to reach out and charge the cad with assault, he replied, “absolutely.”

Which brings us to Doug Brown, a former Bombers defensive lineman who sits in the CJOB booth during broadcasts and also scribbles a weekly column for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Chris Jones: A cheater, cheater pumpkin eater?

Brown wants you all to know that Chris Jones is a dirty, rotten scoundrel. A cheater, cheater pumpkin-eater. How so? Well, the Riders head coach apparently has a defensive front four that includes Ronaldo, Neymar, Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez, lads notorious for pulling up lame or slipping into their death throes whenever inconvenienced on the soccer pitch. Same thing with the Riders. The moment the Bombers choose to shift into their no-huddle offence, down goes a Gang Green D-man. Gut shot. And laughing.

These clearly are faux fallen foes and Brown describes the tactic as “a B.S. manoeuvre.” Jones has arrived at an “all-time low in coaching malfeasance.” Yes, he actually used the word malfeasance. No sports scribe I know uses the word malfeasance. Ever. Most would write about wrong-doing or hanky-panky or coaching chicanery, but not our Doug. He has a thesaurus.

What does it all add up to? Hey, spit happens. Which ought to make for an interesting week in advance of the Banjo Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, where the Bombers and Riders will do it all over again.

I thought it was awful sporting of game officials and the CFL command centre to basically hand the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, now 1-8, their first win of the season on Monday at Timbits Field. Three absolutely atrocious calls late in the fourth quarter—a fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass; a 15-yard no-yards penalty that never should have drawn a flag; and a pass ruled complete when the ball obviously bounced to Luke Tasker—all went in favor of the Tabbies, who topped the Toronto Argonauts, 24-22, in a dreadful match delayed two hours and eight minutes due to a thunder-and-lightning storm. And we won’t even mention the fact that timekeepers twice were instructed to add time on the clock because they allowed it to run after play had stopped. This was one for the conspiracy theorists.

Say, who was that guy delivering pizza to the press box during the storm stoppage at Timbits? Why, it was CFL commish Randy Ambrosie. Nice touch. Not that sports scribes need an extra injection of pasta and carbs, but still a nice touch.

Well, Jay and Dan made their much-anticipated return to late-night Sports Centre on TSN shortly after the football game. My take: New set, same old silliness. But it works for them and their faithful. Meanwhile, The Reporters with Dave Hodge returns to TSN’s air on Sunday, and I’m assuming the usual suspects—Bruce Arthur, Michael Farber and Steve Simmons—will join Hodge to sit at a table and agree with each other. Just wondering: If those four guys were The Beatles, which one would be Ringo? I’d have to say Simmons.

The Beatles

Which brings me to today’s top five—my five favorite Beatles tunes…
1. A Day In the Life: Totally brilliant.
2. I Am the Walrus: An astonishing psychedelic journey of incredible lyrical imagery. There’s “yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye” and a naughty girl who “let her knickers down” and “man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.”
3. Hey Bulldog: George gets after it on the guitar.
4. Rocky Raccoon: Her name was Magill and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.
5. You Know My Name (Look Up the Number): Way, way out there. The lads are having us on.

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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About the mother of all bad schedules…look who’s climbing the NHL’s all-time loser list…adios to Cam Cole…a Penny for your thoughts…dumb debates…the golden age of nothing…and fun sports writing

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

You want to talk about a tough schedule, kids (we all know Paul Maurice does)?

Well, let me tell you about the mother of all tough schedules. Then I don’t want to hear another word about what the Winnipeg Jets have endured in the first two-plus months of their current National Hockey League crusade.

shoe

A horrible schedule didn’t prevent captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg and the Winnipeg Jets from parading around the Winnipeg Arena with the World Avco Trophy.

Here’s the deal…

Beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Feb. 27 in the final World Hockey Association season (1978-79), the Jets played 30 games (17 road, 13 home). Do the math. That’s 30 assignments in 58 nights. At one point, they played five games in six nights (3-2) and eight games in 10 nights (4-4). Overall, they went 14-14-2. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the grind and unfairness of the schedule. We just spoke to its quirkiness.

During a wacky stretch in February, for example, we were in Cincinnati long enough to qualify as registered voters in the Ohio primaries. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:

Feb. 8: arrive Cincinnati
Feb. 9: play Cincinnati Stingers
Feb. 10: leave Cincinnati, play at New England Whalers
Feb. 11-13: return to Cincinnati; practice in Cincinnati
Feb. 14: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 15: leave Cincinnati
Feb. 16: play at Birmingham Bulls; return to Cincinnati
Feb. 17: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 18: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 19: return to Cincinnati
Feb. 20: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 21: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England

We spent more time in Cincinnati than Venus Flytrap and Dr. Johnny Fever (Google WKRP in Cincinnati, kids; it was a terrific sitcom). Our home base had become the Cincinnati Marriott. A couple of times, we weren’t required to pack our bags and check out of the hotel because we would be back in less than 24 hours.

Maybe we should all just have our mail delivered to us at the hotel,” silky-smooth centre Peter Sullivan quipped one day.

Some of us could recite the Marriott restaurant menu from memory.

By way of comparison, here’s how often, or seldom, the six WHA outfits played during that Jan. 1-Feb. 27 time frame:

mother-of-all-schedules

 

 

 

 

The Jets were so tuckered out from their 30-games-in-58-nights grind that they only managed to go 19-10 the rest of the way, finishing 11-8 down the regular-season stretch then 8-2 in the playoffs to win the final WHA title. That’s why I refuse to listen to any more whining about the current Jets’ tough schedule. I don’t want to hear it from Maurice, his players, his parrots in mainstream media, or fans. I’ve witnessed worse and saw it conclude with the best result possible.

Paul Maurice: Soon he'll be No. 3 on the NHL's all-time loser list.

Paul Maurice: Soon he’ll be No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

I’m not into fancy stats. I like my stats like my life: simple. Thus, I look at the numbers in the W and L columns and they tell me all I need to know about a head coach. And here’s what they tell me about Paul Maurice: He has the second-worst won-lost percentage of all active NHL head coaches who have been on the job more than a month and, by the close of business next spring, the Jets bench boss will be the third-losingest head coach in the history of the NHL. At present, he has 550 career losses. Another 12 and he’ll pass Ron Wilson to slide into the No. 3 slot. That, mind you, puts him in mighty fine company, because the only two men ahead of him on the loser list will be Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, both Hockey Hall of Famers. The difference, of course, is that Bowman and Arbour are also Nos. 1 and 3 on the all-time win list and they’ve coached nine and four Stanley Cup champions, respectively.

I was sold on Maurice when he worked wonders with the Jets in his first full whirl behind the bench. He got them into the Stanley Cup tournament. Two seasons later, he no longer is working wonders. Some, in fact, wonder how he’s still working. Worth considering is this: A number of the Jets young players will improve as they mature, but Maurice won’t ever be a better coach than he is today. If the head coach can’t grow with his players, when is the right time to dismiss him?

The best of jock journalism in Canada is no more. Cam Cole of Postmedia has arrived at trail’s end, after 41 years as a jock sniffer. Cam was never a ranter and raver like, say, his Postmedia colleague Steve Simmons, who believes he who squawks the loudest rules the day. Cam, a very nice man, most always wrote in reasoned, measured tones with a subtle wit, and he had a heck of a ride, showing up in time to write about both the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers dynasties. Cam’s retirement means the torch as our nation’s top jock columnist is passed to Bruce Arthur, who’s very socially conscious and actually injects humor into his scribblings for the Toronto Star.

The boys and girls in the toy departments of the land got it right in their salute to kid swimmer Penny Oleksiak as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. She struck gold in the pool at the Rio Summer Olympic Games and twice at the recent world short course championships. It was a no-brainer. I did, however, find it odd that Andre De Grasse was part of the Lou Marsh Trophy discussion. Yes, I realize his bromance with Usain Bolt in Rio was a warm-and-fuzzy Olympic storyline, but De Grasse never won a race. He finished second or third. Shouldn’t you actually have to win something before you warrant consideration as the True North’s top jock? There should have been just three athletes in that conversation: Oleksiak, hockey player Sidney Crosby and golfer Brooke Henderson.

Puck Finn

Puck Finn

I don’t know about you, but I find the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine debate kind of silly. Go ahead and discuss which of the two is enjoying the better freshman season if you like, but to engage in a verbal to-and-fro over who will have the better NHL career is foolish in the extreme. Discuss that amongst yourselves when Matthews and Puck Finn have some mileage behind them. Like, in about 15 years.

Once again, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail has referred to this as the “golden age” of Canadian tennis and, once again, he has failed to explain himself. Yes, Milos Raonic is the world No. 3 on the men’s side, but he went another year without winning a tournament of significance. Genie Bouchard, meanwhile, has fallen off the grid. So, our premier men’s player can’t win the big match and our top female player can’t find her game. That’s what passes for a “golden age?”

Really enjoyed old friend Paul Friesen’s piece on the fictional Bud’s Diner in the Winnipeg Sun last week. It’s a nice, lighthearted piece that, although some might find hokey, shows imagination, creativity and a sense of humor, something that’s lacking in jock journalism. I was also pleased to see the return of my favorite Grumpets—Paul Wiecek and Steve Lyons—to the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages. Their Say What?! print chin-wag is light, breezy and often self-deprecating, with an appropriate amount of bite.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.

 


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About Mike O’Shea still wearing short pants and getting the job done…Rodney Dangerfield…girl power in the NHL…running mates for Donald Trump…Jacob Trouba wanting out…and top-drawer sports writing

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

Mike O'Shea: He's no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Mike O’Shea: He’s no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Well, who saw this coming? Mike O’Shea suddenly looking like the second coming of Mike Riley.

Well, okay, we don’t want to get carried away. Riley coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a pair of Canadian Football League championships. I assume he still has the Grey Cup rings to prove it. O’Shea, on the other hand, has accomplished squat. But, hey, when the good times roll so does hyperbole.

What kind of a roll are the local football heroes on? Let’s just say the fact we’re mentioning O’Shea and Riley in the same sentence—rather than O’Shea and Jeff Reinebold—ought to be your first clue.

Your second clue would be that no one is talking or writing about O’Shea’s short pants anymore.

It wasn’t so long ago, remember, that the Bombers were a Sad Sackian 1-4 outfit and O’Shea was being fitted for a neck-tie party. A funny thing happened on the way to the gallows, though. He changed quarterbacks (or someone did it for him), a whack of starters sustained owies that put them on the shelf, and the guys filling in have done something the prime-timers couldn’t do—win.

So what am I saying? That it’s necessity, not design, that is at the root of the Bombers’ rise to respectability? Yes. And no.

Only those who share the inner sanctum—and, perhaps, a few flies on the wall at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry—know the true story behind the QB switch. To that point, the head coach had displayed either a shocking quarterback blindness or a peculiar infatuation with his do-nothing starter, Drew Willy. Thus it’s my guess that O’Shea was prodded, if not instructed, to take the ball from Willy and hand it to Matt Nichols. His hand was further forced due to the injuries on the offensive line, at receiver and among the defensive dozen.

But here’s where O’Shea got it right: He’s plugged the proper people into the appropriate places (hello, Taylor Loffler). The result: four games, four Ws and a 5-4 record at the halfway juncture of their 2016 crusade.

Now let’s see if he has the smarts to get it right once the original starters are back from sick bay.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn't get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn’t get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bombers are playing the Rodney Dangerfield card. “We feel like we’re not respected,” linebacker Mo Leggett said scant seconds after Friday night’s brawl in Montreal, with the Winnipegs on the favorable end of a 32-18 score against the Alouettes. “We feel like we’re still underrated by everyone, so we’re just going to keep going making plays and we’re going to stay hungry.” This, of course, is a common rallying cry from players on outfits that go from punching bag to pick-of-the-litter seemingly overnight. But whatever works, right?

It occurred to me while watching the Bombers and Alouettes grab grass and growl that the jury remains out on Duron Carter, who received a one-game sentence for bowling over Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Rick Campbell yet has not missed a beat. We still await an arbitrator’s ruling. Good grief. The O.J. Trial didn’t take this long.

John Bowman of the Larks had a legit gripe with officiating when one of the zebras flagged him for roughing late in the fourth quarter and the result very much in the balance. Bombers O-lineman Travis Bond shoved Bowman post-whistle. Bowman shoved back. Bond, a 6-feet-6, 329-lb. behemoth, went all soccer player, abruptly leaning back and his arms flailing as if the victim of a terrorist attack. Out came the hanky. That cost the Als 15 yards. Lip service from Bowman cost him another 10 yards. Brutal. If Bowman’s shove was worth 15 yards, Bond’s embellishment should have been worth 15 yards.

Speaking of embellishment, I’m sorry but Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays doesn’t have to leave his feet to catch a ball quite as often as he does. No doubt he’s among the premier glovesmiths in Major League baseball, but the Jays centrefielder made a play on an Albert Pujols drive the other night that had mustard dripping all over it. Yes, he ran a long way to make the catch, but, no, he didn’t have to launch himself into the Superman routine. It was pure hot-dogging.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

The arrival of Dawn Braid as full-time skating coach with the Arizona Coyotes was met with much ballyhoo, because she’s a she. Except neither Braid nor the Desert Dogs is breaking new ground here. The Toronto Maple Leafs have had former figure skating champion Barbara Underhill on payroll as skating coach since 2012. Previously, she had worked for the Disney Ducks, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lighting. The Hockey News once named her among the 100 most influential people in the game. Figure skating females have, in fact, been coaching in the National Hockey League since the 1970s, when Laura Stamm worked with Bob Nystrom of the New York Islanders. Underhill, Cathy Andrade, Barb Aidelbaum and Braid have followed her lead. Girl power has long been in the NHL…it’s just that a lot of people never noticed until the Braid hire.

Is it too late for Donald Trump to recruit either Hope Solo or Ryan Lochte as a running mate in the U.S. presidential election race? Nobody, other than the Donald, has offended more Americans than the soccer goalie and the swimmer, so I figure one of them is a perfect fit.

Bill Watters, former player agent, former NHL executive, current radio gab-and-gossip guy, says Jacob Trouba wants out of Winnipeg. He offers no insider info to support his theory that the Jets’ young defenceman wishes to fly the coop. He uses only the deductive reasoning of a man who has spent a lifetime in the game at many different levels. You know something? I’m inclined to believe Watters.

My three stars at the Rio Olympics, print division, were Bruce Arthur (Toronto Star), Cam Cole and Ed Willes (Team Postmedia), with an honorable mention to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail for his wrapup piece. Each wrote a column that has stayed with me. More than one, actually. Some other scribes’ work stayed with me as well. Like a batch of bad chili. But we don’t want to go there.

If there’s a top-drawer sports columnist in the True North with better social awareness than Arthur, I haven’t read him or her. His piece from the Olympics on American skeet shooter Kim Rhode and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who, like Rhode, contributed a bronze medal to the U.S. collection, is a prime example. It’s about hijabs, blue hair, the Second Amendment and the beauty of social acceptance. It’s worth a read.

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.


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Rio Olympics: The Media Squawk-O-Meter was on high alert

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

Now that the Five-Ring Circus has pulled out of Rio de Janeiro and environs, we can take a final reading of the Media Squawk-O-Meter as the boys and girls of the Fourth Estate navigate their way home.

Squawking, you realize, is a large part of every Olympic Games. It is, in fact, the sworn duty of news scavengers to alert readers back home to their special brand of misery. It’s not that we care about their hardships. We don’t. And they know we don’t care. But they cannot resist the urge to whinge about their food, traffic delays, lodgings, creature comforts, toilet paper, air quality, insects, blah, blah, blah. Apparently, it’s part of an unwritten code: When assigned to cover the Olympics, one must find something about the locals or the locale to squawk about and insert said inconvenience into one’s copy, otherwise no one will believe you actually have gone hither. Or yon.

It is permissible for the media to squawk about shattered glass in a bus window as the result of gunfire.

It is permissible for the media to squawk about shattered glass in a bus window as the result of gunfire.

There exists at least one other clause in the unwritten code by which the sports scribe is governed: Mention the number of Olympics you have attended as early and as often as possible, in the likely event that it failed to register with the reader the first dozen times.

Games covered, of course, impresses exactly zero people. I mean, a tree with 1,500 rings? That’s impressive. A jock journo with 15 Five-Ring Circuses on his or her resume? That just tells me he or she can count without using all fingers and toes and has discovered more to bitch about than most.

The point is, sportswriter squawking is as germane to the Olympics as Usain Bolt’s lickety-split, Michael Phelps’s wing span, or a boxing judge with one eye on the fight and the other on his take. And, with 28,000 accredited media for the Rio Olympics, that’s one serious group gripe.

They all do it. It’s just that some are louder than others, that’s all. There are also those, like Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, who can pull it off with humor or wit or satire, rather than a sledge hammer. And, in fairness, I should also like to emphasize that it isn’t always about minor inconveniences. I rather think that were I riding a media bus en route to a sporting venue and bullets shattered the window beside me, that would qualify as more than a petty annoyance.

At any rate, the Media Squawk-O-Meter was operating at a dizzying rate in Rio. Here are some of the gripes…

One of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism (and a personal favorite), Cam Cole of Postmedia, struck first with a tweet about there being just “one ATM to service a population of several thousand in Main Press Centre. Good job, good effort.” He then followed with “worst organization of a Games in my 16, hands down.” This was a brilliant bit of bitching. It showed veteran savvy and moxie. Only a seasoned scribe could have trashed the organizers and established his career Five-Ring Circus count before the Games began. Pure genius.

rio3Steve Politi of NJ.com was also quick off the starting blocks, with an essay about poluted Guanabara Bay. “When I put down the camera and finally look down at the water, I see the trash. It isn’t the piles of it you may have seen in photographs that have moved from here in recent weeks, but it is all around the boat. Plastic bags. Restaurant cups. Soda bottles. A sanitary napkin. The water is covered with a noticeable film, in all directions, making it look like a thick, green stew. But the biggest concern is what I cannot see. The bacteria. The viruses. The human excrement.” And you’re telling us what, Nick? That there’s no garbage in New Jersey?

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star didn’t bitch so much about the peculiarities of Rio as she did a nervy media back home who, from their sofas, had the bad manners to critique the work of news scavengers in Brazil. At the same time, Ramblin’ Rosie dumped a load of hooey on ill-mannered scribes and/or talking heads on site: “A bewildered shout-down also to media mooks in Rio loudly rooting for their country’s athletes along press tribune row. One simple rule: No cheering in the pressbox.” Yo! Rosie! The Chinese, Japanese, Turks, Brits, South Africans, Dutch, Brazilians or whomever you’re bitching about don’t have to play by your rules. Perhaps cheering in the pressbox is acceptable behaviour where they pin their press badges.

News scavengers’ preoccupation with food is fascinating. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star lamented the absence of golden arches at the journos’ feeding trough. “One thing missing: McDonald’s in the media centre. It’s a staple, an old friend waiting to greet you at the end of a long day and the decision to pull out of Rio might have made sense from a business sense but it’s screwing up tons of media types who miss it dearly.” Smith also bemoaned hanky-panky with pricing at an eatery near his hotel: “The nice menu that was printed in English was quite helpful the first two nights but it was somewhat of a surprise to me when I got there last night to see the prices scratched out by marker and raised a couple of Reals or so for each item. Yeah, a 20R fish dinner became a 22R fish dinner, the 4R appetizer is 6R now and the folks who run it sure know how to make a buck. Still gonna go because it’s so handy but we’ll be looking for somewhere else now more often, a place where the owners aren’t quite as blatant in their gouging.” Geez, Doug, you’re on expenses. Live a little.

They lined up for their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders in Rio, but not at the Media Centre.

They lined up for their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders in Rio, but not at the Media Centre.

King of the complainers had to be Steve Simmons of Postmedia, though. If there was anything about Rio he enjoyed, other than the competition (excluding dressage which, apparently, should be axed), I missed it. Some of his gems: “Green water. Polluted ocean. Wonky buses. Athletes held at gunpoint. So many robberies. I don’t need a second week.” Let’s see…he never had to dive into the green water, he never had to take a dip in the ocean, nobody put a gun to his head, and he wasn’t robbed. Only disruption in transportation impacted on his work. Yet he still wanted to bail. Hmmm. Oh, yes, there was also the weather: “No matter where you’re at it’s either too hot or too cold. A lot of us looking for just right.” Then there were the lineups: “These are the lineup Olympics. Lineup for food. Lineup for drinks. Lineup to pay. Lineup to get in to venue. Lineup to leave venue. Lineup to go to washroom. Lineup for just about everything.” Even when there weren’t lineups, he whinged: “This isn’t complaining. This is just how it is. You pay for a cold drink at concessions. You don’t get a drink. You get a receipt. You then move down the line. Even if there is no line. The four people behind the counter, near the drinks, do nothing until you get to the end of the counter. Then one of them may ask you what you want, or ignore you. Depends on the moment, and this is without a lineup.” Some advice for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Stevo—stay home.

Smith of the Star wrote it best about media squawking re the numerous glitches during the Rio Olympics: “These weren’t the best Games I’ve been at—Barcelona and London and Sydney still top the list—but they weren’t the worst, either. That’s still Atlanta by a mile and it always will be. But enough of that, really; it’s tiring.” Amen to that, Doug. Amen.

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.

 


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About raw sewage and Paul Maurice…the Freep recruiting Shakey Johnson…a herd of Buffalo Girls at the Scotties…and idiocy in print

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

I see where the city of Winnipeg allowed five million litres of raw sewage to pour into the Red River earlier this month. That’s nothing compared to what Paul Maurice keeps pouring over the boards.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Maurice has lost the plot. Totally. Or he’s gone into tank-for-Auston mode.

Coach-Maurice-post-game-Dec-29-609x291

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

I mean, really. The Jets are down two goals vs. the New Jersey Devils, Maurice instructs his goaltender to vacate the net in favor of a sixth attacker in a final, frantic push to get a puck past Cory Schneider at the far end of the freeze, and one of his half-dozen wannabe heroes is Chris flipping Thorburn?

What am I missing here?

The last time Thorburn scored, the Prime Minister of Canada was a guy named Trudeau. Pierre, not Justin. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Thorburn actually has five snipes this winter. Trouble is, that’s his average over eight National Hockey League crusades. His career high is nine goals. He lights the lamp about as often as Adam Sandler makes a good movie. Thus, expecting Thorburn to come up with a big goal is like expecting Caitlyn Jenner to win a war of wits with Ricky Gervais.

So what is it that Maurice sees that the rest of us don’t?

Understand something here. I have no problem with Chris Thorburn being Chris Thorburn. The guy’s a gamer. Does whatever is asked of him.

My issue is with Maurice not recognizing that Chris Thorburn is Chris Thorburn.

So, after spending a few days to digest the ouster of old friend George (Shakey) Johnson as sports columnist at the Calgary Herald, here’s what I’m thinking: Why isn’t Winnipeg Free Press sports poobah Steve Lyons on the phone, making a pitch to bring Shakey home? The Freep hasn’t replaced Gary (La La) Lawless, who defected to TSN not so long ago. Since La La took his leave, columnist duties have been shared by the very capable Ed Tait and Paul Wiecek in something of a good cop, bad cop tandem. They’ve been cranking out boffo stuff. But Shakey Johnson is only the best sports writer in Canada (newspaper division). He got his start in River City, at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. It would be nice if he could finish it off in Pegtown.

chelsea carey

Alberta champ Chelsea Carey.

Can you say Buffalo Girls, kids? There will be a heavy Manitoba flavor to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts next month in Grand Prairie, Alta. Kerri Einarson and friends, of course, will have the Buffalo on their backs when the Canadian women’s curling championship slides from the hacks Feb. 20, but Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones and gal pals (Team Canada) will join the freshly minted Manitoba queens in the annual rock fest. There’s more. Chelsea Carey of the famed Carey curling clan and a former Manitoba champion is also headed for Grande Prairie as the rep from Wild Rose Country. Chelsea knocked off defending Alberta champion Val Sweeting on Sunday. We’re talking three of the morning-line favorites, all from the Keystone province.

How do you write a story about the provincial women’s curling championship without telling readers that you’re writing about the provincial women’s curling championship? That’s a good question to ask Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun, because he managed to report on Sunday’s Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts final between Kerri Einarson and Kristy McDonald in Beausejour without once mentioning the sport of curling. Tsk, tsk Big Jim.

I have long harbored great admiration for a number of sports scribes in our home and native land. I think of wordsmiths like Jack Matheson, John Robertson, Jim Taylor, Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes and current-day jock journalists Cam Cole and Bruce Arthur. Giants, each of them. But, in terms of pure writing talent, there are precious few about whom I have said, “I wish I could write as well as him/her.” Atop that list would be the legendary Trent Frayne, whose way with words was unequalled. There has not been a better sports scribe in the True North. Ever. After Trent, my personal fab four includes Allen Abel, Stephen Brunt and Shakey Johnson.

Nothing to admire in this quip from Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: “The idiocy of social media: Fans arguing online who was the better Leaf, (Dave) Keon or Wendel Clark.” Apparently, no one is allowed an opinion unless it jives with Little Stevie Blunder’s. If he says Keon is the greatest of the Toronto Maple Leafs, cased closed. As if, Stevie. Talk about idiocy.

This from my very own self just 15 days ago: “Prediction: By the end of this month, the Jets will be in a playoff position.” D’oh! What a mook.


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Sports scribes are every bit as disloyal as football coaches

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

It’s Thursday morning…do you know where your football coach is?

sportswritersI mean, it’s difficult keeping track of the Canadian Football League sidelines stewards these days, what with Chris Jones going here, Jason Maas going there, John Hufnagel moving upstairs, Wally Buono moving downstairs, Paul LaPolice returning to the scene of the crime, Noel Thorpe neither here nor there, and Mike O’Shea still watching film.

I swear, you’ll see less traffic flow at the Syrian border.

In the case of Jones, he didn’t fly solo in his first-to-worst defection from the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos to the Sad Sack Saskatchewan Roughriders. Apparently, his traveling party included eight assistant coaches, seven slick free agents, six large O-lineman, five cleaning ladies…and a punter in a pear tree. We haven’t seen this large an exodus since Moses did his thing at the Red Sea. Or at least since the Berlin Wall came a tumblin’ down.

Little wonder that CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has built his own metaphorical Berlin Wall. Stop. Do not pass go. Do not collect another team’s playbook. There shall be no more coach’s crossings until such time as the commish de-dizzies his head. So there.

All of which moved Ed Tait to ask this in the Winnipeg Free Press: “What about loyalty, or the disappearance of it, when it comes to coaches packing up their playbooks to move on to a league rival?”

Loyalty? Loyalty? A jock journalist talking loyalty? It is to laugh.

Look across the sportswriting landscape in the True North and it’s littered with defectors. Examples:

Ed Tait: Winnipeg Sun-Saskatoon StarPhoenix-Winnipeg Sun-Winnipeg Free Press.
Paul Friesen: CJOB-Winnipeg Sun.
Gary Lawless: Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal-Winnipeg Free Press-TSN.
Cam Cole: Edmonton Journal-National Post-Vancouver Sun.
Ed Willes: Medicine Hat News-Regina Leader-Post-Winnipeg Sun-freelance-Vancouver Province.
Terry Jones: Edmonton Journal-Edmonton Sun.
George Johnson: Winnipeg Tribune-Edmonton Sun-Calgary Sun-Calgary Herald.
Steve Simmons: Calgary Herald-Calgary Sun-Calgary Herald-Toronto Sun.
Bruce Arthur: National Post-Toronto Star.
Cathal Kelly: Toronto Star-Globe and Mail.

Most of them are, or have been, sleeping with the enemy, but there’s no wrong-doing there. Not unless you have some moral hangups about negotiating with the opposition while still drawing pay from your current employer. Sportswriters trade places like kids trade bubble gum cards and, basically, it’s just a bunch of guys looking out for No. 1.

You know, just like Chris Jones and Jason Maas and Noel Thorpe and others are looking out for No. 1.

Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

What part of the Winnipeg Jets’ draft-and-develop strategy do I not understand? Oh, that’s right, it’s this part: Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff brings Joel Armia up to the NHL club and plops him in the press box, there to munch on popcorn for three weeks. This is a most curious method of developing young talent. I cannot see how this was a benefit to the player. Or the club, for that matter. Unless, of course, Armia was there solely to file a report on whether the pressbox popcorn has too much salt and not enough butter.

So, what are we to make of the reported contract asks of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Jacob Trouba? I believe I can sum it up with these five words: Not a hope in hell. I mean, giving Byfuglien a lifetime contract? Essentially, that’s what his reps are asking of the Jets, because he’ll be 31 at the end of this NHL crusade, making him 39 at the tail end of an eight-year deal. His usefullness will have been exhausted long before then. I imagine there might be an NHL outfit willing to sign him for eight seasons, but it won’t be the Jets. At least it better not be.

These salary demands, exposed by Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press, place Grand Master Chevy in a bit of a pickle. The Jets general manager cannot allow Ladd and Byfuglien to skate away in free agency next summer, as he did in receiving bupkus for Michael Frolik, but dealing them might be more difficult now that the sticker price and term are public knowledge. I mean, would you be anxious to exchange assets for a defenceman who’ll likely balloon to 300 pounds by the third year an eight-year deal?

What’s the over/under on Bruce Boudreau remaining behind the Disney Ducks’ bench? I say Boxing Day, because the current four-game junket to the East Coast surely will determine the fate of the head coach of an Anaheim team pegged as a Stanley Cup favorite before skirmishing commenced this season. If the Ducks are still bottom feeders in the NHL Western Conference by the time Santa has unloaded his loot, say goodbye to Brucie and, perhaps, hello to old friend Randy Carlyle.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.