Let’s talk about Hal Johnson outing TSN…Where’s Waldo’s Sister?…Beep! Beep! There goes Alphonso!…Rouge Football takes a knee…Yippee for Youpii!…big bucks, baseball and bickering…the best of the Blue Bombers…Herb Carnegie gave the New York Rangers a pass…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…

Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:

What is the Black quota in 2020?

We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.

“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.

So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.

The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.

All of which has provided pause for ponder.

The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.

Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.

It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.

Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.

Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?

So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?

The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.

As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.

Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.

Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.

I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.

I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.

North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.

Take a knee, Donald.

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.

While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.

By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.

Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.

The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?

It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.

I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.

I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.

True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.

Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.

And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.

Let’s talk about a Grey Cup game on the frozen tundra…Tin Foil Man…comedy acts in Edmonton…Puck Finn’s chin whiskers…Akim Aliu’s message…faux fans in footy…the Six and the NWHL…an end game for Ponytail Puck…Naomi Osaka’s bankroll…and so long Eddie Haskell

A Grey Cup game in December. In Canada. Maybe in Winnipeg. Perhaps in Edmonton. Possibly in Regina.

That’s the latest bit of zaniness to drift out of the Canadian Football League bunker in the Republic of Tranna, and it appears that Commish Randy Ambrosie and his three-downs overlords are actually serious about possibly taking the Rouge Football showcase event to one of their frost-bitten burgs.

The way they have it figured, once there are only two teams still standing, the outfit with the superior record from a sawed-off season (eight, maybe nine, maybe 10 games) gets home field for the Grey Cup showdown, and that could mean the wind-ravaged, very frozen tundra of the Prairies.

Ya, that makes sense. You know, like building igloos in Arizona makes sense.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy all those campfire tales about all those wacky-weather Grey Cup games of yore—the Mud Bowl and the Fog Bowl and the Wind Bowl and the Ice Bowl and the Snow Bowl.

But do we really need a Hypothermia Bowl?

Think of the poor sap who’d be first to kiss the Grey Grail. It’ll take the jaws of life to pry the guy’s lips from the metal mug. No amount of Botox would make him right again.

Maybe that’s why Commish Randy and pals have gone hat in hand to the feds for $150 million. They’ll need the loot for lawyers when surviving players file a class-action lawsuit seeking compensation for cruel and unusual punishment.

Look, we all know the mercury on The Baldies is apt to dip low enough to freeze the brass monkeys off Commish Randy once we arrive at December. So if—and that’s an if as large as an O-lineman’s appetite—there’s a 2020 CFL season that concludes during the Christmas shopping crunch, they’re setting themselves up for the ultimate football folly.

B.C. Place Stadium

Let’s face it, there’s only one logical locale for any Grey Cup skirmish in the last month of the year—the comfy, climate-controlled confines of BC. Place Stadium in Vancouver, even if Rouge Football isn’t much more than a rumor on the Left Flank.

What matters is that there’ll be a roof to keep the large lads in pads dry and warm as they argue their case for three-downs bragging rights.

So Commish Randy and the overlords might want to rethink that host city thing before they find themselves gathered in a frost-bitten burg, wondering why they rolled the dice on a minus-30C day when post-game lattés on an outdoor patio was available.

If (there’s that word again) there’s a Grey Cup game in December, it won’t be a first. There have been four since the CFL was formed in 1958, the last on Dec. 3, 1972, and each of those skirmishes took place in Southern Ontario, which has never been mistaken for the Canadian Prairies.

The CFL isn’t planning a “shortened” season or an “abbreviated” season or a Coles Notes version of a season. It’ll be a “truncated” season, don’t you know. Oh, yes, news snoops have fallen in love with the word “truncated,” the way Jesus favored the word “blessed” and Brian Burke loves to talk about “truculence.” They can’t file a dispatch without informing us that any 2020 CFL crusade will be “truncated,” and I imagine copy from the Grey Cup game will go something like this: “The truncated season came to a close on the Flattest of Lands today with much truculence and more than 30,000 blessed empty seats. Only seven players were forced from the game due to hypothermia, with another six treated for severe frost bite. MVP quarterback Zach Collaros began the day with 10 fingers, but finished with eight. Lawsuits pending.”

This has nada to do with sports, but I thought I’d share it nevertheless. While walking home from a pub yesterday (for the first time in more than two months), I saw a man with tin foil on his head. True story. I did a triple take to confirm I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. Yup. Tin foil. On his head. He was loitering on the sidewalk, but I’m not sure if he was waiting for a bus or the Mother Ship. Either way, I wasn’t keen on approaching Tin Foil Man to inquire.

Looch

Things that make me go hmmm Vol. 1: A comedy club in Edmonton has been forced to shut down because belly laughs are a risky bit of business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s how Alberta’s top doc, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, explained it: “If it’s a comedy club or some kind of performance where you’re going to have an entire room of people laughing or cheering at the same time, there is some increased risk to those activities.” Hmmm. “Some kind of performance” that has a room full of people yukking it up. Apparently the good doctor has seen Milan Lucic play.

Things that make me go hmmm Vol. 2: Sticking with the Wild Rose Country/comedy theme, Jason Kenney has decided that Winnipeg is neither a major city nor a National Hockey League locale. “Edmonton has the lowest level of COVID-19 infections of any major city in North America, certainly lower than any other NHL city,” the Alberta premier stated in making his pitch for E-Town as a hub burg once the NHL hits the reboot button. Well, okay, let’s do the math. Active cases as of Friday: Edmonton 58, Winnipeg 3. Hmmm. E-Town hasn’t outscored Good Ol’ Hometown that badly since the Oilers-Jets playoff series of the 1980s.

Puck Finn’s bad beard.

Speaking of the Jets, Patrik Laine did the Zoom thing with news snoops the other day, and among his many sound bites was a vow to never again grow his terrible beard. (“Once was enough.”) Puck Finn also suggested that his game will be “terrible” whenever the NHL is back in go mode, because he’s been away from the freeze for two months. I don’t know about you, but I’m more interested in Puck Finn’s one-timer than his scruffy chin whiskers.

Seriously, are Puck Finn’s chin whiskers, his Lamborghini, his golf game, and his video games newsworthy? I suppose they are during a pandemic, and it makes you wonder why more NHL players don’t spice up their sound bites with a sprinkling of personality.

Akim Aliu

There’s very little fresh messaging provided by Akim Aliu in the essay he has written for The Players’ Tribune. He tells us that hockey “isn’t” for everyone, a mantra some of us have been chanting for quite some time, so I’m guessing many among the rabble wish he would just shut his squawk box and disappear like summer wages. Except that isn’t how this works. As long as racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, bigotry, hazing, etc. exist in hockey, people like Aliu need to speak their truth, and it doesn’t matter that he was a fringe NHL player. Ugly is ugly, and hockey’s underbelly is ugly. Or did you miss the charming comments a group of young players made about women a couple of weeks ago? Again, there’s nothing new in Aliu’s message, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I just wonder how many people are paying attention.

A Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Moenchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday featured 13,000 life-size, cardboard cutouts (of actual people) in the stands. The bad news: Cardboard fans are hell on beer sales. The good news: No long lineups to the washrooms. 

Footy side FC Seoul has apologized for using female sex dolls as faux fans during a recent match. I agree. Putting dummies in the seats at sports events is a really bad idea. But enough about Drake.

Now that I’ve mentioned Drake, it’s worth noting that the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna is called the Six, a term coined by hip hop guys Jimmy Prime and Oliver North (El-Khatib) and popularized by Drizzy upon the release of his album Views From the 6. The question is: Will anyone in The ROT view the Six when Ponytail Puck returns?

Anyone who follows women’s hockey knows the game is a mess, with the NWHL and the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) offering very different road maps toward a sustainable operation that pays the workers a “living wage,” whatever that might be.

Commish Dani Rylan is convinced her NWHL can achieve that end without the NHL serving as a sugar daddy, whereas it’s NHL or bust for the Dream Gappers. Or is it?

Jayna Hefford

Consider this snippet from a natter between PWHPA head Jayna Hefford and the Ice Garden website on May 20…

Ice Garden: “Obviously the NHL is the endgame here but is that the only endgame you see or do you also see possibly a league with private investors, like large-scale private investors getting involved?”

Hefford: “We would never say it has to be the one and only way but there’s a number of things that we’ve communicated publicly that should be involved in a league.”

But wait. Now consider what Hefford told news snoops on April 23…

“We believe there needs to be an affiliation with the NHL. We’re adamant that there needs to be a connection there. We believe it’s the only way the women’s game will survive and grow.”

So either Hefford doesn’t know her own end game or, more likely, her pants are on fire.

Well, allow me to provide, once again, the Coles Notes version of the PWHPA agenda: The NWHL drowns in a sea of red ink; the NHL adopts the self-orphaned Dream Gappers and Ponytail Puck lives happily ever after.

Muppet heads Fozzy Bear and Colby Armstrong.

The squawk boxes at Sportsnet continue to suck up to PWHPA membership/allies with ass-kissing commentary, the most recent example delivered by muppet head Colby Armstrong on Hockey Central at Home during a blah-blah-blah session with Canadian national team member Natalie Spooner.

“Thanks for joining us,” Colby began. “Great seeing you as always and…we see you a lot, like we really get to see you a lot, and especially through this we get to see you out there a lot advocating for women’s hockey. I have three little girls and you know they love you. They’re big fans. What’s it like being a role model?

“I’ve been able to watch you and see you deal with a lot of people and fans and little girls, and I think you have a great personality for it, so I think it’s worked out.

“You’re a very social person, like, fun to be around, high energy, probably the, you know, the person in the room or in the gym that keeps it bumping. You love singing, you love dancing…people follow Natalie Spooner on her, what do you have Instagram? I don’t have it. I tell my wife, we watch your stuff all the time. You found a way to entertain. Ya, very entertaining.”

I swear, after chewing on all that sugar, I hope Spooner booked a dental appointment.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.

Here’s a female athlete who doesn’t require faux hosannas or a sugar daddy—Naomi Osaka. According to Forbes, the Japanese-born, American-raised, two-time Grand Slam tennis champion earned more coin ($37.4 million) in a 12-month time frame than any woman in history. Yup, Naomi is in front of Serena Williams ($36 million) at the pay window, and you can probably bet the farm that they’ll be the only two women among the biggest money-makers in sports when Forbes releases its annual Top 100 list this week. Naomi slides in at No. 29 and Serena is at No. 33. If there are any other women in the group, my guess is you’ll find them on a tennis court.

Eddie Haskell

And, finally, Eddie Haskell is dead. Long live Eddie Haskell (in reruns). For all you youngsters in the audience, be advised that Eddie Haskell, played by Ken Osmond, was one of the regular characters on the 1950s-60s feel-good sitcom Leave It To Beaver, and he was a smart-ass kid. Here’s how Paul Farhi of the Washington Post describes him: “Eddie Haskell was a sneaky little rat, a two-faced suck-up and a tinpot bully. A punk who stirred up trouble.” That’s spot on, although I might have added the word “smarmy,” because Eddie was the kid your parents didn’t want you hanging with at home or on the street. Ironically, bad boy Eddie grew up to be policeman Ken in real life.

Let’s talk about no respect for fitba…girl power on TSN’s World Cup coverage…Kaylyn Kyle blowing the whistle on refs…hair of the dog…Rafa and Big Red…and go Raptors

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you don’t like reading about soccer, you’d be wise to move to another blog right about now…

The women’s World Cup is comfortably underway in France, and I sometimes wonder why we in North America have been so slow on the uptake in embracing the beautiful game known around the globe as football but soccer here at home.

True, fitba can be slow, tedious and boring. And, of course, there are the play-actors and their near-death experiences, a dodgy bit of business that is shame-worthy but never Oscar-worthy.

Neymar

Perhaps it’s the theatrics of the soccer elite—almost exclusive to the men’s side of the pitch—that keeps us at arm’s length. I mean, watching Neymar and other faux thespians flopping and twitching and gasping for their last breath, like so many trout out of water, provides comic relief but it’s also a total turnoff. If I want to see bad acting, I can turn on Mama’s Family any night on MeTV.

But, hey, even with fake injury time added to each half of a soccer match, it’s over in less than two hours.

Cripes, man, the halftime show at the Super Bowl lasts longer than that, especially if Janet Jackson has to put her clothes back on. And yet the National Football League and its Super Bowl is a colossus, even when halftime entertainers aren’t flashing flesh.

The NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League are John, Paul, George and Ringo. Major League Soccer is George Martin or Brian Epstein or Billy Preston. You know, the so-called Fifth Beatle. Or worse—Yoko Ono.

Many myopic mainstream jock journalists are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge MLS as a major-league sport.

Steve Simmons in the Republic of Tranna, for example, recently posted this item to his Twitter feed:

Toronto big league championships in my lifetime (with apologies to Argos, Rock and TFC)
62 Leafs
63 Leafs
64 Leafs (have no memory of 62-63-64)
67 Leafs
92 Blue Jays
93 Blue Jays.

Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS title fails to register on the Steve-O-Meter.

Yet MLS qualifies on most measuring sticks as “big league.” Million-dollar player salaries? Check. Global reach? Check. Multi-million-dollar national TV contract? Check. Franchises worth mega-millions? Check. Healthy attendance? Check.

Atlanta United, in fact, has a better average head count (52,000-plus) than every team in Major League Baseball. Toronto FC outdraws the Blue Jays. Seattle Sounders outdraw the Mariners. Cripes, man, as of June 2, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League had better attendance than nine MLB outfits. See for yourself:

I see a lot of “big league” head counts in there.

Meanwhile, here are a few other points of interest about MLS:

Atlanta United fans

* Forbes valued four franchises at more than $300 million last year (Atlanta United $330M, L.A. Galaxy $320M; Seattle Sounders $310M; LAFC $305M) and Toronto FC at $290M. Again, that spells “big league” to me.
* In 2018, 53 MLS players collected $1,000,000 or more at the pay window, while both Zoltan Stieber of DC United and Andreu Fontas of Sporting Kansas City came in at one dollar less. If those aren’t “big league” wages, Pele was a punk rocker.
* Among all global leagues, only Poland’s First Division has had a faster growth spurt in the past five years, and MLS average attendance between 2013 and 2018 was eighth in the world.

Atlanta packs ’em in.

* Atlanta United puts more people in the pews than Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, among many others, while Seattle Sounders have a larger per-game following than outfits like Chelsea and AC Milan.

Is MLS the premier fitba operation on the planet? Of course not. But it doesn’t have to be on par with the English Premier League, Serie A Italy, La Liga or the Bundesliga to make it a member in good standing of the Big Five—and not the Fifth Beatle—in North America.

No surprise, really, that Simmons would pooh-pooh the MLS as a hamlet-sized dot on our sports landscape. Here’s what he had to say about fitba on the Toronto Mike’d podcast during Toronto FC’s championship run: “I’m almost embarrassed to be at the soccer games, because my knowledge of the game and my interest in the game is so limited. I don’t know the ABCs. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you all the positions. I don’t know how many players are on the field. Honestly, I have no connection to this game at all. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t play it, I never watched it, I didn’t care about it.” That’s an astonishing confession from a sports columnist with a nation-wide platform. Let’s hope it means he’ll leave the writing on the women’s World Cup to scribes who actually know how many players are on the pitch.

If you tune in to World Cup coverage on TSN, you’ll see something as rare as a Monday morning without a Donald Trump tweet—an all-female natterbug panel. Instead of simply looking all gussied up and pretty, they’re letting Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson analyze teams, break down plays and—oh…my…gawd—deliver opinion. You know, like they actually know what they’re talking about. Imagine that. Women with functioning brains on sports TV. What a concept.

Kaylyn Kyle

I really enjoyed the lively and spirited banter between Rustad, Kyle and Matheson at halftime of the England-Scotland skirmish. Kyle and Rustad disagreed sharply on what should and shouldn’t be a hand ball penalty, and host Kate Beirness knew enough to zip her lips and let the two former Canadian national team members have at it. Kyle was, to say the least, animated and agitated after the Video Assistant Referee awarded England a penalty kick due to an unintentional hand ball by the Scots. Kyle was emphatic: The game referee and VAR room should ignore one of the most fundamental rules of the game and let the women play on. Which, of course, is total nonsense. Do you know what we’d have if officials stopped calling games by the rule book? The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fashion note: The aforementioned Kyle has the most magnificent head of hair on TV. I know several drag queens who would give their first-born to have that mane.

Speaking of hair, what are the chances that Brett Hull is looking for some hair of the dog this morning? If Hull wasn’t five sheets to the wind on Sunday night in St. Loo, he was off his meds because he looked and sounded totally wasted prior to puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between the St. Loo Blues and Boston Bruins. I’m guessing his head is exploding right about now.

Someone hurled a can of beer onto the ice surface late in the Game 6 skirmish. I’d point to Hull as the most likely suspect, except he didn’t appear to be in the mood to let a good can of beer go to waste.

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

I never thought I’d see dominance in sports like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Big Red romped to horse racing’s Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in a world-record time that stands unchallenged to this day, and watching film of that gallop still gives me a shiver and has me reaching for the Kleenex.

Rafa Nadal

Even after the passage of so much time, it seems so unreal. Like a fairytale about a wonder horse that us old folks like to tell our grandkids. But it happened, and so did a different kind of thoroughbred—Rafael Nadal. If anything comes close to Secretariat at the Belmont, it’s Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris. In winning his 12th French Open title and 18th tennis Grand Slam on Sunday, Rafa is running neck-and-neck with Big Red on my personal scorecard of belief-challenging accomplishments. He’s 93-2 in France. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. The King of Clay has lost twice—in 15 years! Against the absolute best players on the planet. That’s insane.

Number of different women winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 9. Naomi Osaka has been the only repeat champion. Number of men not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 0.

Kawhi Leonard

Fun tweet from Gord Stellick of Sportsnet: “Taking attendance first day of JK at Toronto schools in 2024: Kawhi Smith, Kawhi Jones, Kawhi Murphy, Kawhi Watson…”

And, finally, it’s my understanding that they’ll be playing a rather significant basketball game tonight in the Republic of Tranna. Like the majority of Canadians, I won’t be watching, but I hope Kawhi Leonard and the Jurassics get the job done against the Golden State Juggernaut. I love it whenever we beat the Americans at our own game.

About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.