Let’s talk about Randy Carlyle and Body by Pillsbury…liars, liars pants on fire…what say you, Jeff Hecht?…E-Town trumps Pegtown…the CFL’s best newspaper market…men overboard at Sportsnet…and the WJM newsroom

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this post was written without the benefit of performance-enhancing nouns, verbs, adjectives or metaphors, but there are trace amounts of sarcasm, irreverence and flippancy…

Back in April 1989, when drug cheat Ben Johnson still had our attention after his fall from grace at the Seoul Olympics, word drifted out of Stockholm that Randy Carlyle had failed a drug test.

I laughed.

Anyone who’d ever met or seen Randy Carlyle probably laughed.

Randy Carlyle

I mean, you didn’t get Carlyle’s body with daily visits to the gym, augmented by human growth hormone milk shakes. We’re talking Body by Pillsbury. Whatever muscle the Winnipeg Jets defender had was well concealed by a pleasantly soft exterior, most likely the product of jam-filled pop tarts or crescent rolls stuffed with cheese and bacon. His soft under belly really was his soft underbelly.

Thus, after Carlyle had piddled in a bottle at the World Hockey Championship and women/men wearing lab coats didn’t like the color of his pee—they discovered traces of the banned substance mesterolone—there were many giggles, even though he had officially joined Johnson on the Drug Cheat Hall of Shame roll call.

“When we first heard the words ‘steroids’ and ‘Randy’ in the same sentence, everyone in the room laughed,” Dave Ellett, a teammate of Carlyle’s in Sweden and with the Jets, once recalled in a natter with Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun. “John Ferguson Sr. had the best line: ‘If that’s what steroids does for your body, a lot of people will want their money back.’ Then we realized how serious it was.”

As it happened, Carlyle’s ‘B’ sample came back cleaner than a saint’s soul, so neither he nor Team Canada was disqualified from the tournament.

“I’ve been through hell,” the Pillsbury D-Boy told news snoops at the scene of the non-crime. “I was in total shock. How do you live with yourself when they say you’ve taken this and you know you haven’t? I lost a few pounds with sweaty palms.”

Andrew Harris

So, sure, squints make mistakes, and many among the rabble believe the lab rats did a dirty to Andrew Harris, who won’t join his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates in their annual Labor Day Weekend frolic v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders today on the Flattest of Lands. He’s also been told to find something else to do when the large lads assemble for the rematch in Good Ol’ Hometown on Sept. 7.

The Canadian Football League’s now-suspended leading rusher vows he didn’t knowingly take the illegal drug they say he took, but, for every local who believes Harris got a raw deal and shouldn’t be twiddling his thumbs this afternoon, there are probably 10 beyond the boundaries of Manitoba who’ll tell us that his pants are on fire. You’d have better luck convincing them that O.J. is honest-to-gosh looking for the real killers.

And that’s for good reason: When caught with their hands in the juice jar—or, in the case of Pete Rose, cozying up to friendly neighborhood bookie—most high-profile cheats in sports immediately take a trip to Planet Pinocchio. Examples…

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong: “If you consider my situation, a guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence (cancer), why would I then enter in a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.”

Mark McGwire (appearing before U.S. Congress): “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period.”

Sammy Sosa: Pretended he couldn’t understand English when asked about his steroid use.

Roger Clemens: “I’ve been accused of something I’m not guilty of…I’ve never taken steroids or HGH.”

Justin Gatlin: “I am not using and have not used PEDs.”

Marion Jones: “I am against performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them.”

Ben Johnson: “When I was a kid, I never took drugs. People who know me in Jamaica and people who know me here know I would never take drugs. I have never, ever knowingly taken illegal drugs, and I would never embarrass my family, my friends, and my country, and the kids who love me. For now, there’s nothing more I can tell you, because I just don’t know.”

Floyd Landis: “I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling, to the sacrifice of an entire life to carry out my dream, a dream of thousands of kilometres that I have completed through an absolute respect to the cleanness of the sport.”

Alex Rodriguez: “I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged.”

Pete Rose (gambling): “I’m not going to admit to something that didn’t happen. Never bet as a player. That’s a fact.”

Martina Hingis (cocaine 2007 Wimbledon): “I am frustrated and angry. I believe that I am absolutely 100 per cent innocent.” Notably, she promptly retired rather than fight lab findings and a two-year ban.

Manny Ramirez: “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid.” After taking another medication that wasn’t a steroid, Ramirez failed another drug test and retired rather than be banished for 100 games.

Ryan Braun: “I truly believe in my heart, and would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point. I am the victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”

Vladimir Putin: “State-sponsored doping system has never been created in Russia, it is simply not possible, and we will do everything we can to make sure such state-sponsored system of doping support never exists.”

That, kids, is the reason people are hesitant, or flat-out refuse, to believe Harris. They’ve heard all the nose-growing excuses before.

And, unlike Randy Carlyle, his isn’t Body by Pillsbury.

Jeff Hecht

So, when Louis-Phillipe Bourassa was banished for being a drug cheat, Bombers safety Jeff Hecht pounced, calling out the Bytown RedBlacks long snapper on Twitter with this post: “Sometimes you just have to work hard instead of being lazy and buying an edge.” It followed, therefore, that he’d deliver the same public tsk-tsking to Harris. But no. “To think that I would treat my teammate the same as I would somebody else, I think, is kind of naive from some people, because I’m a team-first guy,” he said in a chin-wag with Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. He then told Teddy Football that “I think lying is the tool of the coward, so I’m not going to hide my stance on anything.” Except, of course, he’ll hide his stance on Andrew Harris, thank you very much. Hypocrisy, thy name is Jeff Hecht.

The Bombers are without Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris and Chris Matthews today on the Flattest of Lands, so why do I think they have a snowball’s chance of beating Gang Green? Because they aren’t without Willie Jefferson and the D.

I like most of what young Jeff Hamilton does in the Drab Slab. Grade A reporter. Good writer. On top of the beat. Alas, young Jeff is off the mark when he suggests Saskatchewan and River City are the “two best markets in the CFL.” That’s only half accurate. The main measuring stick for any CFL market is the box office and, yes, Gang Green has developed a most rabid fan base. But Winnipeg? Not so much. Edmonton has been, and is, a better market. Even with this year’s sharp downturn in bodies at Commonwealth Stadium, the Eskimos are attracting 3,335 more than the Bombers per game. More to the point, if the Eskimos don’t nudge their head count up a couple thousand, this will be the first time—the only time!—this century that their average attendance falls below 30,000. Winnipeg FC has averaged 30,000 once. Repeat: Once. That was in 2013, the year Football Follies Field in Fort Garry opened for business and became a destination for curiosity seekers. So, sorry to say, Jeff, Good Ol’ Hometown is a better market than E-Town like Bob Dylan is a better singer than Sinatra.

There are, of course, other methods of measuring a CFL market, one of them being media coverage. That, of course, is subjective. But I submit that no one in our vast land does it better than the girls and boys on the Bombers beat in Pegtown, and I can already hear the squawks of protest from news snoops in E-Town and on the Flattest of Lands. Well, let ’em squawk. They’re wrong.

River City is the only true two-newspaper town in Western Canada, thus Winnipeg FC gets double the print coverage from competing rags. The operative word is “competing.” Standard cookie-cutter, scrum-collected quotes aside, what you read in the Drab Slab won’t be what you read in the Sun, and the Andrew Harris situation is an excellent example of the difference. Paul Friesen’s take in the Sun had a harsh, but fair, tone, while Hamilton delivered a more personal, reined-in essay. Both pieces worked for me in their own way. And that’s something you don’t get in points west, because Postmedia eliminated newspaper competition in other Prairie provinces. In terms of CFL coverage, the E-Town Sun is the E-Town Journal; the Calgary Sun is the Calgary Herald; the Vancity Sun is the Vancity Province; and you’ll read the same Riders copy in both the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. They’re kin. Kissing cousins, if you will. That’s not the way it should be, but that’s what you get when Postmedia is still pinching pennies long after our copper coin went out of circulation.

Nick Kypreos

So, Sportsnet (thankfully) has pulled the plug on resident meathead Nick Kypreos, and we can only hope he’s replaced by someone who isn’t stuck in the 1970s, when clubbing an opponent over the head with a piece of lumber was an oft-used gambit in winning hockey games. Kypreos spent two decades using his Sportsnet pulpit to deliver a “to hell with turning the other cheek” sermon, promoting back-alley bullying to the point of advising skilled players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews to adopt rat-like stickwork and fisticuffs as tactics in dealing with the National Hockey League weasel element. That dinosaur logic is now left to blowhard Donald S. Cherry and the bellicose Brian Burke, although Burkie often delivers juicy insight when he isn’t talking about truculence.

John Shannon

I hope the last person to leave Sportsnet’s stable of shinny voices remembers to turn out the lights. Gone are Kypreos, Doug MacLean and John Shannon, which leaves who to natter with Jeff Marek on Hockey Central At Noon? Muppet head Colby Armstrong and Gord Stellick (meh)? Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanis (spare us)? The return of Damien Cox (shudder)? I’m not a Shannon fan, because there’s more than a whiff of arrogance to his delivery and he can be annoyingly interruptive, but he certainly knows where a lot of bodies are buried. I suspect he won’t be in the unemployment queue for long.

Murray, Lou, Mary, Ted, Sue Ann, Georgette, Rhoda and Phyllis in the WJM newsroom.

And, finally, Mary is gone, Ted is gone, Georgette is gone, and now Rhoda is gone. Thank goodness for reruns so I can still watch The Mary Tyler Moore show every afternoon and keep them and the WJM newsroom in my life. Love that show. Love the characters. I actually have a framed pic of Mary Tyler Moore beside my flatscreen TV, a gift from dear friends Jeff and Paul, who know I still want to be Mary Richards when I grow up and have a friend like Rhoda Morgenstern.

About a suspension for Big Buff…homerism in the River City media…another Drab Slab sports columnist bites the dust…Paul Wiecek’s parting cheap shot at former colleagues…Winnipeg Blue Bombers getting lost in Winnipeg Jets hype…a hissing contest in Lotus Land…Rink Rat Scheifele the writer…coach PoMo is No. 10 with a bullet…and more hypocrisy in the media

A Sunday smorg on Turkey Weekend in Canada…

Dallas Stars 5, Winnipeg Jets 1…I guess the local hockey heroes will have to settle for an 81-1 record this season.

Since you asked, yes, Dustin Byfuglien should have been given the remainder of the night off after his attack on Dallas defenceman Connor Carrick on Saturday.

Big Buff

Got a kick out of the biased, homer reaction to the Byfuglien assault on Carrick. Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 tweeted “Atta boy Buff,” and Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press described it as a “careless cross-check.” As if. This was a brutal attack—from behind—on an unsuspecting, defenceless foe whose face was planted into the boards by Big Buff. Well after the whistle. Somehow I doubt Ol’ Lefty Westwood or McIntyre would pass it off as a meh moment had it been one of the Stars attacking, say, Josh Morrissey from the rear and driving his kisser into the woodwork. They’d be squawking about a match penalty, a game misconduct and a suspension, which Byfuglien deserves. But, hey, when you work for the broadcast rights holder or the official paper of the Jets, I guess you see a different game.

Speaking of the Freep, the Drab Slab chews up and spits out sports columnists like sunflower seeds in a baseball dugout.

If my scorecard is correct, Paul Wiecek is the fourth guy to either walk away from—or be pushed out of—the position since 2004, so once a newbe is on board it’ll be five in 14 years. That’s an alarming amount of foot traffic for such a highly coveted gig.

Now, I understand that the rag trade has changed greatly this century and the rats continue to scurry from what appears to be a sinking vessel (meaning the overall print business, if not the Freep). Jock journos across the continent have abandoned newspapers in favor of digital enterprises or they’ve defected to pro sports outfits, and the Drab Slab has been hit as hard, if not harder, than most sheets.

Here’s who the Freep has lost in recent years:

1) Tim Campbell (went to nhl.com);
2) Gary Lawless (went to TSN 1290 before the Vegas Golden Knights);
3) Ed Tait (went to bluebombers.com);
4) Wiecek (he’s going for a long walk on a beach).

That’s a big wallop. And it would seem the columnist gig in the Freep’s toy department doesn’t hold the stature it did in the days of Maurice Smith and Hal Sigurdson.

Ed Tait

Not at all surprised that Wiecek couldn’t resist the urge to take one final cheap shot, but I thought his target would have been one of his favorite whipping boys, Mike O’Shea and his “goofy shorts” or Jacob Trouba (“liar, liar”). Instead, he took aim at former colleagues Campbell, Lawless and Tait, each of whom defected from the Freep and now puts food on the table by working for pro outfits.

“I also won’t be taking a job as a shill for a sports team or league, as so many others now seem to do,” he wrote in his farewell column. “There is journalism and then there is everything else. Any former reporter who tries to tell you that having their paycheque now signed by the same people they are covering ‘really isn’t all that different’ is hoping to delude you. And if they actually believe that nonsense, then they’re deluding themselves, too.”

Can you say arrogant, kids?

Knuckles Irving

Interesting that Wiecek would dump on someone like Tait when longtime and greatly respected voice of the Bombers, Bob Irving, is saying this about the former Freep and Winnipeg Sun football scribe: “He is fair, objective and even critical of the team he works for when it’s warranted. A consummate pro and incredibly respected as such across the land.” That was after Tait had worked with Knuckles on CJOB’s broadcast of the Bombers-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish in Ottawa on Friday night. Irving’s description of Tait is spot on. Wiecek, on the other hand, is full of crap.

Jacob Trouba: One of Paul Wiecek’s favorite whipping boys.

When Wiecek first landed the columnist gig at the Drab Slab, I applauded his appointment. He’d been a terrific reporter on both newsside and on numerous sports beats, and he’s a very good writer. I quite enjoyed his early offerings. They were pointed, opinionated and seldom shy. Over time, however, his copy grew increasingly bitter, angry and deeply mean-spirited in tone. It had a haughty, elitist, my-stuff-doesn’t-stink vibe. He used his print pulpit for obscene and unrelenting attacks on Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach O’Shea and Jets young defenceman Trouba (he’s “a liar, petulant, a malcontent, impetuous, the biggest loser, reckless, greedy, phony, selfish, a problem”). They were personal in nature and totally unprofessional. He never disguised his complete contempt for bloggers, newspaper defectors like the aforementioned Campbell, Lawless and Tait (“flacks and hacks”), and professional athletes (“coddled millionaires”). Reading him in the past year, I often got the impression that he was merely “mailing it in.” He became a blogger with personal axes to grind, rather than a journalist.

So here’s what I’m wondering this fine October morning: With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers heating up as it cools down, will the rabble notice?

I mean, the frost is fresh on the pumpkin and these crisp, autumn days and nights are made for football. The kind of football we saw Friday from Ottawa, where the Bombers were required to work extra time before subduing the Bytown Redblacks, 40-32. It was remarkable, entertaining theatre that left you wanting more. And I expect the Bombers to deliver more of same in the remaining three assignments on their Canadian Football League calendar.

But here’s the rub: The boys are back in town.

That is to say the Jets juggernaut invites its first sacrificial lamb of the 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Tuesday, and my fear is that Winnipeg FC is about to be swallowed whole by Scheifele, Wheeler, Laine et al, plus an unfortunate bit of scheduling.

The Bombers’ next skirmish is Saturday vs. the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Should be a sizable head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. But then what? Due to a bye week, the large lads are out of sight and out of mind for 13 days, during which time les Jets have half a dozen home dates, including a visit from the Tranna Maple Leafs. I’ll be shocked if the Bombers are anything more than an afterthought by the time the Calgary Stampeders roll into town on Oct. 26. What will that game attract, 20,000? Less?

I hope I’m wrong because the Bombers are on a significant roll that would stretch to four successive Ws with a win over Gang Green on Saturday, so they’re worthy of our attention.

Jonathon Jennings

That’s a nasty bit of business going on between B.C. Lions general manager Ed Hervey and the agent for quarterback Jonathon Jennings. If you missed it, Hervey called out Jennings during a chat with Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver, saying: “Will he reach elite status? That’s in his hands. That comes down to how much time you commit to pre- and post-practice film work and working with the coaches. I’ve been around some good quarterbacks and they lived around the (practice) facility. The good ones usually do. No knock on Jonathon, but you rarely see him around the facility enough to give you any indication that he’s ready to take it to that level.” To which agent Bardia Ghahremani responded: “Jonathon is one of the first to arrive to work every day. Ed would know this if Ed weren’t one of the last.” Total burn. The end result will be Jennings getting a new postal code next season.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Enjoyed Rink Rat Scheifele’s column on the TSN website last week. Among other things, the Jets centre offered this nugget: “You haven’t done anything until you’ve won a Stanley Cup. When you get that close, anything short of the ultimate goal is failure.” Now, if one of the boys on the beat had written that, the rabble would be calling the news snoop a negative SOB, or something less flattering. But since it’s Scheifele, everything’s cool.

A tip of the bonnet to Coach Potty Mouth, Paul Maurice. The losingest coach in NHL history is now the 10th winningest coach in NHL history with 649 Ws. If nothing else, you have to admire the guy’s stick-to-itness. Coach PoMo should pass both Mike Kennan and Pat Quinn to move into eighth place before the current crusade is in the books.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s ABH in the Major League Baseball playoffs—Anybody But Houston. Can’t root, root, root for a team that hired a guy who beats up women.

And, finally, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna hopped on a horse called Faux Righteousness this weekend, calling out Brian Burke of Sportsnet for “hypocrisy.” If anyone knows about hypocrisy, it’s Simmons. He dumps all over Ray Rice for beating up his wife, yet he writes about Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s “dignity” and glorifies the champion boxer, even though he’s a convicted wife beater. He brands John Farrell a traitor for defecting from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Boston Red Sox, even though he defected from the Calgary Sun to the Calgary Herald to the Toronto Sun.

Say What?! Ed Tait is a ‘hack and flack’ and not a reporter?

There are times when I wonder if I’ve actually read what I’ve just read.

A case in point would be the most-recent installment of Say What?!, a rambling, all-directions grump-off featuring the two resident curmudgeons in the Winnipeg Free Press sports department, editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek.

Now, I realize that their frivolous to-and-fro (it appears seemingly at random) is not meant to be taken any more seriously than Beetle Bailey’s misadventures or whatever it is that’s getting Dagwood Bumstead’s goat these days, but when these Waldorf and Statler wannabes stoop to calling Ed Tait and George (Shakey) Johnson “hacks” it tends to grab my attention.

If you missed it (and it’s my guess that most of you did), this was part of their thrust-and-parry last week:

Lyons: “Merriam-Webster defines a reporter as a person employed by a newspaper, magazine, or television company to gather and report news. Listen, I bear no animosity or hard feelings towards the folks who have left the mainstream media to take jobs working for professional sports teams or leagues but I’m not sure those folks should be called reporters. You went to journalism school at Carleton University—what ya think?”

Wiecek: “I’m old school on this reporter thing: Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”

I’m not certain what was more astonishing, a) Lyons’ reliance on a dog-eared definition that ignores the reality of websites, b) Wiecek’s galloping arrogance, or c) Wiecek branding highly skilled and respected reporters like Tait and Johnson, among others, as “hacks and flacks.”

Once upon a time, of course, Tait was to Canadian Football League newspaper coverage what Johnny Carson was to late-night TV. The best. Today, you will find the former Winnipeg Sun and Freep sports scribe’s fine prose on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the CFL outfit.

Johnson, meanwhile, was the finest wordsmith among sports columnists in Canada until the day some misguided suit at Postmedia experienced a moment of madness and told Shakey to leave the building. His delightful turn-of-phrase and dry wit moved from the Calgary Herald to the Calgary Flames website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the National Hockey League club.

Does that make Tait and Johnson flacks? By definition, yes. They’re paid to spread the gospel according to their respective organizations. The same can be said for Tim Campbell and Dave Stubbs, two other veteran mainstream sports scribes who fled the near-death experience of the rag trade for nhl.com.

That, however, does not dismiss them as reporters. I’ve read Tait’s stuff on bluebombers.com and Johnson’s work at nhl.com/flames. To say they aren’t reporters is to say Don Cherry isn’t loud.

What part of that, I wonder, does Steve Lyons not understand?

More to the point, what part of the word “hack” does Paul Wiecek not understand? According to Lyons’ go-to dictionary, Merriam-Webster, a hack is: “A person who does work that is not good or original and especially a writer who is not very good.”

You want other definitions of “hack?” Try these…

Macmillan: “A journalist, artist or writer who does boring work or work that is not very good.”

Cambridge: “A journalist whose work is low in quality or does not have much imagination.”

I’m uncertain what world Wiecek lives in, but in no world that I know of does the word “hack” apply to either Tait or Johnson.

But, hey, “Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”

Arrogance, thy name is Paul.

Wiecek, who, by the way, is one of my favorite scribes, prattled on about team/league websites producing nothing but pap that caters to the converted, and to a degree he’s correct. They’re devoid of harsh, critical analysis. But what, you expect the Bombers to pay Tait to cut head coach Mike O’Shea a new one because he has a brain fart and attempts an impossible 61-yard field goal? Not going to happen.

The thing is, pap isn’t strictly the province of team/league websites. You’ll find plenty of it in the Freep.

A headline last week referred to Tom Sestito as a “dirty Penguin” and a “Pittsburgh goon.” That’s the kind of blatant homerism you won’t even find on the Winnipeg Jets website. In the midst of the Jets’ current four-game skid, the Freep ran an article full of siss-boom-bah and advised us that the local hockey heroes “refuse to wave the white flag.” Bravo for them! And if it’s pure pablum you’re looking for, check out the front page of the sports section this past Thursday. You’ll be greeted by this headline: “Jets fans have reason to be happy.” Below it is a Paul Wiecek column that reads like something delivered directly from the True North Sports & Entertainment propaganda department.

Say what?! Yup, apparently those “who can” don’t just “do,” some days they also write just like hacks and flacks. Imagine 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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

georgejohnson
George (Shakey) Johnson

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

Shakey Johnson doesn’t type. He writes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

When is a gay football player not a gay football player? When Steve Simmons says so

This just in: Michael Sam isn’t gay. He never happened.

No, really. That guy who played rush end for the Montreal Alouettes on Aug. 7? The guy with the name Sam stitched on the back of his No. 94 jersey? Not gay. Not real.

As much as we believed we were eye witnesses to an historic moment that hot August night in Ottawa, there’s never been an openly gay performer in the Canadian Football League. We know this because Little Stevie Blunder says so.

“In reality,” Steve Simmons scribbles in his weekly serving of three-dot alphabet soup for the Toronto Sun and its sister sheets in Sun Media, “pro football still awaits its first openly gay player.”

I see. We are to ignore the reality that Sam actually joined the fray for 12 plays against the homestanding RedBlacks this month. Expunge it from the official record, kids. According to the Steve-O-Meter, apparently it takes more than one game and one dozen snaps of a football to qualify you as a gay man playing professional football.

As for the reality that Sam was a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams and participated in preseason play? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that he was on the Dallas Cowboys practice roster? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that an ESPN reporter, Josina Anderson, filed a live report about Sam’s showering habits while with the Rams? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that he was engaged to be married to another man? Not gay, didn’t happen.

But wait.

In one sentence, Little Stevie tells us that “pro football still awaits its first openly gay player,” but in another he tells us “Michael Sam was openly gay.”

Now I’m confused.

How can a man be openly gay at home, at church, at the market, at the theatre, on Dancing With The Stars, in the locker room…but not when he’s in full (albeit futile) frolic on a football field?

I think this is what Little Stevie is actually trying to tell us in his awkward way: Your gayness only counts if you’re a good football player. If you show some staying power. If, on the other hand, you are some shmuck who plays a mere 12 downs and records zero quarterback sacks and zero tackles, your gayness scores a big, fat zero on the Steve-O-Meter. You don’t exist and neither does your gayness.

What a wheeze bag.

In reality, Michael Sam is the first, and only, openly gay man to compete in a CFL game. That’s how he shall be remembered, even if only as a footnote, although Little Stevie Blunder is having none of that, either.

Asked by Bryan Hayes on TSN’s The Reporters on Sunday morning how people will reflect upon the Sam saga now that he has walked out on the Alouettes, thus likely signaling the end to his football journey, Little Stevie had this to say:

“I don’t think it will be remembered.”

I think it might be wise of Simmons if he were to steer his scribblings and comments clear of social issues.

I mean, this is a man who staked claim to the moral high ground when he pooh-poohed Roger Goodell for the NFL commish’s horrid handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, yet his credibility in that area took a serious drubbing when he posted a happy birthday tweet to Floyd Mayweather, a convicted and serial hitter of women. Simmons repeatedly has referred to John Farrell as “Benedict” Farrell because the Red Sox skipper bolted the Toronto Blue Jays for Boston. Yet, in the 1980s, Little Stevie signed on with the Calgary Herald while still drawing pay from the Calgary Sun. Pot, meet kettle.

Now he’s reduced the arrival of Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to play professional football, to nothingness.

Stick to what you know best, Little Stevie—stalking Phil Kessel and his hot dog stands.

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.

Canadian sports journalism (print division) is full of Benedict Arnolds

Sports scribes are the last people who should be talking about loyalty. They move more often than a carnival barker. A lost dog stays in one place longer than some jock journalists.

Full Disclosure: I was not loyal to the team as a jock journalist.

Actually, I was until I wasn’t. Which is to say I harbored an allegiance to the Winnipeg Tribune that was unwavering when a Philadelphia newspaper came calling one winter during the 1970s. I was flattered, but not tempted to move to the City of Brotherly Ink Stained Wretches. Ditto when the Winnipeg Free Press cast come-hither glances and pitched some woo. Too loyal to the Trib to move across the street.

That changed, though, when the puppet masters at Southam Inc. betrayed myself, 374 other people and 14 gargoyles at the corner of Smith and Graham by shuttering the Trib doors and windows and kicking us all to the curb 34 years ago this month.

Loyalty was also a casualty. At least it was for me.

Once the Trib presses stopped, there existed no personal attachment to any of the newspapers that recruited me post-Aug. 27, 1980. It became a job. A job I sometimes enjoyed, but more often did not enjoy, otherwise I wouldn’t have drifted about the country like a hobo looking for a hot meal and a fast train out of town.

This likely explains why I found a bit by Steve Simmons so objectionable this Sunday past.

In it, the loudest and most annoying of Sun Media’s sports voices referred to Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell as “Benedict Farrell.” Simmons branded the man a traitor because of Farrell’s thinly veiled desire to manage the Bosox while in the employ of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Well, let me tell you something about Steve Simmons. Then I’ll tell you about sports scribes.

Steve Simmons is one who preaches from the pompous ass pulpit. He is shackled to his ego. He is a fully carded member of the self-admiration society. That’s what drives him. No crime there. But he is a pot calling a kettle black. More than once he questioned Farrell’s loyalty, honesty and integrity, or lack thereof. He has brought into question his character, dignity and word.

Why? Because Farrell wanted to manage the Bosox, not the Blue Jays.

Yet, Simmons did the very same thing in his own little world back in the day. He was a cub reporter with the Calgary Herald who, while drawing his pay there, was negotiating to move to the opposition Calgary Sun. Then, while working the hockey beat and serving as sports editor at the Sun, he engaged in negotiations to move back to the Herald while being paid by the Sun.

Furthermore, during his entire stay in Cowtown, his stated goal was to one day return home and run with the big dogs at one of the Toronto newspapers, which he did upon joining the Toronto Sun in 1987.

So, here’s the Simmons scorecard: While working at the Calgary Herald, negotiated with and moved to the Calgary Sun; while working at the Sun, negotiated with and moved to the Herald; while working at the Herald, negotiated with and moved to the Toronto Sun.

And Simmons has the temerity to brand John Farrell a traitor? Farrell did nothing Simmons hadn’t already done. Three times.

Sports scribes are the last people who should be talking about loyalty. They move more often than a carnival barker. A lost dog stays in one place longer than some jock journalists.

Not so long ago, Cathal Kelly was scribbling for the Toronto Star. Today, he does that very thing for the Globe and Mail. A few months ago, Bruce Arthur was a wordsmith at the National Post. Today, he pens his prose for the Star. Stephen Brunt left the Globe for Sportsnet. Terry Jones betrayed the Edmonton Journal after 15 years when he defected to the opposition Sun. Cam Cole spent almost a quarter of a century writing the good stuff for the Journal, then bolted for the National Post, then the Vancouver Sun.

It’s no different on the home front in River City. Paul Friesen walked away from CJOB for a newspaper career at the Winnipeg Sun. Ed Tait defected from the Sun to the Winnipeg Free Press. So did his sports editor, Steve Lyons. Gary Lawless walked away from the Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay to join the Freep. And we are free to question Lawless’s loyalties today. Are they with the Free Press or TSN radio? He surely spends more time on air than he does writing his column.

And it’s important to note that, in most cases, these people likely were dealing behind their employers’ backs.

It’s something to keep in mind the next time a sports scribe lashes out at a “Benedict Jock.” Chances are it’s a cobra calling a rattler a snake, because it’s my experience that most jock journalists (print division) are loyal to one thing—their egos.

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.