Let’s talk about women’s sports and the media…tough times for Ponytail Puck…pigging out on Big Macs…the Barnum and Bailey Brier…Chevy’s sales pitch to free agents…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I sprung forward this morning and brought some random thoughts along with me…

I think TSN and Sportsnet are trying to fool us into believing they actually give a damn about women’s sports.

Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson and Kim Davis.

I mean, both of our national jock networks have devoted copious air to the distaff portion of the playground in the past week, featuring interviews with movers and shakers like Stacey Allaster, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Cammi Granato and Kendall Coyne Schofield, and they’ve also given us retro peeks at moments of girl glory delivered by Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and others.

It’s been boffo stuff.

And tonight we’ll hear the all-female broadcast crew of Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Christine Simpson work the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hometown Hockey, something that—dare I say?—smacks of gimmickry and likely will have numerous men squirming and pressing the mute button on their remotes.

But here’s my question in the midst of all this rah, rah, rah about ponytail sports: Where are TSN and Sportsnet when it really matters?

You know, like when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was in business. Like during the women’s Under-18 world hockey championship. TSN covering competition like the world shinny tourney or World Cup soccer are no-brainers, but to the best of my recollection Sportsnet broadcast the grand sum of two CWHL games before the operation bolted its doors last spring. I could be wrong. It might have been three. Meanwhile, TSN completely ignored the U18 event.

The National Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, dropped the puck on its playoffs Friday night, but I haven’t heard a whisper about it on either network.

In the small hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I counted 136 news-related videos on the TSN website. The male sports v. female sports scorecard read 133-3 in favor of the dudes, and that included Justin Bieber practicing his shootout skills.

None of that’s surprising, of course, because numerous studies advise us that female jocks receive just two to six per cent of air time on sportscasts in the True North and U.S. The amount of space allotted to female sports in our daily newspapers would be similar. Maybe even less.

So, ya, it’s great that TSN and Sportsnet have been saluting women the past few days, but what’s their excuse for the other 51 weeks of the year?

According to a 2016 report, a study of sports coverage on our national networks (French and English) in 2014 showed that female athletes were featured in just four per cent of 35,000 hours of programming. More than half of that four per cent allotment showed women’s events at the Sochi Olympics and/or women’s tennis. Which means, of course, all other female activity received less than two per cent air time.

Whenever I contemplate the minimalist coverage female sports receives on air and in print, I think of comments from noted jock journos Steve Simmons and Bruce Dowbiggin.

“I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports,” Postmedia’s Simmons told the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2002. He also advocated for the removal of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games in 2010, calling it a “charade.”

Dowbiggin, meanwhile, wrote last year that ponytail sports was “second-tier entertainment” and, in another piece, added, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.”

I’m quite uncertain why Dowbiggin would want to swing a cat and hit a lesbian, or any woman for that matter, but I believe his indelicate and disturbingly crass remark about felines and females was an attempt at cutesy humor. If so, he failed. Miserably.

Point is, those are two loud voices in jock journalism completely dismissing female athletes.

Steve Simmons

Dowbiggin once was an award-winning jock journo and a main player on the national stage, twice winning a Gemini Award for sports reporting and broadcasting. He now cranks out opinion essays for Troy Media and his own Not The Public Broadcaster. Simmons is a high-profile columnist whose scribblings appear in Postmedia rags across the country.

As much as I wish it was otherwise, I’m afraid theirs is the prevailing attitude in our jock media.

It’s worth noting that neither of the Winnipeg dailies has a female in its stable of full-time sports scribes. The Drab Slab allows the talented and very readable Melissa Martin to make guest appearances for the provincial and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the Sun hasn’t had a Jill writing jock stuff since Judy Owen left the building. Judy is one of only four female scribes with whom I worked during 30 years in the rag trade, the others being Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib) and Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun). It’s been more than 50 years since I started at the Trib, and in that time I’ve known just five female sports writers in Good Ol’ Hometown—Judy, Peggy, Rita, Barb Huck and Ashley Prest. I know some women applied the last time the Sun had an opening, but Scott Billeck got the gig.

Billie Jean King

What a truly dreadful time it’s been for Ponytail Puck. First the CWHL ceased operations last spring, then close to 200 of the planet’s best players had a hissy fit and decided to boycott and trash talk the NWHL, and now the world championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tough to grow the game when all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

Speaking of Billie Jean, she’ll be part of the Hometown Hockey telecast tonight on Sportsnet, but we shouldn’t expect any hard-hitting questions from either Ron MacLean or Tara Slone. My guess is MacLean will serve the tennis legend and women’s rights activist nothing but softball questions, while Tara swoons.

Sportsnet won’t be the only network featuring an all-female broadcast crew tonight. Kate Scott, Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko will be the voices for NBCSN’s telecast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks skirmish, and I just hope they realize that criticism is part of the gig because they’ll be hearing it from the yahoos.

The PWHPA—also the talking heads on Sportsnet—would like the five-team NWHL to disappear at the conclusion of its fifth season, so they’ll be disappointed to hear this sound bite from NWHLPA director Anya Packer: “I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six.” If they want to play serious shinny next winter, the PWHPA might want to rethink that boycott thing.

The rapidly spreading coronavirus has a number of sports teams/leagues talking about playing in empty stadiums. In other words, just like a Toronto Argonauts home game.

Chevy

Ya, I think it’s great that the National Hockey League salary cap is going up and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a boatload of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s cash to spend on free agents this summer, but that won’t make it any easier for Chevy to sell Good Ol’ Hometown to high-profile players. River City remains No. 1 on most NHLers’ no-go lists, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I don’t know about you, but every time I see the Nashville Predators play, I have the same thought: “How do these guys beat anybody?”

Does this make sense to anyone other than Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas?
William Nylander: 30-goal seasons—1; salary—$9 million ($8.3 million bonus).
Kyle Connor:         30-goal seasons—3; salary—$7.5 million ($0 bonus).

People poke fun at the Canadian Football League for rewarding failure by giving a single point on a missed field goal. Well, excuse me, but the NHL does that very thing almost nightly with its ridiculous loser point.

Watched Sports Central on Sportsnet on Friday morning and I didn’t hear one word about the Brier. Nada. They managed to squeeze in highlights of Joey Chestnut pigging out on Big Macs, but the Canadian men’s curling championship wasn’t worthy of their attention. Canada’s #1 Sports Network my ass.

There’ve been so many incredible circus shots during this year’s Brier, I expected to see Barnum and Bailey meeting in today’s final.

So I call up the Globe and Mail on Saturday and note that Cathal Kelly is writing about the Brier. I roll my eyes, because Kelly doesn’t know a hog line from Hog Town. Well, surprise, surprise. It’s an excellent, entertaining read. And honest. “Don’t look for curling expertise here,” he writes. “You won’t find any.”

Did Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs look like he was having any fun before being ushered out of the Brier? I swear, the’s more serious than a tax audit, and it isn’t a good look.

WTF? During the first two Brier matches I watched on TSN last weekend, I heard three F-bombs and one goddamn. I heard zero F-bombs and zero goddamns during the entire week of watching the Scotties on TSN. Just saying.

Actually, I’d like to know why male curlers feel a need to go all potty mouth, yet the women don’t. I mean, they’re playing the same game, playing for the same stakes, making the same shots, feeling the same pressure. It would make for an interesting social study.

Big headlines all over the Internet last week about movie guy Spike Lee having a hissy fit and refusing to attend any more New York Knicks games this season. Hmmm. I must have missed the memo that informed us we’re supposed to give a damn what Spike Lee does.

Gotta say, TSN’s man on UFC, Robin Black, is the creepiest guy on sports TV.

Joey Chestnut

The aforementioned Joey Chestnut set some sort of world record for gluttony last week when he scarfed down 32 Big Macs in 38 minutes. We haven’t seen a pigout like that since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence ate the San Francisco 49ers’ lunch in the Super Bowl.

The Winnipeg Jets are in the grip of an intense playoff battle, two Manitoba teams were running hot at the Brier, and what was featured on the sports front of the Winnipeg Sun last Monday morning? Toronto Blue Jays wannabe pitcher Nate Pearson. Good gawd, man, who makes those horrible decisions?

Wilma Rudolph

And, finally, in a salute to International Women’s Day, these are my five fave female athletes of all time: Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navratilova, Tessa Virtue, Nancy Greene and Evonne Goolagong. (Honorable mentions go to to Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Jones.)

Let’s talk about Auston Matthews’ moonwalk…sports scribes losing the plot…Cammi Granato’s new job…Puck Finn Unplugged no more…welcome back Connor…the Tranna Maple Leafs’ bonus babies…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers air defence…Keith Urban, JLo and Shakira…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and autumn leaves are falling and so are the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…

It’s no surprise, really, that the flowers of jock journalism in this country have basically ignored Fayola Dozithee in L’Affaire Matthews.

They are, after all, men.

And because they’re men, they can’t relate to the sudden surge of fear a woman feels when riding in an elevator late at night and two men with booze on their breath and lust in their loins walk in. You…are…trapped. There is no escape. Anxiety swallows you.

They can’t relate to the discomfort and uncertainty of walking past a work crew on a city street and listening to lewd, crude comments about body parts and “wanting a piece of that ass,” all to the accompaniment of frat boy laughter. It feels like 1,000 spiders and worms are crawling over you.

They can’t relate to the sound of quickening footsteps on pavement or the sight of darting shadows while walking to a parked car after the last cocktail has been poured. Even once inside your vehicle, there is a slight paralysis of the heart and shortness of breath. You nervously glance into the rear-view mirror, holding your breath, during your entire drive home.

They can’t relate to being followed home by two shadowy dudes in a pickup truck after leaving work at 3:30 in the morning, and I doubt they’ve ever felt the need to carry pepper spray to ward off predators.

So why would they care about Fayola Dozithee?

Auston Matthews

It’s much more convenient to write and talk about the Toronto Maple Leafs captaincy, and whether or not someone should stitch the letter ‘C’ on Auston Matthews’ blue-and-white uniform top.

That, of course, has been the central narrative since we learned that Matthews was (allegedly) caught, on camera, with his pants down in the small hours of a May morning in Scottsdale, Ariz., after a bout of frat boy frolic and beer swilling that (allegedly) included the intimidation and mooning of Dozithee, a security guard.

Observing her alone in a parked car at 2 a.m., Auston and pals (allegedly) took to the notion of attempting to pile into the back seat of the vehicle. Hey, boys, wouldn’t it be some kind of fun to scare the bejeebers out of a lone woman at 2 o’clock in the morning? You know, just for some late-night giggles?

They were “drunk out of their frickin’ minds,” Dozithee told the cop who took her statement on the incident, adding that she asked them to “leave me the hell alone and they still thought it was funny.”

Ya, it’s a real knee-slapper.

Let me tell you something: There sure as hell is nothing funny about a police report that includes the terms “sex crime” and “public sexual indecency.”

Matthews wasn’t charged with either, but he is facing a disorderly conduct-disruptive behavior rap and, late next month, a judge will hear all about how the Maple Leafs golden boy (allegedly) dropped his trousers, bent over, and grabbed his butt cheeks just to let Dozithee know exactly what he thought of her roadside manner. After his moonwalk, he toddled off, presumably to sleep it off, with his trousers bunched about his ankles.

It’s been stressed that Matthews never dropped his drawers to show Dozithee the surface of his full moon. Well, how gallant of him. (Somehow I doubt that morsel of discretion will earn him brownie points with the good judge.)

In the meantime, the male jock journos pound away at Matthews, tsk-tsking him for his loutishness, his immaturity, his entitlement and his stupidity, and they make sport of the notion that he now has the most talked-about butt this side of Kim Kardashian’s oversized caboose (cue the butt jokes, Captain Underpants). But they make no more than token acknowledgement that, hey, the target of his hoorawing was a very vulnerable woman.

Steve Simmons

“More than anything,” writes Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, “the real crime here is both stupidity and entitlement.”

Like hell it is.

Being a doofus isn’t a crime. Neither is the advantage of talent and wealth.

The crime is intimidating and frightening a woman. It’s trying to force your way into her locked car at any hour of the day, let alone at 2 o’clock in the morning. It’s ignoring her pleas to desist and depart. It’s a misogynistic and sexist culture so ingrained that you believe you can use a woman as a late-night play thing and still get to be captain of the hockey team.

If the jock journos really want to know what this is about, they should go home and ask their mothers or wives or daughters or sisters how they’d feel if it happened to them.

Then they might begin to grasp what the “real crime” is.

Cathal Kelly and Bruce Arthur.

The pundits have devoted many words to Matthews’ age, as if to excuse his “prank” as the product of youth. You know, boys will be boys and all that rot. “It’s the kind of dumb, entitled, thoughtless thing that young men are prone to do,” wrote Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail provided this echo: “We all do stupid things. We are all especially likely to do stupid things when it is late, when we are drunk and when we are 22.” South of the Great Divide, Kevin Allen of USA Today made it a menage-a-parrots, writing, “His alleged behavior reads like a testimony to his immaturity.” Nice try fellas, but this kind of behavior isn’t age specific. Police rap sheets are full of names of men who have choked on their wild oats by assaulting, harassing and intimidating women, and a large percentage of them are older than 22. It’s a cultural shame, not the province of college-age scamps, so stop using a birth certificate as an excuse.

Dinosaur and great defender of hockey culture Don Cherry also played the youth card, telling Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun that Matthews is “just a kid,” as if that makes it acceptable to disrespect, frighten and intimidate a woman doing her job. The Lord of Loud took it further, saying he’s “flabbergasted” that Dozithee had the bad manners to call the cops on Matthews and his accomplices. That’s typical of someone who has never been a woman sitting alone in a car at 2 o’clock in the a.m. Typical and pathetic.

Cammi Granato

How ironic that we learn about Matthews and his moonwalk the same week the Seattle expansion team struck a blow for inclusiveness by hiring Cammi Granato as a bird dog. Cammi, who’ll work in the pro department for the unnamed outfit (bet on Kraken), becomes the first female scout in National Hockey League history, so the culture is shifting. It’s just that it’s at a glacial pace. The NHL still has a long way to go in playing catch-up to the National Basketball Association, which now features 11 female assistant coaches, Teresa Weatherspoon of the New Orleans Pelicans being the latest to join that rank and file.

Puck Finn

I can’t say for certain because neither the Winnipeg Jets or Mike Liut asked me to proofread the contract Patrik Laine put his signature on the other day, but I’m pretty sure if we were to read the fine print we’d find this clause: “For gawd’s sake, shut the hell up!” Laine’s loose lips caused a bit of a stink a little more than a week ago, you’ll recall, when he muttered something about being saddled with a bunch of beer-leaguers as linemates. Little surprise, therefore, that Puck Finn’s initial sound bites after agreeing to a two-year, $13.5 million deal were rather muted. “What I can say is that this was a relief,” he told a Finnish news scavenger. “They already said that I cannot say more. They want me to speak on Monday (in Winnipeg).” Of course they do. That way the Jets can have a PR flack lurking nearby to monitor the filter between his grey matter and his mouth. They prefer a scripted Puck Finn to Puck Finn Unplugged.

Well, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and their bean counters got the job done, reeling in both Laine and Kyle Connor, although it took a bridge deal for Puck Finn to keep them under the salary cap. That isn’t the Jets normal way of doing business with their core players, you realize. The MO is to sweet talk the workers into accepting long-term, team-favorable contracts (see Scheifele, Mark; Ehlers, Twig, etc.), but, with the salary cap squeezing them tighter than a tourniquet, that wasn’t possible for both of their restricted free agents. Still, they managed to show their two prodigal 30-goal men the way home, and it’s game on, pending Dustin Byfuglien’s status. Winnipeg HC is a bubble playoff team with Big Buff, not so much without him.

I really didn’t think Connor or Laine would settle for less than the $7.15 AAV Arizona Coyotes have agreed to pay 14-goal scorer Clayton Keller, so in that sense both of the Jets wingers are bargains at $7,142,867 (Connor) and $6.75 (Puck Finn). I also didn’t imagine either guy would step in front of Rink Rat Scheifele at the pay window. Go figure.

So what month do you think Puck Finn will score 18 of his 30-plus goals this crusade? I’m thinking December.

There’s the Tranna Maple Leafs way of doing business and there’s the Jets way of doing business. When it comes to signing bonuses, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas tosses money around like rice at a wedding. It’s more like manhole covers for the Puck Pontiff and Chevy. Consider the salary bonuses for this season (from CapFriendly):

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’m done talking about millionaires’ pay envelopes.

I have something to say about that Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Hamilton Tabbies skirmish on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: On second thought, forget about it. Doesn’t Hamilton 33, Winnipeg 13 say it all?

On third thought, let me say this about that: If the Winnipeg FC air defence gets any worse, CEO Wade Miller will have to climb down from his ivory tower and place D-coordinator Richie Hall in a witness protection program. If he hasn’t already. In the past five quarters of football, the Bombers D has looked about as Grey Cup ready as Gwyneth Paltrow looks fat. I mean, Tabbies runny-nose quarterback Dane Evans has shown he knows his way around the pocket, but he isn’t my idea of Bernie Faloney, Joe Zuger or Danny Mac, so the Bombers D has no business allowing him to behave like those Ticat legends.

So, the Canadian Football League gets g’day guy Keith Urban for a halftime act at the Grey Cup game in Calgary, and the National Football League recruits JLo and Shakira for the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens. Based on hair, they win.

Keith Urban

I don’t know about you, but I have no problem with Randy Ambrosie ignoring all our fine Canadian talent and importing an Aussie to lip sync his way through the halftime gig. I just assume it’s part of Commish Randy’s global outreach program, something he likes to call CFL 2.0. Come to think of it, 2.0 is the number of Keith Urban songs I can name.

What’s the difference between Urban and all those foreigners that Commish Randy ordered every CFL team to sign under his 2.0 initiative? Urban’s the only one who’ll actually get to play this year.

I think Mr. Nicole Kidman is a talented guy. Plucks a mean banjo (but, no, he doesn’t wear a watermelon on his head) and I’m obliged to like him because there’s a little lady named Ashley in Keremeos, B.C., who’ll never talk to me again if I toss shade at her boy Keith. So get after it, Aussie boy.

In case you missed it, FIFA’s top female footballer of the year is a lesbian, Megan Rapinoe, and so is the top female coach, Jill Ellis, both of the World Cup champion U.S. National side. Their sexual preference shouldn’t matter, but as long as homophobia exists, it does matter. And Megan targeted that very topic, also racism, in a terrific acceptance speech.

And, finally, a tip of the bonnet to one of my longtime favorite reads, Kirk Penton, this year’s inductee to the Manitoba Sports Media Roll of Honour. Kirk, who earned his chops at the Brandon Sun and as the Bombers beat writer at the Winnipeg Sun, is now cranking out the good stuff on the CFL for The Athletic, and I’d say the Roll of Honour voters made a boffo choice.

Let’s talk about Janine Beckie and Christine Sinclair kicking it…a soccer swan song?…girl talk on TSN…all hail Hayley…CFL turnstile troubles…the sports menu in River City…the cost of hockey dreams…and Mike Reilly’s chin whiskers

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I’ve only been red-carded twice this week…

Right off the hop, a few words about Janine Beckie: Classy, classy, classy.

Janine, of course, lost a 1-v-1 showdown with Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl on Monday in France, and that squandered opportunity was the centrepiece of a 1-0 loss that ushered Canada out of the women’s soccer World Cup. Crushing. Yet there she was scant seconds later, explaining her failed penalty kick to a nation that had hoped for so much more.

“I thought I hit it well, I thought she made a really good save,” Beckie told Laura Daikun of TSN.

Her eyes were red and damp, her wound and emotions naked and raw. She fought off tears, the way the Swedish side held off the wave of Canadians who forged forward in search of an equalizing score in the frantic final thrusts of the skirmish.

“You know, it’s the big moments, it’s the moments that you live for and you get all the glory if it goes in and you take the blame, it feels like, when you miss, so that’ll stay with me for a long time,” she continued. “Christine asked me if I wanted to take it, and that’s a big moment for me and, ya, it’s gonna be hard for a while.”

I wanted to reach into my flatscreen and give her a big hug.

Janine Beckie didn’t have to agree to that interrogation while still munching on such a bitter pill. She could have acted like some of our millionaire athletes and taken refuge in the showers, or, at the least, begged off for an appropriate cool-down to arrest her emotions before facing the music. So, yes…classy, classy, classy.

Should captain Christine Sinclair have ceded the critical spot kick to Beckie? Well, she either had supreme confidence in Beckie or not enough in herself, otherwise Sinclair wouldn’t have thought to yield. So, yes, if the second most-prolific goal-scorer in women’s soccer had a twinge of self-doubt, she did the right thing in bowing to Beckie’s boot.

Christine Sinclair

The haunting for Beckie and our women’s soccer side will continue until next summer, when redemption is available at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but it remains uncertain if the journey will include Sinclair, the grand dame of Canadian soccer. At age 36, she certainly wasn’t a dominant force in France, and it seemed to me that Father Time was calling for a substitute, even as coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller didn’t. But if this was her swan song on the world stage, what a wonderful career. She’s a national treasure and we won’t see another like her for many years.

Things you won’t hear discussed by a male broadcast panel during the next men’s World Cup (or any major men’s event): Broken nails, hot-pink nail polish, lipstick shades and braided hair. That’s what Kaylyn Kyle, Diana Matheson, Clare Rustad and host Kate Beirness brought to the TSN talk table the other day. Inappropriate? Not at all. It was a fun exchange. But if they’re going to talk about their appearance, they become fair game for others to do the same. I’m not sure that’s what female talking heads want.

Hayley Wickenheiser

So nice to see Hayley Wickenheiser take her rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I find it interesting that so many male essayists are tripping over their run-on sentences to praise the former captain of Canada’s national shinny side. As if they actually give a damn. Many of the boys wouldn’t walk across the street to watch women’s hockey. It’s their version of slumming it. Unless, of course, an Olympic gold medal is part of the package. Then they’ll hold their noses and do it. But if they believe Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Angela James, Danielle Goyette, Geraldine Heany, Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero are Hall of Fame worthy, isn’t the girls’ game worth covering? Just asking.

On that subject, The Ice Garden reports that 30 women plan to buck the boycott and are on board for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade. Here’s the up-to-date scorecard: Boston Pride 11, Minnesota Whitecaps 6, Metropolitan Riveters 4, Connecticut Whale 6, Buffalo Beauts 3. That tally includes seven Canadians and the highest disclosed salary is Lexi Bender’s $13,000 with the Pride.

As the large lads in pads prep for their third week of three-down slobber-knocking, I am reminded of a Yogi-ism:

“If the people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s going to make them.”

Yogi Berra wasn’t talking about the Canadian Football League, but head counts soon could become a major talking point among those who, like myself, prefer three downs and the rouge over four downs and the fair catch.

I wouldn’t label early numbers from turnstile counts across the land in this freshly minted season alarming, but they are concerning, most notably in Edmonton where, compared to last season, the faithful are staying away in droves. Year v. year, the Eskimos have performed in front of 11,995 fewer fans through their first two assignments at Commonwealth Stadium, and that included a marketing department’s dream game last week featuring the return of the prodigal quarterback, Mike Reilly. Just 24,016 checked in to watch the $2.9-million QB receive a serious rag-dolling.

League-wide, the head count is down 13,461, although we’ve yet to hear from the two outfits that occupy the flattest of lands—Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Oddly enough, the Tranna Argonauts are one of two clubs to show an increase in attendance from their 2018 home opener. The Boatmen really put on the ritz in an attempt to woo customers, with an adios salute to retired QB Ricky Ray, a Derel Walker bobblehead doll giveaway, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. That brought a whopping increase of 284 customers to BMO Field. It won’t help, however, that the Argos were whupped, 64-14, by the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies. But, hey, I’m thinking if they reduce the price of beer to $2 and hot dogs to .50 cents and wear Raptors jerseys, the Argos might crack that coveted 17,000 head count.

Old friend Peter Young offers this tweet in explaining any decline in attendance: “Sadly we’ve entered an era where 25,000 at CFL game is a luxury (except Tranna where 15,000 will have to do). Too much else to do. See it better on TV (see NASCAR down 50%). Oh, and even adults have discovered Netflix and HBO.” I could be cheeky and ask: What else is there to do in Winnipeg? But that would be rude and I don’t need the rabble in River City to red card me. Fact is, Peter is right, there’s plenty on the sports entertainment menu in Good Ol’ Hometown, and they don’t normally need $3 beer and .50 cent hot dogs to sell it.

Individual ticket prices in Winnipeg (taken from team websites):

Jets:              $68-$301
Bombers:     $18-$175
Moose:         $22-$32 (plus fees)
Valour FC:  $16.27-$57.57
Ice:               $16.15-$19.97 (based on $549-$679 season ticket pricing/34 home games)
Goldeyes:     $14-$26
Ass. Downs: Free admission

Your best buy might be a day watching the ponies run at Assiniboia Downs, because you can walk out with more jingle in your jeans than when you walked in. Then, again, you can leave without your shirt. That iffyness is part of the attraction, though, and I can say that I’ve never spent an afternoon or evening at the Downs that I didn’t enjoy.

Speaking of costs, can it really be true that parents are required to pony up $12,000 for their 17- and 18-year-old kids to skate with Winnipeg Blues in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League? That, according to an article by Taylor Allen in the Drab Slab, is up from $3,000 last season. I don’t make a habit of telling folks how to spend their money, but in this case I will: Are you people nuts? That’s a lot of coin for a handful of hope. I mean, if the goal for your boy is the National Hockey League, you might be better off buying $12,000 worth of lottery tickets. I don’t blame parents for dreaming, though. The bad guys here are the mucky-mucks at 50 Below Sports + Entertainment. That $12,000 price tag is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

And, finally, B.C. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly has shaved off his heavy growth of facial hair. Two things about that: 1) There was a handsome man hidden under all that thick scruff; 2) if the Lions offence goes into the tank, is Reilly guilty of a points-shaving scandal? (I agree, that’s a real groaner.)