Let’s talk about crossing the uncrossable border…Zip-Lock shinny…a COVID Carnival with car hops and the Fonz in E-Town…Winnipeg the grid Hub Bubble…what’s in a name?…Vlad the Bad’s lifetime contract…Citizen Kane’s fantasy world…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, speaking of flattening the curve, here’s something else that’ll probably fall flat…

Did I miss a memo?

I mean, all I heard three months ago was this mantra: COVID-19 is “bigger than sports.” Athletes said it, league leaders said it, owners said it, medics said it, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and your neighborhood bookie said it.

It became the most-repeated creed since the Sermon on the Mount. Or at least since Richard M. Nixon tried to convince us that he was “not a crook.”

Thus, power brokers pulled the plug on every athletic event known to the human species—including the Olympic Games—and, hey, while we’re at it, let’s shutter the Canada-U.S. border for the first time since the British put a torch to the White House. We’ll open it again once squints in lab coats have a handle on this pesky coronavirus thing, because it’s “bigger than sports.”

News snoops and opinionists brayed in concert, even though jock journos recognized that there would be a scramble to fill sports pages and air time with quality content while every league remained in lockdown.

No doubt about it. This was a three-alarm pandemic. Much “bigger than sports.” Still is, actually.

Except here we are today and apparently COVID-19 has become an inconvenience no worse than a bad case of zits or rump rot.

Donald Trump

Seriously. The squints have yet to discover a vaccine. Medics don’t have a handle on long-term effects of the coronavirus. There is no herd immunity. To mask or not to mask remains a debate. People are still dying. All hell is breaking loose in the United States. But, hey, the girls and boys have been without their play things long enough, so let’s allow the athletes back into the playground. After all, “sports is bigger than COVID-19.”

Now, I haven’t heard any among the decision-makers actually say that aloud, but that’s only because words tend to get muffled behind those pesky coronavirus face masks.

Oh, wait. In their rush to return to the playgrounds at the elite level of professional jockdom, the power brokers forgot to put on their face masks. Either that or, like Donald Trump, they don’t believe they’re necessary, even as the pandemic eats away at the United States like termites on a two-by-four.

Whatever the circumstance, the Toronto Blue Jays requested permission to flee a COVID-19 hot zone, Florida, and transport their bats, their balls and, perhaps, a fresh wave of COVID-19 to the Republic of Tranna. And, sure enough, Trudeau the Younger has given them the okie-dokie to commence training exercises in The ROT.

Moreover, Trudeau the Younger shall give ponder to the Tranna Nine’s wish to contest the home portion of their 60-game Major League Baseball crusade at home, allowing outfits from the COVID-ravaged U.S. to cross the uncrossable border and wander among the rabble willy-nilly. Even as 38 MLB players/employees have already tested positive for COVID-19.

Mike Tyson

I’m no epidemiologist, but I’d feel safer telling Mike Tyson his face tattoo looks stupid.

Meantime, the National Hockey League plans to establish hub bubbles in the Republic of Tranna and Edmonton, allowing players/attendants from two dozen American-based clubs to cross the uncrossable border and put locals at risk.

Oh, sure, they’re telling us the shinny elite will be going about their daily business in a safety zone sealed tighter than the tombs housing little green people at Area 51, but that isn’t as simple as stuffing last night’s leftovers into a Ziploc bag. Anyone who’s spent time observing young, testosterone-fueled athletes can tell you they don’t tuck themselves in when the street lights go on. To some, curfew and a wake-up call arrive at the same hour in the a.m.

Trust me, after a month in lockup, even downtown Edmonton will begin to look like Shangri-La, and a few of the boys (probably the St. Louis Blues led by Brett Hull) will make a jail break in search of peeler bars and those mountain ranges and streams Alberta Premier Jason Kenney promised them.

I suppose I shouldn’t care, because I’m safely removed from the fray, and if the deep thinkers in E-Town and the Republic of Tranna want to expose their rabble to a hike in COVID cases, who am I to squawk?

But I’d really like to know how and when the pandemic being “bigger than sports” became a case of sports being “bigger than COVID-19.”

I realize I can be a total ditz at times, a circumstance that plagues me with increasing regularity as I slide deeper into my dotage, but it confounds me how fan-free NHL games would make anyone in E-Town or The ROT giddy. I mean, oh joy, they get to watch the Oilers and Leafs on TV. You know, just like the rest of us.

Potsie, Ralph, the Fonz and Richie.

Count veteran essayist Terry Jones of Postmedia E-town among the giddy. Once the Alberta capital had been confirmed as one of the two zip-lock shinny sites, he could scarcely contain his glee. “Edmonton in the summer is a festival city and this year all those festivals have been cancelled,” the dean of Canadian jock journos wrote. “But with proper social distancing, you can have a hockey festival. It’s going to be fun to see what Edmonton can create. Imagine big screen video boards erected around town and fans watching games in their cars Drive-In Movie style with Dog & Suds style car hops delivering food and beverages.” Ya, sure, and maybe the Fonz, Richie, Potsie and Ralph can drop by for the ceremonial faceoff.

I’m not saying the E-Town-proud Jonesy is wrong to wave pom-poms for his burg. Hometown boosterism is one of his admirable qualities, and I get a kick out of it, no matter how delusional it might be (especially when the topic is curling). But a roller-blading car hop asking, “Would you like fries with your order of COVID-19?” wouldn’t be my idea of a good time. I’d be surprised if the majority in northern Wild Rose Country share Jonesy’s enthusiasm for a COVID Carnival.

Similarly, why would any among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown want to welcome nine Canadian Football League outfits for a Coles Notes version of a no-fans, three-downs season? What, mosquitoes the size of St. Bernards and potholes the size of the Bermuda Triangle aren’t enough to deal with without adding an invasion of Yankee Doodle Dandies into the mix? If anyone can tell me what’s to be gained by trucking hundreds of Americans across the uncrossable border into Winnipeg, I’m prepared to listen.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers voice Knuckles Irving is fully onside with the large lads in pads assembling in River City to grab grass and growl at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry. “We’ve been saying for weeks on the CJOB sports show that Wpg is the obvious choice as a CFL hub city, IF it comes to that,” he tweeted. “And it might come to that, but it hasn’t yet. NOTHING has been finalized. When it is and the CFL decides ‘hubbing it” is the way to go, hello Winnipeg!!”

I mentioned this a week ago, but it bears repeating now that the feds have allowed the Blue Jays to nestle in The ROT: Perhaps they’ll explain why the Winnipeg Goldeyes are forced to call Fargo, N.D., home this summer. Oh, that’s right, Trudeau the Younger and cronies don’t want non-essential workers crossing the uncrossable border. Apparently Charlie Montoyo is essential but Rick Forney isn’t.

James Dolan

The Washington Redskins will likely change their team name (money talks). The Cleveland Indians will think about changing their team name. The Seattle NHL expansion franchise remains a Team To Be Named Later. Meanwhile, New York Knicks fans are hoping James Dolan changes his name to the Billionaire Formerly Known As Owner.

I note that Vlad (The Bad) Putin has signed a one-way deal to rule Russia until at least 2036, about the same time Tom Brady is expected to show signs of slowing down.

Speaking of lifetime contracts, the New York Mets continue to pay Bobby Bonilla to not play baseball. The Amazin’s top up Bonilla’s bank account by a whopping $1,193,248.20 each July 1 and will do so until 2035, even though he last wore their double-knits in 1999. If nothing else, the Bonilla deal gives new meaning to Casey Stengel’s lament about his 1962 Mets: “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Bonilla doesn’t have to.

Imagine getting paid all that money to do absolutely squat. You know, like the Kardashians.

So David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers has decided to skip the 2020 MLB season. That’s different. He doesn’t normally disappear until the playoffs.

What’s this? The Drab Slab plans to eliminate reader comments on July 14? Shame that. There’ve been days when the readers’ thread was more interesting and entertaining than the articles.

Evander Kane

It’s fair to wonder what fantasy world Evander Kane exists in. I mean, the co-creator of the Hockey Diversity Alliance did the Zoom thing recently and claimed that the misdeeds of white athletes, such as Brendan Leipsic, are nothing more than “a footnote” on sports pages and TV.

“This guy does what he does, has a group message where he’s saying some not so good comments, to put it lightly,” Kane began. “I go on TSN and I’m trying to look for the article. I’m thinking, ‘Big story, career over, it’ll be at the top of the page’ because every time something happened to me or another Black player, top of the page, blowing up, front-line news. They want to make sure everybody can see it.

“I’ve got to scroll all the way down and there’s a little blurb. It’s not ‘Brendan Leipsic makes horrific comments about player’s girlfriend’ or ‘Makes misogynist comment or fat shames,’ it’s ‘Brendan Leipsic apologizes for comments.’ How generic and undetailed is that for a headline?’

Brendan Leipsic

“From my own personal experience, they want to make it as detailed as possible. They want to overstate it, blow it up. They want to portray you in such a negative light that it gathers so much attention. When it comes to white players, it’s a footnote.”

What a load of complete crap.

Leipsic’s conversation about women was front-page news, not a footnote, in the Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnipeg Sun, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post and numerous other dailies and websites. Headlines included descriptives like “Misogynistic and reprehensible,” and “vulgar” and “offensive.” He’s been drummed out of the NHL. And he’s a white guy.

Drew Brees is also a white guy. He took a royal beating for a regrettable (stupid) comment about not respecting athletes who kneel during the American national anthem.

Johnny Manziel is a white guy. He’s been battered fore and aft for a string of ugly trespasses.

John Rocker

Josh Hader, Kevin Pillar, Ryan Getzlaf, John Rocker, Curt Schilling, Andrew Shaw, Brock Lesnar, Tyson Fury are among numerous white guys who’ve been called out in print and on air for homophobic/racist/sexist natter.

Just like Kane himself.

You might recall a tweet the then-Winnipeg Jets forward posted during an NBA playoff game in 2013: Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat “looked like a fairy going to the rim.” When challenged on the homophobic tone of the tweet, he stood firm, responding, “Man, there’s a lot of overly sensitive people on here. It’s unreal how some of you on here turn absolutely nothing into something so wrong. As I have said before and I’ll say it again if you can’t handle real talk unfollow.”

Ya, that’s the guy I want heading up a Diversity Alliance.

And, finally, my favorite tweet last week was delivered by old friend/broadcaster Peter Young: “In early 70s while teaching grade 9 Phys Ed one class was devoted to mild version on Sex Ed. One 14 year old female on fill in the blank question. ‘Most sexual diseases are transmitted in the area of the REGINA.’” So I guess former Blue Bombers head coach Mike Kelly was right when he called the Saskatchewan capital the “crotch of Canada.”

Let’s talk about cheering in the press box…negative bias…Red Smith getting the heave-ho…Brown Bagging It in the Drab Slab…Tim & Sid & Puck Finn…rooting for les Leafs…TV ratings…and sports IQ

A mid-week, media-centric smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and a happy hump day to all you working stiffs…

A couple of weekends back, I mentioned something about cheering in the press box and entered a guilty plea on the charge of silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets in the final waltz of the final World Hockey Association playoff gala.

The key word is “silently.”

I totally understood the ‘no cheering in the press box’ mantra and I subscribed to it without reservation during my 30 years in the rag trade. More to the point, I was inclined to cast the stink eye at anyone who betrayed the precious, unwritten code that dates back to the first chisel striking a stone tablet following David’s epic upset win over Goliath.

Thus it was with interest that I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s thoughts on the matter at the conclusion of his recent hoops safari to the Republic of Tranna at the behest of the Drab Slab.

While the Jurassics and the Golden State Juggernaut had at it on the hardwood, Mad Mike found himself somewhat discomforted by the presence of the most scorned and tut-tutted of press box inhabitants—he/she who waves pom-poms.

“That’s just gross,” he opined. “To be clear, I didn’t witness this from any of the mainstream press—who I expect would know better—but from a handful of fringe online writers who managed to score access. A big no-no, but the kind of thing that is happening in this rapidly growing media world where ‘fan-friendly’ copy can score you easy clicks and likes.

“Let me say this as loudly as I can: I don’t cheer for any team I cover. And I would hope my copy, not to mention 24-year journalism career in this city, would reflect that. The only things I root for are good storylines and quick-moving games that leave plenty of time for deadline to file. And Diet Pepsi in the press box, instead of Diet Coke.”

Well, let me say this about that (without being too loud) once again: Any news snoop who tells you that he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying. And because they have favorites, they want those people and/or teams to succeed. That isn’t wrong, nor does it make them sellouts to a sacred trust. It makes them human.

Imagine that. Sports scribes as humans. What a concept. It’s true, though. Especially among the women. I’ve yet to meet a female jock journo who isn’t human. The men, not so much.

But even the men are suckers for a good story from good people.

You think there wasn’t silent cheering in the press box at the old barn on Maroons Road when Teemu Selanne was about to shatter Mike Bossy’s rookie record for goal scoring in 1993? Teemu wasn’t just a fan favorite in Good Ol’ Hometown. He was a media darling. Scribes and talking heads loved the obliging, aw-shucks kid with the flashy nickname from Finland. They couldn’t get enough of him. So when Selanne passed Bossy, you wanted to stand up and damn well cheer.

Other things made you want to break down and bloody well cry, like a spring afternoon in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets bid farewell to the faithful and bolted for the Arizona desert. (I know, for certain, there were news snoops with tears in their eyes that day.)

The trick, of course, is to keep any bias on the down low while perched in the press box and, most imperative, prevent it from creeping into your copy.

To date, Mad Mike has managed to do that while sucking back his Diet Pepsi. But Big Sister is watching and reading.

Prejudice, you realize, can cut both ways. The most recent example of negative bias I can think of was the extreme and shameful hate-on former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek had for Jacob Trouba. The young Jets defender (allegedly) lied to Wiecek about a desire to play in Winnipeg, and the Freep scribe went into attack mode, never squandering an opportunity to discredit Trouba’s character, if not his play. It became an obsession, very personal, nasty and uncomfortable. That is as much a betrayal to the trade as standing up and cheering in the press box.

Red Smith

Here’s how legendary American columnist Red Smith handled a run-in with an athlete back in the day (from the book No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman):

“Over the years, of course, all sports writers, especially those assigned to and traveling with ball clubs, have difficulty with a ball player, or ball players. I never had anything as crucial as an actual fist fight, but I did have some differences with Bill Werber. This was when I was in Philadelphia and he was traded or sold. The A’s sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, and when the deal was announced I probably wrote something to the general effect of ‘Good riddance.’ I’m not sure. I didn’t care deeply for Bill. I thought he paraded his formal education. He was out of Duke, you know, and he used to correct the grammar of other ball players. There were things about Bill that didn’t enchant me.

“In 1939 the Reds were in the World Series. When we got to Cincinnati for the third game I went down to the bench before the game, and my old friend Paul Derringer said, ‘Hello, Red, you know Bill Werber don’t you?’ And Werber said, ‘Yes, I know the sonofabitch.’

“It went on, a tiny few exchanges like that, and then he said, ‘Get off this bench! Get out of the dugout!’

“I said, ‘No, I’m a guest here.’

“And he got up and shouldered me out of the dugout, just kind of strongarmed me out. I had my portable and I was strongly tempted to let him have it—with the typewriter. But I somehow didn’t feel like doing that on the field before the first World Series game in Cincinnati and so I left.

“I remember Charlie Dexter coming along behind me and he said, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to protest to the Baseball Writers Association?’

“I said, ‘No, Charlie, the player doesn’t like me.’

“I didn’t speak to him again.”

Doug Brown

Another interesting entry from Doug Brown on the pages of the Drab Slab. Despite evidence to the contrary in the 2018 Canadian Football League crusade, Doug’s not convinced that Chris Streveler is a suitable backup quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “It can take a lot more time to develop a pocket-passing acumen than a couple of starts, a year of practice and some preseason games. Call it a hunch, a best guess, but I’m not sure he eventually will.” Brown adds that Streveler’s “habits, and affinity for contact, aren’t sustainable for the long-term in the CFL.” Like I said, interesting. Brown, of course, saw some QBs during his time on D-lines in both the CFL and National Football League, but I’m saying he misses his “guess” on Streveler.

So, some dude named David Pagnotta from a blog called The Fourth Period cites “multiple sources close to the situation” and tells us that restricted free agent Patrik Laine plans to “explore” all his options. That, in turn, leads to rampant rumor that Puck Finn wants out of River City if les Jets don’t pony up to the tune of $10 million per season on a new contract. That’s where Tim & Sid weighed in on Sportsnet.

Tim Micallef: “Laine is an elite goal scorer.”
Sid Seixeiro: “But here’s the thing. Laine…there are some red flags on Laine a little bit. Would you not acknowledge? He’s extremely hard on himself, he’ll go in that slump…there are parts of Laine, when he’s scoring 45-plus you kind of ignore, but when he had a year like he had last year…look, they’re gonna pay him, they’re gonna keep him, I’m not saying they’re not. But his rep isn’t what it was 18 months ago.”

Tim & Sid

Tim: “But even then, so what do you drop to, a Phil Kessel? Like, honestly, the guy can score in his sleep, right?”
Sid: “When he’s scoring.”
Tim: “But when he’s scoring he ends up with 40, in and around. Right? Like, even with the slumps, he ends up with in and around 40, which, I don’t know if you checked, gets a lot of money in the NHL these days.”
Sid: “Oh, it does. Look, the Cheveldayoff thing and Laine, we’re gonna hear a lot of the breaking rumors, he is not leaving Winnipeg, he is signing long term in Winnipeg, he is not being traded, he is not exploring those options. Of all the restricteds, that one is gonna get locked down guaranteed.”

I’m with Sid, even though his numbers are a bit wonky (Laine has yet to score “45-plus” in a season). Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere.

Strange tweet from Scott Stinson of the National Post: “No one from outside Ontario would dare cheer for the Maple Leafs. The Raptors, though…” What rock has that dude been hiding under? When les Leafs make their annual pilgrimage to Western Canada, it’s like they’re the home team. Stinson might want to get out of the house more often. Or at least stay up late enough to turn on his TV and watch les Leafs when they’re playing in the colonies.

D’oh boy tweet from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: “More people watching these Raptor games in the NBA Finals than watch Grey Cups these days. That’s exceeding an annual piece of Canadiana. Think about that for a moment.” I don’t have to think about it. Although Cox doesn’t spell out what “these days” are, here are Canadian TV ratings from Grey Cup matches this century vs. the NBA final:

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2019 Game 2 NBA final 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2019 Game 1 NBA final 3.3M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

And, finally, I keep hearing pundits talk about hockey IQ and basketball IQ and football IQ, but I never hear anyone mention baseball IQ. I guess after listening to Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, the notion of intelligent life on Planet Baseball was ruled out years ago.