Sports scribes are every bit as disloyal as football coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff
Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

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

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

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

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

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

 

The boys on the football beat in Winnipeg are second to none

It occurs to me that…

There is no city in the Great White North with as superb a stable of scribes detailing all things three-down football than River City.

Start with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press. Best beat writer in the whole land. His accomplice at the Freep, Paul Wiecek, and Kirk Penton over at the Winnipeg Sun complete a menage-a-terrific that keeps readers fully informed of the goings-on of not only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but the entirety of the Canadian Football League.

I also like Herb Zurkowsky in Montreal and the tandem of Rob Vanstone and Murray McCormick in Regina, but the quality and quantity that Messrs. Tait, Wiecek and Penton churn out is unmatched.

* There were fewer, if any, finer people on the Winnipeg/Manitoba sports scene than Frank McKinnon.

Frank McKinnon
Frank McKinnon

Frank, who passed away at age 80 last week, was the first person I interviewed and quoted in a byline story as a rookie reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune. It was at a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting, and he was gracious, obliging and generous with his time. We spoke often over the ensuing 30 years and the former head of hockey in the province never changed. He always was a delight.

When I reflect on all the truly wonderful people I met during my time in mainstream jock journalism, Frank’s name is at the top of the good-guy list, alongside former player agent Don Baizley and University of Manitoba Bisons football coach Brian Dobie.

* I’m wounded. Crestfallen. And it’s all Gary (La La) Lawless’s doing.

La La, you see, has made an attempt to find a proper place in the pecking order of hockey homebrews for Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks centre who’s three wins away from adding to his collection of Stanley Cup rings. The main mouthpiece in the Freep sports section reckons that legendary goaltender Terry Sawchuk is the pre-eminent Manitoba born-and-bred shinny star. How did he arrive at this conclusion? Well, he claims to have talked to a number of writers and former scribes who cover(ed) the local shinny scene.

Well, I’ve been following hockey in Winnipeg since the 1950s. I’ve been scribbling about it for the past 44 years. Nobody’s been at it longer. Alas, my phone still isn’t ringing, so I assume it still ain’t La La calling. Perhaps I was out or in the shower when his call came. Or maybe he just didn’t call.

This hurts, Gary. You never write or phone anymore. Is it something I wrote?

* If you’re looking for an example of what some sports scribes do when they’re bored with themselves, take a looksee at this Cathal Kelly offering in the Globe and Mail last week.

Cathal Kelly
Cathal Kelly

Kelly piddles on our prairie cousins in Edmonton because…well, because, in the world according to Cathal, Edmonton has the bad manners to not be the Republic of Toronto. Apparently, Edmonton is supposed to behave like the backwater burg Kelly believes it to be and excuse itself from hosting elite sporting events. You know, like the FIFA Women’s World Cup that commenced with Canada’s 1-nil verdict over China on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium in The Chuck.

He cites the 2011 WWC as an example of how things ought to be done. That footy extravaganza was showcased in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, a stately, magnificent structure that, again, in the world according to Cathal, makes Commonwealth seem like a shelter for the homeless.

“It’s actively ugly,” Cathal gripes about Commonwealth. “The field is circled by a track—the perfect bush-league touch that says ‘high school.’ “

Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.
Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.

Ah, yes. Nothing says high school quite like a running track around a football pitch. You know, just like the running track that encircles the football pitch in the BERLIN OLYMPIC STADIUM!

We wouldn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good hissy fit, though, would we, Cathal? You just go right ahead and rant. Stomp your little feet and hold your breath. Perhaps one day your beloved Republic of Toronto will grow up to become a city big enough to host a prestigious event like the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

For now, though, it’s shut out of the soccer circus and I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for the Pan American Games in July. Those would be the same Games that Winnipeg has already hosted. Twice.

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.

Winnipeg sports media: Farewell confessions from a pain in the ass

Jennifer Jones and Evander Kane are not athletes who happen to be people. They are people who happen to be athletes.

It is, as Cal Murphy was wont to say, time to sack the bats. It’s over. I’ve had my innings.

Scribbling about the River City jock scene for the past 43 years has been equal parts rush, curse, joy, job, passion, privilege, hobby, obsession, fun and pain in the ass. No doubt there are many who believe me to have been a pain in the ass since my byline first appeared on the pages of the Winnipeg Tribune in 1971. I can’t say that I disagree with them.

Being a pain in the ass comes with the territory. I mean, when you’re a jock columnist, you traffic in opinion. That means you’re often poking and prodding good, ol’ Home Team. A great many readers do not embrace that. The Jets, the Bombers, the Goldeyes…they’re sacred cows. As are the players.

So, yes, I plead guilty, yer honour. I have been a cheeky, irreverent, screw-you-if-you-can’t-take-a-joke pain in the ass.

Today, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press are the two biggest pains in the ass in town. I don’t envy them. I read the comment threads that accompany their columns and I often wince. I empathize. I understand the gig. I know the difficulties of delivering a daily sports column. It’s burdensome. Some days you just want to mail it in. But you can’t. As long as your column flag flies at the top of the thing, you want your words to dangle, but never your participles. You stew over topics. You fuss over your turn of phrase. Sometimes you’re quite pleased with what you’ve written. Other times, not so much. Either way, it’s guaranteed that some reader is going to call you a moron.

I tip my bonnet to both Friesen and Lawless, and also to my favorite jock journalists of the day, not just in Pegtown but elsewhere—Ed Tait, Shakey Johnson, Cam Cole, Bruce Arthur, Cathal Kelly, Ed Willes. I admire them for their talent and their stick-to-itness.

I survived 30 years in mainstream media, which was approximately 15 calendars too many, and I’ve goofed around as a freelancer/blogger for the past 15 years.

So why have I chosen to stop now? I can’t say for certain. I know I find myself granting a greater amount of time to reflection. To what has been. To what might have been. And that’s odd, for I am a person who lives very much in the now.

Perhaps it’s my approaching birthday, which reminds me that I am about to begin my 65th year on the third rock from the sun and, at the same time, tells me that I should probably devote my attention to the two books I began scribbling months ago but put on hold. Both, like others I have written, are LGBT-themed with a sports and/or newspaper backdrop.

LGBT issues are important to me. Since my retreat from mainstream sports media, my writing focus has been on the gay community and its people, bringing their challenges, triumphs and ongoing crusade for level footing in society to a different audience. It has been rewarding, more so than anything I have written in sports, because it’s real life. They’re real people.

I think that is perhaps something we tend to lose sight of in our sports writing. We forget, or refuse to acknowledge, that we are dealing with people.

For example, we see Jennifer Jones and her Olympic gold medal mates as curlers rather than wives and girlfriends and mothers and daughters and sisters. We see Evander Kane as a hockey player and only acknowledge the human element of his being when he forgets to pay his parking tickets. We tut-tut and tsk-tsk their missteps, often to the point of being harsh and unforgiving.

This is wrong-thinking. Jennifer Jones and Evander Kane are not athletes who happen to be people. They are people who happen to be athletes.

I believe sports writing is much more dynamic, also credible, when we attach the person to the play. When we accept that athletes, like all of us, are flawed human beings who lead lives of imperfection. Phil Kessel should not be crucified for his refusal to discuss a lost hockey game with the Toronto media. He should be recognized as a shy, introverted person who is in considerable discomfort when placed in the spotlight. In other words, cut the guy some slack.

It shouldn’t be about the score. It should be about the people who produce the score. It should be about recognizing their frailties and strengths as human beings as much, if not more so, as their strengths and frailties on the playing surface. I can see what makes the player tick, so tell me what makes the person tick?

I confess to being guilty of all the trespasses I’ve mentioned at different stations during my 30 years in mainstream sports media. But being away from the arena has allowed me to learn the arena. To know the arena.

It’s the old story: I wish I knew then what I know now.

At any rate, my time is up. This is the final entry in The River City Renegade blog. That’s all she wrote.

(Sincere thanks to the more than 5,000 people who visited in the past 4 1/2 months, and to those who followed me in the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun for 30 years. It’s been a slice. I can’t say that it was all a slice of heaven, but it was a slice of something.)

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). She also now knows 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.

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.