Winnipeg Sports 1970-present: The top-50 movers and shakers

Something a little different today, kids.

Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.

This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.

And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.

So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.

One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.

Ben Hatskin, the day he signed Bobby Hull at Portage and Main.

1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.

2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?

3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.

Michael Gobuty

4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979.  As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.

Cal Murphy

5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.

6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.

Anders Hedberg, agent Don Baizley and Ulf Nilsson.

7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.

8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

John Ferguson and Ducky at the 1981 NHL entry draft.

9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.

10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.

11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.

12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.

13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.

15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.

17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.

Moosie Turnbull

18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.

19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.

20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.

21. Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.

Coleen Dufresne and Garth Pischke.

22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.

23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.

Brian Dobie

24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.

25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.

Tom Kendall and his U of W Lady Wesmen

26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.

27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.

Jennifer Botterill

28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.

29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.

Harvey Warner

30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.

31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.

Milt Stegall

32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.

33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.

Andy Van Hellemond

34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.

35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.

36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.

38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.

39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.

40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.

Sandy Riley

41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.

43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.

44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.

46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.

47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.

Friar Nicolson and his former sidekick Sod Keilback.

48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.

49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.

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

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

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

What is the Black quota in 2020?

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

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

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

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

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

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

All of which has provided pause for ponder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a knee, Donald.

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

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

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

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

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about Don Cherry’s 15 minutes of fame…L’Affaire Poppy…Grapes’ gibberish…fascists and Tucker Carlson…a king one day and Cathal’s Clown the next…and two other broadcasters brought down by Foot in Mouth

A hump-day smorgas-bored…and from Cherry blossoms to Cherry bombs…

Yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry’s 15 minutes of fame lasted longer than most 15 minutes, and I doubt anyone is genuinely surprised that he finally fell on his own sword on a hill of his own choosing.

Don Cherry

Bigotry, after all, was as much a part of his Saturday night shtick as the clown suits, the butchered English and botched names, the Russian/Euro/Francophone baiting, the pre-game fashion parade, the beat-’em-in-the-alley advocacy, the stereotypical, faux gay lilt to his voice when mocking “pinkos” or anyone unwilling to settle a dispute with fisticuffs (“like good Canadian boys”), the grandfatherly counsel to “you kids out there,” women as lesser-thans, and draping himself in the Maple Leaf to dress up blatant Archie Bunkerism as patriotism.

It was quite an act, almost four decades of bellowing from a Hockey Night in Canada studio that, rather than serve as an instrument for the good of the game, morphed into one man’s bully pulpit, a platform from which to skewer those who didn’t subscribe to his horse-and-buggy notions of hockey and his level of True North passion.

If there was a soundtrack to Coach’s Corner on HNIC, it was outrage. His and ours.

Grapes

It’s not that Cherry always was an old man yelling at the kids kibitzing on his lawn. Indeed, I confess there was a time when I viewed his Saturday sermon as a minor source of humor. Alas, he reduced the gig to bad farce, much like the Three Stooges but without the noogies, face-slapping and eye-poking. By the time Rogers Media finally got around to firing him on Monday, all he had left in his tank was a shaking fist and a loud squawk box raging at the clouds.

Everything about his shtick had become an amped-up rant. EVERYTHINK! Perhaps that’s why no one at Rogers took the time, or cared, to notice that Cherry was borderline incoherent on many Saturday nights. Consider, for example, this bit of babble-on from a few weeks ago:

“Ya know, the Leafs, ya know, the Leafs…highly skilled team. I will say highly skilled team, but they’re regular-season game. You cannot win unless you’re tough in the, in the (closes eyes, shakes head)…the playoffs have proven by St. Louis. Sixteen Canadians, Canadian coach, Canadian GM, tough. Look what they did to San Jose, they put…now I know a lot of guys, we know a lot of guys that don’t like this…they put out Hertl, Pavelski and Karlsson. The put out…and, uh…I like what Berube said. Berube said, ‘Don’t worry about the penalties.’ SIXTEEN CANADIANS! You CANNOT WIN unless you’re tough.”

Surely that gibberish should have been enough to get Cherry removed from Sportsnet’s air, because it wasn’t a one-off. But no. Not until he went off on immigrants (“You people”) and the purchase of poppies did Rogers Media president Jordan Banks feel obliged to stir and pull the plug on Grapes.

Cherry has since conducted a media blitz to defend the indefensible, and those who believe he should still be on the air might want to check out his chin-wag with Tucker Carlson on Fox News.

Carlson: “Tell us, for those of us who aren’t Canadian, what you said. Unless I’m misunderstanding, you’re basically saying we have a day to honor the men who died fighting for Canada, and people who move to Canada, ’cause it’s a great country, and it is I think, should acknowledge that and join in our tradition because it’s worth remembering these guys who died. Is that what you were saying?’

Cherry: “I would say, and evidently I…you know, I did a great thing, I thought, on Max Domi and he, he had his book for diabetes, I did for two young lads that died, 15 and 17, that was, that was never mentioned. I did a great thing, I thought, for fifteen hundred troops that were at a hockey game in Brampton, and they were all forgotten. The one thing that got me, uh and, was ‘you people.’ And I suppose if I had it to do all over again I would have said ‘everybody.’ But ‘you people’ are the people that they listen to. The silent majority, as you know, are always silent. The police are with me, the, um, forces are with me, everybody’s with me, and the firefighters, the whole deal. It doesn’t make any sense, and I was brought in and was told I was fired after 38 years. You know, I stand by what I said and I still mean it.”

Carlson: “So, I mean, I think what you were saying, tell me if this is what you were saying, that people who move to Canada ought to at least nod at the traditions of Canada. Like, why is that controversial?”

Cherry: “Don’t ask me. And the big thing is, I should have said, if I had a come through, if I had a been smart and protected myself, I should have said everybody should be wearing a poppy.”

Carlson. “Ya, that’s fair.”

Cherry: “Ya, and fair, fair enough and the whole thing. It’s the two words that, that got it, that ‘you people’…as you know, people are very sensitive like that, and that’s, uh, they got me. But I, I…”

Carlson: “They’re not sensitive at all. They’re fascists. They actually have no real feelings. They’re faking their outrage, they’re trying to crush you because (Cherry nods and says “Yup.”) they want to assert power ’cause it makes them feel big when actually inside they’re small.”

That’s right, Cherry agreed with Carlson. He said “Yup.” Those of us who don’t share his world view are “fascists” and “small” with “no real feelings” and it’s us, not them, who are the bullies.

Gibberish aside, that’s a man you want delivering socio-political sound bites on a hockey show? Not bloody likely.

It’s good riddance, and if that makes me a fascist or a snowflake, so be it.

Cathal Kelly

Jock journos across the country have, of course, weighed in on Cherry and L’Affaire Poppy, with the majority submitting that Grapes had survived well beyond his best-before date, at the same time tsk-tsking CBC and Rogers for allowing the charade to continue for so long.

At least one of them, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, was typing from both sides of his keyboard.

Here’s what he wrote in February of this year: “I don’t find myself agreeing with him, but I still find Cherry delightful. His clearly genuine fury at the stupidest little thing and complete lack of filter is a lovely contrast from the way some other pundits treat hockey—like a cult they’re constantly worried they’ll be kicked out of. Don Cherry’s opinion is, for me, even more valid now because he has seen the tide shift and remains unchanged. Though his standing in the court of popular opinion has diminished, he’s still a king as far as I’m concerned.”

And here’s what he wrote after Cherry’s ouster on Monday: “Ostensibly, Mr. Cherry’s work was analyzing hockey games. But, really, what he did was insult people—Quebeckers, Scandinavians, Slavs, pinkos, anyone who didn’t appreciate the beauty of blood on the ice. As a Canadian, you felt embarrassed watching his Coach’s Corner segment with foreigners. This wasn’t TV. It was vaudeville. It was two guys chasing a hat.”

So, which is it? The guy was a “delightful” king or an insulting, embarrassing ass clown? Stay tuned for the next installment of Cherry Bombs by Cathal.

Jimmy the Greek

It’s worth noting that Cherry isn’t the first high-profile gasbag to disappear through a trap door due to offensive spewings. Mind you, unlike Grapes, squawk boxes Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder and Ben Wright were punted for commentary off the job.

The Greek was among the many talking heads who worked National Football League broadcasts for CBS back in the day and, being a self-promoter, he never met a microphone or notebook he didn’t like. Thus, when a news snoop approached and asked for a sound bite on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, he stuck his foot so far into his mouth that not even the jaws of life could pry it out.

“The black is a better athlete to begin with, because he’s bred to be that way,” the Greek said. “Because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back. And they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. And he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War, when during the slave trading the owner, the slave owners would, would, would, would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid, see. That’s where it all started!”

Ben Wright

Meanwhile, Wright worked golf for CBS, and was ruled OB for his take on the women’s game.

“Let’s face facts here,” he told a reporter, “lesbians in the sport hurts women’s golf. When it gets to the corporate level, that’s not going to fly. They’re going to a butch game and that further’s the bad image of the game.”

He added that lesbianism was being “paraded,” then turned his attention to female body parts, saying, “Women are handicapped by having boobs. It’s not easy for them to keep their left arm straight, and that’s one of the tenets of the game. Their boobs get in the way.”

And, finally, I don’t know if I’m a snowflake, but I’d rather be that than acid rain.

Let’s talk about 35 candles for TSN and the creation of the Man Cave

Tuesday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, in honor of its 35th birthday, I was going to list 35 things I like best about TSN, but I stalled when I couldn’t decide between Kaylyn Kyle’s hair and Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage and his food fight with Tradey

Once upon a time, those of us who live in the colonies derisively referred to TSN as the Tranna Sports Network because, you know, it was like that old zen koan: If a tree falls outside the Republic of Tranna and there’s no TSN camera crew on site to record it, does the tree actually fall?

But, hey, just look at TSN today. No longer Tranna-centric.

Except, of course, for the daily Drake updates during the NBA season, the daily updates on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits, the daily Where’s Mitch Watch (which is the offspring of last year’s daily Where’s Willy Boy Watch), the daily Mike Babcock speaks-but-says-nothing feature, the daily Vlad the Gifted still isn’t speaking English report, the annual Day Of The Long Faces when they breathlessly and bitterly recount the night Wayne Gretzky used the blade of his hockey stick to part the hair on Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin, and the annual retro look at the Joe Carter dinger.

So, ya, TNS remains on Tranna overload, but at least they now have a camera handy if a tree falls in the colonies. And they even let Sara Orlesky or Farhan Lalji talk about it.

Okay, just kidding. I like TSN. A lot. It’s terrific, flaws and all.

Tradey up to no good.

I would rather, for example, listen to their natterbugs on all matters Planet Puckhead as opposed to the squawk boxes on Sportsnet, even if it means staring at O’Dog’s butt crack while he’s brawling over a bagel with Tradey.

I’d like to say the same about the Grid Guys, but they lost me last year when they morphed into teenage groupies with their cringeworthy, Beatlemania-like fawning over their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. By the end of the season, I believe Rod Black and Johnny Rotten were actually dating, although I haven’t been able to confirm it. The Transcona Kid (that’s Blackie) is still gushing over Johnny Train Wreck, so there’ll be more therapy sessions and, hopefully, Dr. Phil can have him detoxed by the time the Canadian Football League playoffs commence.

In the meantime, they’re celebrating 35 years on air, and I’d like to salute TSN with my personal Top 10 Reasons Why I Watch(ed):

Jim Van Mustache

10. Jim Van Horne, who let it be known in a recent tweet that he represented ground zero for TSN talking heads. “I was the first commentator hired by TSN. We hit the air 35 years ago today (Sept. 1). First media conference I went to with my TSN blazer was met with ‘what the fuck is TSN?’ I think the question has been answered. I had 17 yrs of fun there. Congrats to those who carry the banner proudly.” I recall golfing with Jim Van Mustache and the late Billy Powers in a charity tournament during the early 1980s, when all three of us worked in Calgary. I swear, at one point Jim was rolling on the ground, literally, in a fit of laughter. It was the funniest 4½ hours of my life.

9. Matt Dunigan. I sometimes wonder if Matty has tossed back a brown pop or two by the time the red light is switched on, but I get a kick out of the “let’s get ‘er done” former quarterback who often forgets that he’s in a TV studio or broadcast booth, not a locker room.

8. Skins. No, I’m not referring to the amount of flesh TSN’s bevy of cover girl teleprompter readers are told to flash. I’m talking curling. The made-for-TV Skins game was introduced in 1986 and it’s been must-see TV for us Pebble People ever since.

7. The women’s World Cup soccer panel of Kaylyn Kyle, Clare Rustad and Diana Matheson. Imagine that. Allowing women to do more than read a teleprompter. They were actually allowed to provide opinion. Strong opinion. So strong, in fact, that apologists for the Yankee Doodle Damsels were squealing in protest. What an overdue concept.

Kaylyn Kyle and her hair.

6. Kaylyn Kyle’s hair. Rapunzel ain’t got nothing on our soccer girl. Kaylyn’s mane is longer than a Winnipeg winter. And much prettier, which is okay to say because Kaylyn and her gal pals discussed makeup and girl crushes during the World Cup, so I don’t want to hear from the PC Police.

5. Jeff O’Neill, aka Jeff O’Dog. What can I say, the guy makes me laugh out loud, plumber’s cleavage and all.

4. The CBC did a dirty when it kicked Chris Cuthbert to the curb, but TSN was there to scoop him up, for which all Rouge Football fans should be grateful.

3. The CFL. I’m not sure Rouge Football as we know it would exist today if not for TSN.

Vic, Linda and Moosie.

2. Vic, Moosie, Russ, Linda and Cheryl. Show me your top game broadcast crew, any sport, and I’ll one-up you with TSN curling’s Vic Rauter, Moosie Turnbull and Linda Moore, followed by the current team of Vic, Hurry Hard Howard and Cheryl Bernard. Moosie’s left us, but he was one of my all-time favorite people, and it’s no coincidence that he called Winnipeg home.

James Duthie

1. James Duthie. As the Pepsi ad said (with the help of Tina Turner), “Simply the best. Better than all the rest.”

(FOOTNOTE: Many thousands of years from now, when archaeologists dig and sift through the ruins of our civilization, they will discover numerous subterranean hideaways full of sports memorabilia, nacho leavings, discarded pizza boxes, empty beer cans, flatscreen TVs the size of a Royal Family dinner table, and scientific proof of intense male bonding between members of the long-lost Jockosaurus species, who thrived in their secluded habitat without female companionship. After carbon dating, they will determine that—YES!—TSN and history’s first Man Cave arrived at the same time, on the same day, Sept. 1, 1984.)

About the absence of a women’s game for Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead…nobody does it better than Ron MacLean…the Great Wall of Oil…the NHL salary cap hell…Espo didn’t ‘move his feet’…a QB in Lotus Land…a menage-a-gridiron in the CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I don’t see my name on TSN’s Trade Bait Board, so I guess I’m not going anywhere…

How can you tell that Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead is a big deal?

Because it isn’t every weekend that Sportsnet dispatches octogenarian gasbag Donald S. Cherry and his setup man, punster Ron MacLean, to the frigid flatlands.

Normally, of course, the Yin and Yang of Saturday shinny are confined to quarters, which is to say they’re tucked away in a cozy, modest Hockey Night in Canada studio in the Republic of Tranna, far removed from the frost-bitten colonies.

But there they were Saturday on location in Speedy Creek, which, according to the tiny town’s tourism spin meisters, is “where life makes sense.”

It certainly made sense that Saskatchewan and, specifically, Speedy Creek would serve as the centrepiece for Hockey Day, because it doesn’t get much more Canadiana than pucks, prairie and a wind chill reading of minus-30.

Speedy Creek is Prairie-speak for the wonderfully named Swift Current, a welcoming, convenient stopping-off point just a hop, skip and a slapshot west of Pile O’ Bones (that’s Prairie-speak for Regina) and east of the wonderfully named Medicine Hat. It has been the breeding ground for numerous National Hockey League luminaries, such as Patrick Marleau, Adam Lowry, Bryan Trottier, Tiger Williams, Joe Sakic, Terry Ruskowski, Sheldon Kennedy, Geoff Sanderson and Dave (The Hammer) Schultz.

Don and Ron

So, ya, it was a great fit and Hockey Day seemingly had it all, including the on-site star power of Don and Ron, Canadian television’s longest-running bromance since Wayne and Shuster.

There was, however, one notable exception—the package did not include our best women in action. And that made no sense on a show from a town “where life makes sense.”

Oh, sure, there were numerous references and interviews about the distaff side of our great game during the 12-hours marathon on CBC and Sportsnet, and they parachuted Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall into Speedy Creek for some glad-handing and chin-wagging during the four-day festival. But that carried the waft of forced tokenism and nothing more.

Hockey Day is supposed to be our annual celebration of all things puck, and the women’s game is supposed to be a happening “thing,” especially given the upbeat chatter since Kendall Coyne Schofield’s jaw-dropping skedaddle a fortnight ago at the NHL all-star showcase. So how could they leave the Canadian Women’s Hockey League out in the cold, figuratively if not literally?

It was a glaring, inexcusable omission. Kind of like organizers of the Grammy Awards telling female singers they’re welcome to attend the show but they can’t perform. Stay in your lane, ladies.

I don’t know what, if any, obstacles prevented Sportsnet from including the Tranna Furies-Montreal Canadiennes afternoon skirmish, but I do know they should have moved mountains to get that game on air.

Dick Irvin

That snub aside, Hockey Day delivered some truly wonderful, Kleenex-worthy stories, and it reminded us how good Ron MacLean is. I’m quite uncertain how he isn’t anointed our country’s top broadcaster every year, because nobody does it better. Not even James Duthie. It was also nice to hear the legendary Dick Irvin’s voice. I’ll go to my urn convinced that Irvin and Danny Gallivan were the best hockey broadcasting tandem ever.

Tough viewing choice for the afternoon game, Habs vs. Leafs or Connor McDavid flying solo vs. the San Jose Sharks. I started with McDavid, but quickly switched to Montreal-Toronto because the Edmonton Oilers are a total fire drill.

The Great Wall of China has been a work in progress for more than 2,000 years, only a week or two longer than the Oilers rebuild.

There’s nothing wrong with the Oil that someone like David Poile or the Winnipeg Jets’ scouting staff couldn’t cure. Trouble is, Poile already has a job. Ditto les Jets bird dogs. So the Oilers are stuck with Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky. Good luck with that.

With so many NHL outfits about to enter salary cap hell, I’m inclined to suggest they ought to scrap the thing. I mean, why should a club like les Jets be penalized just because they have better talent snoops than most? Alas, there’d be no franchise in Good Ol’ Hometown without a salary ceiling, so it stays.

Eugene Melnyk

Bytown Senators bankroll Eugene Melnyk vows to spend close to the cap between 2021 and ’25. Until then, he’ll continue to squeeze nickels, tell fibs and order his players to stay away from Uber.

Anyone still believe there’s a goaltending controversy with Winnipeg HC? Didn’t think so. After watching Laurent Brossoit give the royal wave at pucks with his left hand in les Jets’ 5-2 loss to the bottom-feeding Senators in Bytown, I’m convinced he has a hole in his catching mitt. Apparently the Senators are, too.

There’s no danger of les Jets missing the Stanley Cup runoff, but there is a danger of them failing to secure home-ice advantage. And I don’t see them going the distance without an extra game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in every playoff series.

Mike McIntyre and the Drab Slab’s obsession with Patrik Laine continues without any signs of a retreat. In the past two weeks, Mike M. and Jason Bell have combined to scribble seven stories on the Jets bewitched, bothered and bewildered winger, none of which told us anything we don’t already know. Yo! Boys! It’s no longer news that Puck Finn isn’t scoring. It’s only news the next time he makes the red light flash.

Mike M. described Puck Finn’s playmaking skills vs. the Senators as “impressive.” I must have nodded off when that happened. I mean, other than a nifty pass to set up Bryan Little for a score, Laine handled the biscuit like it had cooties.

Puck Finn

Some deep, penetrating analysis (not!) on Laine’s struggles from Donald S. Cherry and Mike Johnson. The Lord of Loud used his HNIC pulpit on Saturday to tell us this: “Somebody better give Laine a smack. This is his contract year. Get going kid! I know ya got 25 goals, but he’s done nothing. Give him a smack.” Earlier in the week, TSN’s Johnson advised us that Puck Finn has to start “moving his feet.” Oh, please. “Moving his feet” has become the worst cliché since “our backs are against the wall.” Phil Esposito scored 76 goals one season without moving his feet. Difference is, Espo was willing to go into the dirty area in front of the net and gobble up Bobby Orr’s leftovers. Laine, meanwhile, plays on the periphery and Dustin Byfuglien is no Bobby Orr.

Alexander Ovechkin is now the highest-scoring Russian in NHL history with 1,182 points, which works out to a 1.119 per-game average for the Washington Capitals captain. Coincidentally, 1.119 was also Ovie’s blood-alcohol reading during his summer-long Stanley Cup celebration.

Mike Reilly

I don’t know if Mike Reilly is an adventurous guy, but if he’s looking for a challenge—and if he doesn’t mind playing in front of empty seats—he’ll sign with the Tranna Argonauts when the Canadian Football League livestock auction begins on Tuesday. But word from the left flank of the nation suggests the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback is heading for Lotus Land and all those empty seats in B.C. Place Stadium. If true, it isn’t surprising on a number of levels, not the least of which is Vancouver’s proximity to Reilly’s offseason home in Seattle. It is, however, shocking that GM Ed Hervey has convinced Leos skinflint bankroll David Braley to part with $700,000. It must have taken the jaws of life to pry Braley’s wallet that wide open.

Will Reilly’s return to B.C. translate into ticket sales in the Great Wet West? I have my doubts. I live in Leos Land and I hear more chatter about the Seattle Seahawks than three-down football.

Randy Ambrosie

Another busy week of global hobnobbing for CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who now has signed more treaties than the Sioux Nation. For those of you scoring at home, Commish Randy has crawled into bed with Mexico, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France and Finland, and it’s believed his menage-a-gridiron will soon include Dutch Holland and the gang that organizes the annual New Year’s Day Toilet Bowl at Blossom Park in River Heights. Those boys are in their 80s now, but Commish Randy expects them to attend the Foreign Flag Combine in March.

So what do we call three-down football now? The CMGASND2FFL? And if gay guy Michael Sam makes a comeback with the Gentille Alouettes, does it become the CMGASND2FLGBTQFL?

I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a whole lot better about Commish Randy’s off-season handiwork if it included the letters CBA, as in Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Mike Riley

Old friend Mike Riley is coaching San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, and Dan Barnes tells us all about the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward in an excellent piece for Postmedia. Mikey says he “loved” Good Ol’ Hometown, but that didn’t stop him from abandoning the Bombers after their most-recent Grey Cup conquest (if you can call more than a quarter of a century ago “recent”). Those 29 years without a CFL title? I blame it all on Mikey for getting out of Dodge.

And, finally, I note that the jersey toss is once again in vogue in Edmonton Oilers country. Wouldn’t white towels be more appropriate?

About Puck Finn and sports folklore from “back in the day” in Good Ol’ Hometown

Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.

The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.

Puck Finn

“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”

And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.

I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.

“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.

“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”

Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe

My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.

“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”

“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.

Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.

And that set me to thinking…

I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”

  • Ken Ploen

    Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.

  • Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.

  • Terry Sawchuk

    Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.

  • Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.

  • Bluto

    Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.

  • Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.

  • The Finnish Flash

    Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.

  • Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.

About guts, glory and a civil rights icon peddling pickup trucks…warm-and-fuzzy Olympic Games…a fool at Fox News…fools at Postmedia…telling it like it is on NBC…a gay skip for the Brier…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Guts, glory…Martin Luther King Jr.

Guts, glory…and Martin Luther King Jr.?

That was my main takeaway from the Super Bowl last Sabbath—the disturbing reality of Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice telling me to run out and purchase a Dodge Ram pickup truck. I mean, when I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I think “I have a dream,” not heavy pay loads with guts and glory. But there was the great civil rights icon/turned huckster, peddling pickups.

Given that this often is a copy-cat world, I suppose we ought to brace ourselves for the voices of other dead icons that rise from the other side and serve as product shills in the future. For example…

JFK: “Ask not what your Chevy Silverado pickup can do for you, ask what you can do for your Chevy Silverado pickup.”

Buddha: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment—and, at this present moment, nothing would go better at your Super Bowl party than a family bucket of finger-lickin’ good KFC and a case of cold Bud Light.”

Jeus Christ

Jesus Christ: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me—and trust in Trojan Bareskin lubricated condoms.”

Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world—so imagine yourself encircling the world on a Royal Caribbean International cruise.”

Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen—and when E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”

Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind—so visit your nearest Pearle Vision location for your prescription lenses and frames.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: “A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water—and there’s nothing like a cup of Red Rose tea to soothe the soul after a challenging day at the office, even offices that aren’t oval shaped.”

Amelia Earhart: “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others—and, girls, when I became the first female pilot to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, I had my Stayfree Ultra Thin Overnight panty liners—with wings, of course—to get me through the turbulent times.”

Andy Warhol: “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes—and when your 15 minutes of fame arrives, you don’t want to show the world your worst side. Use Clearasil to chase away those pesky blackheads and zits.”

Abraham Lincoln: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal—but, ladies, if you find your man isn’t equal to the task, have him try Viagra!”

Super Bowl LII Takeaway II: I heard three players and one coach with the Philadelphia Eagles give “all thanks” to God and/or Jesus Christ scant seconds after besting the New England Patriots for the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. And here’s what I was thinking at the time: “If I’m an Eagles fans, I’m not thanking God or Jesus for the win, I’m asking them, “Where the hell have you two dudes been hiding for the last 51 years?”

Left to right: South Korean President Moon Jae-in, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

I must say, there are so many warm-and-fuzzy stories coming out of the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, I can’t watch them without my Teddy bear. Exhibit A would be the debut of the Korean women’s hockey side, which featured a trio of North Koreans in the lineup. I haven’t root, root, rooted so hard for a team to score since 1972. Alas, Korea got the collar, losing 8-zip to Switzerland. But the image of South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s leading lady, Kim Yo-jong, sitting three seats apart—plus more than 200 choreographed North Korean cheerleaders—was poweful stuff.

Either Cassie Campbell-Pascall thinks we’re dense or she’s guilty of extremely bad timing. As the Swiss were putting the finished touches to their victory over Korea, the CBC talking head began prattling on about “parity” in women’s hockey. “If the Koreans can keep it at eight, it shows you just how far the game has come,” she said. “I know it’s an 8-0 game, but it’s not the 15-0 scores, the 18-0 scores that you used to see against these types of teams playing in their first Olympics.” C’mon, Cassie, don’t talk to us like we don’t know a puck from pasta. We’re Canadians. We live on Planet Puckhead. I’ve watched two games thus far: Swiss 8-Korea 0; Canada 5-Russia 0. Shots on goal: Swiss 52-Korea 8; Canada 42-Russia 18. That’s parity like a bag of hockey pucks is a plate of pasta.

John Moody

The Olympic Games aren’t even a week old and we already have a winner in the Complete Ass Clown event. Congratulations to John Moody, executive editor/executive vice president and spewer of vile commentary at Fox News, aka the Faux News Network.

Moody, displaying an astonishing level of ignorance as to the devotion, sacrifice, skill and qualifying process required to become an Olympic athlete, believes Uncle Sam’s reps in PyeongChang, South Korea, are a tad too dark, too gay and too inclusive. Thus, he’s cloaked the United States Olympic Committee in complete contempt, accusing it of operating a make-work-for minorities program masquerading as a sports organization that employs a quota system. You know, gather up any blacks, Asians and gays who can strap a skate, ski or snowboard to their feet and let ’em play! Talent and medal totals be damned!

Unless it’s changed overnight, the motto of the Olympics, since 1894, has been ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger.’ It appears the U.S. Olympic Committee would like to change that to ‘Darker, Gayer, Different.’ If your goal is to win medals, that won’t work,” Moody wrote in an appalling, vicious, hostile op-ed piece.

A USOC official was quoted this week expressing pride (what else?) about taking the most diverse U.S. squad ever to the Winter Olympics. That was followed by a, frankly, embarrassing laundry list of how many African-Americans, Asians and openly gay athletes are on this year’s U.S. team. No sport that we are aware of awards points—or medals—for skin color or sexual orientation.

For the current USOC, a dream team should look more like the general population. So, while uncomfortable, the question probably needs to be asked: were our Olympians selected because they’re the best at what they do, or because they’re the best publicity for our current obsession with having one each from Column A, B and C?”

A list of African-American, Asian and gay athletes as an example of diversity is embarrassing? If Moody ever quits his day job, I’m guessing they’ll find room for him at the Trump White House.

John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes

Second Complete Ass Clown of the Olympics Award goes to (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, who, 38 years into his career, remains too thick to understand the difference between a mean-spirited cheap shot and fair comment. The most recent example of this is his gratuitous broadside at mixed doubles curling. “Mixed curling, which is a fine event on Wednesday nights for husbands and wives at the Club, makes its Olympic debut this morning: and it just feels wrong to me,” he tweets. So he’s telling us that our Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris are faux Olympians. That they don’t belong with the real Olympians. Well, I have an idea. Let’s leave Lawes and Morris in PyeongChang to hopefully collect a curling gold medal and enjoy the experience, and Postmedia can haul Grandpa Simmons’s butt back home. His need to skewer well-intentioned athletes and their endeavours is seemingly addictive, incurable and speaks to a very significant character deficit. It’s a terrible look for a sports columnist with a national profile.

Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir

Tough start for the male fancy skaters in the team competition in South Korea. I swear, I haven’t seen that many men fall without being touched since the last Italian soccer game I watched. Tough crowd, too. Especially in the NBC broadcast booth, where former fancy skaters Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski held court. After Nathan Chen completed a flaw-filled performance, Weir went for the jugular, describing the American teen’s spin-stumble-and-ad lib routine as “a disaster. That was the worst short program I’ve ever seen from Nathan Chen.”

By way of comparison, CBC’s Brenda Irving, Carol Lane and Kurt Browning put on the kid’s gloves after our guy, Patrick Chan, hit the deck twice. “Unfortunately for Canadian fans,” said Irving, “not vintage Patrick today.” Browning mentioned Chan’s bravery for returning to a different “landscape” in figure skating and added, “I feel for him right now, tremendously, because I know his heart’s pretty broken.” Lane, meanwhile, served up apologies about a coaching change. How positively Canadian of her.

John Epping

John Moody and Fox News won’t like this—John Epping is going to the Brier next month (March 3-11) in Regina. And he’ll be skipping a team. Not only that, he’s gay. Openly gay. Must be part of some hidden agenda whereby Curling Canada has a “laundry list” that includes a gay quota. Seriously, it’s nice to see Epping finally get the better of nemesis Glenn Howard, who, until last weekend, had used the Peterborough skip as his personal pinata in Ontario for the past decade. Good guy Epping thus becomes the first openly gay man to skip at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Scotties champs (left to right) Dawn McEwen, Shannon Birchard, Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer.

Once upon a time, Winnipeg newspapers covered curling like no other sheets in the country. It was wall-to-wall. Couldn’t get enough “hurry hard” on the sports pages. Now? You can’t even find curling on the menu of the Sun website. As if that isn’t bad enough, the tabloid was MIA for the recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, allowing Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press to cover the Canadian women’s championship uncontested (she nailed it, of course). It didn’t matter that the field included three—count ’em, three—River City outfits (six-time champ Jennifer Jones, runner-up Kerri Einarson, Team Canada’s Michelle Englot). Some suit at Postmedia decided that the Winnipeg Sun would best be served at a Winnipeg-centric event by a guy (Murray McCormick) from Regina. Sigh.

Given the revelations and developments at the White House last week, does anyone out there still think a woman-beater like Johnny Manziel ought to be making a living in the Canadian Football League? If so, ask yourself this question: “What would my reaction be if my daughter brought Manziel home for dinner?”

 

About grrrrl power ‘n’ goddesses…an ugly American in Rio…giving A-Rod the needle…the Otta-whine RedBlacks…a mea culpa…and not wearing a beach volleyball bikini

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

Grrrl power and goddesses.
Grrrl power and goddesses.

Quiz me this, Sexism Police: If a writer uses the word “goddesses” to describe a female athlete, is that sexist or not? Or does it depend on the gender of the scribe?

I ask this because one wordsmith has bestowed the loft of “goddesses” upon the women who are responsible for the entirety of Canada’s medal haul at the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. Given the sensitivities of the day, such a descriptive might be expected to inspire howls of protest because the word “goddess” is very much about female physical beauty.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a goddess is “a female deity” or “a woman who is greatly admired, especially for her beauty.” Merriam-Webster defines goddess as “a female god,” or “a women whose great charm or beauty arouses adoration.”

So, you need to be female and you need to be beautiful in appearance. All others need not apply.

Sounds sexist to me.

Actually, much of the column written by Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star could be considered sexist, to the point of being an exercise in the gender-shaming of men. I mean, it’s appropriate to laud the ladies for their achievements at Rio de Janeiro with catchy phrases like “Grrrrl power in the pool.” But Ramblin’ Rosie shifts into an us-vs.-them mode. The women vs. the men. It’s XII medals for the XX side. And the XY side? Zip. Zilch. The men have provided no yang to the women’s yin.

Still, I don’t think DiManno was being sexist in her use of the term “goddesses” or her emphasis on the lack of success, to date, by Canada’s male Olympians. (Stooping to the branding of certain scribes/broadcasters as “chauvinistic troglodytes” is another matter.)

I just find it interesting that she can use a word, the meaning of which speaks directly to a women’s physical beauty, and it goes unchallenged. I’m not sure a guy would get away with that. Not in today’s politically correct climate. Surely someone would be offended. Which might explain why, in a similarly themed column, Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press took the safe route and described our women as “fierce female warriors.”

Hope Solo: An ugly American in Rio.
Hope Solo: An ugly American in Rio.

The gold medal for Ugly American in Rio goes to Hope Solo, goalkeeper with the United States women’s soccer side. Her gamesmanship, whereby she demanded a new pair of gloves prior to the final kick in a shootout loss to Sweden, was pathetic theatrics, but calling the victors a “bunch of cowards” went beyond the pale. According to Solo, those pesky Swedes displayed extremely bad manners in refusing to join the Americans in a game of run-and-gun football. How dare they sit back and defend? Dirty, rotten “cowards.” And, to think, some Americans wonder why the world cheers against them.

Hard to imagine that the now-retired Alex Rodriguez is on the New York Yankees’ payroll as an adviser. What pearls of wisdom will he dispense to young players with Major League Baseball’s most-storied franchise? In which butt cheek to inject the needle?

I don’t know what is worthy of more yuks, the Saskatchewan Roughriders being found guilty of cheating and still sporting a woeful 1-6 record for this Canadian Football League season or former genius Chris Jones insisting that all fans wishing to attend Gang Green workouts must first produce photo identification and sign in. Perhaps Jones shouldn’t just ask fans to sign in. Let ’em on the field. One or two of them might be able to do something most of the Riders are incapable of. You know, like catch a football.

I’m all for chasing dreams, so I won’t be joining the chorus of rude laughter that has accompanied football washout Tim Tebow since he expressed a desire to play professional baseball. Just one piece of advice for Tim, though: Play first base, because you rarely have to throw the ball.

That was quite the pity party Henry Burris had last week. Smilin’ Hank was snarlin’ Hank, most of his venom directed at the talking heads on the TSN football panel, who might or might not have been critical of him. Chris Schultz called the Burris rant an “overreaction,” while Matt Dunigan was “disappointed” and submitted Snarlin’ Hank’s “focus is all out of whack.” Milt Stegall got more personal, saying, “You sound like a baby right now, that’s exactly what you sound like.” You got it, Milt, just call Hank the Otta-whine RedBlacks quarterback.

Alex Rodriguez: Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Alex Rodriguez: Liar, liar, pants on fire.

I have a theory about the outpouring of support for Elliotte Friedman from his brethren in the Fourth Estate—he apologized. Jock journalists, you see, are not accustomed to hearing mea culpas. They expect lies and denial (hello, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Roger Clemens, Alan Eagleson, Roger Goodell, Russia, Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa et al). Thus, when Friedman apologized for his mega-mistake in the Olympic men’s 200-meter individual medley final, the boys and girls rallied ’round him, not simply because they don’t eat their own, but for his honesty. It’s in short supply in sports.

Not in short supply is casual homophobia. BBC commentator Paul Hand had this to say as a kiss-cam scanned the audience during a women’s tennis match in Rio: “Let’s hope they don’t go on to two blokes sat next to each other.” No Paul. The sight of gay people kissing is not the problem. The problem is people like you who have a problem watching gay people kiss.

A fun BBC thing is the site Who is Your Olympic Body Match? You type in your height, weight and age and you’re given the names of Olympic athletes who most closely resemble you. Mine are Barbora Strykova, a Czech tennis player, Natalia Alfaro, a Costa Rican beach volleyball player, and Wai Sze Lee, a Hong Kong track cyclist. I can handle playing tennis and riding a bike, but you’ll never catch me wearing one of those skimpy beach volleyball bikinis. For which we all can be thankful.

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 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.

 

The Elliotte Friedman Flub: Will the sports media cut athletes the same kind of slack?

So, Elliotte Friedman had a Bill Buckner d’oh moment.

He didn’t simply stumble in his clumsy call of the men’s 200-meter individual medley final on Thursday at the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. He performed a full-on face plant into the compost heap. Misidentifying Michael Phelps and declaring Ryan Lochte the gold-medal winner when, in fact, the latter finished a distant fifth is as bad a broadcasting blunder as you’re apt to hear.

What I find interesting, however, is the fallout to Friedman’s epic faux pas.

Elliotte Friedman
Elliotte Friedman

Basically, the CBC gab guy has been given a get-out-of-jail-free card. From 95 per cent of tweeters. And, more notably, from 100 per cent of his brethren in the toy department of Canada’s Fourth Estate. The prevailing theme seems to be, “Hey, stuff happens. Nothing to see here, folks. Let’s move along.”

That would be fine, except for one thing—sports scribes/chin-waggers are the first to brandish the pitchforks and torches whenever a professional athlete, coach, manager, commissioner (hello, Roger Goodell) or team owner stubs a toe.

Glossing over the Friedman Flub, as they have, is hypocrisy unharnessed.

I realize that jock journalists, most notably in the print stable, are loath to eat their own, and I’m not advocating the kicking of a good man when he’s down. But if they’re going to pick Friedman up, dust him off, smooth his clothing and apply salve to his emotional owies, should they not extend similar sympathies and kindnesses to the athletes they write and talk about?

We won’t hold our breath waiting for that to happen, though, will we?

Hey, I feel for Friedman, because once upon a time I was in the media. I know the demands and the stress levels. So I get it. The thing is, some have gone to ridiculous extremes in rallying ’round their crestfallen and contrite colleague.

A Dave Shoalts column in the Globe and Mail provides an example of the sugar coating.

Twenty-two minutes after that horrendous miscue, in which he confused gold-medal winner Michael Phelps for his fellow American swimmer Ryan Lochte for the entire race, Friedman went back to the CBC microphone and delivered a solid play-by-play call of Penny Oleksiak’s historic gold-medal win for Canada.”

Excuse me? Solid play-by-play? Friedman mistakenly referred to Oleksiak as Emily Overholt. But Shoalts added yet more sweetness, submitting the gaffe was a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Spare me.

Whatever became of telling it like it is in sports? Friedman screwed up. Royally. Not once but twice. And the fact he immediately delivered a mea culpa on air and on Twitter doesn’t erase that reality. Fact is, he had no choice but to apologize during the broadcast. I mean, he had the wrong guy winning the race, for cripes sake.

Some look at the kid-gloves handling of the Friedman Flub as a ripe example of us being a kinder, gentler, more polite people. Road apples! Imagine the reaction had this been an American broadcaster bungling the call of a race featuring two Canadian swimmers. We’d freak out. It would be Harold Reynolds revisited.

Billl Buckner's d'oh moment.
Billl Buckner’s d’oh moment.

Look, Elliotte Friedman has been a solid reporter for more than two decades and oft has served as the voice of reason when natterbugs Glenn Healy and P.J. Stock were speaking no known language on Hockey Night in Canada.

Does his Olympics gaffe undo a lifetime of quality work? No. But this might stick to him like infamy has stuck to Bill Buckner. Few remember that Buckner had 2,715 base hits and batted .300 or better seven times during his lengthy Major League Baseball career. For Buckner, it always comes back to a baseball dribbling through his legs in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Hopefully, Friedman will be more fortunate than Buckner and his gaffe won’t become his Mary’s Little Lamb. Whatever the case, the next time one of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism has the urge to cut an athlete a new butthole, I hope he/she remembers how they cut Friedman large slack.

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 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.