Once again, we are hearing a loud chorus of “stick to sports” from the peanut gallery.
Oh, yes, there are many among the rabble who believe it’s extremely ill mannered for jock journos to opine on anything other than goals, slam dunks, double faults, birdie putts, pitch counts, pitch clocks, and if Aaron Rodgers will ever get a new zip code.
Thus, they yelp for the stifling of sports scribes, in the same way and at the same volume Archie Bunker would try to stifle Edith.
A prime example would be the Twitter missive my good friend Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun received the other day: “STFU. Sports journalists commenting on social or political issues are the worst. No clue. Take your f—— agenda and shove it where the sun don’t shine.”
It’s a classic “stick to sports” rant, one of the many I’ve read on social media since Ivan Provorov started the Rainbow Resistance Movement in the National Hockey League.
I doubt the Philly Flyers defender meant to become a Pied Piper the January night he pooped on his team’s Pride-theme party by declining to wear a rainbow jersey, but it’s become follow the leader—James Reimer, Eric and Marc Staal, Ilya Lyubushkin and Andrei Kuzmenko have also opted out of a gesture meant to welcome the LGBT(etc.) community to the NHL.
Not surprisingly, numerous jock journos have delivered a stern tsk-tsking to the Defiant Six (and counting), because a great many of the scribes/talking heads lean left, politically and socially.
As an e.g., there was a collective gasp and they choked on their Cheerios when childhood heroes Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus pumped Donald Trump’s tires in advance of the last U.S. presidential election. They saw it as the greatest betrayal since Judas puckered up and planted a smooch on Jesus’ cheek, or at least since Roger Clemens took his syringes from Fenway Park to the Bronx.
The scribes and talking heads were told then, as they are today, to shut the hell up and stick to sports.
Except that isn’t how it works.
Sports is not a stand-alone cosmos. It’s been intersecting with politics and social issues since David forced Goliath to tap out.
Roll back to the early 20th century, when Jack Johnson and James J. Jeffries threw down for the world heavyweight boxing championship. Their tiff in Reno, Nev., on July 4, 1910, wasn’t billed the ‘Fight of the Century’ because it featured two great gladiators. It was about race and white supremacy, and that’s how the boys at ringside wrote it.
Here’s Max Baethahar of The Daily Gate City the day before the bout: “On Monday we are to see the consummation, the battle of the century, the battle of giants, a contest for physical supremacy between the white and black races.”
After Johnson kayoed Jeffries in the 15th round, race riots promptly broke out across America. At least 17 Black people and two whites were killed. That, not boxing, was the talking point.
When Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, the dean of America’s Black sports scribes, Fay Young, delivered this message to his Chicago Defender readers: “Robinson will not be on trial as much as the Negro fan. The Negro fan has been the ‘hot potato’ dodged by managers who would have taken a chance by signing a Negro player. The unruly Negro has and can set us back 25 years…The Negro fan can help Robinson. The Negro fan can ruin him. Robinson is an American citizen, an ex-army officer, a ball player and a gentleman. Let us try and meet his qualifications as a gentleman. If you Chicagoans have got to raise a lot of hell, do a lot of cussing, go somewhere else.”
Was Young supposed to write about Robinson’s batting average when Blacks across America were celebrating one of their own who went where none had gone before?
Think Cassius Clay, who joined the Nation of Islam and became the draft dodging Muhammad Ali.
New York columnist Red Smith likened him to “those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the (Vietnam) war,” while Dick Young of the New York Daily News assailed the brash heavyweight titleholder for his religious beliefs, writing, “He is a braggart, but that’s no crime or there wouldn’t be enough jails. The shame of it is that Clay will be used by the Black Muslims, to shill for their brand of hate-mongering. I do not believe Cassius Clay or anyone who thinks like him is good for my country. He is for separatism. He is for black man against white man.”
They were writing about a political and social issue of the 1960s, not jabs and knockout punches.
Similarly, German Chancellor Adolph Hitler and his white supremist Aryan Nation received as much ink in the leadup to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as Jesse Owens. During the opening ceremony, some non-German athletes acknowledged Hitler with a Nazi salute, and swatstika symbols were in abundance. When Pete Rose lost his baseball career to gambling, the scribes scribbled about athletes and vices. When washout quarterback Johnny Manziel beat up a woman, they wrote about the evils of domestic violence. When John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested the oppression of Black people in the United States—and when Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest social injustice—that’s what the jock journos focused on. When Donald Trump called any NFL player who took a knee during the Star Spangled Banner “a son of a bitch” and advocated for his firing, social unrest was the topic du jour.
Does anyone truly believe the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union was strictly about hockey bragging rights? It was Us vs. Them. Our way of life (democracy) vs. their way of life (communism).
“It was f—— war,” is how Phil Esposito described it.
After Paul Henderson delivered the decisive score 34 seconds from time in Game 8, this is what he told Dick Beddoes of the Globe and Mail: “When I scored that final goal, I finally realized what democracy was all about.”
Today, the talking points are equal pay, equal rights, misogyny, sexual orientation, racist team nicknames/logos, Pride nights, gender identity, etc., and opinionists in the toy department deal with it. They must deal with it. Otherwise, they aren’t doing their jobs.
Last June the New York Times instructed its subsidiary The Athletic to keep out of politics: No expression of political leanings on social media or any platform. That’s just stupid. Can you imagine where we’d be if TSN told Rick Westhead that both Hockey Canada and Soccer Canada were off-limits to his deep dives?
Corey Masisak of The Athletic asked the aforementioned Reimer this question after the San Jose Sharks goaltender declined to wear a Pride jersey: “What are your thoughts on transgender people?” Reimer’s response: “My beliefs in Christ, what I think the Bible says on that stuff.” What he “thinks” The Bible says? He doesn’t know? Then what’s his beef with wearing a Pride jersey?
Not sure what Ron MacLean was going on about in a gum-flapper with Brian Burke last week on Hockey Night in Canada, but he mentioned something about Aristotle and the “human approach to ethics.” He then asked the Pittsburgh Penguins president how we find a “compromise or a middle ground.” Compromise? Middle ground? On ethics? Sheesh.
Few athletes will keep me up long past my bedtime. Caitlin Clark is one of them. My eyeballs were glued to the flatscreen on Friday night as she put the final touches to a 41-point performance in Iowa Hawkeyes 77-73 win over the previously unbeaten South Carolina Gamecocks. I’m not a huge hoops fan. I think the last game I watched from tipoff to final buzzer featured the Los Angeles Lakers and Jerry West when he was a player not an NBA logo, and I haven’t seen a minute of the NCAA men’s tournament. But I’ve taken a gander at Caitlin and the women’s March Madness twice now, and I like what I see. That’s riveting theatre.
An example of anti-female bias in sports media: On TSN’s overnight SportsCentre last Sunday/Monday, there was no mention of the Toronto Six winning the Premier Hockey Federation title until the show was into its 40th minute. There was just one 20-second highlight, the winning goal in a 4-3 OT game. Over at Sportsnet, they couldn’t find room for the Six until the 53rd minute. On the print side, the Toronto Sun completely ignored the Six’ success vs. Minnesota Whitecaps. That’s what they think of the world’s sole professional women’s hockey league.
Hey, it’s National Hockey Card Day on April 15. Just in time for spring, when the kids are hauling their bikes out of storage and looking for something to stick between the spokes to get that clackety-clack-clack-clack sound.
I note the name Wally Buono will be added to the B.C. Leos Wall of Fame in August. You mean he wasn’t there already?
Now that Jennifer Jones has added a Canadian mixed doubles title to her resume, does any doubt remain that she’s the finest curler ever produced on Manitoba pebble?
So, many times Manitoba champion Mike McEwen is going green, which is to say he’ll now be skipping a team on the Flattest of Lands, with Colton Flasch, Kevin and Dan Marsh as his accomplices. The boys will be curling out of Saskatoon, and I think one thing is certain: Mike won’t look any better in green than Matt Dunstone or Chelsea Carey did. Kermit the Frog looks good in green, Manitoba curlers don’t.
And, finally, some interesting stuff in weekly newsletters from Drab Slab sports editor Jason Bell and sports columnist Mad Mike McIntyre.
Let’s start with Bell. Writing about the highs and lows of getting a scoop and being scooped, he says: “There also comes a time when you tip your hat to the competition. And I’ll do that publicly to Winnipeg Sun columnist Paul Friesen, who wrote this week about the sexism, racism and hate that Gimli curler Kerri Einarson and her team has been subjected to online—during and after their latest effort at the world women’s championship. It’s ugly. And it’s ever so sad.”
Imagine that, acknowledging you got your butt booted and tipping your chapeau to a foe. Nice touch.
Meantime, I found Mad Mike’s newsletter interesting because he delivered his personal rankings of favorite NHL cities and barns.
1. Winnipeg. Cheesy, sure, but there really is no place like home. Yes, even when winter refuses to pack its bags as we approach April.
2. New York City. Of course, this covers three teams in the Rangers, Islanders and Devils. The Big Apple simply can’t be beat.
3. Calgary. Some close friends and family members live there, so a visit is always a highlight.
4. Minneapolis/St. Paul. Same as above.
5. Vegas. Fairly self-explanatory, I would think!
1. Madison Square Garden (New York). The World’s Most Famous Arena is truly incredible.
2. T-Mobile Arena (Las Vegas). The atmosphere is tough to beat.
3. Bell Centre (Montreal). A shrine to hockey history.
4. United Centre (Chicago). The best anthem in sports, hands down.
5. Scotiabank Arena (Toronto). The spotlight is bright. The stage is big.
That got me to thinking about my own time on the NHL beat for various rags, most notably the Winnipeg Tribune and Sun.
1. Quebec City. Such character. Such beauty. Such lovely people.
2. Montreal. I love the joie de vivre of the French.
3. Los Angeles. Never mind the earthquakes and smog. I got to ride an elevator with Hawkeye Pierce of M*A*S*H once, and he was the spitting image of Alan Alda.
1. Montreal Forum. The ultimate shinny shrine and best hot dogs in the world.
2. Maple Leaf Gardens. A bit of a dump, but so much history.
3. Chicago Stadium. Loudest room I’ve ever been in.