The River City Renegade


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About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

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

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Randy Carlyle: Standing tall during the worst of times

Here’s all you need to know about Randy Carlyle: Less than 48 hours after being relieved of his duties as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his brother-in-law passing away from ALS, he welcomed an uninvited sports scribe into his home.

A good man was down. Deeply, heartbreakingly down. Forget the hockey element. Other National Hockey League jobs, after all, are sure to come Kitty Carlyle’s way. His wife’s brother, John, on the other hand…he had just died, damnit! He won’t be coming back.

So there was Carlyle, opening the door of his Etobicoke home to discover Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun standing on the stoop, notebook in hand in the hope that the oft-curmudgeonly coach would share some bons mots about the dire dealings of death, dismissal and disappointment.

Some might think it callous of Buffery to have imposed himself on Carlyle at such a time. Give the man some space. Let him grieve. Let him filter and flush. Surely the story can wait.

Who could possibly condemn Carlyle had he torn a page from the Phil Kessel book of media relations and barked “Get away from me!” at Buffery?

That isn’t how Randy rolls, though.

As much as the former Winnipeg Jets defenceman and Manitoba Moose coach/GM can come across as Crusty the Carlyle—and seemingly, at times, take delight in that masquerade—the much-maligned man is, as the late and legendary Jets’ play-by-play voice Friar Nicolson was wont to say, “good people. Kitty’s good people.”

So, he didn’t deliver a brush-off. He took Buffery in. The two men sat at a kitchen table and engaged in a 25-minute chin-wag, in which Carlyle spilled. About his brother-in-law’s death. About his firing. About failing to restore any level of lustre to the Maple Leafs brand. About resisting any urge to diss the Toronto players who betrayed him with half-baked efforts and the pungent odour of entitlement.

This was Randy Carlyle unplugged. Honest. Poignant. Sincere. Humorous (when asked about his relationship with the Toronto media, he jokingly said, “I didn’t kick you out of my house.”).

He easily could have done that very thing. The fact he didn’t speaks to not only Carlyle’s character and his professionalism, but also to a respect factor between sportsman and scribe, something that is too often absent.

There is no shortage of examples underscoring the adversarial hue of the jock-journalist relationship, the latest offering being the nasty, distasteful to-and-fro served up by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star and the aforementioned Kessel earlier this week. If you missed it, Feschuk approached the Leafs’ embattled forward with this question scant seconds after Carlyle had been defrocked:

“There’s a suggestion that you’re a difficult guy to coach. Is there anything to that?”

It was leading, accusatory, inflammatory and designed to incite. There was no good way for Kessel to answer, other than to provide a non-answer. Which he didn’t, because he isn’t media savvy. He doesn’t have the acumen to recognize the hook inside the worm. So he takes the bait. Every time. He adopted a defensive posture, resorted to name-calling, then Feschuk played the part of the stooge by chasing Kessel about the room. It was slapstick. Awkward, unfortunate slapstick.

Many in the mainstream sports media have applauded Feschuk for asking the “tough” question, because that’s what they do. They circle the wagons. But Feschuk’s “tough” question was based on a “suggestion” from an unidentified source. He went on to say, “It’s not me saying this stuff.” So, who has suggested Kessel is uncoachable? When did they make this suggestion? Does Kessel not have the right to know the identity of his accusor(s) before the question is posed.

Feschuk might as well have told Kessel there’s a “suggestion” he’s gay. Anything to that?

What has ensued is a witchhunt of epic proportions, with members of the MSM in the Republic of Tranna tripping over one another in an unmasked quest to have Kessel ridden out of town.

This is why I found the Carlyle-Buffery scenario so refreshing. As much as it was a sportsman-reporter exchange, it was more an interaction between two people. Imagine that, a jock and a journalsist seeing each other as people.

What a concept.

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