Let’s talk about the silence of live sports…walking in Michael Jordan’s old sneakers…the NHL doesn’t know spit…the “journalism big leagues”…a voice of reason in Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

If live sports returns and no one is there to see it, does it really happen?

I mean, this weekend there was UFC bloodletting in Florida. Footy in Germany. The good, ol’ boys were bending fenders in Darlington, S.C. Ponies were at full giddyup at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Men showing skin played Skins golf at Juno Beach, Fla.

All that without a paying customer in sight. Anywhere.

I didn’t watch any of the live stuff live, but I caught the highlights and there was a creepy weirdness to it all, which is not meant as a commentary on Robin Black’s wacko hair and his odd facial gymnastics during TSN’s UFC post-fights package.

It’s just that sports without an audience and live soundtrack doesn’t work for moi. It’s tinny and hollow, like your cable TV guy forgot to connect a wire or two.

Will we become accustomed to the sounds of silence? I suppose. After all, there’s not much choice. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a cork in the regularly scheduled hoorawing of the rabble, and that won’t change if and when Major League Baseball and other big-league sports are given the okie dokie to proceed next month, or later in the summer.

Besides, it’s not like we’ve never seen sports played in empty ball parks before. But enough about the Toronto Argonauts.

Donald Trump

Sounds like Donald Trump is also a fan of fans. The American president gave his Twitter thumbs a five-minute rest on Sunday, and had a telephone natter with Mike Tirico during NBC’s coverage of Skins golf featuring Dustin Johnson/Rory McIlroy v. Rickie Fowler/Matthew Wolff. Among other topics, he discussed the absence of a gallery. “We want to be back to normal where you have the big crowds and they are practically standing on top of each other and enjoying themselves. The country is ready to start moving forward,” he said. That’s right, Make America Sick Again.

Interesting to see the boys wearing short pants during the Skins match. Just don’t expect it to become commonplace on the PGA Tour. When it comes to breaking from tradition, men’s golf moves about as fast as a sloth in quicksand.

Hey, a pair of Michael Jordan’s old sneakers from 1985 sold at auction for $560,000. Apparently, the running shoes actually cost just $1. The remaining $559,999 went toward a lifetime supply of Odor Eaters.

Once all the beans had been counted, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came out $588,860 on the right side of the ledger on their 2019 operations. You know what $588,860 will buy you these days? That’s right, a pair of Michael Jordan’s smelly, old sneakers.

There’s continued talk that the National Hockey League will reboot its 2019-20 season, perhaps in July with very strict COVID-19 guidelines for player conduct. For example, they’ll no longer be allowed to spit. Ya, that’ll happen when dogs stop peeing on trees.

David Braley

In the department of Telling It Like It Is, I present David Braley: “I really believe if we don’t play this year, there’s a very good chance that we won’t survive,” says the owner of the B.C. Lions. And he meant the entire Canadian Football League, not just his Leos. I don’t think Braley is being alarmist, nor do I believe it’s his sly way of inserting himself into the argument for federal funding to save Rouge Football. But, as I wrote more than two weeks ago, if COVID-19 kills our three-downs game something will rise from the ashes, a structure that will look very much like it did in the 1950s and ’60s.

My, oh my, the things we discover when poring over a newspaper.

For example, not until I read the Drab Slab the other day was I aware that I had spent the largest portion of my 30 years in the newspaper dodge slumming. How so? Well, I had the bad manners to work for two River City dailies not named the Winnipeg Free Press.

The Freep, you see, is “the journalism big leagues,” meaning the Winnipeg Tribune was not, and the Winnipeg Sun is not.

We know this to be so thanks to Mad Mike McIntyre, who chose the occasion of his 25th anniversary in the rag trade to reach around with both hands and deliver himself a hearty pat on the back. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It’s a noteworthy milestone, especially given that much of his time was spent documenting the gritty misdeeds of scofflaws who like to spill blood on the streets.

If only he had confined his essay to self-admiration.

But no.

After mentioning that he had received his baptism at the Sun, working the cops-and-robbers beat for two-plus years, Mad Mike offered this nugget of pure piffle: “I got my call up to the journalism big leagues in the fall of 1997 when the Free Press welcomed me into the fold.”

So there you have it, folks. Broadsheet equals “journalism big leagues.” Tabloid equals…well, Mad Mike doesn’t tell us if the Sun is Triple AAA, Double AA or a sandlot operation. It just ain’t “the journalism big leagues.”

I’ve long held that inordinate levels of pompous assness is part of the Drab Slab’s DNA, but this particular whiff of arrogance cranks it up a notch. It’s ignorant and insulting to the very people at the Sun who were good enough to give a wet-eared Red River CreCom grad his kick start in the rag trade.

I swear, the wonder of the Freep is not that they put out a quality product, it’s how they manage to squeeze all those fat egos into one newsroom.

Nobody’s keeping score at home but, for the record, since Mad Mike defected from the Sun to join the “journalism big leagues” at the Drab Slab, 10 sports scribes from the tabloid have been inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Roll of Honour and only seven from the Freep. He might want to have a rethink on that “big leagues” bunk.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that there have been more women’s hockey games on TV during the two months of the COVID-19 sports shutdown than I saw live during the past decade, Olympic Games excluded. Ponytail Puck never has been a priority for either TSN or Sportsnet, and I say they should be ashamed of themselves for using “dead” games as a convenient filler after ignoring the women when they were “live.”

On the matter of Ponytail Puck, it’s interesting to note that the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has been moving some furniture around, reducing its training bases from eight to five. The Dream Gappers will set up shop in the Republic of Tranna, Calgary, Montreal, Minnesota and New Hampshire, with groups of 25 players in each. Do the math: That’s 125 total. Last year it was 150 (approximately). So it’s addition by subtraction, I guess, although the 25 women who’ll be left out in the cold might not see it that way. Odd bit of business, that.

How ironic that we didn’t hear from PWHPA main squawk box Liz Knox during the restructuring. I mean, when the National Women’s Hockey League announced its expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, Knox was quick to tsk-tsk them for conducting business during the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she pooh-poohed. But apparently it’s okay for the Dream Gappers.

Digit Murphy

If it’s a voice of reason you’d like to hear from in the mess that is Ponytail Puck, try Digit Murphy, president of the Tranna NWHL franchise. In a natter with Roger Lajoie, George Rusic and Rob Wong on Sportsnet 590, she had this to say:

“I really don’t play for either side. I play for the growth of the game mindset. So I’ve reached out to players on the Dream Gap Tour, I’ve talked to them, told them what I’m doing and, again, this isn’t an either/or, it’s an and. The players can do the Dream Gap Tour and we can do an NWHL. It doesn’t have to be exclusive. To think that hockey’s an exclusive game on one side or the other just isn’t in the conversation. It’s how do we include everyone that wants to be a women’s sports fan, a women’s hockey fan, because those are the words you really need.

“We’re in a tiny pond, a very, very small pond in women’s sports and we need to expand it and do whatever we can to grow it and not tear anyone down. Let’s build them up, empower them and let’s all work together toward a bigger goal.”

Digit made similar comments in a chin-wag with Emily Kaplan of ESPN, and it’s refreshing.

And, finally, I’m walking home from the market the other day and felt a sudden need to lighten my load. So, I plunked my weary and over-burdened bones on a bench two blocks from home. I hear a loud voice cry out from the nearest side street. “A woman!” an angry man shouts, glaring in my direction. “You’re just a bitch!” How charming. In another time and another place, I might have been wounded. But now? I just assume the guy reads this sports blog.

About racism, Winnipeg and Evander Kane…Puck Finn and the Great One…the Jets and the Nashville Model…the odds on Tiger…eyes on the Raptors…a girl in goal…Tebow time is over…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…

See? Evander Kane was right all along.

He wasn’t the problem.

Blame the Buffalo cops, who slapped the cuffs on Evander Kane.

It was all those ungrateful, green-with-envy restaurant workers and (especially) those nasty racists in Winnipeg. And it was those young, gold-digging women in Buffalo who kept calling the cops and accusing him of sexual assault. And it was those same cops who clapped the cuffs on him—in broad daylight on a downtown Buffalo street, no less—and hauled his sorry butt to the hoosegow. They were white, ergo racist.

That’s why Kane never blossomed into the National Hockey League mega-star that so many of the faithful expected (hoped?) him to become.

Well just look at our old friend now.

Kane has landed in a city, San Jose, where (apparently) there isn’t someone wearing a white bedsheet and a KKK hood hiding behind every lamp post. The citizenry is, according to Paul Gackle of the San Jose Mercury News, recognized for “ethnic diversity and lefty politics.” Also significant: “Less than 30 per cent of its population is white.”

And—as if on cue—presto! Kane has his first NHL hat trick. Four goals in one game, in fact. Five in nine.

It’s great that San Jose is so diverse,” the former Winnipeg Jets/Buffalo Sabres and freshly minted Sharks winger told Gackle just last week. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things.”

Donald Williams Jr. leaving the courthouse with his mother.

I guess Kane missed the memo about Donald Williams Jr.

He was a 17-year-old black freshman and the victim of a chilling campaign of racism at San Jose State University. Three white dorm roommates terrorized Williams Jr., dropping N-bombs, calling him “fraction,” posting pictures of Adolph Hitler, flaunting the Confederate flag and, most alarming, they clamped a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck and told him they lost the key. That went on for three months. The white boys insisted it was a college prank and, alarmingly, a jury agreed, finding the roommates guilty of misdemeanor battery but clearing one on a hate-crime charge and failing to reach a verdict on the other two. Oh, did I fail to mention that it was an all-white jury?

I don’t recall anything like that happening at the University of Winnipeg or University of Manitoba.

Ironically, the Williams Jr. torment occurred in 2013, about the same time Kane was telling The Hockey News that much of the criticism directed his way in Winnipeg was “because I’m black, and I’m not afraid to say that. I do think that’s true. Absolutely.”

Indeed, Gackle writes about “the racial issues that Kane confronted with the Jets,” but he leans heavily on race and goes light on substance. That is to say, not once does he provide anecdotal evidence in his Mercury News article to support his supposition. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, Kane has never supplied one morsel of detailed testimony to confirm that racism was at the root of his trouble in River City. At best, he’s muttered about the horrors of “social media and that sort of stuff.”

That from a guy who once tweeted that Chris Bosh “looked like a fairy” during a National Basketball Association playoff game. Before delivering a mea culpa for that anti-gay slur, Kane scoffed at anyone who took offence, advising them that his comment was “real talk.” So, ya, he knows all about the sewage that pours out of people hiding behind a computer keyboard. He’s contributed to it.

Look, I don’t doubt Kane has experienced racism and/or bigotry on social media. What minority hasn’t? Try being a female jock journalist. Or gay? Or transgender.

None of this is to suggest racism doesn’t exist in Winnipeg. We all know it does. Bigotry too. I just think it’s time that Evander Kane stopped playing the race card and just played hockey.

San Jose State University students protest ruling in Donald Williams Jr. case.

The headline on Gackle’s article in the Mercury News was pure click bait: “Racism, Winnipeg and why the Sharks are a good fit for Evander Kane.” But, then, that’s what a headline is supposed to do. As for the writer, Gackle pointed out that racism isn’t “just a Winnipeg thing,” but he still wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way of his slanted story. He eagerly painted River City as a bedrock of racism and, at the same time, presented San Jose as lily white in soul, if not skin color, yet he not only ignored the aforementioned Donald Williams Jr. case, he also made no mention of a September 2016 circumstance, whereby swastikas and anti-semitic language were discovered in two resident halls at San Jose State University. That led to another investigation of a hate crime. Had Gackle included those two incidents, he had no story.

Wayne Gretzky

Speaking of scribes and facts, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is dealing in inaccuracies when he writes this about Jets sophomore sensation Patrik Laine: “So what does (a contract) extension look like for a 19-year-old who has 41 goals in his second season in the NHL and has already scored more often at this point in his career than Wayne Gretzky?” Fact check: To date, Puck Finn has lit the lamp 79 times. He has 132 points. Gretzky, meanwhile, had 106 (51, 55) goals and 301 (137, 164) points in his first two NHL crusades. Thus, Laine needs 27 goals and 169 points in the Jets final 10 games to equal Gretzky’s totals. Just the facts, ma’am…just the facts. It’s not hard to look ’em up.

Mark Chipman: Following the Nashville blueprint.

Wiecek also makes the strong case that the Jets are modeled after the Chicago Blackhawks, but didn’t Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman make it clear from the outset that his franchise was using the Nashville Predators’ blueprint? Well, yes…yes he did. “That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg, that Nashville’s a team we’ve looked carefully at,” the Jets co-bankroll told news snoops in the spring of 2012. “They’ve done it methodically, they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.” As it turns out, Nashville South and Nashville North (in the hockey sense) soon might be arguing over Central Division bragging rights in the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Tiger Woods

So, people are watching golf again now that Tiger Woods can get out of bed without taking a mulligan, and Las Vegas bookies are mightily impressed. So much so that LV SuperBook had Tiger listed last Wednesday as the 8-1 favorite to win next month’s Masters tournament. It’s a fool’s bet. As well as Woods performed in the recent Valspar Championship and in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, he won’t win an event that includes Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. That’s where my money would go.

Bond…James Bond

I’m advised that last Friday’s joust between National Basketball Association titans, the Tranna Raptors and Houston Rockets, was watched, in whole or in part, by 1.7 million Canadians. Never before have that many eyeballs been glued to Tranna’s hoopsters for a regular-season game. “The excitement for the Raptors is clearly building right across the country,” gushed Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet. I suppose we’ll have to take his word for it, but I’d like to see a regional breakdown of viewer numbers before I’m convinced that anyone west of Mississauga and east of the Ontario-Quebec boundary is watching the Raptors. Personally, I’ve never seen five minutes of a Raptors game. Mind you, I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek or a James Bond movie, either, so perhaps I’ll add all three to my bucket list. If I had a bucket list, that is.

Stephanie Labbe

Canadian women’s national team keeper Stephanie Labbe is attempting to crack the roster of the Calgary Foothills, a men’s under-23 outfit in soccer’s Premier Development League. “I’m not a female soccer player, I’m just a soccer player,” she says. Unfortunately, even in 2018, that’s not how others will look at it. I mean, a rainbow trout can shout “I’m not a rainbow trout, I’m just a trout,” but fishers are still going to see a rainbow trout. The important thing—and all that really matters—is that management and Labbe’s fellow players treat her as “just a soccer player.” Bonne chance to her.

Tim Tebow

Is the Tim Tebow carnival sideshow on or off? “I think one day he will play in the major leagues. That’s my guess,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said of the football-to-baseball experiment. He added that Tebow graduating to his club’s Major League Baseball roster has become a “modest expectation.” Tebow then went 1-for-18 (.056) with 11 whiffs during seven Grapefruit League games with the Amazins. No word on whether the expectation has been downgraded from “modest” to “it ain’t never gonna happen,” but I saw the former Heisman Trophy winner twice this spring and it seems to me he’s a guy with a future as a college football broadcaster, not in Mets outfield.

Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones

Canada’s reps at the world women’s curling championship are Jennifer Jones and her gal pals from the St. Vital Club in River City, and neither local newspaper has feet on the ground in North Bay. I’ve come to expect that from the Winnipeg Sun, which was truant at this year’s Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I’m surprised that the Freep would give the worlds a pass. Especially since this is last call for the legendary hall of fame tandem of Jones and longtime second Jill Officer, who steps away from the team as a full-time curler at season’s end.

Euclid Cummings

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, Euclid Cummings is facing two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, and Simmons believes the Canadian Football League is wrong for telling the B.C. Lions that the defensive lineman is persona non grata. I suppose we ought not be surprised. Simmons, after all, also believes Johnny Manziel, who beat up his former girl friend more than once, would be a swell addition to the CFL. Perhaps he’d like the three-down league to make room for Ray Rice as well.

About Marko Dano moving to Glitter Gulch…silence from the Winnipeg Jets…no whining from the Pittsburgh Penguins…Mike O’Shea calling Drew Willy to have him come back…empty seats in the Republic of Tranna…best CFL coach ever…lack of star power in golf…and gays in pro sports board rooms but not in dressing rooms

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

So, Marko Dano’s new mailing address might be Glitter Gulch, and this is a problem for the Winnipeg Jets how?

Seriously, all the teeth-gnashing and angst about which player the Vegas Golden Knights plan to pluck from a Jets roster not good enough to qualify for the recently concluded Stanley Cup tournament is so much ado about nil.

Marko Dano

Does anyone truly believe that the local hockey heroes can’t get along without Marko Dano? Or Michael Hutchinson? Or any of the lads available to Vegas in the National Hockey League expansion draft?

Exposing Dano to the whims of the new kid on the block is not a deal-breaker. If his name is called when the players selected by Vegas are revealed on Wednesday, it will have zero impact on the Jets. Zero. They missed the postseason with Dano, they can miss it without Dano.

Having said that, I don’t get the Jets’ infatuation with Andrew Copp. I see him as a fringe NHLer. A fourth-line forward who shouldn’t get more than 10 minutes of ice a night. If it was a choice to protect Copp or Dano from the Vegas vultures, I’m keeping the latter.

The Dallas Stars need a goaltender, they get one. The Carolina Hurricanes need a goaltender, they get one. The Calgary Flames need a goaltender, they get one. The Montreal Canadiens need scoring, they get some. The Golden Knights need draft picks, they’re collecting them like a squirrel stashing away acorns. The Jets need…well, apparently nothing. Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, will lay claim to a whack of freshly scrubbed teenagers later this month at the NHL entry draft, then hit the snooze button for the rest of the summer (except perhaps to gift Chris Thorburn with a fresh three-year contract).

It’s about Paul Maurice. Remember all that “oh, woe are we” whining about the schedule we heard from the Jets head coach when his outfit was required to play 32 games in 60 days at the start of the 2016-17 crusade? Well, the Pittsburgh Penguins just played 25 games in 61 days. I think we can agree that playoff hockey is a different animal than shinny in October, November and December. It’s much more intense, demanding, draining and flat-out brutal. It’s sort of like dog years, but not quite. That is, I’d say one playoff game is equal to three regular-season assignments, so the Penguins actually played 75 games in 60 days en route to their second successive Stanley Cup title. Yet not once did I hear their head coach, Mike Sullivan, sniveling about the schedule.

Drew Willy

What does Marc Trestman know about quarterbacks that Mike O’Shea doesn’t. Plenty apparently. I mean, it took O’Shea two complete Canadian Football League seasons and five games into a third crusade to realize Drew Willy wasn’t the answer at quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It took Marc Trestman less than one half of one exhibition game to arrive at the same conclusion for his Toronto Argonauts, thus he pink-slipped the former Bombers starting QB on Saturday. You don’t suppose O’Shea has already placed a call to Willy’s agent, do you? Talk about a frightening prospect.

Donald Trump will stop using Twitter before I part with money to watch exhibition football, and it seems that 99.9999 per cent of folks in the Republic of Tranna are of a similar mindset. The announced head count for the Argos’ one dress rehearsal at BMO Field was 5,532. I once saw that many clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle at the Shrine Circus when I was a kid.

I’ve heard and read a lot of “Don Matthews is the greatest head coach in Canadian Football League history” since the Coach of Many Teams died last week. Well, I beg to differ. I mean, what’s the measuring stick? Total victories? Wally Buono beats him. Winning percentage? Hugh Campbell, John Hufnagel, Marc Trestman, Bud Grant, Ralph Sazio and Buono beat him. CFL titles? Campbell, Buono and Frank Clair have as many, and Campbell did it in six seasons compared to Matthews’ 22. The best head coach ever? I’ll take Hugh Campbell or Bud Grant over The Don any time.

Once upon a time—and not so long ago—the first question you’d ask during one of golf’s major tournaments was “What did Tiger shoot?” and you’d expect to hear that Tiger Woods was at, or very near, the top of the leaderboard. The second question would be “What about Phil?” and you’d likely be told that Phil Mickelson was in striking distance of the lead. Those two were the heartbeat of the men’s pro tour. They were the latter-day version of Arnie and Jack. Now? The men’s tour is a mosh pit, with an assortment of players alternating as flavor of the month. It was Rory McIlroy, then Jordan Spieth, then Jason Day, then Dustin Johnson. Trouble is, there isn’t a swashbuckler among them. None has polarizing or riveting appeal. I wouldn’t say the PGA Tour has become a bore, but it ceased being must-see TV about the same time Woods got caught with his pants down and drove his car into a tree.

Quiz me this, kids: Why was the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s a good thing and the Golden State Warriors’ dominance the past few years a bad thing for the National Basketball Association?

Laura Ricketts

The president and chief operating officer of the NBA-champion Warriors, Rick Welts, is openly gay. One of the co-owners and a board member of Major League Baseball’s reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts, is an out lesbian. Two openly gay people in power positions with championship teams and yet gay players are still afraid to come out of hiding. I’d say that tells us all we need to know about the 1950s culture that still exists in the dressing rooms of the top four major sports leagues in North America.

I sometimes subscribe to the old bromide that our mothers often delivered: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So I’m not going to say anything about the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather dust-up.

Add 3-on-3 hoops to Steve Simmons’ growing list of sports he doesn’t fancy. The Postmedia scribe writes this: “Coming to the next Summer Olympics. Three on three basketball. Honest. With a 12-second shot clock. Games are 10 minutes in length or end when the first team has 21 points. Somebody out there in Olympic land—or many IOC members—have lost their minds.” So, if you’re keeping score at home, Simmons wants 3-on-3 hoops, trampoline and women’s hockey eliminated from the Olympics. And he wants the best tennis players in the world to cease participating in mixed doubles at Grand Slam tournaments. The reality that the Summer Olympics now will include mixed relays in athletics and swimming, as well as mixed competition in triathlon, table tennis, judo and archery must keep him awake at night. I mean, the poor sap might have to write about a female ping pong player if a Canadian does well.

I note that Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps plans to race against a great white shark. Man vs. animal is nothing new, though. Jesse Owens raced thoroughbred horses. Former National Football League receiver Dennis Northcutt raced an ostrich. NFLers Chris Johnson and Devin Hester raced a cheetah. And, of course, numerous men fought Mike Tyson.

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.