About Rink Rat Scheifele and the Hart Trophy…Lites out for Dallas Stars…Humpty Harold Ballard’s harrumphing…Fergy hurling B. Hull under the bus…firing the coach mid-game…dumb Canadians and dumber Americans…and wrinkles in the broadcast booth

The final Sunday smorgas-bored of the year…and congratulations to all you men out there who began your Christmas shopping at 3 p.m. on Christmas eve and managed to finish before closing time at the mall. You are a credit to your species, such as it is…

Rink Rat Scheifele

It is with more than a smidgen of skepticism that I note the well-meaning boys on the beat have begun to pump Rink Rat Scheifele’s tires.

Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun describes him as “a bona fide Hart Trophy candidate.”

Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press writes: “If the Jets maintain their altitude in the NHL standings, the 26-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., simply must be in the Hart Trophy conversation as the most valuable player.”

Bell’s accomplice at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, joins the hallelujah chorus by scribbling, “No doubt Scheifele is a contender right now for the most coveted trophy in the sport.”

Connor McDavid

Yes, it’s all rah-rah-rah and sis-boom-bah for the Good Ol’ Hometown hero.

Trouble is, I have yet to hear the “Mark Scheifele for MVP” rallying cry from beyond Manitoba’s boundaries. Mostly, the Winnipeg Jets centre is mentioned in passing while scribes and broadcasters deliver gobsmacking praise for the work of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Ovie, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, John Gibson, Johnny Gaudreau and, of course, Connor McDavid.

I’m not saying the Rink Rat doesn’t belong in the conversation, understand. I’m just saying he isn’t feeling the love hither and yon.

Mmmmmm, fast food.

Frankly, the Hart Trophy ought not be a talking point these days, but I suppose news snoops and opinionists were looking for something to write and gab about during the Christmas lull and before we embark on the dog days of the National Hockey League season. So, okay, let’s have at it. The most valuable player is McDavid. I mean, remove McMagnifique from the Edmonton Oilers lineup and the Oil would disappear faster than a Big Mac and a bucket of KFC on Air Force One. The same can’t be said about any of the other “candidates,” including Scheifele.

Jamie Benn, Jim Lites, Tyler Seguin

That wasn’t just a bus that Jim Lites hurled Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin under the other day. It was the entire Greyhound fleet. If you missed it, here’s what the Dallas Stars CEO had to say about his two top-salaried players (reader advisory: includes harsh language): “They are fucking horse shit, I don’t know how else to put it. We are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done. These guys are not good enough. They’re not good enough for me, they’re not good enough for the owner, and they’re certainly not good enough for the general manager.” That, be advised, was after a win. Good grief, what does the guy do after a loss? Pluck the wings off house flies? Kick small dogs? Force his players to listen to Celine Dion albums?

Humpty Harold

The thing that surprised me about the Lites rant was the reaction from hockey pundits (hello Nick Kypreos) who can’t recall anyone in NHL management/ownership going off on a player.

What, they’ve already forgotten about Humpty Harold Ballard?

Not much pleased Humpty Harold, the cranky and cartoonish crook who once bankrolled the Tranna Maple Leafs. He harbored a particularly strong distaste for female reporters (“If they want to take their clothes off and talk to the players, fine. But I warn them they’ll have a lot more trouble getting out than they did getting in.”), and he had no patience for timid hockey players. He lashed out at his workers as frequently as a priest prays, and Humpty Harold’s harrumphing always was on public record.

Of Inge Hammarstrom, Ballard once said the slick Swedish forward “could go into the corner with a dozen eggs in his pocket and not break any of them.” Laurie Boschman, one of the nicest kids you could meet, was “soft” because he had “too much religion.” It didn’t matter to Humpty Harold that young Laurie had been laid low with mononucleosis and blood poisoning. Bosch, he reasoned, was a known Bible thumper, ergo a wimp. Not surprisingly, neither Hammarstrom or Boschman lasted long in the Republic of Tranna.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson

Closer to home, John Bowie Ferguson hurled Bobby Hull under the Greyhound early in the 1979-80 season, the Jets first in the NHL.

Hull, then 40, had come in from the cattle farm to end his retirement, and he struggled mightily due to rust and a wonky left shoulder. His personal numbers were modest (four goals, six assists in 18 starts) and the club functioned better without the Golden Jet in the lineup (6-7-1) than with him (5-10-3). So I called Fergy at home one night to get his take on Hull. Turns out it was a hot take.

“No, I don’t think Bobby has helped our hockey club at all,” the Jets general manager said with the bluntness of a sledge hammer. “Something is missing. He really is a very undisciplined hockey player and I don’t know if he can adapt. That freewheeling style would be fine if it was getting results. But it’s not.”

Hull never pulled on Jets linen again.

I recall one other public flogging, in the Western Canada Hockey League. Gerry Brisson, president and general manager of the Winnipeg Clubs, removed head coach George Dorman from behind the bench during the middle of a game! True story. It was November 1975. The Flin Flon Bombers were laying a licking on the Clubs, leading 4-1 through 40 minutes, and Brisson had seen enough. He therefore instructed Dorman to observe the final period from the pews in the old barn on Maroons Road, replacing him with the team trainer, Adam Tarnowski, who knew as much about coaching hockey as a cow knows about climbing trees. “I did it for shock value,” Brisson said after the fact. Didn’t work. His Clubs lost 5-2. More shocking than Dorman getting yanked in-game? He kept his job. That is correct. Brisson embarrassed the hell out of Dorman by forcing him to sit among the rabble, but he didn’t fire his coach. Go figure.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

I believe we have arrived at the end of the annual, year-end trinket giveaway for Jocks and Jills in the True North Strong and Free, and the best of our best during the past 12 months—as decreed by news snoops from the left to right flank of the land—are golfer Brooke Henderson, fancy skaters Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir and moguls skier Mikael Kingsbury. Any arguments? You bet. The girls and boys at The Canadian Press got it right by naming Henderson and Kingsbury the top female and male athletes and Virtue/Moir the best team, but those who voted for the Lou Marsh Trophy coughed up a hair ball. Henderson, not Kingsbury, should have won.

Brooke Henderson

Here’s why we shouldn’t take the Lou Marsh Trophy seriously: It’s a total clown act. I mean, consider Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. He stumped for tennis player Daniel Nestor, who went 0-for-2018 and quit. Kelly’s boss, sports editor Shawna Richer, had a hissy fit when she couldn’t vote for a team (Virtue/Moir) as the winner of an individual award, so she left her ballot blank.

Then there’s Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. He squawked in support of Connor McDavid, Kingsbury and Marc-Andre Fleury (really?), and pooh-poohed any notion that Henderson should be declared our top athlete. Why? Because lady golfers just don’t rate.

“The LPGA Tour is primarily a one-country pursuit,” he said on TSN radio. “You look at the leaderboards every single week and it’s the same country and it’s the same golfers and it’s the same five or six women. It is so Korean dominated there’s not even any other country that competes, compares.”

This is a guy who clearly does not have a clue, yet he has a vote. Here are some numbers from the LPGA Tour in 2018:

Wins by country: U.S.A., 9; South Korea 9; Thailand, 5; Canada, Japan 2 each; Australia, New Zealand, U.K., Sweden, Mexico 1 each.

Winners: 26 different champions in 32 events.

Multiple winners: 4 (Canadian, Japanese, Thai, South Korean).

Money leaders: Top 20—7 Americans, 5 South Koreans, 2 Thai, 2 Australian, 1 Canadian, Japanese, Spanish, English; Top 50—19 Americans, 10 Koreans; Top 100—34 Americans, 18 Koreans.

Clearly Henderson competes in a sport that is far more global than moguls skiing, and it is dominated by Americans moreso than South Koreans. These facts aren’t difficult to dig up, but Simmons has never been one to let facts get in the way of a misguided rant.

Oh, let’s not forget that the Postmedia chain of bare-bones sports departments anointed Henderson and soccer player Alphonso Davies as the top jocks in the land. Please give Postmedia CEO and noted skinflint Paul Godfrey a quarter and tell him to call someone who cares.

Serena Williams

Staying with the dumb and dumber theme, The Associated Press voters totally lost the plot in selecting Serena Williams and LeBron James as 2018 top jocks in Trumpland. Seriously. Exactly what did Williams do in 2018? Well, she put on a catsuit at the French Open and, a few months later, staged one of the most demonstrative, appalling, pathetic pity party’s in the history of professional sports. When not busy putting a horrible damper on Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open victory, Williams won zero tournaments and was 18-6 overall. Meanwhile, gymnast Simone Biles won gold (four), silver (1) and bronze (1) medals at the world championships. Like Williams, King James won zip, yet still got the nod over Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox. The Mookster was the American League batting champion, the AL most valuable player, a Gold Glove winner, a Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. That’s the baseball version of a royal flush. But, sorry Mookie, that just doesn’t cut it. And I thought our jock journos had dumbed down.

Doris Burke

And, finally, I’ll end the final Sunday smorgas-bored of the year with a quote from ESPN hoops broadcaster Doris Burke: “I promise you I’m not having plastic surgery. I’m 52. I’ve earned every wrinkle on my face. I actually like my wrinkles. And guess what? There are a lotta 60-year-old men who have wrinkles, no hair, glasses, and nobody gives a damn. It’s about time that woman my age or above, if she chooses to go into her 60s as an announcer, she should be allowed to do just that.”

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About the Blue Bombers coughing up a hairball…Jacob Trouba’s shelf life with the Winnipeg Jets…shoddy journalism…liars, liars in sports…happy 25th to the Goldeyes…a female voice on jock talk TV…a really dumb question about Serena Williams’ pregnant pause…who’s the duchess of what?…Joey Votto and a rat’s ass…numbers crunching in The Athletic Winnipeg…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…

Loved the headline in the Winnipeg Free Press after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers coughed up a 17-point hairball and lost 20-17 to the Lions at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday night: GOOD GRIEF!

Good grief, indeed, Charlie Brown.

Winnipeg FC had no business losing to the inferior Leos, but that’s what happens when you play and coach stupid football. Seriously. Three roughing-the-passer violations? Twice ignoring a gimme three points? That’s dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Asked post-game why he twice gambled on third-and-short rather than kick field goals, head coach Mike O’Shea said: “To me it’s a no-brainer.”

Exactly. No brains.

Connor Hellebuyck

I don’t know about you, but I look at the signing of Connor Hellebuyck as an appetizer, something for the rabble to nibble and nosh on until the main course arrives, hopefully later this week.

I mean, yes, the freshly minted agreement between the Winnipeg Jets and their all-star goaltender takes care of the blue paint for the next six National Hockey League crusades. It’s a favorable development. But the real intrigue in Jets Nation is on the blueline, in the form of Jacob Trouba and, to a much lesser degree, his running mate, Josh Morrissey.

Trouba is the X factor.

Given his history that includes a training-camp/early-season work stoppage and a trade request, skeptics abound when it comes to the 24-year-old defender. They won’t be convinced that Trouba is, as they say at the Vegas poker tables, “all-in” with Winnipeg and les Jets until they know his signature is at the bottom of a contract. Long term. As in six or eight years.

Trouba has an audience with an arbitrator scheduled for the morning of July 20, a bargained-for option exercised by 43 other NHL players this summer. If dealings with les Jets stall this week and he meets with the arbitrator, all bets are off on his shelf life in Good Ol’ Hometown.

My guess? Trouba stays. Six years. Then he leaves.

Jacob Trouba

Apparently, Paul Wiecek has insider intel on Trouba. If only he’d be kind enough to let the rest of us in on the scoop. But no. When Wiecek writes that “Trouba is a problem. Again.” it’s his little secret. He isn’t prepared to share the gory details. We have to guess what it is that makes No. 8 “a problem. Again.”

Well, here’s the actual problem: Wiecek harbors a stalker-like obsession with Trouba, one that began in September 2016 and has become an obscenity.

Twice in the past 10 days, Wiecek has launched gratuitous, factless attacks on the Jets young defender. First the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist informed us that “Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba.” (It’s uncertain exactly how Wiecek could possibly know what’s right and what’s wrong for Trouba, but, hey, perhaps the guy’s got a life-coaching gig on the side.) He then doubled down with his cryptic “Trouba is a problem. Again.” Ah, but Wiecek provided not a sliver of evidence to prop of his allegation.

Why is Trouba so far up Wiecek’s nose?

Is it the arbitration thing? Naw. Can’t be. Forty-three other NHL players filed for arbitration, including four of Trouba’s teammates. I hardly think that qualifies any of them as a problem child.

Dale Hawerchuk

Maybe it was the trade demand two years ago. Naw. Can’t be that either. Plenty of people have wanted out of Winnipeg, the great Dale Hawerchuk among them. No one thought of Ducky as a problem child.

So what is it? Simple. During the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Trouba told Wiecek a mistruth. Said he was happier than a pig in slop to be playing in River City, and he hoped to be on board for the long haul. Shortly thereafter, Trouba was a no-show at training camp and he was AWOL through the first month of the season. So he had lied (just like everyone else in hockey, including writers). Wiecek took it as a personal affront and he’s waged a one-man, two-year vendetta to discredit Trouba, branding him a liar, petulant, a malcontent, impetuous, the biggest loser, reckless, greedy, phony and, most recently, selfish and a problem.

It’s irresponsible, tawdry journalism, and someone high on the food chain at the Freep ought to step up and nip it in the bud.

John Ferguson

I had issues with fibbers during my time in sports. Jets GM John Ferguson once told myself and Friar Nicolson a flat-out lie about Bobby Hull. It was a whopper. So I called him out, in print. Fergy was steamed. I was, too. We didn’t talk to each other for two weeks. Not at the rink. Not on the team bus. Not at the airport. Not on the phone. He would just glare down the gun barrel that passed for his nose, and I would ignore him. I don’t recall how we arrived at détente, but Fergy and I eventually got along just fine. Whatever fibs he told me thereafter were little and white. The worst was Sam Katz, owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Sammy was a carnival barker. He would tell the boys at the Free Press that a baseball was round, then he would tell us at the Winnipeg Sun that a baseball was a hockey puck. I couldn’t believe anything that fell from that man’s mouth, so I simply stopped interviewing him and took to calling him The Unmentionable Man in print. Sammy and I were cordial when our paths crossed, but we never warmed to each other. No big deal. I didn’t need him to do my job and he didn’t need me to fill seats in the Ballyard At The Forks.

Speaking of Sammy, his Goldeyes celebrate their 25th anniversary this season. There were ample doubters at the beginning for the independent ball club—and I still wish he’d named his rounders side something other than Goldeyes—but Sammy pulled it off and the Fish have been a rousing success at the box office and between the foul lines with four titles. So good on him and them.

More kudos to Sportsnet for putting Caroline Cameron on the Tim & Sid show while Tim and Sid are goofing around off-set. She was co-hosting with Donnovan Bennett last week and, among many issues, they discussed the eventual return of Roberta Osuna, the Tranna Blue Jays relief pitcher who faces a court hearing on a domestic violence charge and is under suspension by Major League Baseball.

Bennett: “Are you okay with him being back with the Jays before the actual court case is resolved?”

Caroline Cameron

Cameron: “No I’m not, and for a few reasons. If the Blue Jays see this as a baseball decision, it’s not simply that. A situation like this never is. And in sports at lot of time we see that it mirrors what’s happening in society, and that includes the things that are going wrong with society. And the nice thing about sports—and excuse my use of the cliché—is sports you can play by your own rules, right? You can make your own decisions and figure out how you want to deal with these societal, moral issues. If the Jays bring Osuna back because they think they need his arm in a season that’s already lost, what message are you sending to the fans? And even on the flip side, innocent until proven guilty, do you want to have Roberto Osuna out there, out on the field, out in the bullpen when this is not resolved? What kind of reaction do you think he’s going to get? I just think you have an opportunity—and I’m not saying the Blue Jays have to set a precedent—but someone at some point has to set a precedent or else change will not happen and this will continue to be just a ‘baseball move’ as opposed to what it actually is.”

Imagine that. A woman, rather than a man, giving voice to a topic so significant to so many women. On a Canadian TV sports gab show. That’s as rare as a Serena Williams loss on Centre Court Wimbledon. Most of the women on Canadian jock talk TV get to read a teleprompter, nothing more. This is refreshing.

Mark Masters

Did one man, Mark Masters of TSN, really ask another man, ESPN tennis analyst Darren Cahill, to put the past year of Serena Williams’ life into “context?” Yes. Yes he did. Which means Masters wins the award for the dumbest question ever, ever, ever. I mean, how in the name of Mama Liv Walton can a man possibly give context to carrying a fetus for nine months, giving birth to a six-pound, 13-ounce girl, breast feeding, then returning to play in the ladies’ championship match of a tennis Grand Slam tournament? Only three people—Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Kim Clijsters—can answer that question, and none of them are men. What will Masters do next? Ask John McEnroe what it’s like to be a lesbian on the tennis tour? To his credit, Cahill politely answered the questionable question about Williams’ pregnant pause, saying, “You can’t put that into context” before mentioning that Clijsters and other women have put their careers on hold to start a family and returned to win Slam titles.

Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber

I suppose with a soon-to-be 37-year-old mom navigating her way to the Wimbledon final in just her fourth post-childbirth tournament, pundits will be slagging the quality and depth of women’s tennis. But in besting Williams on Saturday, 6-3, 6-3, Angelique Kerber became the seventh different champion in the past seven majors. So, I’d say the distaff side of the sport is just fine, thank you. The real issue is on the men’s side, where all four semifinalist at the All England Club are 30somethings. Generation Next simply cannot break through.

The Duchesses of Something

I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell my British duchesses without a program. Is Kate the Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan the Duchess of Sussex, or is Kate the Duchess of Sussex and Meghan the Duchess of Cambridge. If they’re going to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, I think they should be obligated to wear duchess name tags.

Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds swatted his 266th home run last Monday to climb above Matt Stairs on the all-time dinger list for Canadians in Major League Baseball. He now stands second to Larry Walker. Well, to borrow Votto’s words when he piddled on our Corn Flakes earlier this year, “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about that,” and I won’t give “a rat’s ass” if he goes on to surpass Walker’s record of 383 HRs.

Dave Poulin

I heard Dave Poulin gabbing about the Connor Hellebuyck contract on TSN the other day, and I had to tune out because the guy no longer has street cred. Not after he was one of seven voters to leave Connor McDavid off their all-star ballot. I mean, McDavid was the scoring champion, for cripes sake. And Poulin is telling us he wasn’t among the top three centre-ice men last season? What would he have us believe next? That Bobby Orr was a slowpoke? Sidney Crosby needs to work on his hand-eye coordination? Bobby Hull never wore a rug? It’s one thing for shinny scribes/broadcasters to dumb down, but there’s no excuse for a former NHL player to be such a d’oh boy. If you’re wondering, the other geniuses who made their ballots a no-McDavid zone were Dave Shoalts (Globe and Mail), Mike Colageo (New Bedford Standard Times), Stephen Conroy (Boston Herald), Emily Kaplan (ESPN), Gann Matsuda (Frozen Royalty), and Arthur Staple (The Athletic New York). Off with their press passes!

There’s a lot of good reading in The Athletic, but I’m deeply disappointed in the Winnipeg content. A chap named Murat Ates is the man about the Jets, and he’s advertised as someone who delivers a blend of “modern hockey analysis with engaging storytelling.” Sorry, but what I’ve seen to date is nothing but number crunching. All the “engaging storytelling” must be hidden in the math and, since I’m not a numbers geek, his copy is a total, also lengthy, yawn. Reading all those numbers makes my eyes glaze over. I don’t say that to be mean, but math and I have been at odds since Grade 1 at St. Alphonsus, and I believe sports is more about people than salary dumps and contract term. Meanwhile, if The Athletic Winnipeg has someone on the Bombers beat, he or she must be in a witness protection program. I realize the online newspaper is still looking for good people, but giving the Canadian Football League short shrift when Winnipeg FC is the only game in town until September is bad form. The Athletic Winnipeg needs a jolt of creative juice. Pronto.

And, finally, I note that 680 CJOB in Good Ol’ Hometown is getting back into the jock talk business. All sports director Kelly Moore needs now is a host, and I find myself wondering if he’d be brave enough to do something radical. You know, like hire a female as the lead voice on the gabfest. Actually, I wonder if any women will bother to apply. As mentioned earlier, jock talk in Canada is very much an old boys club.

About Johnny TMZ and jock journos going ga-ga over a backup QB…Matty gushing on TSN…the Anna Kournikova of car racing departs…mom’s the word for Serena in France…ultra-hyper Shapo…put some clothes on, Celine…Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth don’t have much to say…Jacob Trouba’s pants are on fire…the “second-rate” Jets…a novelty act in Tranna…and standing for the anthem in pubs

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

Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Magic. Johnny Be Good. Johnny Rotten. Johnny Backup. Johnny TMZ.

By any name, it’s all Johnny all of the time, and even media giants in the Republic of Trump are taking notice of our quirky brand of football now that Johnny Manziel is using his hands for something other than providing fingerprints for police, hoisting shot glasses and hitting women.

Indeed, ESPN and USA Today dispatched news snoops to Timbits Field for Manziel’s debut with the home-standing Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night, while other outlets—Dallas Morning News, NBC Sports, New York Daily News, New York Post, etc.—have been dutifully recording his every move since he became the Canadian Football League’s latest American reclamation project.

Johnny TMZ

Manziel, of course, was a total washout with the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League. He was even more of a washout as a human being. Drugs. Booze. Bar brawls. Beating up women. Arrests. A grand jury. Court appearances. We need not go into the gory details. Suffice to say, he was Prince Charming like Roseanne Barr is Miss Manners. He was, by numerous accounts, a snot-nose rich kid.

So now that someone has tidied him up, Manziel is on our side of the great U.S.-Canadian divide, at his Last Chance Saloon, and the media are on a feeding frenzy.

Manziel did nothing extraordinary as a backup quarterback in the Tiger-Cats loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night. He flung the football 11 times, with nine completions for 80 yards and zero points on the board, but Johnny Ordinary still appeared at the top of the page on the TSN website—with nine freaking videos! Sportsnet had him at the top as well, with two videos. He made the ESPN front page. Ditto USA Today. Also the Dallas Morning News. He was the lead football story on the New York Post website. Etcetera.

And let’s be clear here: This was a flipping exhibition football game, the most mind-numbing, sleep-inducing exercise in sports! Manziel was the backup QB! In a flipping exhibition game!

The sports media has lost whatever was left of its mind.

I don’t think Manziel should be in the CFL. You beat up a woman, you don’t qualify. But, hey, I didn’t get a vote. Just like I didn’t get a vote when they allowed bad actors Dexter Manley, Lawrence Phillips and Ricky Williams to cross the border back in the day. Is the CFL really so desperate that any player with a salable name is welcome, regardless what it says on his rap sheet? And are jock journos so desperate for a story that they gleefully play along with the CFL’s folly?

Matt Dunigan

Totally dumbest comment about Manziel was delivered by Matt Dunigan, the CFL on TSN gab guy who talks like he’s still in a locker room. After Manziel’s do-nothing performance, Dunigan absolutely gushed, saying, “On the off-script plays, boy, it’s magic, it’s Flutie-esque.” Oh FFS. He actually compared a backup QB to Doug Flutie, arguably the best player in CFL history. Shut the hell up, Matty. At least Milt Stegall was honest in his assessment of Manziel. “Not bad,” the Hall of Fame receiver said.

The absurdity of the Manziel fixation reached its peak when Matthew Scianitti of TSN took to Twitter last week and posted a play-by-play account of the backup QB’s performance—complete with passing statistics—in practice. Seriously? Play-by-play and passing stats from a training exercise with the Ticats second team offence and defence? You might want to think about getting a life, Matthew.

Danica Patrick

Speaking of overhyped athletes, Danica Patrick has taken her leave from the world of fast car racing, and she did so, perhaps appropriately, in a mangled wreck on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500. The bottom line on her exaggerated, 13-year career behind the wheel: 307 starts, one victory (1-for-116 in IndyCar, her sole victory coming in a skeletal, 18-car field in 2008; 0-for 191 in NASCAR with zero top-five finishes and only seven top-10s). If she led either series in anything, it was self-indulgence and hissy fits. She was never involved in an accident that she couldn’t blame on another driver. “More than anything I just hope they remember me as a great driver,” Patrick said prior to the Indy 500. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Many framed the GoDaddy girl as a pioneer who would lead other women to the race track, but it simply hasn’t happened. Unfortunately, she was Anna Kournikova with Quaker State motor oil under her fingernails.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Had Serena Williams won the French Open, she wouldn’t have broken new ground as a Grand Slam-winning mama, but she would have been in select company. Margaret Court became the first mother to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament in the open era, claiming the Australian, French and U.S. Opens in 1973, a year after giving birth to her first child. Another Aussie, the graceful and delightful Evonne Goolagong Cawley, won the Aussie Open the same year (1977) she gave birth to her first child. And Kim Clijsters gave birth to the first of her three children in 2008 and won the U.S. Open the following two years and the Australia Open in 2011.

I suppose this is treasonous to say, but I have great difficulty watching our guy Denis Shapovalov play tennis. Bouncing the ball between his legs and bouncing on the balls of his feet before every serve is mildly annoying, but his fist-pumping after every winning point is too much. I swear, that boy is going to suffer a nervous breakdown right on court.

Celine Dion

Canada’s gift to Glitter Gulch, songstress Celine Dion, is so excited about the Vegas Golden Knights being in the Stanley Cup final that she wore a team jersey during a recent performance. Trouble is, she forgot to put on the rest of her clothes. Nice legs, though.

Is anyone actually watching the National Hockey League championship series between the Golden Knights and the Washington Ovies? I must confess that I tuned out the moment les Jets de Winnipeg were ushered out of the Stanley Cup runoff. Haven’t watched a minute of the final. If I had any rooting interest, it would be behind the Washington bench, where Barry Trotz paces. He’s a homebrew who cut his coaching teeth at the University of Manitoba and with Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

How do we know the Jets had a successful season? Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice had less to say at their exit chin-wags with news snoops. Last year, general manager Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth held separate gab sessions and flapped their gums for a total of one hour, 14 minutes and 22 seconds. This year, they sat side-by-each. Total chin-wag time: 0:32:20.

Jacob Trouba

Jets very capable defenceman Jacob Trouba tells the rabble that his desire is to remain in Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul. “The quicker the better,” he told news snoops when asked about signing a long-term deal before they drop the puck next autumn. Paul Wiecek says he’s a liar. Yup. Says Trouba’s pants are on fire. Says he’s a regular Pinocchio. “I was struck how excited everyone was that Trouba told reporters he really wants to stay in Winnipeg and play for the Jets,” Wiecek wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press. “For the record, that is the exact same thing Trouba told me at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016—a week before his agent announced he wanted out and Trouba proceeded to hold out for four weeks of the 2016-17 season. Trouba told reporters what they wanted to hear this week—his agent will be telling Chevy something very different, which is that if the Jets want to lock down Trouba for years to come it is going to cost them, big time.” Little wonder the relationship between athletes and scribes is often adversarial.

Worth repeating: “We have some good young players,” Chevy said in April 2017. “We will make the necessary steps and necessary decisions to keep those good young players. That’s been our promise, that’s been our mandate, that’s been something we’ve said since day one. And that day is coming.” That day is here, Chevy.

There was nothing “second rate” about the WHA Jets.

Someone might want to give Dan Lett a lesson in local hockey lore. The political scribe at the Freep, Lett had this to say in a recent siss-boom-bah, rah-rah-rah piece about the Jets and Winnipeg “Before they bolted for Arizona, the previous incarnation of the Jets was a source of frustration and, at times, embarrassment. There were some good teams, but they always fell to teams from cities that seemed larger, more successful, more complete. Our second-rate team seemed to reinforce the idea that Winnipeg was a second-rate community.” Yo! Danny boy! That “second-rate team” won three World Hockey Association titles. I suppose Lett can be forgiven, though. He’s from the Republic of Tranna. What could he possibly know about championship hockey?

Evander Kane

Seriously? Evander Kane signs with the San Jose Sharks for $49 million over seven seasons? For real? He’s never had a 60-point season. He’s scored 30 goals once. He’s.never played an entire 82-game schedule. Kane, now 27, just completed his most productive season, with 57 points. By way of comparison, Kyle Connor of the Jets ( 31-26-57) did that as a 20-year-old rookie. Twig Ehlers, 22, already has two 60-point seasons and two 82-game seasons. Puck Finn has had 64- (36 goals) and 70-point (44 goals) seasons as a teenager. Rink Rat Scheifele, 25, has had three 60-point seasons and a 32-goal season. They all collect less coin than Kane. Either Chevy is a genius or Sharks GM Doug Wilson is a fool.

Okay, officially the Tranna Blue Jays are no longer a baseball team. They’re a novelty act. I mean, Russell Martin playing shortstop? Kendrys Morales pitching? “We really don’t have a true shortstop on the team,” says beleaguered manager John Gibbons. That’s a fine job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have done since since defecting from Cleveland to take the wheel of our country’s Major League Baseball outfit. They’ve turned an American League East Division champion into a clunker in less than three seasons.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump tells National Football League players who kneel during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner that “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” I’ll agree that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful only when I see people in pubs put down their pint mugs and stand when they’re watching a game on TV. And how many guys haul their big butts off the sofa to stand for the anthem at home? None that I know.

The sports media dealing with social/political issues is nothing new

Stick to sports? Why?

Why should jock journalists and opinionists be limited to one-trick pony-ism, writing and gabbing about nothing other than wins and losses, home runs and touchdowns, free throws and three-pointers, and how much air there is in Tom Brady’s balls?

Sam Lacy, Dan Bankhead and Wendell Smith.

I mean, I’m guessing that if Twitter had been around in the 1930s and ’40s, Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith and other black sportswriters might have used their 140-character allotment to say something significant about segregation in baseball. Twitter didn’t exist back then, though. So they used newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American as pulpits from which to openly lobby for desegregation.

For example, when Major League Baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis died in 1944, Lacy used his Afro-American platform to scribble this about the appointment of Happy Chandler as MLB commish: “It appears that his choice was the most logical one for the bigoted major league operators, of which there is a heavy majority on hand.”

Similarly, in the chaotic 1960s, when young heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam and became Cassius X then Muhammad Ali, (white) sports scribes refused to use his Muslim name in their copy (it wasn’t until October 1970, six years after the fact, that the New York Times issued a directive that sportswriters were to call him Muhammad Ali) and they weren’t shy about spicing their prose with biting social commentary re “Clay,” race and religion.

Here are two examples from New York columnist Jimmy Cannon:

The fight racket since its rotten beginnings has been the red light district of sports. But this is the first time it has been turned into an instrument of mass hate…Clay is using it as a weapon of wickedness.”

And…

Jimmy Cannon

I pity Clay and abhor what he represents. In the years of hunger during the Depression, the Communists used famous people the way the Black Muslims are exploiting Clay. This is a sect that deforms the beautiful purpose of religion.”

The noise became amplified, also more threatening and vicious, when the champ refused to step forward for induction into the United States military in 1967.

Red Smith, legendary New York columnist: “Squealing over the possibility that the military may call him up, Cassius makes as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.”

Really? Those protesting the Vietnam War were “unwashed punks?”

Jim Murray, legendary Los Angeles Times columnist, who mocked Ali by calling him Abdul the Bull Bull Ameer: “Cassius Marcellus Clay, one of the greatest heroes in the history of his people, has decided to secede from the Union. He will not disgrace himself by wearing the uniform of the Army of the United States…From the safety of 103 years, he waves his fist at dead slave owners. Down to his last four Cadillacs, the thud of Communist jackboots holds no dread for him. He is in this country but not of it.”

Really? Dead slave owners and Communist jackboots in a sports column?

So, you see, when ESPN anchor Jemele Hill went off on Donald Trump on her personal Twitter account recently, calling the United States president a “white supremacist,” she wasn’t digging a shovel into fresh, unbroken ground. Social/political commentary in print and on air is older than the contract Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in baseball’s major leagues. Do you think the names and words Jesse Owens, Adolph Hitler, Nazis and Aryan supremacy have never appeared in a sportswriter’s copy?

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star is among the elite wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism today, but social/political commentary on his Twitter account heavily outweighs the sports content. Why would anyone find that objectionable?

Red Smith

I think it should be a personal decision, based partly on who employs you,” he said as a member of a Sports Illustrated panel. “But if you’re informed—or even just feel strongly about something—and you’re comfortable making your voice heard, then you should be able to say what you think. Sports are great, but they’re not the world. It’s okay to live in the world a little, too.”

On the night of the 2016 American presidential election, with Donald Trump winning the White House, Steve Simmons of Postmedia tweeted: “The saddest night in American history.” That is, of course, a totally illogical comment, especially coming from a non-American, but is he not allowed his emotional, if uninformed, opinion? Does it reflect on Simmons or Postmedia? I would submit the former rather than the latter, and numerous followers suggested he “stick to sports.”

If I have an issue with sports opinionists and their social/political commentary, it’s when they say nothing at all. Or when they’re inconsistent.

Ray Rice is pilloried for beating up one woman. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is given a pass on his thick file of repeated domestic violence. (I suppose the arrival of Johnny Manziel to a Canadian Football League outfit will be greeted with literary high fives.) That isn’t merely inexcusable, it’s the abandonment of responsible reporting.

Sports and politics/social activism are bedfellows, and to think otherwise is to live in a Utopian world. Social media has upped the ante, to be sure, but jock journos have always been there to write and talk about it. Usually in more than 140 characters.

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

About women in the broadcast booth…more male hangups…top five talking heads…taking a run at the president…double standards…say no to Shapo…and where’s Puck Finn?

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

I don’t know how much time I have left on the mortal coil. Could be a day, could be a decade or more.

Beth Mowins

Whatever the case, I hope I live long enough to experience that epiphanical moment when men—every last oinker of them—can actually follow the plot and realize and accept that they now share the toy box. With women.

I say that because ESPN had the (apparent) bad manners to foist the female play-by-play voice of Beth Mowins on viewers for the back half of the Monday Night Football twinbill and, judging by the outpouring of utter despair and unharnessed hostility from testosterone-fuelled lumps on bar stools and in man caves, you’d swear that U.S. President Donald Trump had just signed and issued an executive order demanding that all males 21 and older be de-nutted.

How dare ESPN! Does the World Wide Leader not realize that a penis is required to properly handle play-by-play in men’s sports? And it’s helpful if you can perform the Star, Spangled Banner by burp-singing and with arm pit farts.

What next, the lumps demand to know? Aliens in the booth? A “tranny” in the booth? Oh wait. One dude suggested Bowins is, in fact, a transgender babe trying to “sound like a guy.” Another lump asked, “Is there any question she’s a muffin muncher?” What’s up with the lesbian chatter, dude? Fanticizing about a menage-a-gridiron with the wife?

A man cave.

Actually, the wife (or girlfriend) is among the reasons the lumps get all frump-faced and go weak in the knees at the sound of a female voice doing football.

There’s a reason their hideouts are called man caves, you see, and I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you. But I will.

Picture this: Some poor sucker absolutely has to, has to, has to escape from the wife/girlfriend and her delicate female issues for a few hours, so he retreats to the man cave, cracks open a beer, rips into a bag of nachos, loosens his belt, burps and settles in to watch the Broncos and Chargers. And what’s the first thing he hears after Hank Jr. cranks out the Monday Night Football theme? A woman. In his ears for the next three hours. Game’s ruined. Night’s ruined. Shoot him now because both his ears are bleeding.

Well, listen up, dudes. You need a break from your wife/girlfriend that badly? I can think of two doors you can walk through: 1) a pub, 2) a divorce court. Take door 1) too often and I guarantee you’ll be walking through door 2) before long.

So suck it up, boys. This is the way of the 21st-century world. Care to join the rest of us?

There were two people in the booth for the Broncos-Chargers skirmish, one woman and one man. One of them was decidedly better than the other. It wasn’t the man, former National Football League coach Rex Ryan.

Danny Gallivan

Another hangup guys have about women behind the microphone for their macho sports is knowledge. Or, more accurately, their lack of knowledge. Apparently, you can’t be informative unless you’ve actually “played the game.” Excuse me? Refresh my memory, boys. How many games was it that Joe Buck played in Major League Baseball or the National Football League? How about Howard Cosell? Vin Scully? Were Danny Gallivan or Foster Hewitt ever on a National Hockey League roster?

My five favorite play-by-play guys…
1. Danny Gallivan: A cannonading drive.
2. Vin Scully: Painted pictures.
3. Don Dunphy: Mr. Boxing.
4. Dizzy Dean: He “slud into third” and “swang at the pitch.”
5. Harry Caray: Cubs win! Cubs win! After Harry died!

It’s about Jemele Hill, the ESPN SportsCenter dinnertime anchor who took to her private Twitter account to label the president of the United States a “white supremacist” and “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime.” You go, girl! Many have cried out for Hill’s ouster, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who, oddly enough, earns a living by telling lies on behalf of the chronic liar who occupies the Oval Office in the White House yet she believes Hill ought to be punted for telling the truth. Or at least the co-anchor’s version of the truth. “(It’s) a fireable offence,” the liar’s liar squawked last week. How so? Because Hill assailed a president who believes it’s okay for wealthy and famous men to grab any woman “by the pussy?” Pure piffle.

Jemele Hill

Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is among the constituents who believes Hill “should be fired” for using her ESPN position to spew political opinion. He calls it “bad journalism.” Hmmm. Twitter is journalism? Who knew? This is also the same guy who, from his sports soap box last month, wrote about “the sight of white supremacists openly marching through the streets of Virginia—they don’t even bother with white hood’s in Donald Trump’s America.” He also opined this: “After all the chaos, craziness and sheer madness of the first seven months of Trump’s presidency, nearly four out of every 10 Americans believe the guy’s doing a hell of a job. Just wow.” Is it just me or does anyone else see a double standard here? As for bad journalism, Wiecek might want to keep that in mind the next time he feels the urge to make an issue of Mike O’Shea’s “goofy shorts” and his “smirk.” Or when he blames the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach for any empty seats at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Denis Shapovalov

Steve Simmons of Postmedia says Dennis Shapovalov should be in the conversation with Connor McDavid, Joey Votto and Sidney Crosby as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. Excuse me, but what exactly has Shapavolov won this year? Oh, that’s right, a B-level tennis tournaments. Look, the kid had a great run at the Rogers Cup and the U.S. Open, but let’s not lose sight of the fact he fell short in each event. Shouldn’t we expect our top jock to have won something?

Interesting poll by Postmedia, whereby 25 of the National Hockey League’s top performers were asked to gaze into a crystal ball and forecast the events of the 2017-18 season. In the most-goals category, eight different players were predicted as winners of the Rocket Richard Trophy. None of the eight was named Patrik Laine. Must be that Winnipeg Jets no-respect thing. Go get ’em, Puck Finn!

Terrific piece on Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee O’Shea by young Jeff Hamilton of the Freep. Some funny stuff in there. The kid does top-quality work

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

Victoria HarbourCats keeping the Claire Eccles girl-vs-boys story on the down low; gets first start on Sunday

At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.

I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.

Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)

Claire Eccles

So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!

Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.

Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.

If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.

That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.

Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.

We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.

I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.

Brian McRae

By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)

It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.

I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”

And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?

She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”

In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.

 

About Steve Simmons ‘outing’ two Raptors…apologies to Canada…cheering for Doug Wilson…and the best of tennis

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

bow wow bungalowSo, let me see if I’ve got this straight: DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph are observed strolling through Jack Casino in Cleveland at 2 o’clock in the a.m.; they are in breach of no laws of the land; they are in breach of no code of ethics; they are guilty of no trespasses against team-imposed guidelines. They are, quite simply, two adults talking and walking in retreat to their hotel rooms, in the company, it should be pointed out, of four other adults.

And this is news?

It is if you’re Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun and you are the self-appointed hall monitor of the Toronto Raptors and you believe Carroll and Joseph should be tucked in bed by 2 ayem, not “wandering around in the middle of the night.” After all, Carroll and Joseph were expected to participate in a significant National Basketball Association playoff skirmish in another 18 1/2 hours, which, on the Steve-o-Metre, apparently is not sufficient kip time to be up to the task of subduing the Cleveland LeBrons.

If only they had been in bed by, oh, let’s say 10 p.m., surely the Raptors would have delivered greater resistance against the Cleveland assault. No doubt they’d have fallen by a mere 28 points, rather than 38, on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the final dispute on the Eastern Conference side of the NBA divide.

But wait. In Simmons’ own words, the Carroll-Joseph late-nighter “may have had nothing to do with how or why the Raptors were decimated and embarrassed 116-78.”

I see how it works. The two Raptors weren’t intoxicated, they weren’t raising a ruckus, they didn’t have a woman hanging on each arm, they weren’t playing with guns, and their influence—positive or negative—on what transpired on the hardwood floor of the Quicken Loans Arena could not be measured vis-a-vis their slumber habits. Yet let’s ‘out’ them anyway, thus giving rise to suspicion and perception that Carroll and Joseph are a couple of good-time Charlies or, even worse, a pair of no-goodnicks.

It is, frankly, laughable that a member of mainstream sports media would bring into question, or tsk-tsk, the nocturnal wanderings of professional athletes, given that there isn’t a jock sniffer alive who, after filing copy on game nights, is in the sack with lights out by the stroke of 12. The nature of their beast is very similar to that of the athletes they write and talk about. They just earn considerably less coin, is all.

So, I’m sorry, but the issue here is not about the sleeping patterns of Carroll and Joseph. The issue is one that mainstream media won’t address, because they tend not to eat their own. To wit: Should Steve Simmons have ‘outed’ the two Raptors?

Well, to use a hoops term, since there was no harm, no foul, the answer is “no.”

Thus, you can mark down Simmons’ column as reason No. 546,592 why professional athletes consider jock journalists lower than Homer Simpson’s IQ.

We won't apologize for the Biebs.
We won’t apologize for the Biebs.

I see where ESPN blowhard Stephen A. Smith has delivered a mea culpa for dissing the Raptors two games into their best-of-seven skirmish with the LeBrons. “I gotta be a man of my word,” he said after Toronto had leveled the series at 2-2, “and just apologize to Canada, all Canadians everywhere.” That’s all well and fine, Stephen. Just don’t expect us to apologize for Celine Dion, Nickelback or Justin Bieber. (As an aside, Stephen: No need to apologize to “all” of us hosers, because, beyond the borders of the Republic of Tranna, few care about the Raptors.)

I’ve always cheered silently for Doug Wilson to succeed as general manager of the San Jose Sharks, because he played for the Winnipeg Clubs in 1973-74 when I worked the Western Canada Hockey League beat for the Winnipeg Tribune. I remember Wilson as a soft-spoken, shy, polite kid. So good on him now that his National Hockey League outfit has advanced to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final of the Stanley Cup tournament.

The most-ballyhooed hockey players outside the NHL have to be teenagers Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner. Matthews and Laine did boffo work at the just-concluded World Hockey Championships in the Republic of Putin, while Marner is killing it with his London Knights at the Memorial Cup tournament in Saudi Alberta. All are worthy of the hosannas, but one thing separates Matthews and Laine from Marner: They were playing against men (mostly), Marner is playing against boys.

Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg will always be my favorite tennis player, but Rafael Nadal, searching for his 15th Grand Slam title until a wrist injury shelved him at the French Open, is the best I’ve ever seen. My all-time dream match would be Borg in his prime vs. Nadal in his prime at Roland Garros in Paris. Nadal would win in five sets. I think. Maybe. Dream match No. 2 would be Steffi Graf vs. Serena Williams at Roland Garros. Graf would win in three. Definitely.

I have trouble watching Andy Murray play tennis. I mean, it’s painful. Whether ahead or chasing the match, the Scotsman always looks like a tormented soul straight out of a Shakespearean tragedy. Every time he turns to grab a towel, I expect to see a shiv or arrows in his back.

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.