The River City Renegade


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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.

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About jock journos still giving Floyd Mayweather Jr. a pass…Winnipeg Jets missing the playoffs…Connor McDavid is No. 1…an unsafe city…and other things that are too dumb for words

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

Floyd Mayweather Jr. in handcuffs is what the sports media should be talking about.

The circus has rolled into Las Vegas and no one is talking or writing about the elephant in the room.

They talk and write about Conor McGregor’s weight, the betting line, the unvarnished vulgarity of a recent travelling trash-talk tour, the price of ringside seats at T-Mobile Arena, pay-per-view audience numbers, McGregor’s Irish charm and blarney, the size of the the boxers’ gloves, the age of the fighters, Justin Bieber unfriending Floyd Mayweather Jr., the heat in Glitter Gulch, racism, McGregor’s wardrobe, a fixed fight, and the improbability of a mixed martial arts champion battering the best boxer of a generation.

But nobody is talking or writing about Mayweather beating up women. It’s as if the undefeated champion has never hit a woman or never spent any time behind bars for hitting women.

The unbeaten boxing champion is a serial woman abuser and the sports media is giving him a pass in advance of Saturday’s scheduled 12-round dust-up with MMA champion McGregor, who is so inexperienced as a pure fist-fighter that he can’t even be classified as a novice boxer.

I scanned a dozen articles Wednesday morning on the Mayweather-McGregor tiff and discovered exactly two one-sentence references to Floyd Jr.’s ugly predilection for punching out women, including the mother of his children. Neither of those sentences appeared in a column by Steve Simmons of Postmedia. He went all the way to Vegas to write about himself instead of the fighters. I watched Stephen Brunt, among our country’s finest sports scribes, wag his chin for 10 minutes on Sportsnet and not one second was devoted to Mayweather’s history of domestic violence.

So here’s the question I’m struggling with: Why were jock journalists so hot and bothered and eager to place a focus on domestic violence in February 2014, when Ray Rice KO’d his then-finance on an elevator, yet now it’s a non-issue?

Perhaps, like Mayweather himself, they’re “waiting to see the photos.” Perhaps that’s what it takes to stir them. Video or photographic evidence. It isn’t enough that there have been 21 arrests of National Football League players on domestic violence/battery charges since the Rice incident, which cost the former Baltimore Ravens running back his career. It isn’t enough that Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has been told to go away for six games due to multiple instances of domestic violence. It isn’t enough that Willie Reed of the Los Angeles Clippers spent time in a Miami jail last weekend on charges of roughing up his wife. It isn’t enough that Mayweather Jr. is a convicted woman-beater.

They need pictures. Otherwise, they’ll continue to glorify Floyd Jr. and promote his farce of a fight.

Sigh.

Paul Maurice

This just in: The Hockey News is first out of the chute with a prediction that there won’t be any meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. Here’s what Sam McCaig has to say about the Winnipeg Jets’ prospects for their 2017-18 National Hockey League crusade: “The Jets have a premier first line, a solid second line, and some upside on the bottom two units. The defense corps features a sturdy top-six, led by Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. The problem areas are in goal, where incoming Steve Mason has been tasked with mentoring up-and-down goalie-of-the-future Connor Hellebuyck, and the team’s inability—to this point—to become a sum of its parts. It also doesn’t help matters that Winnipeg plays in the West, where there appears to be 11 bona fide playoff teams vying for eight spots.” Odd that he had nothing to say about the head coach, Paul Maurice, who’s probably the reason the local outfit has yet to “become a sum of its parts.” (McCaig, by the way, also has the Tranna Maple Leafs, L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks among the 15 outfits that will fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament.)

Another reason to like Connor McDavid: He’s honest. THN rates McMoneybags as the No. 1 player in the NHL, but the Edmonton Oilers centre is having none of that. “I don’t agree with it,” says McDavid, who’s probably better than anyone not named Sidney Crosby. “Everyone knows who the best player in the league is and it’s not me.”

THN’s top-50 player list is a head-scratcher, to be certain. I mean, Sergei Bobrovsky is No. 6? Steven Stamkos is No. 46? Auston Matthews is already a better player than Victor Hedman? And if Kevin Shattenkirk is a better defenceman than Roman Josi, then Don Cherry is a card-carrying commie. That’s just stupid. Only two Jets cracked the THN select 50: Rink Rat Scheifele at No. 15 and Patrik Laine at No. 24. I’m not convinced that’s accurate, especially the Laine ranking, but it’s no dumber than listing Matthews at No. 8.

I note that a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll lists Winnipeg as the most unsafe city in Canada. There’s no truth to the rumor that the poll was taken immediately after Travis Bond, Jermarcus Hardrick and the rest of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ O-line attempted to leap into the stands at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Andrew Harris

A week ago, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet declared Bombers kicker Justin Medlock to be the most outstanding player in the Canadian Football League (yes, a kicker). This week, Bennett asks this of running back Andrew Harris: “Is he the best player in the CFL?” A strong case can be made for Harris, but the answer is “no.” It’s Mike Reilly. Same as last week.

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The Bombers whup the Eskimos in their sole head-to-head skirmish, yet Bennett has the latter ahead of the former in his weekly CFL power rankings. Hands up if that makes sense to anyone other than Donnovan Bennett. I didn’t think so.

Looks like UFC fighter Jon Jones has failed yet another drug test. Plenty of athletes get caught using illegal drugs once. But twice? C’mon, man. Guess that’s why it’s called a dope test.

Tonya Harding

Speaking of dummies, here are my top five athletes who were just too dumb for words…
1. Ben Johnson. Too easily duped by dishonest people. A total patsy.
2. Tonya Harding. Seriously, a fancy skater hiring a hit man?
3. Pete Rose. Betting on baseball games when you’re a manager?
4. Ryan Locte. Really? Fibbing about being robbed at gunpoint during the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil?
5. Jose Canseco. Has the former big league ballplayer ever said anything that wasn’t too dumb for words?

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.


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About Genie Bouchard and the weight of the Maple Leaf…terrible tennis towels…the real CFL West Division standings…male golfers in short pants…and bad-ass athletes

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

Donna Vekic and Genie Bouchard

Genie Bouchard wants no part of the “burden of Canada.” Furthermore, she thinks it’d be real swell if “the media doesn’t put pressure on me, that would be nice.”

Good thing she isn’t a hockey player.

I mean, Bouchard wants to talk about the “burden of Canada?” Try trading places with Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews or Carey Price. Or Shannon Szabados and Marie Philip Poulan.

We’re Planet Puckhead, from the bottom of Sid the 30-year-old Kid’s skate blades to Don Cherry’s white chin whiskers. Our men (or teenage boys) lose a shinny competition and there’s blood in the streets. Heads roll. Parliament is recalled. There are demands for a Royal Commission. National angst isn’t quite as intense and irrational when our women stumble and fall, but expectations of success might actually be greater for the girls, given that they compete in a field consisting of two thoroughbreds and a collection of pasture ponies.

No such emotional outlay and investment exists when One-and-Done Genie steps on court to lose yet again in the opening round of a tennis tournament, as she did on Tuesday at the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, this time qualifier Donna Vekic nudging her wayside, 6-3, 6-4.

Since no one has ever accused Canada of being a tennis nation, we don’t huddle around flatscreen TVs at home or in pubs and hold our collective breath on the Quebec belle’s every groundstroke or double fault. Large numbers hope she wins. Few expect her to win. Thus, whatever weight she feels from the Maple Leaf is self-inflicted, not fan or media imposed.

Unlike others, I won’t pretend to analyze the reasons behind Bouchard’s plummet from world No. 5 to No. 70 in the three years since she advanced to the Wimbledon final, whereupon she received a 6-3, 6-0 paddling at the racquet of Petra Kvitova in less than an hour. As she hastened to instruct news snoops and those who would draw a link between her increased social media/cover girl activity and her on-court faceplants, “You have no idea what my life is like and what my days are like.”

True that.

In terms of Genie’s game, though, it doesn’t take a Chrissie Evert or Billie Jean King to recognize distress. From 2-2 in the second set vs. Vekic, it was painfully evident that the Rogers Cup would be another one-and-done tournament for our tennis diva. Her body language was ghastly. It was defeatist.

Hard to believe that all those scattered shots had anything to do with the heft of the Maple Leaf. She’s just as lost in the Republic of Tranna as she is in Istanbul, Monterrey, Acapulco or Indian Wells.

Men just can’t do without their terrible tennis towels.

Just wondering: How is it that the elite of women’s tennis can start and finish a match without reaching for a towel every 10 seconds, whereas the men feel the need to wipe themselves down—from stem to stern—after every…single…point? It’s actually quite disgusting if you’re a ball girl or boy. Icky.

All best wishes to Eddie Olczyk, one of the good guys who wore Winnipeg Jets linen before the National Hockey League franchise fled to Arizona. Eddie O is battling colon cancer.

So, it turns out Jeff Reinebold was the problem in Hamilton. And here I thought the head coach, Kent Austin, was responsible for the Tiger-Cats’ 0-6 record. Silly me. Austin fired biker boy coach Reinebold as his defensive coordinator this week, just in time for a visit from Coach Harley’s former group, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. If the Tabbies fail to get off the schneid on Saturday, who does Austin next blame for his own misgivings?

Okay, here’s the deal: There are standings within standings in the Canadian Football League. You look at the Bombers as a 4-2 outfit, I see them as 0-2 because what they do against the big dogs in the West Division will determine their fate. They’ve already been beaten by the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders, with the Edmonton Eskimos scheduled to pay a visit to Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Aug. 17. If they harbor any hope of securing a home playoff date, it’ll take a 4-1 record, if not 5-0, the rest of the way to get the job done.

Here’s a look at the CFL West Division top four head-to-head:

Edmonton    2-0 (6 remaining: at Winnipeg, at Calgary, Calgary, Winnipeg, at B.C., Calgary)
Calgary        1-0 (6 remaining: at B.C., Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C., at Edmonton, Winnipeg)
B.C.             1-2 (5 remaining: Calgary, at Calgary, at Winnipeg 2, Edmonton)
Winnipeg     0-2 (5 remaining: Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C. 2, at Calgary)

What in the name of Chef Boyardee are they feeding the scribes at the Drab Slab? First it was Steve Lyons chirping about the Bombers doing themselves a favor by finishing fourth, and now young Jeff Hamilton and grizzled Paul Wiecek have joined in with the backup vocals. “It may just be the best-case scenario for the Bombers. That would mean a crossover to a weak East Division and a much easier road to a Grey Cup berth,” scribbles Hamilton. Apparently, this is now the weekly mantra of Winnipeg Free Press writers, despite undeniable historical evidence to the contrary. Do the math, boys.

British Open champion Jordan Spieth

Horrors! Male golfers were allowed to wear short pants during practice rounds for the PGA Championship tournament that commences on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Better not tell Paul Wiecek. The Freep scribe is having a tough enough time dealing with Mike O’Shea’s short pants.

TSN had Craig Button do a bit on Canada’s projected roster for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships. Geez Louise. We’re only at the front end of August. Can we enjoy what’s left of summer without talking about lineups for a hockey tournament that begins on Boxing Day and wraps up in 2018?

This past Sunday I listed my five favorite all-time athletes (actually, I cheated because I had Arnold Palmer and Rafael Nadal sharing the fifth spot), so today I’m listing the five jocks I have most disliked. They are:

  • Mike Tyson: Convicted rapist. Cannibal.

  • Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Convicted woman beater and painfully boring boxer.

  • Angelo Mosca: Willie Fleming of the B.C. Lions was my favorite football player. Mosca, a Hamilton Tiger-Cats D-lineman, took Willie the Wisp out of the 1963 Grey Cup game with a dirty hit. I don’t promote violence, but I was most delighted when Joe Kapp laid out big Angie with a solid right-hand punch to the head at a Grey Cup function a few years ago.

  • Pete Rose: Long before we discovered he was having sex with teenage girls while in his 30s, married and the father of two children, the Major League Baseball hit leader creeped me out. From his stupid haircut to his galloping ego, I always believed there was a phoniness to Rose. He’s forever been fingernails on a chalk board.

  • Jose Bautista: So arrogant. He’s the reason I cannot watch the Toronto Blue Jays.

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.