Let’s talk about death threats and bomb threats in Good Ol’ Hometown…the Buddha and Brees…Jackie Robinson and the American flag…Chris Cuthbert goes over the wall…another jock journo out of work…the Winnipeg Sun’s six-pack…and Fidel Castro’s angst

At first blush, the inclination was to suggest that Khari Jones had it all wrong. That he was misremembering.

Khari Jones

I mean, death threats? To the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback? Naw. Can’t be.

Look, I realize the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown can be a demanding lot. They’ll turn on a starting QB faster than Judas on Jesus (hello Dieter Brock, Matt Nichols, etc.), and they’ll get louder and more ornery as the beer snakes grow longer and longer in the fourth quarter of a losing skirmish.

But threaten to snuff him out? That’s something you’d rather not believe.

Except as Jones told the tale the other day, his nose wasn’t growing and his pants weren’t on fire.

He delivered his revelation in a calm, matter-of-fact cadence, like he was telling us what he had for lunch or what his kids ordered the last time at a McDonald’s drive-thru. He even smiled, almost as if he recognized that some among the rabble might suggest there was a tich of far-fetchedness to the disturbing narrative of his 2002 Canadian Football League crusade.

“In Winnipeg,” Jones began, “I received death threats, you know, because my wife is a different color than me. We had police officers staying at our house, kinda patrolling our house while I was at away games. There was a series of letters, and I still have those letters.”

I don’t know about you, but those words produce chilling imagery for me:

Justine Jones

A woman—Jones’ bride Justine—home alone with her newborn, Jaelyn, while hubby and dad is flinging footballs hundreds of miles away, unable to protect his family from a wingnut lurking in the shadows of a darkening night. The stalker might have a gun. Or a knife. Maybe both. Stealth, slow-moving cop cars appear in the haze of dimly lit lamp posts, then disappear into the same darkness that protects the unseen scoundrel, prepared to pounce. It’s positively Hitchcockian.

It was just one person, we’re told, a racist who believes black and white belong together on piano keyboards, salt-and-pepper shakers and Oreo cookies, but not in the skin hue of a married couple. He penned a dozen letters to Jones, each peppered with vulgar language and threats. He was never caught.

Eighteen years later, Jones is finally talking about it because racism is the topic du jour in North America and he recognizes that his is a story people need to hear, even if they’d prefer not to hear it.

It’s the kind of stuff that gives pause for ponder, and you try to convince yourself that such a level of hate can’t possibly exist in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I was born, raised and spent most of my working life in Winnipeg and, sure, I recognize that racists, bigots, homophobes, etc. walk among the throng, but death threats because a quarterback is black and his bride is white? Come on, man, isn’t that supposed to be a 1960s Alabama thing? If only.

Truth is, I had my own close encounter with one of the wackos back in the day.

It was late March of 1979 and, with the Parti Québécois beating the separatist drums with gusto, the political climate was a tinderbox. Anti-Québec sentiment flowed freely in Western Canada and peaked in full, ugly voice the night the Finnish National B shinny side was in town for a friendly with the Winnipeg Jets, then still the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise but soon to be a charter member of the National Hockey League.

Because the skirmish was televised locally on the CBC’s English and French channels, public address announcements were delivered in both our official languages. That didn’t work so well.

Each time PA announcer Germain Massicotte would parlez vous, the audience of 10,113 filled the Old Barn On Maroons Road with a robust chorus of boos, which ramped up in volume with each word he uttered en francais. By the time Morris Lukowich scored in overtime, Massicotte’s voice had totally disappeared beneath the might of the anti-Québec outpouring.

“It was kind of rude,” said young Rich Gosselin, a product of nearby St. Malo and one of two francophones wearing Jets linen that night.

Bobby Guindon

“I just consider the source,” muttered Bobby Guindon, the veteran forward who, a year ealier, had been anointed most valuable player in the Jets championship crusade.

Like Gosselin and Guindon, I was unamused, so I scribbled as essay in the Winnipeg Tribune, giving the booing, bigoted boors a stern tsk-tsking.

“Winnipeg, if this is how you’re going to act next season when you’re in the National Hockey League, then you don’t deserve to see the Montreal Canadiens,” is how I signed off.

The following morning, the ringing of my kitchen telephone stirred me from slumber. It was a man. An angry man. He didn’t appreciate the tone of my column and volunteered to provide me with one-way passage to the Great Beyond. Yup, he’d bomb my house. Blow it up, me and my family with it. Apparently, that’s what you do with a “frog lover.”

Unlike Khari Jones, I didn’t call the cops. I told the boys at work about the bomb threat and we had a giggle, although I must confess mine was a bit of a nervous chuckle and there was some skittishness to my step for a few days.

But, hey, that house on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan is still standing, a block away from the Red River, and I’m still ticking, so I guess the guy had a bad batch of dynamite or he was a graduate of the Wile E. Coyote School of Mayhem.

I don’t know if you’ve been following Paul Friesen’s work on the Khari Jones file for the Winnipeg Sun, but it’s boffo stuff. Top drawer in every way. Makes me proud that I played a part in poaching Paul from CJOB all those many years ago, and it all began with a chance meeting in a checkout line at the Safeway on Roslyn Road in Osborne Village. So, if you like Paul’s work, kudos to him. If you don’t like it, blame me.

Really hard to believe the boys at the Drab Slab basically ignored the Jones death-threat narrative, except to run one Canadian Press piece. That’s shoddy. Or lazy. Maybe both.

The Donald and Drew.

Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are supposed to be bright guys. They aren’t allowed to be the dullest knife in the drawer, although Terry Bradshaw tests that theory every time he opens his squawkbox on Fox Sports NFL coverage. So what’s Drew Brees’ excuse for being such a D’Oh Boy? I mean, seriously, he thought Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was about the American flag and not social injustice and police brutality? That’s like believing the Bible is porn. But wait. The New Orleans Saints QB experienced an awakening, as if he’d shared a bodhi tree with the Buddha, and a couple of days after dumbing down he was schooling Donald Trump, advising the Commander-in-Chaos that kneeling protests have “never” been about the Stars ‘n’ Stripes. I swear, we haven’t seen a retreat that rapid since Tiger Woods’ wife came at him with a 9-iron. Makes you wonder how Buddha Brees ever mastered the Saints playbook.

Every time I hear someone like Brees rage against Kaepernick and other National Football League kneelers, branding them as disrespectful ingrates, I am reminded of this excerpt from baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s book, I Never Had It Made: “There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only the principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.” So there.

Jennifer Hedger

The other night on TSN SportsCentre, anchor Jennifer Hedger said racism is an “uncomfortable” conversation. Why? And who’s uncomfortable? Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down social gatherings, my friends and I discussed racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, etc. on numerous occasions, with zero discomfort.

Big shakeup in the Tower of Babble On, with Chris Cuthbert defecting from TSN football to Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada. Initial reaction: Geez, can he take Glen Suitor with him?

Apparently Suitor was unavailable for comment on his longtime sidekick’s departure. “He’s still in rehab after having his nose surgically removed from Keith Urban’s butt,” a TSN spokesperson familiar with the situation confirmed.

Chris Cuthbert

Seriously, this is an opportunity for TSN to bring a new, fresh sound to its Canadian Football League broadcasts. Surely there’s a vibrant, young voice out there who can slide behind Cuthbert’s play-by-play mic and, at the same time, they can spare us another season of groupie Glen’s gushing over Urban. If they insist on going with the old guard, I say give the job to Gord Miller, who’s solid whenever he calls Rouge Football. And, for gawd’s sake, keep Kate Beirness away from the CFL on TSN panel.

Oh, dear, the body count continues to grow in the toy department, and Ken Wiebe is among the latest casualties. The Athletic slashed salary and scribes the other day, handing out 46 pink slips, and that leaves Murat Ates to fly solo on the Jets beat. I never met Ken, but I’m told he’s one of the good guys, and we can only wonder when this carnage will end and who’ll be left standing.

The Winnipeg Sun made it through the week without anyone heading to the pogey line, but the overlords at Postmedia have decided to eliminate one day of the week—Monday. Commencing June 22, the tabloid will become a six-days-a-week print publication (Tuesday-Sunday), which means they’ll be a day late and a dollar short whenever something big breaks on the Sabbath. You know, like the Bombers winning the Grey Cup. Or—dare to dream—the Jets hoisting the Stanley Cup on a Sunday.

And, finally, news that the Sun is becoming a six-pack provided reflection on my time with the tabloid.

Now in its 40th year (the official anniversary date is Nov. 5), the Sun wasn’t supposed to have a shelf life longer than four months, never mind four decades, but a three-days-a-week sheet bulked up to a seven-day production in 1992, and they’ve been going toe-to-toe with the Goliath on Mountain Avenue every morning since.

You don’t survive that long unless you deliver something the rabble is looking for and, in the case of the tabloid, that’s meant a heavy emphasis on cops and robbers, entertainment and, of course, sports scribbling served with sizable portions of sass, irreverence and 200-point headlines.

Oops. Almost forgot Page 3 (or was it Page 2?), which once featured a damsel in her scantilly-clads and heels as high as a giraffe’s forehead.

The Sunshine Girl was just one of the oddball things we did at the Sun. I also recall management’s curious fascination for Panda bears, and there was a cheeky promo during the 1999 Pan American Games that attracted the attention of El Presidenté, Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro

Seems ol’ Cigar Breath was so distraught over Cuban defectors prior to/during the Games that it became the focal point of his annual Revolution Day natter, with the Bearded One barking about “traps and tricks” and “schemes” and “filth.”

We ran a “guess the number of Cuban defectors” contest, offering airfare and a one-week vacation in Havana, cigars not included.

“If this is a goodwill gesture, it is a perverse one,” noted José Fernandez, president of the Cuban Olympic Committee.

I don’t recall if it was eight or 10 Cubans who went over the wall during the Pan Ams, but that was us—the perverse paper.

About the return of the Prodigal Pun…keeping Patrick Kane out of trouble…draft day busts…Sin City…and stocking an expansion team

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

George Stromboy
George Stromboy

So, tight and shiny, ill-fitting suits are no longer in vogue on Hockey Night in Canada, and horrible, cringe-inducing cornballism is back. The hip host is out and the old, greybeard is in.

Well, okay, Rogers Media hasn’t made it official yet, but all indicators point to the ouster of George Stroumboloupouloupouloupoulous as host of HNIC and the return of the Prodigal Pun, Ron MacLean. Which is sort of like replacing Drake with Bing Crosby.

No doubt this development shall be received with a rousing chorus of rah-rahs from the rabble on Planet Puckhead who care about such matters, but I’m not so sure Stromboy is/was the problem.

You want culprits for HNIC’s nosedive in ratings? Start with the game itself. Most National Hockey League regular-season skirmishes are exciting like Don Cherry is bashful. And it doesn’t help that the majority of matches Rogers delivers to our living rooms feature bottom-feeding outfits from our home and native land. Really, who beyond the borders of British Columbia would want to watch the Vancouver Canucks? Does anyone outside of the nation’s capital know the Ottawa Senators exist?

Then there’s Stromboy’s supporting cast. Seriously, P.J. Stock? A career minor-leaguer, he suited up for a grand total of eight NHL playoff games and does commercials for adult diapers. Ya, that’s real star power. Nick Kypreos? He owns a Stanley Cup ring, but was a spare part who played just three of 23 games in the New York Rangers’ 1994 title run. Glenn Healy? The most annoying man on TV since the original Canadian Tire Guy. A career backup goaltender. Notable for playing the bagpipes. Insider Damien Cox? Oy vey.

fox
The Fox NFL Sunday gang.

By way of comparison, consider the lineup that Fox NFL Sunday trots out: Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame quarterback and multiple Super Bowl champion; Howie Long, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Michael Strahan, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Jimmy Johnson, two-time Super Bowl champion coach and College Hall of Fame coach. The insider is Jay Glazer, who actually appears to have a personality, unlike Cox, who stares creepily into the camera and no doubt sends little children scurrying to the cover of their bedrooms.

I can’t say that I’m a fan of Stromboy’s—and I have little doubt he shall find another TV studio with red chairs to call home—but if he’s the fall guy he should be only the first domino to tumble.

Will Arnett, I am informed, is an accomplished actor, nominated for several Emmy Awards. Okay, I’ll take your word for it. He’s a good actor. What he isn’t, is a good comedian. I’m sorry if you’re a fan, but he was a very unfunny host of the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night. His Mr. Genius skit with Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan was as wince-inducing as Ron MacLean’s puns.

How will Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate his MVP-winning season, by punching out a cab driver or molesting a woman? Apparently, the Blackhawks have asked Kane to stay in the Toddlin’ Town this summer rather than have him return to his favorite haunts in Buffalo. Ya, as if that’s going to keep him out of trouble. I mean, I have it on good authority that there are plenty of cab drivers and women in Chicago.

Alexandre Daigle
Alexandre Daigle

Interesting headline in the Winnipeg Sun this morning: “Jets can’t go wrong in Friday’s draft.” Really? Can you say Alexandre Daigle, kids? Can you say Patrik Stefan? Or Rick DiPietro? There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NHL entry draft until they become a sure thing. The Winnipeg Jets will pluck Finnish forward Patrik Laine from the pool of freshly scrubbed teenagers on Friday night, then hope they haven’t gone wrong.

If you were Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, would you trade the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft for the negotiation rights to Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin and Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round choice, which falls at No. 27? I would. Then open the vault for homeboy Stamkos.

What an interesting country we live in. I mean, upon his death, hockey great Gordie Howe was glorified and deified for six decades of using his elbows to bust jaws and send people to the dentist. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau throws one errant elbow and he’s crucified. Go figure.

vegasDon’t count me among the skeptics suggesting an NHL franchise in Las Vegas won’t work. It will work because Gary Bettman, the pointy-nosed and bobble-head commish, will make it work come hell or high odds. If he hasn’t bailed on Arizona by now, he’ll never bail on Sin City.

Got a kick out of a Paul Wiecek piece in the Winnipeg Free Press re next year’s expansion draft to stock the Las Vegas Rat Pack roster. The Jets, like all 30 current NHL outfits, will lose one player, a reality that “some think is going to hit the Jets as hard—or even harder—than any team in the league.” The way Wiecek has it reasoned, one of the following will have to get out of Dodge: Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, Marko Dano, Alexander Burmistrov. Oh, how will the Jets possibly survive?

I went to the Winnipeg Sun website last Sunday morning and the Calgary Sun popped up. Seriously, five stories on the Calgary Flames on the sports front and zero on the Winnipeg Jets. This is what happens when one media giant owns 99 per cent of the newspapers in Canada.

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.