About homophobia and the NHL…a Nobel Prize for Kyle Dubas?…no gay voices on Canadian sports TV…Fozzy Armstrong on Hockey Central…a Guinness for the all-St. Patty’s Day team and a lineup for Assiniboia Downs…WHA Jets were the real road warriors…a players share for Uecker…Wheels and Jumbo Joe…taking note of the WHL…and so long to a Twitter maestro

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy St. Patty’s Day to the Irish and Irish wannabes (and I plan on keeping my lifetime record of never drinking green beer intact)…

Morgan Rielly knew he didn’t say what he didn’t say. Others remain convinced that he did say what he didn’t say.

And, as social media exploded like a fourth of July sky, a mystery voice at a National Hockey League game last Monday became the most talked-about sound bite since Timothy Leary told kids in the 1960s to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

So was l’affaire Rielly much ado about nada?

Well, like most questions in life that don’t include a simple 1+1=2 answer, it depends on who you ask.

Morgan Rielly and Kyle Dubas

Many took to Twitter to suggest (rather dismissively, abruptly and rudely) that it matters not if Rielly or any player/fan shouted “faggot” or “rag it” or “maggot” during a Toronto Maple Leafs-Tampa Bay Lightning skirmish at Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna. “They’re just words. Don’t be such a snowflake. Get over it, you annoying SJWs. Move on.”

Media pundits, meanwhile, have lauded les Leafs Harry Potter doppelganger GM, Kyle Dubas, and Rielly for stepping forward to confirm the young defenceman’s innocence, rather than push the mute button and allow the tempest to expire of natural causes. They insist that the hastily organized Dubas-Rielly joint session of meet-the-news-snoops was a “teaching moment.”

If so, I’m having trouble determining what lesson was learned.

As a member of the LGBTQ collective, you see, I lean a keen and attentive ear toward any dialogue dealing with gays and homophobia in sports. Call it my “queer” ear, if you will. And it’s often what I don’t hear that catches my notice because, yes, words are important.

The one word I didn’t hear from Dubas in his more than 16 minutes of chin wagging was “accept.”

Make no mistake, the GM scored when he talked sincerely about providing a “safe” and “welcome” environment for gay, bisexual and transgender fans at les Leafs’ lair. He added that any player grappling with his sexual orientation can “feel safe here, they can be themselves here.”

Dubas did not, however, say a gay player would be universally “accepted” in les Leafs boudoir. He couldn’t.

Dubas, you see, cannot get inside the heads and souls of the men who occupy the changing room, any more than Geoff Molson could get inside the heads and souls of his Montreal Canadiens when he issued similar sentiments in 2014.

“Not only with our team, but also with our fans,” the Habs bankroll told news snoops when asked if his storied franchise was prepared to embrace a gay player. “Everyone and everybody is welcome in the Montreal Canadiens organization. Any opportunity to be inclusive is a good one, and that starts from the top down.”

Nice thought, but a Habs skater with anti-gay leanings might not be so keen to share the bunker with a guy who shares his bed with another dude.

That said, it’s apparent by Rielly’s thoughtful responses to queries last week, also his documented support of the LGBTQ collective, that he would “accept” a gay teammate without condition. But what of his fellows in the blue-and-white linen of les Leafs?

Consider:

  • In autumn 2015, USA Today asked 35 NHL players if they would accept an openly gay teammate in the changing room. One said no. Small sample size, I know, but if we do the math that means there were at least 21 anti-gay members of the NHL Players Association. I’d submit the true number is higher. Even if not, how many sit in les Leafs’ lockerroom?

  • In January 2014, TSN ran a terrific documentary on the NHL and gays. They reached out to 12 teams across a nine-month time frame, seeking players willing to discuss gays and hockey on the record. In the end, only three were willing to be interviewed on camera. That’s it. Just three of 750 players were comfortable discussing the gay issue and homophobia. If they can’t even talk about gay men, how can they accept them?

Again, Dubas gets full marks for initiating the discussion last week, but if it was a “teachable moment” I’m still uncertain what I supposedly learned. Given that Molson said the same thing five years ago and nothing has changed, it was same old, same old.

I’m always fascinated when straight male sports scribes and talking heads weigh in on the gay/homophobia issue. They really can’t offer anything of substance because, well, they aren’t gay. So they simply recite the standard blah, blah, blah about offensive words, often punctuating their commentary with “this is 2019,” as if that proves they know where it’s at. Which explains why many of them inverted the Rielly situation, turning it into a testimonial to the Maple Leafs’ rapid response rather than the likelihood that someone shouted “faggot” during an NHL game. Dubas was lathered in lavish praise, and I’m surprised the talking heads and essayists stopped short of nominating him for a Nobel Prize. But, hey, Nobel nomination forms aren’t distributed until September, so there’s plenty of time to get his name out there.

Unless I missed it, neither TSN nor Sportsnet brought an LGBTQ voice on air to discuss the developments in l’affaire Rielly. They’ll recruit “experts” to dissect everything from Auston Matthews’ bowel movements to Mitch Marner’s eating habits, but they aren’t interested in a gay voice when homophobia is the hot-button topic. What, they don’t know any gay male athletes who’ve been in homophobic dressing rooms? Or do they think gay guys don’t speak English? Trust me, when the subject is homophobia in hockey, the last people I want to hear from are meatheads like Nick Kypreos and Colby Armstrong, who delivered about five minutes of total gobbledygook on Hockey Central At Noon.

The Fozzy Bros.

Speaking of Colby Armstrong, I must confess that he’s begun to grow on me, perhaps because I like the Muppets and he’s got a Muppets kind of head—you know, really thin-to-no lips, goofy grin, interesting nose, eyes that seem to spin and rotate. I think perhaps Colby and Fozzy Bear were separated at birth. That’s the ticket—Fozzy Armstrong.

Sir Alec Guinness

My personal all-St. Patty’s Day team: Kathy Ireland, St. Patrick Roy, Patrick Ewing, Danica Patrick and Patrik O’Laine. Oh, and Sir Alec Guinness, of course. No St. Patty’s Day is complete without a Guinness.

If the ponies were running at Assiniboia Downs, the ideal St. Patty’s Day card this afternoon would include a Pot O’ Gold Stakes race with this field: Lookin At Lucky, Lucky Debonair, Irish War Cry, Smokinpaddylassie, I’ll Have Another and Flat Drunk. And, yes, those are the names of actual race horses.

So, the Winnipeg Jets recently completed their longest junket of the NHL season—10 days, four games. Drab Slab scribe Mike McIntyre described it as a “doozy.” Well, Mike Mac doesn’t know from doozy. During their 1978-79 World Hockey Association championship crusade, the Jets had a tour of duty in February that had them play 10 games in 16 days (eight on the road, including five in a row). Now that, my friends, is a doozy.

Bob Uecker

Interesting to note that the Milwaukee Brewers voted play-by-play broadcaster and funny guy Bob Uecker a full players share ($123,000) after the Major League Baseball playoffs last October. Hmmm. For the record, the Jets did not vote me a full players share after their final WHA title in 1979. No problem, though. I didn’t need the $57.48 at the time. Mind you, I could use it today now that I’m a pauper. (By the way, Ueck donated his $123,000 windfall to four different charities.)

Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet tells us that Blake Wheeler’s contract extension, which kicks in next season at $8.25 million, is “money well spent by the Winnipeg Jets.” He knows this how? Well, because of Joe Thornton. Dixon figures if Jumbo Joe can score 82 points as a 36-year-old, so can Wheels. Good luck with that. I’m a big fan of Blake Wheeler (the player, not the boor who believes news snoops are pond scum), but if he’s an 82-point guy at the butt end of his five-year deal, I’ll eat a hockey puck and wash it down with raw sewage from the Red River.

The Kootenay Ice play their final game in Cranbrook this afternoon, then they become the Winnipeg Ice (please, change that name). So if anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown is looking for the skinny on the Western Hockey League, take note: The go-to website is old friend Gregg Drinnan’s blog Taking Note. Nobody does the WHL better than the Greaser, who earned his nickname while writing about fast cars, Bison Dragways and people like Big Daddy Garlits for the Winnipeg Tribune.

And, finally, sad to hear of the passing of Randy Turner, longtime scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press. Never got to spend much time with Randy (different newspapers, different beats, I skipped town), but I do know he was one of the good guys. And a funny guy. He was a Twitter maestro. Ashley Prest wrote a wonderful tribute piece on Randy in the Drab Slab.

About Josh Morrissey doing a Jacob Trouba…the fashion police weigh in on Winnipeg Jets third uni…the hair on hockey players’ chinny-chin-chins…pants on fire in Montreal…Johnny Rotten’s bruised ego…fighting fossils…tennis brats…and other things on my mind

It occurs to me

Now that Josh Morrissey is back on board, here’s what I’m curious about: Will the rabble—and at least one prominent jock journo—speak and write the same evil about him as they did Jacob Trouba during the past two years?

Trouba, you’ll recall, failed to surface for Winnipeg Jets training exercises in 2016 and he’s been Darth Skater ever since. It’s as if he’s responsible for all that raw sewage pouring into the city’s river system.

Morrissey was MIA for the first three days of Camp PoMo. Does that make him Darth Skater Lite?

Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba

I mean, from what I can determine there’s just one difference between the two young National Hockey League defenders: Trouba declared a desire to get out of Dodge prior to his contract impasse, which stretched into November of ’16, and his hankering for a new postal/zip code became a matter of public record. Morrissey, meanwhile, has expressed no such yearning. The only comments he delivered for public consumption during his prolonged contract discussions sounded like a 1960s love-in: Love the Jets. Love my teammates. Love River City. Want to be on board for the long haul. We’ll get a deal done.

Well, now that the deal is done (two years, $6.3 million), I’m hoping that Morrissey will be spared the unharnessed hostility heaped upon his blueline accomplice, and that’s as it should be.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Like Trouba before him, Morrissey has done nothing wrong.

“You make your decision and you stand up for what you believe in and I wouldn’t expect him to take anything less that what he feels he’s worth,” Trouba was saying the other day, not long after the local lads had assembled for their initial pre-season frolic.

Exactly.

The notion that these players should happily lap up whatever Kool-Aid that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his main bidder, Kevin Cheveldayoff, are serving is absurd.

Let’s be clear: Morrissey and les Jets had agreed to disagree until Sunday. That doesn’t make him a malcontent or a bad guy.

Mark Scheifele in Jets beer league jersey.

Here’s my thought on those third jerseys les Jets unveiled on Friday: That’s the biggest swing and a miss since mighty Casey struck out for the Mudville Nine. Seriously. Has a beer league team reported a set of stolen sweaters?

Here’s my thought on Tyler Myers playing on the left side of les Jets defence: Egads.

Much has been made of the fact that Jets goal-scoring maestro Puck Finn shed 14 pounds and the worst set of chin whiskers in hockey history during the summer. Here’s betting that if the puck isn’t going in early and often for Patrik Laine, the bread-butter-and-eggman beard grows back.

Mitch Marner

Speaking of facial foliage, I note that the Tranna Maple Leafs have scrapped their ban on beards. Yup, players can now sprout chin whiskers. Most excited about the new directive is forward Mitch Marner. It gives him something to look forward to when he finally reaches puberty.

I find it interesting that les Leafs and Air Canada would lift their respective restrictions on beards at the same time. As for extra baggage, Air Canada is still charging a fee and Ron Hainsey is still with the Leafs.

Max Pacioretti

It’s a given that everyone in sports lives on Planet Pinocchio, which is to say they tell fibs. It’s part of their DNA. But it’s difficult to determine whose pants were on fire in Montreal recently, when les Canadiens ownership/management and former captain Max Pacioretty engaged in a “he said/he said/no I didn’t” peeing contest.

Geoff Molson, team bankroll: “We’re just going to focus on telling the truth, and that’s that a (trade) request was made. When the request was made to look at making a trade, we started to actively go after that.”

Marc Bergevin, general manager: “Last season, he asked for a trade. I will not go into details. But that’s a fact.”

Pacioretty: “There’s no truth to that. And I can confidently say that.”

Pacioretty is now with the Vegas Golden Knights. No one is denying it.

If you’re looking for some good reading (and you know you won’t find it here), check out Dan Myers’ nhl.com piece on Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Broudreau and the 9/11 tragedy, and New York Islander goaltender Robin Lehner’s first-person account in The Athletic on his winning battle with the bottle, depression and suicidal notions. As my first sports editor, Jack Matheson, would tell us whenever we wrote something that caught his fancy, it’s “damn good” stuff. Very powerful.

Johnny Rotten

Is it mere coincidence that Antonio Pipkin had his worst day at the office scant hours after TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, shot off at the mouth about losing his job as the Montreal Alouettes starter?

Pipkin was beyond dismal in the Larks’ 32-14 loss to the B.C. Lions on Friday night, throwing for less than 100 yards and four interceptions, including a pair of late Pick Sixes. What I found myself wondering while watching the carnage was whether or not Johnny Rotten’s rant during the leadup to the skirmish impacted on Pipkin’s performance.

They traded half of an organization I feel like in terms of what they gave up to get me here,” Manziel had told news snoops. “I would think I would get a chance to come in and still play. That’s where maybe it’s a little bit lost on me. Missing the game because of the concussion and then not getting to play once I was back, it’s been frustrating for sure. Because I felt like there was a lot of hope and a lot of faith in me being the guy here and how quickly that’s changed in two weeks is tough.”

Sounds to me like the bleating of an entitled, me-first rich kid.

To recap, Manziel started two games behind centre for Montreal. He was gawdawful in his Canadian Football League debut, and only marginally better the next time out, when he suffered a concussion. He was 0-2. In his absence, Pipkin won two of three assignments, pumping oxygen into the lifeless Larks and establishing himself as the No. 1. Apparently, none of that registered with Johnny College. Despite missing three days of practice with the flu, he’s convinced he should have been at the wheel vs. B.C.

It’s believe he’ll miss the next month of the season due to hurt feelings.

Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao

Oh, joy, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are going to exchange punches again for a gazillion dollars in December. How will they bill the fist fight between the two boxing fossils, The Wife Beater vs. The Homophobe? And how many suckers will actually pay to watch it?

The is too funny: Last week, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna wrote, “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” So what’s the first snippet in Simmons’ latest notes column about? You guessed it. The Leafs “relatively meaningless” captaincy. Does he even read his own stuff before hitting the send button?

John McEnroe and Serena Williams

I began covering tennis in 1971, when the premier players in the country made the first of their annual summer pilgrimages to the har-tru courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club for the Canadian National tournament. In the ensuing years, I witnessed no small amount of brattish behaviour, perhaps the most memorable being a classic hissy fit from the tightly strung Dale Power, who, after an unexpected loss, hucked all his racquets and other paraphernalia into an open construction pit that was to become the badminton wing of WCC. In tennis, the men were the divas (hello John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase). McEnroe became a pathetic caricature of himself. Connors was a narcissistic boor. Nastase was a lewd, crude oinker. So where does the great self-promoting female crusader Serena Williams fit in with the bad-ass boys? I’d say she’s a combination of McEnroe and Connors—a narcissistic caricature.

And, finally, chair umpire Carlos Ramos, he of the Serena Williams foofaraw at the U.S. Open, dinged Marin Cilic of Croatia with a code violation for racquet abuse in his Davis Cup match vs. Sam Querrey of the U.S. today. Cilic did not call Ramos a “liar” or a “thief,” nor did he mention anything about parenting or fighting for equal rights. Apparently, he simply played on. What a concept.

Yo! Mark Chipman! Butt out, you buttinski

The floating rumor that Mark Chipman is a buttinski is not a rumor at all. It is fact.

The Winnipeg Jets’ co-bankroll and governor sat at a round table last month and admitted as much during a no-necktie chin wag with George Stroumboulopoulosboulopoulos, Hockey Night in Canada host and unabashed citizen of Habs Nation.

What we don’t know is this: How much of a buttinski is Mark Chipman?

Could it be that Saint Mark is the reason Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien remain unsigned, untraded and destined for unrestricted free agency, at which time the Jets shall receive diddly for two of the National Hockey League club’s more prominent pieces? I mean, based solely on his comments to Stromboy, Chipman has stuck his beak into the seemingly stalemated to-and-fro between Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff and the camps of Ladd and Byfuglien.

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Mark Chipman

“Chevy and I talk pretty much daily,” he said of his working relationship with general manager Cheveldayoff. “Those are his calls to make, but it would depend on the extent of the term or the quantum of the contract you’re talking about (that) would, to a certain degree, determine the level of involvement that he would require me. The lengthier the deal or the more impactful the deal, the more I would be involved on a consultant basis.”

I would submit that the re-signing and/or trading of your team captain, Ladd, and the oftentimes rogue reardguard Byfuglien would qualify as “impactful.”

So, is Chipman asking Cheveldayoff what he’s doing, or has he gone all Steinbrenner and is telling his general manager what to do?

It should be pointed out that this was not a one-on-one tete-a-tete between Saint Mark and Stromboy. Also flapping their gums were Geoff Molson, a product of a family of beer barons and le grand fromage of les Canadiens de Montreal, and Jeff Vinik, noted philanthropist and the money behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Here’s what each had to say about their involvement in signings/trades:

Geoff Molson: “The general manager is accountable for that, and he knows that. Marc (GM Bergevin) knows that. And so whether it’s a contract negotiation or a trade, I’m informed the whole way through because we talk almost every day. But I’m not calling the agent, I’m not calling the player. I’m helping Marc in his negotiations so we can be successful, or I’m encouraging Marc with questions. It’s easy for me to not get involved because they’re much better at making decisions like that than I am. I know my general manager is going to do everything he can to win hockey games.”

Jeff Vinik: “I meet or talk to Steve Yzerman once a week. I don’t find it necessary to check in more often than that. When it comes to a major player, you don’t want me making those decisions. You want Steve making those decisions.”

It’s interesting to note that both Molson and Vinik are clear in stating their modus operandi: They bow to the expertise of their respective general managers and get the hell out of the way.

Not so Chipman. He confesses that the more “impactful” the scenario, the more he sticks his thin, pointy beak where it doesn’t belong.

Wrong answer, Saint Mark.

Ya, sure, he owns the franchise and, by default, he must be made privy to the status of talks. But he’s not a hockey man. Having the largest office and a partner, David Thomson, with the deepest pockets in Canada doesn’t make Chipman any more knowledgeable than the lumps who sit on stools in sports bars or phone Radio Chin-Wag to promote conspiracy theories about sinister NHL skunk skirts plotting to keep the Jets below the playoff line.

Chipman has had a free ride from mainstream media and fans since the Atlanta Thrashers caravan rolled into River City and morphed into Jets 2.0 in 2011, but he must be called out if we find his fingerprints on the final reckoning of major trades and signings.

He has to do what Molson and Vinik do—get the hell out of the way.

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 to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.