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.

Ed Tait’s “meh” rouses the rabble…Winnipeg’s downtown football stadium…Hamonic or harmonica…a homophobic heavyweight champ…and other things on my mind

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

grey cupOh, woe is Ed Tait.

Poor guy had the bad manners to “meh” the 103rd Grey Cup game and the many frills that provide the Grand National Drunk with its pulse, and that has roused the rabble. One reader demands to know who peed in Tait’s Corn Flakes. Another suggests he’s been too long in the company of Winnipeg Free Press colleague Paul Wiecek, whose scribblings are often measured by the masses as glass-half-empty musings. Yet another proposes the passing of a collection plate to finance a getaway to a Mexican resort for the two Freep sports scribes, who then could engage in some serious navel gazing and be fitted with a proper pair of rose-tinted glasses.

Well, in the words of Colonel Sherman T. Potter, “Mule muffins!”

I didn’t attend the Peg pigskin party, so I can’t speak to the hijinks around and about good, ol’ Hometown during a Grey Cup week than concluded on Sunday, but I surely watched the Canadian Football League championship skirmish between the Edmonton Don’t Call Them Eskimos and the Ottawa RougeNoir. My take? I’m with Tait—meh.

Let’s face it, that was a rout dressed up as a burning barn. The final score was 26-20 Edmonton, but it was 26-7 Edmonton after the initial six minutes and nine seconds had ticked off the clock. The best Ottawa could do after putting the game’s first 13 points on the tote board was two field goals and a rouge. In 54 minutes of football. So one more time with feeling—meh. (You think if I say “meh” often enough someone will send me on a vacation to a Mexican resort?)

osborne stadiumI cannot imagine what manner of madness existed in Paul Wiecek’s mind when, in referencing the 1991 and 2006 Grey Cup jousts in Winnipeg, he wrote, “both of those games were played at the downtown stadium.” The closest thing to a downtown football facility in River City was Osborne Stadium, home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from the mid-1930s to the early 1950s. It sat across the street from the Leg and lost an argument to a wrecking ball in ’56. Both the ’91 and ’06 CFL title games were, of course, played at Winnipeg Stadium, a more recent victim of the wrecking ball.

I find the banter about bringing Travis Hamonic to the Winnipeg Jets’ blueline somewhat amusing. I mean, I’d hazard a guess that 75 per cent of Jets Nation didn’t know Hamonic from a harmonica before his yearning for a trade was made public last month. To hear it now, though, it’s as if the New York Islanders’ defenceman invented the stretch pass. Should the Jets covet Hamonic? Absolutely. He’d enhance any National Hockey League outfit. But the Jets aren’t going to get him in barter for Dustin Byfuglien, whose game can shift from spectacular to slovenly in a heartbeat. Unless Isles’ general manager Garth Snow has suddenly morphed into Mike Milbury, Hamonic for Byfuglien will never happen.

Paul Maurice. Sigh. Search as I might to find a legitimate reason why Anthony Peluso is gainfully employed by an NHL outfit, I always arrive at one conclusion: Winnipeg Jets head coach PoMo refuses to budge from the horse-and-buggy notion that there must be a cement-head element in his lineup. So don’t blame Peluso for being a slug. Blame Maurice for keeping him around and, worse, inserting his bare knuckles into the lineup.

I note that Forbes magazine has devalued the Winnipeg Jets franchise from $358 million a year ago to $350M today. I’m not sure what accounts for the dip of $8M, but there’s no truth to the rumor that it has something to do with Evander Kane leaving unpaid parking tickets and unpaid bar tabs behind when he bolted for Buffalo and the Sabres.

Tyson Fury, left, took the heavyweight boxing title from Wladimir Klitschko.
Tyson Fury, left, took the heavyweight boxing title from Wladimir Klitschko.

Someone named Tyson Fury is now champion of most of fist fighting’s heavyweight alphabet. Does anyone care that there exists a new king of the boxing ring, or are followers of fistic mayhem still more concerned about Ronda Rousey’s fat lip and bruised ego?

Until he boxed defending champion Wladimir Klischko’s ears on Saturday night in Germany, winning the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight boxing titles by unanimous decision, little was known about Tyson Fury. We have since discovered that he’s a descendent of Irish gypsies, his dad, John, was a bare-knuckle boxer who just got out of jail for gouging a man’s eye out in a brawl at a car auction, and Tyson is 6-feet-9, 258 lb. of raging, Bible-thumping homophobic bleatings. Once fined for calling two foes “gay lovers,” in a recent interview with the Mail on Sunday in the U.K., Fury delivered rants about devil worship and days end, saying, “There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedephilia.”

Although Tyson Fury holds four heavyweight title belts, it should be pointed out that he does not own the complete boxing alphabet. Deontay Wilder is the WBC champ. You have to go back to the last century to find the man who could call himself the undisputed heavyweight champion—Lennox Lewis.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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.