Let’s talk about the rise of the gay athlete (female division)…the lady ain’t no Ali…thou doth protest…Jackie Robinson and Old Glory…and raising a fist

A hump-day smorgas-bored for the working stiffs…and if you have a voice, use it, but don’t expect everyone to agree with it…

Some people don’t want to read or hear another word about gays. They’ve had their fill.

Their reasons vary, whether it be religious belief, pure bigotry, or some cockeyed notion of a global gay agenda that seeks to brainwash our children in the manner of Adolph Hitler and Soviet communism (hello, Maggie Court). They just want the LGBT(etc.) community to shut the hell up. (And, hey, while they’re shutting the hell up, they can also put the brakes on that once-a-year, half-naked Pride strut nonsense. “Why do gays need a parade? There isn’t a straight parade!”)

Well, it’s hard to shut the hell up when:

NYC subway workers had to scrub the offensive scrawl off Megan Rapinoe posters.

* The very week the U.S. National women’s soccer team wins the World Cup, a vandal defaces New York City subway posters of Megan Rapinoe, simply because she prefers the company of women, specifically Sue Bird.

Can any among us imagine someone desecrating a poster of, oh, let’s say fabulous fancy skater Tessa Virtue because she’s straight? As if.

Yet apparently Rapinoe is fair game for a shaming with scrawl. It would be one thing, I suppose, if she was a meek lesbian who just shut the hell up about it. But that’s not Rapinoe. The American co-captain has to be as loud as her purple hair. She screams at the world. Can’t win without gays, says she. So someone with an axe (to grind) in one hand and a Sharpie pen in the other comes along to scribble “shemale” and “screw this ho” on half a dozen of her posters.

It’s also hard to shut the hell up when:

* Homophobes bookend Pride month by burning rainbow flags outside a NYC gay club.
* Two lesbian actors are struck by stones for kissing on a street in Southampton, England.
* A lesbian couple is mugged by five teens on a North London bus.
* Two gay men are attacked by knife-wielding teens in Liverpool.
* Posters with anti-gay messaging are displayed in downtown Peterborough, Ont.
* A sheriff’s detective in Tennessee delivers a sermon at Scripture Baptist Church calling for the arrest and execution of gays.
* Findings in the Out On The Fields study show that 84 per cent of 9,500 people interviewed have witnessed or experienced homophobia in American sports; 83 per cent of gay males and 63 per cent of lesbians remain completely or partially in the closet in youth sports due to fear of discrimination and/or bullying.
* Every gay in the five major men’s team sports in North America is afraid to come out of the closet.

Dutee Chand

If none of that was happening—or, in the case of out gay male athletes, not happening—the LGBT(etc.) collective likely would shut the hell up about their sexuality.

As it is, damn straight we’re going to bang the drum about the U.S. women winning the World Cup, because five of the Yankee Doodle Damsels, plus coach Jill Ellis, are out lesbians. They’ve become “hometown” heroes who reach across borders.

Ditto Alison van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, the first gay couple to compete together during any Wimbledon fortnight. It didn’t matter that the Belgian women failed to get past the second round in women’s doubles. There was a there there.

Ditto Dutee Chand, India’s fastest woman and an out lesbian who recently skedaddled to the 100-metre gold medal at the World University Games in Naples. Initially scorned by family and friends for her choice of partners, Chand is the first Indian to strike gold in the 100-metres at any global track event.

Marnie McBean

Ditto Marnie McBean, a lesbian installed as Chef de Mission for Canada’s entry at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“On the Canadian team the goal is to make sure everybody is competing in the event that they choose to compete in as their authentic selves,” the former rowing champion told Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star when introduced as the Chef de Mission.

Exactly.

For too long, gay athletes have been looked upon as lesser-thans. That, sadly, remains the default position in men’s team sports. So the boys hide and suffer. But that’s not how the women are wired. Gay female athletes aren’t viewed as a distraction or a drag on their straight teammates’ talents and efforts. They stand beside them, flexing their muscle and flourishing under the most intense spotlights. Right now, the U.S. women’s soccer side is Exhibit A, and the team they beat in the World Cup final, the Netherlands, would be Exhibit B with five open lesbians.

These gay women are being celebrated.

And somewhere there’s a gay kid—girl or boy—who’s reading the good news about these champions rather than dire news about gays being stoned or knifed.

That’s one of the reasons we continue to write and talk about the sexuality of these gay athletes. Even gay kids need role models and reachable skies. As McBean submits, everyone should feel comfortable competing as their authentic selves. Not just on our playing fields, but in life.

Once that day arrives, we’ll be happy to shut the hell up.

A lot of people believe Rapinoe has overstayed her 15 minutes of fame. They’d rather move on to the next flavor of the month. Can’t say that I agree or disagree, but when I read/hear pundits compare the American soccer star to legendary boxer and anti-war activist Muhammad Ali, that’s when I call a timeout. Franklin Foer of The Atlantic would be an e.g. He writes: “Megan Rapinoe is her generation’s Muhammad Ali.” Miguel Delaney of the Independent draws a similar parallel. Well, spare me. Had either man been alive in the 1960s to appreciate the political, cultural and racial climate, their words might carry some heft. But they weren’t so they don’t. A female athlete barking about pay equity and social/racial injustice is admirable, but not in the same ballpark as a man willing to go to jail rather than pick up a gun and kill Vietnamese. Ali was sentenced to prison, stripped of his heavyweight title, stripped of his livelihood for 3 1/2 years, and arguably became the most despised man in America. And Rapinoe? After the ticker-tape parade, she’s worked the TV talk-show circuit non-stop. It’s like comparing Secretariat to Mr. Ed.

Jackie Robinson, 1963.

I’ll say this in Rapinoe’s favor, all those upset by her silent/loud protest during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at international soccer events might be interested in an excerpt from 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.”

That is correct. The great Jackie Robinson, who knew a bit about racial and social injustice and death threats, and a man who served in the U.S. Military, could not bring himself to stand for and sing the Star-Spangled Banner. Couldn’t salute Old Glory, either.

So let’s have no more squawking about Rapinoe being disrespectful simply because she doesn’t place a hand on her chest and stands silent during a singalong.

And, finally, whenever the discussion turns to athletes and activism, I think first of Ali, then Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two medal-winning American sprinters known primarily for their protest against racial/social injustice in the U.S. Smith had just won the 200-metre sprint at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, with Carlos finishing third, and they shocked us with their rigid, heads-bowed, black-fisted, shoeless podium postures. Initially, we didn’t know what to make of it. But the U.S. Olympic Committee did—it banished Smith and Carlos. And like Ali but unlike Rapinoe, there was an after-cost to pay. “I got home and I was hungry. I lost my food. I lost my house. The price was devastating,” Smith says in Tim Layden’s excellent retro look at the incident in Sports Illustrated.

Let’s talk about The Lady & The Trump…unplugging the TSN live mic…bye-bye Bobby Loooo…the Toronto Star and BS…give that Muppet a Cookie…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Lucky strike…CFL boos and booze…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, in a salute to the women’s World Cup, it’s a red card for you and a yellow card for you and a goooooal for all the straight shooters in the past week…

Goooooal! Somehow, the women’s World Cup became a story of The Lady & The Trump last week, and it provided a delightful bit of symbolism, in that Megan Rapinoe has done to Donald Trump what she hopes American voters will do next year—give him the boot.

After being called out by the U.S. president for (apparently) dissing Betsy Ross’ stars-n-stripes needlework, the Team USA co-captain hoofed the only two balls that found the back of the net for the Yankee Doodle Damsels in a 2-1 victory over France on Friday in Paris, sending them forward to a semifinal date with the Lionesses of England.

So there’s your basic difference between Trump and Rapinoe: He puts his foot in his mouth, she let’s her feet do the talking.

Red Card: Donald freaking Trump. What a cad. You’d think that a dustup with Iran, a trade squabble with China, border wall bickering, and a trip to Asia would be enough to occupy the American president’s time, but no. He had to pick a fight with Rapinoe two days before she led her side onto the pitch for the quarterfinal skirmish v. the French. His timing was most peculiar. But, then, Trump is a most peculiar fellow. His Twitter hissy fit stemmed from a months-old clip of Rapinoe saying “I’m not going to the fucking White House” should the Americans win the soccer tournament. Well, why would she want to go? I mean, she has two strikes against her in the Trumpiverse: She’s a she and she’s lesbian. Those aren’t bad things in the real word, but that isn’t where Trump resides.

Goooooal! Rapinoe wasn’t the only U.S. player who refused to back down from the Bully-in-Chief. Ali Krieger, also a lesbian, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her teammate in this tweet: “In regards to the ‘President’s’ tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by @mPinoe & will sit this one out as well. I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.” Love it.

Yellow Card: TSN has announced plans for 18 live mic games during the Canadian Football League season. This was a good gimmick. Once. It soon became extremely irritating, with gusts up to unlistenable last year. Honestly, I’d rather lend an ear to the squawking of Rod Black, Duane Forde and Glen Suitor. Yup, that’s how bad a live mic game is.

Goooooal! Hayley Wickenheiser and Roberto Luongo. Hayley becomes the seventh female player to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I should say so. She wore the Maple Leaf for 23 years, helping Canada collect four Olympic Games gold medals and seven world titles along the way. Bobby Loooooo, meanwhile, also has world and Olympic championships on his resumé, so he’s earned his day of rest after 20 winters of getting in the way of 95-100 m.p.h. pucks for the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks and, of course, his home and native land. He also does boffo work on Twitter.

Red Card: The Toronto Star continues to provide Damien Cox with a soap box for his misguided and illogical spewings. In his latest alphabet fart, served up on Twitter, Cox pooh-poohed two National Hockey League trinkets: “Selkes and Lady Byngs are the biggest bullshit consolation prize awards. They mean squat when it comes to who are the true stars.” Let’s see, the following have won the Selke and/or Lady Byng trophies: Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Ron Francis, Doug Gilmour, Bobby Clarke, Bob Gainey, Johnny Gaudreau, Martin St. Louis, Alexander Mogilny, Joe Sakic, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Kariya, Brett Hull, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Rick Middleton, Butch Goring, Marcel Dionne, Jean Ratelle, Gilbert Perreault, Johnny Bucyk, Alex Delvecchio, Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Dave Keon, Red Kelly. To the best of my knowledge, not one of those “true stars” declined his “bullshit consolation prize.” So someone is definitely full of BS, and in this case it isn’t the NHL.

Goooooal! The New York Yankees paid tribute to the LGBTQ community with a plaque acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising. It was placed in Monument Park next to markers honoring Jackie Robinson and Nelson Mandela. The baseball club, along with Stonewall Inn co-owners Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly, also awarded five $10,000 college scholarships to graduating high school kids, one from each of New York City’s boroughs. Nice.

Goooooal! The Chicago Cubs recruited good, ol’ Cookie Monster from Sesame Street to warble Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field on Thursday. It’s believed that Cookie is the first Muppet to perform the ritual since Don Cherry.

Goooooal! and a Yellow Card: TSN and Sportsnet will combine to broadcast 19 WNBA games this season (that’s the goooooal!), but where were the two networks when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was starving for attention (that’s the yellow card)? Televising a game a week might not have saved the CWHL from the dumpster, but I guess we’ll never know, will we.

Red Card: Sportsnet has punted Doug MacLean from its roster of hockey natterbugs. It doesn’t matter that Mac’s one great flaw was describing everything and everyone in the NHL as “unbelievable!” He and Brian Burke were terrific together on Hockey Central at Noon, especially during the Ask the GM segment on Fridays, and I suppose his dismissal means extra servings of the resident meathead, Nick Kypreos, as well as spare parts like Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanus. Ugh.

Goooooal! Gotta close this segment on a positive note and, once again, I salute TSN’s soccer panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson. Those girls are insightful, instructive, knowledgeable, blunt and playful, and it doesn’t bother me that they discuss cosmetics or hair styles or losing an earring on occasion. Why would that bother anyone? (Having said that, host Kate Beirness needs to turn down the volume. Not everything is worth shouting about.)

Connie Laliberte, Janet Arnott, Cathy Gauthier and Cathy O back in the day.

Such sad news that Janet Arnott has passed away. We’re talking curling royalty, kids. Janet was a seven-time provincial champion (five as lead for her sister, Connie Laliberte, and one each with Jennifer Jones and Cathy O), a world champion, and she coached the Jones team during its gold-medal journey at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Whenever there’s a discussion about legendary Pebble People from Manitoba, the name Janet Arnott has to be part of the conversation. More important, by all accounts she was a lovely person.

Speaking of legends, and lovely people, a word to the wise: Do not, under any circumstances, ask Winnipeg Blue Bombers play-by-play dude Knuckles Irving about provincial health care. Just don’t.

Lucky Whitehead

Lucky Whitehead showed some serious lickety-split and catch-me-if-you-can escapability in the Bombers 28-21 W over the E-Town Eskimos on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and I think we can all agree that Winnipeg FC might have found the big-play dude it lacked in recent seasons. I’m not sure what impressed me the most, though. His two touchdowns or Lucky’s long red locks. The guy has to have the best hair in the CFL. Or any league for that matter.

Richie Hall

The Bombers were out-numbered by a wide margin v. the Eskimos. They were out-run, out-passed, out-kicked, out-possessioned, out-turnovered and out-sacked. But not outscored. And that’s the question I asked back in February, right after GM Kyle Walters convinced Willie Jefferson that he’d look better in blue-and-gold than green-and-white: Who’s going to score on the Bombers? Ya, I realize they allowed E-Town quarterback Trevor Harris to move the Eskimos up and down the field like a halftime marching band, but guess what? The band didn’t score any touchdowns and neither did Harris and Co. You won’t be beaten too often when limiting the opposition to three-pointers, and Richie Hall’s defensive dozen has surrendered 10 field goals against just one touchdown in two matches. Works for me.

Matt Nichols

The Bombers are 2-nada on the season, one of three unbeaten sides, yet the wolves are at the door. QB Matt Nichols? Meh. The defence? Flimsy. The coaching? A notch below meh. Tough crowd. My favorite commentary is this: There’s “room for improvement.” Well, duh. That isn’t exactly penetrating analysis. It’s like telling a bald man there’s room for hair on his head. He knows already.

CFL outfits are struggling to find new customers, and it appears they’re trying to ply them with liquor. To date, the Tranna Argonauts and Bombers have sold suds on the cheap in a bid to put people in the pews, and the Eskimos plan to do the same next month. So those won’t be boos you hear, it’ll be booze. (I’m giving myself a red card for that groaner.)

Did Rod Black really call Hamilton Tabbies quarterback Jeremiah Masoli “the Great 8” on Friday night? Yes. He did. C’mon, Blackie. There’s only one Great 8 and he doesn’t throw footballs in the Hammer. A yellow card for you!

Kirk Penton

Really enjoying Kirk Penton’s scribblings in The Athletic, notably the raw content provided by anonymous CFL coaches and managers. Two samples from Kirk’s most recent offering:

* “When Saskatchewan signed Solomon Elimimian, that GM in BC (Ed Hervey) threw him under the bus. No need to disrespect a player who’s been wearing your colours. Maybe he’s done. Maybe he isn’t. He isn’t playing yet for the Riders, so it’s hard to say. But the tape tells us B.C. doesn’t have a middle linebacker to replace him. They’re not very good on defence as a football team. Not close to what (DeVone) Claybrooks had in Calgary. As coaches, you can’t ask us to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

* “I didn’t like how Montreal handled their business, firing (Mike) Sherman before he coached a game. Nothing against Khari (Jones), but I hope Hamilton sticks a boot so far up their asses that a mickey won’t ease their pain.”

Tip of the bonnet to good Canadian boy Russell Martin. The former Tranna Blue Jays catcher took the mound the other night for the Los Angeles Dodgers and retired the Arizona Diamondbacks in order. It’s the second 1-2-3 inning of his career, which is no doubt a record for a position pitcher.

And, finally, oddest headline of the week was served up by Global News, and it had nothing to do with sports: “Cities get hotter during heat waves.” Who knew?

About Paul Romanuk’s Where’s Wheeler? gaffe…Brooke Henderson, national treasure…Les Lazaruk’s a beauty guy…Bob Cole is silenced…take me out to the brawl game…god and golf…on bended knee and beating women…he’s sorry but not really…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…

Okay, Paul Romanuk had himself a serious “D’oh!” moment on Friday morning when, in a media scrum, he called out to Blake Wheeler by shouting, “Mark! Mark!”

Paul Romanuk

Major blunder. It shouldn’t happen because, as Paul Wiecek correctly points out in his Winnipeg Free Press column that exposed the incident, Romanuk’s one job is to “tell the players apart.” He’s a play-by-play guy, for cripes sake. He has the call for Wheeler’s Winnipeg Jets in their Stanley Cup skirmish with the Minnesota Wild on Sportsnet.

So, ya, he ought to know. I mean, this isn’t a Where’s Waldo? kind of thing. Wheeler is easily recognized: He’s the guy with a ‘C’ on his Jets jersey and scowl on his face.

But here’s my question for you, dear readers: Did Wiecek cross an ethical line?

That is, should he have used his platform to embarrass the veteran broadcaster in a front page piece guaranteed to attract the attention of the rabble, if not incite them? Isn’t there some sort of unspoken honor-among-thieves code with the sports media?

Apparently not.

Personally, I have no problem with jock journos calling each other out. I’d prefer they do it more often. But where I think Wiecek went wrong, was in using the Romanuk affair as (shocking and damning) anecdotal evidence to prop up his ongoing case that no one east of Falcon Lake and west of Elkhorn gives a damn about Winnipeg and its Jets. Not only does the rest of the country not give a damn, Wiecek submits, they don’t even know who they don’t give a damn about.

“And so it still goes for a team that had the second-best record in the NHL this season, but apparently still needs to pin ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ stickers on its players,” Wiecek writes.

Romanuk’s astonishing gaffe would be the smoking gun in that argument.

Blake Wheeler

But I believe it’s at this point that I’m obliged to point out that, hey, brain farts happen. Wiecek, for example, once referenced the 1991 and 2006 Grey Cup games in Winnipeg, scribbling, “both of those games were played at the downtown stadium.” Oops. Totally wrong. The closest thing River City has had to a downtown football facility, Osborne Stadium, lost an argument to a wrecking ball in 1956. But somehow Wiecek had two Grey Cup matches being contested there, 35 and 50 years after the walls came tumbling down. So there’s that. Last year, meanwhile, he described Wally Buono as a “former” coach, even as Buono stood on the sideline coaching the B.C. Lions. So there’s also that.

None of that excuses Romanuk, but there’s something to be said about pots calling kettles black.

I’ll tell you something else Wiecek and his newly expressed “we” and “us” homerism is wrong about—the Jets and national attention. When I hopped on the Internet surfboard at 2:30 Saturday morning (yes, I’m mobile at that hour), here’s what I discovered on various websites:

Globe and Mail—two Jets stories at the top of the page.
National Post—four Jets-related stories at the top of the page.
Sportsnet—three Jets stories and two videos at the top of the page.
TSN—top of the page story and five of the top six videos.
Toronto Star—one of the five stories at the top of the page.

It was much the same after Game 1 of the Jets-Wild series and, frankly, some might think of that as Jets overkill. But not Wiecek and the Freep. It isn’t enough to satisfy them.

“The rest of the country is still struggling to pay attention to a team—and a city, for that matter—they’ve grown accustomed to ignoring for so long,” he writes.

Oh, pu-leeze. What Wiecek and the Freep are serving up is Fake News 101.

Sorry, but I simply do not understand this desperate, irrational need for the love of outriders. Somehow I thought Winnipeg was comfortable in its own skin since the National Hockey League returned in 2011. It was running with the big dogs again. So, when did River City require the “rest of the country’s” acknowledgement, approval and endorsement? For anything. And what exactly do Wiecek and the Freep expect from “the rest of the country?” A parade? Pep rallies from Tofino to St. John’s? A gold star like the teacher gives to the kid who wins a Grade Three spelling bee?

Look, the story that Pegtown and les Jets are authoring in their Stanley Cup crusade isn’t some zen koan about a tree falling in the forest. It’s happening. In real time. It’s loud enough that anyone with a pair of ears can hear. And the national media are reporting it. In depth.

Using Paul Romanuk’s misstep to suggest there’s nationwide snubbery at play is not only inaccurate and misguided, it’s dishonest and stupid.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson is a national treasure. There’s no other way to put it. Just 20, she has six victories (including a major) on the Ladies Pofessional Golf Association Tour, her latest success a wire-to-wire romp in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. She has won in four consecutive seasons. Did I mention she’s only 20? If one of our male golfers had won six times in four seasons before the age of 21, surely there’d be a statue. And Brooke’s always struck me as a delightful, young person, a notion supported by her post-event remarks in Hawaii. “It’s extremely sad, a terrible tragedy what happened up there,” said Henderson, dedicating her victory to victims and survivors of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident. “I know it kind of affected my whole country. Everybody really took it kind of personal. For all the survivors that are still fighting through it all and the ones who have passed away, I want to show them that we’re here for them and we’re supporting them. They’re always going to be in our thoughts and prayers.” Beautiful kid, our Brooke, who, I hasten to add, is the same age as some of the kids on that bus.

Ronnie Lazaruk

On the subject of beauties, a major tip of the bonnet to old friend Les Lazaruk. Ronnie has come up with a boffo idea to honor Tyler Bieber, the Humboldt play-by-play voice who was among the Fallen 16 on the team bus involved in the fatal crash nine days ago. Now the mouthpiece of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Ronnie has volunteered to sit in the play-by-play seat for one game during the Broncos 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, as a tribute to Bieber. No fee. No expenses. He’s suggested other broadcasters do the same, and look who’s on board with the idea—Chris Cuthbert, Gord Miller, Dave Randorf, Kelly Moore, Rob Faulds, Brian Munz, Jamie Campbell, Roger Millions, Darren Pang and Peter Young, among many other notable voices. It truly is a beautiful thing that Ronnie is doing. No surprise, though. He’s one of the genuinely good guys in the biz. (If you wondering, those of us who worked at the Winnipeg Tribune call him Ronnie because back in the day he had a head of hair just like Ronald McDonald’s.)

Bob Cole

On the matter of hockey broadcasters, you might have noticed that the voice of Bob Cole has been silent during this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. NHL rights holder in Canada, Rogers, has shut down the 84-year-old. “The decision sure wasn’t mutual,” Cole tells Michael Traikos of Postmedia. “It was right out of the blue. Rogers decided to go with other teams and I have to live with that. But it was their decision—not mine.” Oh, baby! No question Cole has lost a step, but his ouster is sad, nonetheless.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet refers to the Ted Lindsay Award as the “NHLPA vote for MVP.” Not true. The Lindsay trinket goes to the NHL’s “most outstanding player,” as determined by members of the players’ association. If the media can’t get these things right, why are they allowed to vote for seven award winners?

Last Wednesday night in sports: NHL teams toss everything but hand grenades at each other as the Stanley Cup tournament begins. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 0. Major League Baseball teams throw baseballs at each other. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 3. Yet hockey still gets a bad rap for being a goon sport. Go figure.

Yogi Berra-ism of the week comes from Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs, suspended three games for his predatory hit on Boston Bruins Tommy Wingels: “I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him when he was down like that, I just felt like he, uh, I was already committed to the hit.”

Tweet of the week comes from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, following a media exchange with Jets head coach Paul Maurice:

Media: “If Jack Roslovic was the Beatles and (Mathieu) Perreault was the Rolling Stones, what song would you be humming this morning?”

Maurice: “It’s all Led Zeppelin. It usually is.”

Masters champion Patrick Reed on fighting off challenges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler at Augusta last Sunday: “It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it.'” Question: If God was at Augusta National watching golf last Sunday and helping Reed win an ugly green jacket, who was watching over my church?

Colin Kaepernick

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Seattle Seahawks cancel a workout for outcast quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he might take a knee during the national anthem, yet Reuben Foster is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers after punching his girlfriend eight to 10 times, dragging her by the hair and rupturing her eardrum. Foster is charged with felony domestic violence, inflicting great bodily injury, forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime, and possession of an assault rifle. He faces up to 11 years in the brig. But, unlike Kaepernick, he’s good to go. So that’s your NFL: Take a knee, go home; beat the hell out of a woman, play on. And they wonder why people aren’t watching anymore.

Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, so it’s worth noting that there were only 63 Blacks on opening-day rosters this year. That’s 8.4 per cent of all players. And for pure irony, consider this: The Kansas City Royals were one of two teams sans a Black player—K.C. is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Mark McGwire tells The Athletic that he could have swatted 70 home runs in the 1998 MLB season without the benefit of steroids. “Yes. Definitely,” the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger says. Right, Mark, and Rosie Ruiz would have finished the 1980 New York Marathon without riding a subway for 26 of the 26.2 miles. And she would have won the 1980 Boston Marathon if she had run all 26.2 miles, not just .2 miles.

Marc Savard, right, on the set with Daren Millard and John Shannon.

When is a mea culpa not an apology? When Steve Simmons delivers it. The Postmedia Tranna columnist last week expressed a callous disregard for Marc Savard’s mental health issues, slamming the freshly minted Sportsnet commentator for failing to make time for media while dealing with post-concussion symptoms. And now? “What I wrote about Savard had nothing to do with concussions or his personal battles. But what I wrote about him was improperly worded and far too harsh. For that, I apologize. For not welcoming new media members who have treated the industry disrespectfully, I don’t apologize.”

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons: “I’ll never understand the NHL. Playoff series starts tomorrow. Patrice Bergeron not available for 50 or so media members, many of whom just flew into Boston this morning.” The poor dear. Marc Savard wouldn’t take his phone calls and now Bergeron of the Bruins is unavailable. Oh, the humanity.

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.

Colin Kaepernick is no Ali, but he has people listening to what he’s saying

Let’s not get silly and compare what Colin Kaepernick is doing to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to heed Uncle Sam’s call to arms.

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem.
Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem.

Yes, Kaepernick has taken a stand by sitting/kneeling during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at National Football League games, but when the San Francisco 49ers commence their 2016 crusade he’ll be the backup quarterback. His protest against police brutality and the oppression of black people/people of color hasn’t cost him his livelihood. His bank account is no less ample. He’s in no danger of being arrested, cuffed, hauled into court and sentenced to five years in prison.

Ali was dealt every bit of that hand. And more. Including death threats. Yet he was all-in. He had “no quarrel with them Viet Cong” so he wasn’t going to drop bombs on, or shoot bullets at, innocent brown people come hell or hoosegow.

By way of comparison, Kaepernick’s posture has, at worst, earned him enemies who see him not as a caped crusader for colored people but, rather, as an anti-anthem, anti-military and an anti-America ingrate who ought to just play football and zip his lips unless he plans to pledge allegiance to a country that he believes has come undone.

But when did doing and saying nothing become acceptable?

Maybe Rosa Parks should have given her seat to that white man and moved to the back of the bus where the black folk belonged to save herself from finger printing and time in jail.

Maybe Martin Luther King Jr. should have stayed home to mow the lawn instead of marching through the southern United States and spending time behind bars.

Maybe Gandhi should have just bought government salt rather than walk more than 200 miles to collect his own and spare himself yet another stretch in jail.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos, right, at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

Maybe Tommie Smith and John Carlos should have played nice by putting on their shoes, unclenching their hands and smiling for the cameras at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.

Maybe Jesse Owens should have skipped out on the 1936 Olympics and let Hitler have his way.

Maybe Harvey Milk should have stayed in the closet.

Maybe students at Kent State should have gone to class instead of carrying signs, marching and shouting.

Maybe all those young people shouldn’t have taken sledge hammers to the Berlin Wall.

Maybe Marlon Brando should have accepted his Oscar as best actor for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather rather than send an Apache woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, to deliver a speech about the misrepresentation of Native Americans in film and on TV, at the same time drawing attention to Wounded Knee.

Maybe John and Yoko shouldn’t have acted like a couple of layabouts and gotten out of bed.

Maybe Johnny Cash should have worn more colorful clothing.

Maybe Nellie McClung should have stayed home to cook and clean for her hubby and their five children rather than make so much noise about women voting and being “persons.”

Maybe the drag queens, transgender individuals, cross-dressers, butch lesbians and gay men at the Stonewall Inn should have simply tucked their feathered boas between their legs and peacefully piled into paddy wagons rather than kick up a fuss.

Maybe all those draft dodgers who sought refuge in Canada should have been turned back at the border.

Maybe punter Chris Kluwe should have kept silent and not exposed homophobia among the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey
Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

Maybe Branch Rickey should have hired Jack Roosevelt Robinson to shine his shoes rather than sign him to a Brooklyn Dodgers contract that made him the first black man to play Major League Baseball.

Maybe what Colin Kaepernick is doing won’t amount to anything. He’s no Ali. He’s no Jackie Robinson (who, by the way, would not salute the flag or stand for the anthem toward the end of his life). He’s no Rosa Parks. He’s no Gandhi. He’s just a backup quarterback clinging to a high-paying job that grants him a lifestyle of privilege.

But, he’s got people talking. And thinking. He sees something that he believes isn’t right. He’s trying to fix it, as are other athletes who have begun to parrot him. How can that be wrong?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.

 

Muhammad Ali: Kicking the ‘shit’ out of Sonny Liston and getting a kick out of life

I don’t pretend to have known Muhammad Ali, even though I am like many folks of my vintage who like to think we knew him.

Ali arrived in my consciousness early in the 1960s, when he began shooting off at the mouth (a la flamboyant grappler Gorgeous George) and wrested the world heavyweight boxing championship from the dreaded, mob-linked thug Sonny Liston. He was called Cassius Clay then, and I recall listening to the first of his two fights with Liston on the radio.

The grownup men had gathered in our kitchen, the non-interested women sat in the living room.

“Come on, Clay!” I yelped with the enthusiasm of any 13-year-old sprig. “Kick the shit out of him!”

This was the one and only time in my youth that I used profanity in the presence of grownups and, although there was mild tittering at the kitchen table, I was scolded, yet spared the harrowing punishment of my mother shoving a bar of soap in my mouth and giving it a good scrubbing. Perhaps it helped that Clay did, in fact, kick the “shit” out of Liston.

Whatever, little could I have imagined that, not quite 18 years after that Feb. 25, 1964, incident I would meet the great man.

***

ali6It was early December, 1981, and I stood within heckling distance of Greg Page, a growing concern among the world’s preeminent heavyweight fist-fighters.

Page was moving briskly to and fro in a makeshift ring, bobbing and weaving and flicking left jabs and right crosses into the thick air of anticipation that accompanied all big bouts back when boxing still was big. In a few days, the product of Louisville, Ky., would be throwing down against Scott Ledoux, a Minnesota miner’s son and a plodding palooka best known for his mental toughness and inadvertently knocking the toupee from the head of bombastic broadcaster Howard Cosell. This was Page’s final prep as part of the undercard to the Drama in Bahama and its main event, Muhammad Ali vs. Trevor Berbick.

As I watched Page punch at shadows while all manner of misfits consorted with seedy, nefarious-looking leeches on the periphery, I felt a presence to my left flank. It was heavy. Imposing. I turned, ever so slightly. The man standing beside me was dressed in black. Shoes. Trousers. Untucked shirt hanging over a substantial girth. All black. I looked up. Way up.

Muhammad Ali was listed at 6-feet-3 and he would weigh in at 236 and change for his bout with Berbick, but he seemed so much taller. His crop of short, curly hair surely seemed at least seven feet above the soles of his shoes.

“Hi Muhammad,” I said. “How’s it going today?”

“The kid,” he said, nodding in Page’s direction, “thinks he’s as pretty as me. But he ain’t. Ain’t nobody as pretty as me.”

When I met Ali during the run-up to his Dec. 11, 1981, bout with Berbick, he wasn’t pretty anymore. His belly was layered with flab and he shuffled along. Parkinson’s syndrome had begun its assault, although we didn’t know it at the time. We just thought he was punch drunk, which is why no athletic commission in the United States was willing to grant him a license to fight again. He was forced to take his act to Nassau, Bahamas, where he and Berbick pitched duel on a parched patch of earth known as the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre.

The entire production was patchwork. The ring was set up on a pasture disguised as a sandlot baseball infield, at second base. Nobody thought to bring an official timer, so a stopwatch was used. Nobody thought to bring a ringside bell, so a cowbell was located. There were only two sets of gloves for a dozen fighters. All but Ali, Berbick and Thomas Hearns were required to squeeze together in one tiny, cramped changing room, like so many cattle in a pen.

ali1Only a month shy of his 40th birthday, by the time Berbick was done boxing his ears, Ali looked to be on the far side of his 60th birthday. It was to be the last of his 61 professional fist-fights, the final two of them humbling losses at the fists of Larry Holmes and Berbick.

All considered, it was an inglorious way for the most glorious of gladiators to bid farewell to a sport that for the best part of two decades had ridden the coattails of his boxing skills, charm, charisma and social awareness.

Still, I often cite covering that event for the Toronto Sun as the signature assignment of my 30 years in jock journalism.

In the few hours since his death on Friday, there has been an outpouring of admiration and affection for Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. (his “slave name,” as he called it). Many have said he was larger than life, but we know that isn’t so. No one is larger than life. But Ali’s life was larger than most. From the moment he whupped Liston, his life was large.

His joining the Nation of Islam, changing his name and refusing induction into the U.S. military amplified it.

It has also been submitted that Ali was the first athlete whose impact transcended sports. Again, no. Jack Roosevelt Robinson beat him to that punch when, in 1947, he became the first black man to perform in a Major League Baseball game. The difference was that Robinson was advised to zip his lips. To play the part of the humble worker. Ali, on the other hand, never shut up.

Much of what the three-time heavyweight champion had to say was silly, spoofish stuff. He would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” He’d recite hokey poems predicting the outcome of his fights, and the round in which his foe would fall. That part of his shtick entertained and amused the masses. He was a man-child, walking through life with a wink and a nod.

Yet for every chuckle there was a harsh criticism. And flat-out hatred.

ali4Many, like myself, saw him as a hero for saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong” and refusing to be shipped off to a senseless battle on the other side of the world. But his anti-Vietnam War stance rankled and raised the ire of millions of Americans. Even the aforementioned Jackie Robinson turned on him.

Ali didn’t care, though. He was willing to forfeit his lucrative boxing career and, indeed, go to jail, but he was not willing to compromise his beliefs and go to Vietnam.

Each of us is a song of life, and I’ll always remember Muhammad Ali as a song of joy and freedom.

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” he once told the braying jackals who would condemn him. “I’m free to be what I want.”

Words to live by.

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.