Let’s talk about women’s sports and the media…tough times for Ponytail Puck…pigging out on Big Macs…the Barnum and Bailey Brier…Chevy’s sales pitch to free agents…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I sprung forward this morning and brought some random thoughts along with me…

I think TSN and Sportsnet are trying to fool us into believing they actually give a damn about women’s sports.

Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson and Kim Davis.

I mean, both of our national jock networks have devoted copious air to the distaff portion of the playground in the past week, featuring interviews with movers and shakers like Stacey Allaster, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Cammi Granato and Kendall Coyne Schofield, and they’ve also given us retro peeks at moments of girl glory delivered by Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and others.

It’s been boffo stuff.

And tonight we’ll hear the all-female broadcast crew of Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Christine Simpson work the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hometown Hockey, something that—dare I say?—smacks of gimmickry and likely will have numerous men squirming and pressing the mute button on their remotes.

But here’s my question in the midst of all this rah, rah, rah about ponytail sports: Where are TSN and Sportsnet when it really matters?

You know, like when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was in business. Like during the women’s Under-18 world hockey championship. TSN covering competition like the world shinny tourney or World Cup soccer are no-brainers, but to the best of my recollection Sportsnet broadcast the grand sum of two CWHL games before the operation bolted its doors last spring. I could be wrong. It might have been three. Meanwhile, TSN completely ignored the U18 event.

The National Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, dropped the puck on its playoffs Friday night, but I haven’t heard a whisper about it on either network.

In the small hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I counted 136 news-related videos on the TSN website. The male sports v. female sports scorecard read 133-3 in favor of the dudes, and that included Justin Bieber practicing his shootout skills.

None of that’s surprising, of course, because numerous studies advise us that female jocks receive just two to six per cent of air time on sportscasts in the True North and U.S. The amount of space allotted to female sports in our daily newspapers would be similar. Maybe even less.

So, ya, it’s great that TSN and Sportsnet have been saluting women the past few days, but what’s their excuse for the other 51 weeks of the year?

According to a 2016 report, a study of sports coverage on our national networks (French and English) in 2014 showed that female athletes were featured in just four per cent of 35,000 hours of programming. More than half of that four per cent allotment showed women’s events at the Sochi Olympics and/or women’s tennis. Which means, of course, all other female activity received less than two per cent air time.

Whenever I contemplate the minimalist coverage female sports receives on air and in print, I think of comments from noted jock journos Steve Simmons and Bruce Dowbiggin.

“I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports,” Postmedia’s Simmons told the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2002. He also advocated for the removal of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games in 2010, calling it a “charade.”

Dowbiggin, meanwhile, wrote last year that ponytail sports was “second-tier entertainment” and, in another piece, added, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.”

I’m quite uncertain why Dowbiggin would want to swing a cat and hit a lesbian, or any woman for that matter, but I believe his indelicate and disturbingly crass remark about felines and females was an attempt at cutesy humor. If so, he failed. Miserably.

Point is, those are two loud voices in jock journalism completely dismissing female athletes.

Steve Simmons

Dowbiggin once was an award-winning jock journo and a main player on the national stage, twice winning a Gemini Award for sports reporting and broadcasting. He now cranks out opinion essays for Troy Media and his own Not The Public Broadcaster. Simmons is a high-profile columnist whose scribblings appear in Postmedia rags across the country.

As much as I wish it was otherwise, I’m afraid theirs is the prevailing attitude in our jock media.

It’s worth noting that neither of the Winnipeg dailies has a female in its stable of full-time sports scribes. The Drab Slab allows the talented and very readable Melissa Martin to make guest appearances for the provincial and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the Sun hasn’t had a Jill writing jock stuff since Judy Owen left the building. Judy is one of only four female scribes with whom I worked during 30 years in the rag trade, the others being Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib) and Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun). It’s been more than 50 years since I started at the Trib, and in that time I’ve known just five female sports writers in Good Ol’ Hometown—Judy, Peggy, Rita, Barb Huck and Ashley Prest. I know some women applied the last time the Sun had an opening, but Scott Billeck got the gig.

Billie Jean King

What a truly dreadful time it’s been for Ponytail Puck. First the CWHL ceased operations last spring, then close to 200 of the planet’s best players had a hissy fit and decided to boycott and trash talk the NWHL, and now the world championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tough to grow the game when all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

Speaking of Billie Jean, she’ll be part of the Hometown Hockey telecast tonight on Sportsnet, but we shouldn’t expect any hard-hitting questions from either Ron MacLean or Tara Slone. My guess is MacLean will serve the tennis legend and women’s rights activist nothing but softball questions, while Tara swoons.

Sportsnet won’t be the only network featuring an all-female broadcast crew tonight. Kate Scott, Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko will be the voices for NBCSN’s telecast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks skirmish, and I just hope they realize that criticism is part of the gig because they’ll be hearing it from the yahoos.

The PWHPA—also the talking heads on Sportsnet—would like the five-team NWHL to disappear at the conclusion of its fifth season, so they’ll be disappointed to hear this sound bite from NWHLPA director Anya Packer: “I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six.” If they want to play serious shinny next winter, the PWHPA might want to rethink that boycott thing.

The rapidly spreading coronavirus has a number of sports teams/leagues talking about playing in empty stadiums. In other words, just like a Toronto Argonauts home game.

Chevy

Ya, I think it’s great that the National Hockey League salary cap is going up and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a boatload of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s cash to spend on free agents this summer, but that won’t make it any easier for Chevy to sell Good Ol’ Hometown to high-profile players. River City remains No. 1 on most NHLers’ no-go lists, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I don’t know about you, but every time I see the Nashville Predators play, I have the same thought: “How do these guys beat anybody?”

Does this make sense to anyone other than Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas?
William Nylander: 30-goal seasons—1; salary—$9 million ($8.3 million bonus).
Kyle Connor:         30-goal seasons—3; salary—$7.5 million ($0 bonus).

People poke fun at the Canadian Football League for rewarding failure by giving a single point on a missed field goal. Well, excuse me, but the NHL does that very thing almost nightly with its ridiculous loser point.

Watched Sports Central on Sportsnet on Friday morning and I didn’t hear one word about the Brier. Nada. They managed to squeeze in highlights of Joey Chestnut pigging out on Big Macs, but the Canadian men’s curling championship wasn’t worthy of their attention. Canada’s #1 Sports Network my ass.

There’ve been so many incredible circus shots during this year’s Brier, I expected to see Barnum and Bailey meeting in today’s final.

So I call up the Globe and Mail on Saturday and note that Cathal Kelly is writing about the Brier. I roll my eyes, because Kelly doesn’t know a hog line from Hog Town. Well, surprise, surprise. It’s an excellent, entertaining read. And honest. “Don’t look for curling expertise here,” he writes. “You won’t find any.”

Did Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs look like he was having any fun before being ushered out of the Brier? I swear, the’s more serious than a tax audit, and it isn’t a good look.

WTF? During the first two Brier matches I watched on TSN last weekend, I heard three F-bombs and one goddamn. I heard zero F-bombs and zero goddamns during the entire week of watching the Scotties on TSN. Just saying.

Actually, I’d like to know why male curlers feel a need to go all potty mouth, yet the women don’t. I mean, they’re playing the same game, playing for the same stakes, making the same shots, feeling the same pressure. It would make for an interesting social study.

Big headlines all over the Internet last week about movie guy Spike Lee having a hissy fit and refusing to attend any more New York Knicks games this season. Hmmm. I must have missed the memo that informed us we’re supposed to give a damn what Spike Lee does.

Gotta say, TSN’s man on UFC, Robin Black, is the creepiest guy on sports TV.

Joey Chestnut

The aforementioned Joey Chestnut set some sort of world record for gluttony last week when he scarfed down 32 Big Macs in 38 minutes. We haven’t seen a pigout like that since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence ate the San Francisco 49ers’ lunch in the Super Bowl.

The Winnipeg Jets are in the grip of an intense playoff battle, two Manitoba teams were running hot at the Brier, and what was featured on the sports front of the Winnipeg Sun last Monday morning? Toronto Blue Jays wannabe pitcher Nate Pearson. Good gawd, man, who makes those horrible decisions?

Wilma Rudolph

And, finally, in a salute to International Women’s Day, these are my five fave female athletes of all time: Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navratilova, Tessa Virtue, Nancy Greene and Evonne Goolagong. (Honorable mentions go to to Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Jones.)

Kaitlyn Lawes, John Morris, Canada’s figure skating team and Steve Simmons…which one doesn’t belong in South Korea?

It would be so easy to trash Steve Simmons today. And, lord knows, he deserves a serious paddywhacking. A wedgie, too.

But what’s the point?

The man is a mook. Always has been, always will be. He isn’t going to change. He’ll continue to file dung heaps disguised as sports columns for the Postmedia chain of newspapers, and they’ll continue to be a betrayal of facts and tilted heavily toward the nasty side of any discussion.

His most recent epic would be the ultimate example.

Simmons, based in the Republic of Tranna but given a national platform under the Postmedia banner, has piddled on our mixed doubles curling gold medalists, the delightful Kaitlyn Lawes and the intense John Morris. He paints them as the bearded ladies of the five-ring circus known as the Olympic Winter Games. Strictly a sideshow. And those medals they won? Fool’s gold. Worthless, like a pub without pints.

He also aims his poisonous darts at the seven fancy skaters who struck gold for Canada in the team event at South Korea. Another circus act. Bears riding bicycles. Clowns squeezing into a VW beetle.

It is a disrespectful, hurtful and acrid essay. It is mean in spirit, fraught with glaring inaccuracies, and horse-and-buggy in tone. In other words, totally what you’d expect from an opinionist who believes the loudest voice, not fact or reason, wins any argument.

Simmons writes…

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

Mixed curling, invented in form for these Winter Games, does not belong on the big stage. You know that for this very reason: Most Olympic athletes train their entire lives just to qualify for the Games, let alone wind up on any podium. Yet John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes stood on a podium with gold medals around their neck having practiced once for half an hour in Winnipeg, before dominating the field here. Once.”

(Totally incorrect. Both Lawes and Morris have spent a lifetime prepping for the Olympics. She first slid from the hack at age four, he at age five. Together, they earned their ticket to South Korea and their spot on the top step of the podium by emerging from the Canadian mixed doubles Olympic trials. It was an 18-team, six-day tournament. Lawes and Morris played 13 games before arriving in PyeongChang. By way of comparison, the Canadian men’s patchwork hockey team had just three dress rehearsals prior to the opening faceoff in South Korea.)

The world championships of mixed curling is not played by two curlers. It’s played by four.”

(Totally incorrect. There are two versions of mixed curling—two-curler and four-curler. The two-player world championship (one woman, one man) has been in existence since 2008. The field included 39 countries last year, with the Swiss tandem of Martin Rios and Jenny Perret claiming the title. Lawes and Morris beat those same world champs to earn gold in South Korea. The four-player world championship (two women, two men) has existed since 2015.)

The Canadian gold medal-winning figure skating team: Patrick Chan, Gabrielle Daleman, Kaetlyn Osmond, Meagan Duhamel, Eric Radford, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Mixed curling is not alone in its place as an Olympic sport that should be edited out of this already bloated event. Canada has a gold medal in team figure skating. Do you know anyone who grew up wanting to be a team figure skater? Anyone? Figure skating has been an Olympic sport for 110 years. It is a fabulous, heart-breaking, dramatic event that has produced some of the greatest moments in Olympic history. The battle of the Brians. The drama surrounding Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. The excellence of Katarina Witt. You know what they all have in common? Not one of them owns an Olympic medal for team figure skating, which has been in the last two Games, and for 100 years nobody thought there was any reason to include it in the program. It’s a made-for-TV nonsense sport, proving next to nothing.”

(Actually, it does prove something: It proves that Canada has the finest collection of fancy skaters in the world. But, by all means, let’s keep everything the way it was 100 years ago. Actually, the Winter Olympics didn’t exist 100 years ago. They began, officially, in 1924 at Chamonix, France. Sixteen countries competed in 16 events in five sports—men’s bobsleigh, men’s curling, men’s hockey, men’s speed skating, men’s Nordic skiing, and men’s and ladies’ figure skating. That’s right, it was basically an all-male event. Of the 248 athletes, only 11 were female. Perhaps Simmons would have us all go back to watching silent movies and take away a woman’s right to vote, too.)

(Medals won by Mikael Kingsbury, Alex Gough, Kim Bautin, Max Parrot, Mark McMorris and Ted-Jan Bloemen) are more meaningful than two curlers who barely knew each other taking on the world and a group of figure skaters — most of whom are contenders when it matters — bringing home gold.”

(Totally incorrect. Lawes and Morris have known each other for years.)

(Patrick) Chan told people after the team victory that his gold medal win made up for the disappointments from previous Games. That is hokum.”

(Insulting. Simmons is telling us that Canadian Patrick Chan is a liar.)

“Not all medals, gold or otherwise, are created equal.”

(Totally incorrect. A gold medal is a gold medal is a gold medal.)

If Postmedia wanted to do the right thing, they’d haul Simmons’s big butt back to Canada for his shoddy, shameful work. Immediately. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. But, no, they’ll keep him in South Korea until the bitter end. And, with him, it will be bitter, because he only knows how to write from a position of bitterness.

(Footnote: The quotes above are from Simmons’s original column. Editors at Postmedia thought it would be wise to remove some, but not all, factual errors so Simmons wouldn’t look any dumber than necessary.)