The River City Renegade


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About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

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

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

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Yes, you can play, but you can also expect to hear anti-gay slurs

Superman no more.

The ‘S’ on Kevin Pillar’s chest now stands for Superslur and, although he’s been saying (mostly) the right things since saying the wrong thing, what came down this past week in Atlanta is going to stick to the Toronto Blue Jays centrefielder like scandal to Bill Cosby.

Yes, Pillar is sorry he called Braves hurler Jason Motte a “faggot” for having the bad manners to quick pitch and strike him out. The mea culpa sounded sincere, at least it did once he moved beyond the scripted and standard “This is not who I am” denial and the mind-numbingly illogical and delusional “It’s not a word I ever use. It’s something that is not even part of my vocabulary.”

Kevin Pillar

But an apology, no matter how forthright, won’t make the anti-gay slur go away any more than winning another tournament made the stigma of an insatiable sexual appetite go away for randy Tiger Woods. Let’s face it, Woods is now known as much for his messy marriage and his coven of blonde cocktail waitresses on the side as for his glory on the golf course.

I suppose that isn’t fair, because neither Pillar’s or Woods’s trespass was ground-breaking stuff. Pillar has a potty mouth. Woods screwed around. Many have been there, done that. Yet both are high-profile, professional athletes whom the rabble places on a pedestal, although I sometimes suspect that’s for no reason other than to watch them fall off. Play-for-pay jocks are expected to march to the beat of a more virtuous drum, except that simply isn’t doable. Pillar and Woods are human beings and the human is an inherently flawed species that never fails to fail.

So, as much as Pillar’s mouth could use the kind of soap-scrubbing that mom threatened us kids with whenever we sprinkled our speech with a pinch of four-letter salt, his damnable choice of words is a rude reminder that even Major League Baseball players spit when brushing their teeth. You know, just like the rest of us.

Robbie Rogers

It also speaks to a larger issue, that being openly gay men in the five major North American pro team sports.

Officially there’s one openly gay player, but the active body count is zero. A wonky ankle is keeping defender Robbie Rogers in the repair shop and unavailable to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the entirety of their 2017 Major League Soccer crusade, and any other gays in MLS, MLB, the National Hockey League, National Football League or National Basketball Association remain in hiding.

Is that in part because the word “faggot” remains the go-to slur and the mind-set of the big boys who play little boys’ games? Could be.

I mean, Pillar insists that the gay F-bomb isn’t part of his vocabulary, and perhaps that’s so at the dinner table and in social settings, but video evidence supports the notion that it’s a different matter once he steps into the batter’s box or between the foul lines. Ditto Andrew Shaw who, during a National Hockey League playoff game last spring, labelled a National Hockey League referee a “faggot.”

That’s not the type of guy I am,” Shaw was quick to assure us.

Ryan Getzlaf

Perhaps Shaw and Pillar truly aren’t that “type of guy.” And, hey, maybe Ryan Getzlaf calls all his male friends “cocksuckers,” not just an on-ice official who annoyed him during Game 4 of the Anaheim Ducks-Nashville Predators playoff skirmish.

It was just kind of a comment,” explained Getzlaf.

Apparently, the NHL agrees, because it withdrew $10,000 from his pay envelope but permitted the Ducks captain to play on.

Well, I’ve got news for Getzlaf and the NHL: I can think of no circumstance by which one very angry straight man calling another straight man a “cocksucker” is meant as a compliment. It isn’t “just kind of a comment.” It’s anti-gay.

But that’s the type of culture Getzlaf, Shaw and Pillar work and play in. Men’s professional team sports is misogynistic and homophobic on a ghastly level, and snuggling up to the You Can Play Project has done nothing to temper that distasteful reality. If the NHL’s relationship with You Can Play was anything more than window dressing, Getzlaf would have been given at least one game off to contemplate his wicked words.

What we heard from Getzlaf and Pillar in the past few days, and Shaw last spring, helps explain why Robbie Rogers is the only gay man in major professional team sports who isn’t hiding in a closet.

And it’s a shame he doesn’t have any company on the outside. I mean, come on, man. This is 2017, isn’t it?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About Mike O’Shea still wearing short pants and getting the job done…Rodney Dangerfield…girl power in the NHL…running mates for Donald Trump…Jacob Trouba wanting out…and top-drawer sports writing

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

Mike O'Shea: He's no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Mike O’Shea: He’s no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Well, who saw this coming? Mike O’Shea suddenly looking like the second coming of Mike Riley.

Well, okay, we don’t want to get carried away. Riley coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a pair of Canadian Football League championships. I assume he still has the Grey Cup rings to prove it. O’Shea, on the other hand, has accomplished squat. But, hey, when the good times roll so does hyperbole.

What kind of a roll are the local football heroes on? Let’s just say the fact we’re mentioning O’Shea and Riley in the same sentence—rather than O’Shea and Jeff Reinebold—ought to be your first clue.

Your second clue would be that no one is talking or writing about O’Shea’s short pants anymore.

It wasn’t so long ago, remember, that the Bombers were a Sad Sackian 1-4 outfit and O’Shea was being fitted for a neck-tie party. A funny thing happened on the way to the gallows, though. He changed quarterbacks (or someone did it for him), a whack of starters sustained owies that put them on the shelf, and the guys filling in have done something the prime-timers couldn’t do—win.

So what am I saying? That it’s necessity, not design, that is at the root of the Bombers’ rise to respectability? Yes. And no.

Only those who share the inner sanctum—and, perhaps, a few flies on the wall at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry—know the true story behind the QB switch. To that point, the head coach had displayed either a shocking quarterback blindness or a peculiar infatuation with his do-nothing starter, Drew Willy. Thus it’s my guess that O’Shea was prodded, if not instructed, to take the ball from Willy and hand it to Matt Nichols. His hand was further forced due to the injuries on the offensive line, at receiver and among the defensive dozen.

But here’s where O’Shea got it right: He’s plugged the proper people into the appropriate places (hello, Taylor Loffler). The result: four games, four Ws and a 5-4 record at the halfway juncture of their 2016 crusade.

Now let’s see if he has the smarts to get it right once the original starters are back from sick bay.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn't get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn’t get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bombers are playing the Rodney Dangerfield card. “We feel like we’re not respected,” linebacker Mo Leggett said scant seconds after Friday night’s brawl in Montreal, with the Winnipegs on the favorable end of a 32-18 score against the Alouettes. “We feel like we’re still underrated by everyone, so we’re just going to keep going making plays and we’re going to stay hungry.” This, of course, is a common rallying cry from players on outfits that go from punching bag to pick-of-the-litter seemingly overnight. But whatever works, right?

It occurred to me while watching the Bombers and Alouettes grab grass and growl that the jury remains out on Duron Carter, who received a one-game sentence for bowling over Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Rick Campbell yet has not missed a beat. We still await an arbitrator’s ruling. Good grief. The O.J. Trial didn’t take this long.

John Bowman of the Larks had a legit gripe with officiating when one of the zebras flagged him for roughing late in the fourth quarter and the result very much in the balance. Bombers O-lineman Travis Bond shoved Bowman post-whistle. Bowman shoved back. Bond, a 6-feet-6, 329-lb. behemoth, went all soccer player, abruptly leaning back and his arms flailing as if the victim of a terrorist attack. Out came the hanky. That cost the Als 15 yards. Lip service from Bowman cost him another 10 yards. Brutal. If Bowman’s shove was worth 15 yards, Bond’s embellishment should have been worth 15 yards.

Speaking of embellishment, I’m sorry but Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays doesn’t have to leave his feet to catch a ball quite as often as he does. No doubt he’s among the premier glovesmiths in Major League baseball, but the Jays centrefielder made a play on an Albert Pujols drive the other night that had mustard dripping all over it. Yes, he ran a long way to make the catch, but, no, he didn’t have to launch himself into the Superman routine. It was pure hot-dogging.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

The arrival of Dawn Braid as full-time skating coach with the Arizona Coyotes was met with much ballyhoo, because she’s a she. Except neither Braid nor the Desert Dogs is breaking new ground here. The Toronto Maple Leafs have had former figure skating champion Barbara Underhill on payroll as skating coach since 2012. Previously, she had worked for the Disney Ducks, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lighting. The Hockey News once named her among the 100 most influential people in the game. Figure skating females have, in fact, been coaching in the National Hockey League since the 1970s, when Laura Stamm worked with Bob Nystrom of the New York Islanders. Underhill, Cathy Andrade, Barb Aidelbaum and Braid have followed her lead. Girl power has long been in the NHL…it’s just that a lot of people never noticed until the Braid hire.

Is it too late for Donald Trump to recruit either Hope Solo or Ryan Lochte as a running mate in the U.S. presidential election race? Nobody, other than the Donald, has offended more Americans than the soccer goalie and the swimmer, so I figure one of them is a perfect fit.

Bill Watters, former player agent, former NHL executive, current radio gab-and-gossip guy, says Jacob Trouba wants out of Winnipeg. He offers no insider info to support his theory that the Jets’ young defenceman wishes to fly the coop. He uses only the deductive reasoning of a man who has spent a lifetime in the game at many different levels. You know something? I’m inclined to believe Watters.

My three stars at the Rio Olympics, print division, were Bruce Arthur (Toronto Star), Cam Cole and Ed Willes (Team Postmedia), with an honorable mention to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail for his wrapup piece. Each wrote a column that has stayed with me. More than one, actually. Some other scribes’ work stayed with me as well. Like a batch of bad chili. But we don’t want to go there.

If there’s a top-drawer sports columnist in the True North with better social awareness than Arthur, I haven’t read him or her. His piece from the Olympics on American skeet shooter Kim Rhode and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who, like Rhode, contributed a bronze medal to the U.S. collection, is a prime example. It’s about hijabs, blue hair, the Second Amendment and the beauty of social acceptance. It’s worth a read.

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.