2016: It was very good year in the toy department

Top o’ the morning to you, 2016.

Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.

Chicago riots, 1968
Chicago riots, 1968

The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.

The black cloud that was 1968 also included…

  • North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
  • The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
  • Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
  • Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
  • American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
  • Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.

All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.

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

But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.

I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.

I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.

And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.

Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.

What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.

So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.

kaepernickOne of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.

You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.

You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.

You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.

Sour Hope Solo
Sour Hope Solo

All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.

Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.

You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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.

Oh, woe is Canada. We just don’t try hard enough, eh.

I’d say them’s fighting words, except the last time we fought the Americans it was a rout and we really don’t want or need to burn down the White House again, do we?

Okay, grasshopper, I believe we need to take a Zen timeout. A mindful moment, if you will. Breathing in, say, “Jason Whitlock is an ass clown.” Breathing out, say, “Don Cherry is an ass clown.”

Breathing in, Jason Whitlock is an ass-clown. Breathing out, Don Cherry is an ass-clown.

There now, grasshopper. Don’t you feel better accepting the reality that there are ass-clowns on both sides of the vast North American divide?

We’ve long known about Cherry, of course, because the Lord of Loud has been sitting in his Hockey Night in Canada bully pulpit for 30-plus years, repeatedly reminding “you kids out there” that there is only one proper way to play shinny, and that’s the chip, chase and toothless “CANADIAN WAY!”

We have heart. We have soul. And they don’t.

Who are “they?” Everybody else. Especially Russians, who, according to a classic Cherry rant, “suck and they always HAVE SUCKED” and they have “ZERO” heart. So there.

As for those other “they” countries, which apparently includes the province of Quebec, their players wear face shields and have all their teeth. You cannot possibly have heart and soul if you’ve arrived at the National Hockey League level with a full set of tusks. So there.

There are, of course, mobs of hosers who sip Grapes’ Kool-Aid (Cherry-flavored, naturally). The Baron of Bombast has them convinced we win hockey matches because we want to win. Players from the “they” countries don’t want to win.

But whoa, Nellie.

Now we have Jason Whitlock telling us it isn’t so. At least not with our basketball players. Our hosers of the hardwood play hoops like the “they” hockey countries play hockey. Without heart. Without soul. With all their teeth.

Andrew Wiggins is from Canada,” Whitlock, an ESPN columnist of substantial rank, says of the Canadian kid chosen first by the Cleveland Cavliers in the recent National Basketball Association draft. “Canadian athletes…perhaps don’t want it as much as some of the Europeans and certainly the American players.

This is what a lot of NBA people believe, that American-born and even some of the European players that come (over to play in the NBA). They have more intensity, more of a hunger for the game. They’re not as laid back. Look, Canada’s a laid-back place, which is probably a positive thing. There’s positive-ness to not taking basketball and being so intense or being so bottom-line driven as we are here in America where it’s work, work, work, work, work and just go-get-go-get and that’s all we respect. But I’m just telling you, this is the conversation with basketball people: Does he have that ‘dog’ in him? Does he want to be the greatest all the time? Does he know how to give that consistent effort all the time? And they think that’s a question that a lot of players from north of the border have to answer.”

I’d say them’s fighting words, except the last time we fought the Americans it was a rout and we really don’t want or need to burn down the White House again, do we?

I mean, what’s to be gained in going off on Jason Whitlock and his sprawling generalization of the Great White North as a nation of slackers? I suppose I could paint all Americans with a brush that colors them loud, rude and obnoxious, but that would make Donald S. Cherry a closet American. Besides, I know an American who is not loud, rude and obnoxious. With any luck, I’ll meet another one before I’m ashes in an urn, eh.

I must confess I’m not offended by the utterances of Jason Whitlock. There might even be a thimble of truth in what he’s saying. We are a laid-back lot, are we not? We don’t rev our engines over any silly, little thing. It has to be an important issue. Like who owns the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme. Or why we have scratch-and-sniff $100 bills that smell like maple syrup.

How can our NBA players be expected to concentrate and want to win with such weighty matters preying on their minds?

Little wonder our Steve Nash only won two NBA most valuable player awards. Surely slacker Steve would have brought home more than two measly MVP trinkets had he not been a laid-back Canadian. Mind you, that’s still one more MVP award than either Kobe Bryant or Shaq ever won. But, hey, who’s counting when you’re slagging an entire nation?

Look, Jason Whitlock is a very good writer but also a blowhard. He has described himself as “fat black man” and he often works race into his print rantings. He once tweeted an extremely crude comment about the size of NBA player Jeremy Lin’s penis, then, in a forced, faux mea culpa, claimed his “immature, sophomore comedic nature” was the product of listening to too many Richard Pryor albums when he was a fat black kid.

Oh, isn’t that so American. Blame the black guy. Perhaps Don Cherry can blame the McKenzie Brothers the next time he says something stupid on HNIC. Coo, roo, coo, coo, coo, coo, coo, coo.

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.