Let’s talk about female and gay power at the Super Bowl…sexism in the NBA and Russia…Matt Nichols’ next move…Kobe’s halo…news snoops in a snit…Looch a lamb in the slaughter…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s Super Sunday, but you won’t find anything super here…

At some point today, we’ll see Katie Sowers on our flatscreens and another brick in the wall will come tumbling down.

Katie Sowers

Katie, you see, is female and gay, and females and gays aren’t supposed to be central players in the Super Bowl game, North America’s greatest gulp of sporting over-indulgence. Females, after all, know nothing about football (just ask any male lump sitting on a nearby bar stool or in a man cave) and gays are a distraction (ask Tony Dungy about that).

Except many of us know that simply isn’t true.

If Katie’s been a distraction down there in Miami, it’s only because she’s a she who does know football, and news snoops have sought her out for sound bites and anecdotal tidbits about the challenges of a societal double whammy—being female and a lesbian in an environment that registers 10.0 on the testosterone meter.

Never before has a woman attracted so much attention at the National Football League’s showcase event, at least not since Janet Jackson allowed Justin Timberlake to play peek-a-boo with her right breast. And, on that matter, many lumps on many bar stools no doubt will fix their eyeballs on today’s halftime proceedings, hoping for a re-enactment of Janet J’s wardrobe malfunction, only this time it would be pieces of either JLo’s or Shakira’s skimpy outfits falling off.

But I digress.

Sowers is in Miami this very day as one of the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive strategists attempting to plot ways of confounding and confusing the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive 11 in Super Bowl LIV, and if you don’t care that she’s the first woman and lesbian to coach in the gridiron colossus, I suggest you’re among the 50 per cent of the population that isn’t female and 95 per cent of the population that isn’t gay.

This is huge. For women. For the LGBT collective. And it should be for society.

But we hear the same questions every time a gay athlete wiggles her or his way into the spotlight, don’t we? Like: Does anybody really need to know who’s lying beside them when the lights go out at night? If they want to be treated equal, why do they insist on making themselves out to be special just because they’re gay? Why can’t the gays just shut up about it already?

Well, it’s a big deal because too large a segment of society still makes the choice of bedmates and romantic partners a big deal. Gays can lose jobs because of it. They can be denied jobs because of it. They can be denied service because of it. They can be denied housing because of it. They are bullied and beaten up because of it.

Sowers knows all about that, because her alma mater, Goshen College in Indiana, once rejected her as a volunteer hoops coach simply because she prefers the company of women.

“There were prospective students’ parents that were concerned that if there was a lesbian coach, their daughter might catch the gay or whatever it might be, because people might think it’s contagious,” is how she remembers it.

What’s that you say? That was more than 10 years ago? Well, lend an ear to Steve Sanders, an associate professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

“What happened to Sowers could still happen, depending on the place and jurisdiction,” Sanders told the Indianapolis Star. “Many people are surprised that the legal protections from anti-gay and lesbian discrimination remain so spotty. If you’re gay or lesbian, you can get married one day and, at least in some jurisdictions, be fired from your job the next day.”

Goshen, a Christian school, recently delivered a mea culpa for its shoddy and shameful treatment of Sowers, but that doesn’t excuse the reality that gays continue to be marginalized today.

As do women in sports.

Marcus Morris

Or perhaps you didn’t catch Marcus Morris’ sexist spewings the other night after his New York Knicks had absorbed a good and proper paddywhacking from the Memphis Grizzlies. Morris didn’t appreciate Jae Crowder’s (perceived) theatrics on the Madison Square Garden hardwood, thus he told news snoops that the Memphis forward has “a lot of female tendencies” like “flopping and throwing his head back.”

Oh, yes, females be flopping and head tossing, Marcus.

Lest anyone misinterpret his remarks, Morris then described Crowder as “soft, very woman-like.” None of that was meant to be complimentary. It was meant to shame a foe as a lesser-than. A woman.

So, yes, Katie Sowers’ emergence as a Super Bowl coach is a “big deal.”

No doubt girls and women will see, or hear about, Sowers and ask themselves, “Why not me?” Ditto LGBT youth. It builds belief in self. Isn’t that something we should want for everyone?

It’s not just about generating dreams, though.

Sowers is breaking a barrier, but knocking down a door only matters if it opens up a mind. Maybe, just maybe, her presence will convince the anti-gay constituency and misogynistic lumps on bar stools, in man caves and in men’s pro sports that women and gays aren’t lesser-thans.

I doubt it, but we can always hope.

Adam Silver

It’s never a surprise to hear sexist squawkings from male athletes, but it seems shamefully out of place in the National Basketball Association, which features 11 female assistant coaches, a female assistant general manager, and four female referees. Moreover, 13 Women’s NBA whistleblowers are female, and there are another 25 in the NBA G League. So Morris’ bleatings fly in the face of the NBA’s admirable and industry-leading diversity practices, and I’m sure commish Adam Silver was not amused.

At some point, it must have occurred to Morris that he has a mother, thus he offered a mea culpa which was as laughable as his comments were ill-advised. He claims to have spoken in “the heat of the moment,” except he went off on Crowder a full 15 minutes after the Knicks and Grizzlies had engaged in a game-ending rutting session. “I have the utmost respect for women and everything they mean to us,” he insisted in his apology. “I never intended for any women to feel as though in anyway I’m disrespecting them.” Right. And every time a jock coughs up a gay slur, he claims: “That isn’t who I am. I have gay friends.”

Stephanie Ready of The Bounce had perhaps the most interesting take on the Morris sound bites: “I personally take offence to that,” she told panelists Quentin Richardson and Caron Butler. “I personally am offended by the statement. I also happen to know that women are just inherently tougher than men, that’s the reason why we give birth and you guys don’t.” The boys squirmed and fought off any urge to debate the point.

Rachel Llanes

Sexism is alive and well in Mother Russia, and Emily Kaplan of ESPN provides the evidence in an excellent article on the Kontinental Hockey Leauge-sponsored Women’s Hockey League. “(Rachel) Llanes was one of several women to demonstrate skills at the KHL All Star Game,” she writes, “but she was told she had to get her hair and makeup done before going on the ice. The KHL put out a promotional calendar for the WHL—which featured players posing naked, covered only by plants.” Sounds like a cosmetics marketing campaign for Cover Girl: Faceoffs and Fig Leaves.

Hey, come to think of it, if we ever get a Women’s National Hockey League franchise in the Republic of Tranna, we have the perfect team name—the Toronto Maple Fig Leafs.

Llanes, who plays for the sole Chinese-based outfit in Russia’s WHL, decided that fig leaves aren’t one size fits all and took a pass on becoming a calendar girl. “Part of being over here, you have to accept culture, even though there are some things you don’t agree with,” she told Kaplan. “The calendar, for example, I definitely don’t want to be in that. But it’s just the culture. Some things you can fight, some things you just go with. I’m playing hockey for a living. I don’t need to complain.”

Matt Nichols

You know that old bromide about an athlete can’t lose a job due to injury? Well, fuggedaboutit. Matt Nichols was laid low by a shoulder owie last August, and he’ll never take another snap for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Not ever. I’m not saying the Grey Cup champions were wrong to discard their now-former starting quarterback like a banana peel, but I feel bad for the guy. I mean, no one in the western precinct of the Canadian Football League is looking for an aging, brittle QB. Ditto Montreal, Ottawa and the Hammer in the east. Which leaves only the Tranna Argos. Hmmm. Bombers to the Boatmen. That’s like telling a kid who just won a trip to Disneyland that he’ll be going to the dentist instead.

Kobe Bryant is dead and grown men and women weep while the hosannas continue to pour down on the former Los Angeles Lakers great like wet stuff in a Brazilian rainforest. Fine. But here’s what I don’t get: Why is it considered bad manners for scribes and talking heads to tilt Kobe’s halo by mentioning his rape case in 2003? It happened, it was a huge story, and no retro look at the life and times of Bryant is complete without it. So spare me the gnarly discord.

Gianna and Kobe

Thoughtful piece by Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on media reaction to the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and “seven others” last Sunday. Like Mad Mike, I find it curious that so little attention has been paid to victims three-through-nine—John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. It’s as if their lives didn’t matter.

Having said that, I don’t need Mad Mike telling me that I should “learn all I can” about the “seven others.” It’s enough that I’m saddened that they’re gone, especially the children. I’m not sure what it is about news snoops who feel the need to tell us what we should be thinking and how we should be reacting. I mean, Mad Mike wants us to study up on seven dead people, and a week ago Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed us we “better start” watching women’s hockey. Or what? She’ll show up on our doorstep carrying a court summons? If it’s all the same to them, I’ll choose my own reading material and my own entertainment.

High-Class Snit of the Week: “Alex Steen blew off media post-game, and the team’s PR staff—who said earlier in the day he would for sure speak—wouldn’t make him available, after playing his 1,000th game in his hometown and with all kinds of interview requests. Absolute joke,” Mad Mike tweeted after Saturday night’s skirmish between the St. Loo Blues and Winnipeg Jets at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Not to be outdone, Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun chimed in with this: “Alex Steen, given a nice tribute by the Jets and a nicer one from the fans who stood to recognize his 1000th NHL game tonight, refused to talk to the media after the game. Classless.” I have just three words for that level of media whinging: Boo freaking hoo.

Looch

Watched the Edmonton Oilers take Calgary to the slaughter house on Saturday night, so remind me again why the Flames recruited Milan Lucic. Oh, that’s right. To be the team guard dog. To provide some spine. Yet when all hell broke loose between the bitter rivals twice in four nights, where was the Looch? Playing innocent bystander. Looch spent 27 minutes, 34 seconds on the ice during the latest home-and-home installment in the Battle of Alberta, and here’s what he had to show for it: 0 goals, 1 assist, 0 time in the brig. Cripes, man, Calgary keeper Cam Talbot had a fight and two roughing penalties. Turtle Man Tkachuk chucked knuckles twice. Sean Monahan and Buddy Robinson dropped the mitts. Yet the supposed meanest dude on either side of the fray went all Switzerland. And they’re paying him $5.25 million for that?

Just a thought: It must really rot Don Cherry’s socks that he no longer has his Hockey Night In Canada pulpit to squawk about the kind of hoorawing that we saw from the Oilers and Flames. And, to think, he was silenced because of poppies.

Kasperi Kapanen of the Maple Leafs was scratched from the lineup Saturday night for what was described as “internal accountability.” Just wondering: Is that an upper or lower body injury?

Rafa Nadal

Since the start of the 2017 tennis season, here’s the scoreboard for men’s Grand Slam titles: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic 13, Rest of World 0. The last player not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic to win one of the four majors? Stan Wawrinka, at the 2016 U.S. Open. (Footnote: In the same time frame on the women’s side, there have been 11 different champions, with only Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka winning twice.)

And, finally, I’d really like San Fran to win today’s Super Bowl skirmish because of Katie Sowers. I just don’t think they will.

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.