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.

Alexander Burmistrov: Is born-again Burmi the Winnipeg Jets new Fro Lite or Kane Lite?

Quiz yourself this, kids: Would you trade Michael Frolik for Alexander Burmistrov? Even up?

Didn’t think so.

That, however, is essentially what Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff did last week. For reasons yet to be clearly defined, the man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets was unable to convince his most useful forward to remain in River City, thus Frolik shall continue his Jack-of-all-trades career while wearing Calgary Flames adornments.

To compensate for the Fro defection, the Grand Master prepared the fatted calf and welcomed home the prodigal player, Burmistrov, who, when last seen prior to resurfacing at the National Hockey League club’s development camp this past weekend, was acting every bit the petulant, pouting punk and skulking off to Mother Russia.

So that’s your exchange: Frolik out, Burmistrov in.

I have heard it suggested that Burmistrov is Frolik Lite, in that he delivers all those special niceties that the Czech forward provided. He just doesn’t do them as well. I believe that to be an accurate assessment.

But, is Burmistrov actually Fro Lite or is he Kane Lite?

The dearly departed Evander Kane was, of course, a skilled (much of it wasted) player with attitude issues. He played cat-and-mouse with defrocked head coach Claude Noel, challenging his authority on more than one occasion. Although never putting it on public record that he wanted out of Winnipeg, we know he liked Pegtown about as much as Phil Kessel likes media scrums. Eventually, he was shuffled off to Buffalo.

Similarly, Burmistrov and Noel were singing from different sheets in the songbook, thus he skedaddled home for a two-season gig with Ak-Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Now he’s back and what the born-again Burmi brings to the party come October will be among the main storylines as the Winnipegs commence their 2015-16 crusade. If he’s Frolik Lite, it’s all good. If he’s Kane Lite, not so much.

As it is, the former teenage prospect is now a 23-year-old prospect with plenty of upside but a past that fuels skepticism, and the Jets surely harbor a morsel of uncertainty about this migrant young man, otherwise they would have welcomed Burmistrov back to the flock with something more than a two-year contract.

The hope, of course, is that he’s finally got his shite together, meaning he knows head coach Paul Maurice is the boss.

Desperate Hockey Wives: Okay, money aside, we still don’t know the intimate details of Michael Frolik’s defection to the Calgary Flames, thus rumors abound.

One such trickle of gossip suggests his girlfriend, Diana, pulled a Lauren Pronger and forced Frolik to sign anywhere but Winnipeg. The way it is whispered, she developed a considerable distaste for all things River City and, much like Lauren Pronger with hubby Chris and the Edmonton Oilers, she held veto power on where they set up house with daughter Ella.

I have neither heard nor read anything to lend credence to that rumor but, if true, I ask this: So what? Should a wife/girlfriend not have a voice in where she lives?

It seems to me she should have a loud voice.

Sam’s Story a Non-Story? Once upon a time, a lot of football people were strictly Xs, Os and bite-the-head-off-a-live-chicken kind of guys. It would seem that at least one of those dinosaurs still walks among us.

I say that because of a snippet in a Kirk Penton piece last week.

It seems an unidentified Canadian Football League coach or manager pooh-poohs the considerable copy and air time devoted to Michael Sam, whose on-again, off-again career appears to be on again, although it’s expected that the Montreal Alouettes will arrrive in River City for their date with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this Friday sans the only openly gay man to sign a CFL contract.

Michael Sam hasn’t played a down of football north of the border and he has gotten a thousand times more recognition than Randy Chevrier, who won the Tom Pate Award (for oustanding sportsmanship and someone who has made a significant contribution to his team, his community and the CFLPA),” Coach/Manager No Name said. “That’s pathetic. You guys (in the media) should be embarrassed.”

Well, no. Here’s what’s pathetic and here’s who should be embarrassed: A football lifer who doesn’t recognize or appreciate the social significance of Sam’s story.

It should never be just about Xs, Os and quarterback sacks. Sam is man-bites-dog copy. Can an openly gay man not only survive but, indeed, succeed in the macho world that is professional football? Is major professional sports in North America still a homophobic hinterland in a day and age when same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and the U.S.? Will Sam pave the way for more gay athletes to come out? That’s why noted sheets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Mail in the U.K. and so many others track the trials and tribulations of the Alouettes would-be rush end.

But what do those papers know about news? They’re pathetic, right coach?

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 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 to her 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.