Let’s talk about white guys telling white guys what to do…what was Nazem Kadri saying about Cassius Clay?…homophobia in the press box…baseball cards in bike spokes…the CFL and the Edsel…ARod and JLo a no-go for the Mets…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m not protesting against anything today, but you might protest my still being here…

Social issues like racism, domestic violence, homophobia, sexism and misogyny tend not to have lengthy shelf lives around the ol’ sports hot stove, at least not with mainstream media.

They’ll use it as a chew toy for a few days—sometimes as long as a week—then abruptly turn their attention back to the scoreboard and more pressing matters, such as the Tranna Jurassics’ bid to repeat as rulers of the hardwood or Tiger Woods’ duck hook.

There’s a reason for the short attention span: They can’t relate.

I mean, the toy departments of Canadian newspapers are diverse like a Chihuahua is an elephant. It is an enterprise consisting of 99 per cent men, all of them white. They’ve never felt the sting of the barbs. Thus, it is head-shakingly laughable and absurd that numerous jock journos, print division, have been lecturing and preaching about proper protest protocol re racial injustice.

Worse, they’ve been scolding the National Hockey League and its players for a stutter-step before Planet Puckhead joined a professional athletes’ “racism is bigger than sports” call-to-action last week.

Some samples:

Ed Willes

Ed Willes, Postmedia Vancouver: “On Thursday, the NHL bowed to pressure from the players and cancelled the two playoff games set for that night. Predictably, it was followed by a self-serving statement in which the league—along with the NHLPA in a joint statement—pledged unwavering support to the fight against racism. But it also came a day late and a dollar short. It was also perfectly in keeping with the league that it sat on the sidelines for 24 hours and let the players take the responsibility when it should have been leading the way.”

Mad Mike McIntyre, Drab Slab: “One thing we were reminded of today: The NHL and the vast majority of its players will care about a cause when it’s convenient to them, their schedule and their bottom line. Otherwise, all bets are off and the games go on. Actions really do speak louder than words.” He later called the NHL players’ retreat from the rink “an overdue step.”

Bruce Arthur

Bruce Arthur, Toronto Star: “Instead of Black Lives Matter, they said We Skate For Black Lives. They said they were fighting against racial injustice and for health care workers, like it was a buffet menu. The NHL is a small white town on the US-Canada border and the same people have been in charge forever.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “Apparently response from most NHL players will be ‘we didn’t know.’ What they don’t know is how clueless that makes them sound.” And: “Hockey players are really demonstrating themselves to be clueless.” And “By playing on, NHL is basically saying racial unrest is someone else’s problem. Undermines all the words said earlier this summer.”

Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton: “Hockey missed its moment to make a major statement and act in solidarity with the basketball players the night before. The way it worked out, however, was better late than never. The puck players got it right in the end and doubled down for effect. The NHL players thus managed to pull themselves up by the skate laces and emerge by making a significant statement after all.”

Steve Simmons

Steve Simmons, Postmedia Toronto (in a string of tweets): “Shouldn’t somebody on the Boston Bruins, who share a building with the Celtics, have taken a knee? Anybody? The NHL players tonight didn’t even take a knee. Sad. If you want to be disappointed, be disappointed in how NHL players responded last night. Later he wrote: “The fact that NHL players chose to play on Wednesday night without any kind of sign of political awareness or togetherness—not a symbol, not a knee taken, not an arm locked—is a condemnation of them, not the league. This didn’t reflect on the league. It reflects on the players.”

Whoooo, boy. That’s a tall can of righteous ranting. Basically, what we have here is a bunch of white men from a very white business telling white men from another very white business what to do about something they’ve never experienced.

What next? They tell Paul McCartney how to write songs? Show Eric Clapton how to play the guitar? Explain method acting to Tom Hanks?

Look, racism ought to be an everybody issue, but it seems to me that the sports scribes should be asking questions, listening and learning, not telling people what to do and how to do it. Nor should they be tsk-tsking anyone, not when their own operation is naked in its whiteness.

Really what does it matter that NHL players were a day late and a dollar short in moving into lockstep with athletes from the National Basketball Association, the Women’s NBA, Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball and tennis players, who walked off the job earlier last week? As venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama has been heard to say, “One is never late to the party if one brings good wine.”

Since I was knee high to Howdy Doody, athletes have been using their voices to pitch products from Gillette razor blades to ravioli in TV commercials, but now they’re using them to hopefully change minds, change habits and change built-in biases. More significant, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. before them, they’re speaking with their feet. That’s boffo stuff, but it’s also a risky bit of business. What happens the next time a cop kills a Black woman or man? Do they walk away again? If so, do the fans they still have give a damn if they ever return?

Nazem Kadri

Not sure what message Nazem Kadri was trying to send when he wore a Cassius Clay hoodie for a show of solidarity re racism by NHL players last week. Muhammad Ali considered Cassius Clay his “slave name,” so I don’t get it. I’ve been waiting for Kadri to enlighten us, but so far no explanation.

Lived experience is, of course, the best of teachers and, yes, I have felt the sting of the barbs. Too many times and to the point of suicide ideation. I have been denied work, denied service, bullied, ridiculed, taunted, stalked and groped. I’ve been made to feel a lesser-than based on gender, and I’ve received physical threats. I once was told that I shouldn’t be allowed to sit at the bar in the very nightclub I cleaned for a living. “This is where the boys sit,” a longtime regular advised me, his voice dripping with contempt. “You should respect that and sit somewhere else.” All that in the past 12 years. Which is the reason I’ve written more than 100 essays on sports/social issues since I began blogging. Awareness leads to conversation and conversation hopefully leads to understanding and change.

Devin Heroux

Devin Heroux, a terrific CBC Sports reporter who happens to be gay, tells us he hears homophobic slurs “with alarming frequency during media scrums and in the press boxes and at sporting venues today.” That’s very disturbing. I mean, experience has taught me that the language on press row can get rather raunchy and salty, but homophobic? Call me naive, but I thought that would be strictly taboo in the year 2020.

Devin’s essay recounting his experiences listening to anti-gay slurs as a closeted gay kid playing sports (“I quit hockey because of it.”) is excellent. It’s the kind of stuff you’ll rarely find in a mainstream newspaper sports section because, again, the jock journos can’t relate. Thus they ignore issues like homophobia, sexism, misogyny and domestic violence until it becomes an inconvenience they can’t avoid.

Hey, for the bargain-basement price of $349, you can have your name engraved on the new base of the Canadian Football League’s biggest bauble, the Grey Cup. Which is sort of like having your name engraved on the hubcap of a 1958 Edsel. I mean, neither the CFL or the Edsel are up and running.

If CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie and the three downs overlords insist on panhandling shamelessly, why not go all in? Hold a nationwide telethon. If folks across the land care about our quirky game—and they surely do on the Prairies—they’ll pony up. If not, I guess it’s garage sales, weekend car washes, bake sales and lemonade stands.

Telethons have worked for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who were near extinction more than once. Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands has an interesting piece on the club’s history of financial challenges, which included a bank account that once showed a balance of exactly 30 cents. It’s worth a read.

So, a Mike Trout rookie bubble gum card has sold at auction for $3.936 million. Scant seconds later, millions of parents across North America grounded their kids indefinitely for putting baseball cards in the spokes of their bike wheels.

Just wondering: Do they still include that rock-hard, sugary bubble gum in a pack of baseball cards? I’m guessing dentists everywhere hope so.

ARod and JLo

Well, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriquez are no longer in the bidding to buy the New York Mets, and that’s really too bad. It would be nice to have another female owner in baseball not named Marge Schott.

Last week I suggested some local news snoops went double-ply Charmin soft on the Winnipeg Jets after their failure to qualify for the NHL Stanley Cup tournament. Basically, they gave the local lads a high-five because they tried really, really hard. Ugh. Therefore, it was with much interest that I read Stu Cowan’s take on the Montreal Canadiens, who, unlike the Jets, actually won a qualifier series and took the Philly Flyers to six games before bowing out. “This year, the Canadiens were a bad team that didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs,” he wrote in the Montreal Gazette. “There aren’t many NHL cities that will celebrate a first-round playoff exit, and Montreal definitely shouldn’t be one of them.” I trust the softies on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown are paying attention.

And, finally, what’s the over-under on the number of positive COVID-19 tests it will take before the U.S. Open tennis tournament is double faulted? And, if they manage to finish what they start this week at Flushing Meadows, will it be a walkover for Serena Williams in the women’s draw, since six of the world’s top eight players have chosen to give the Grand Slam event a pass?

MSM vs. sports bloggers: The Flat Earth Society’s fear of hockey’s fancy numbers is ego-based

Contrary to stereotyping, sports bloggers aren’t a bunch of greaseball, ill-educated, nerd monsters who need a bath and troll from mama’s basement.

“Anyone who believes the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup because the club hierarchy believes in advanced statistics is an idiot.”

Steve Simmons, Sun Media

“It’s one part of the puzzle. You’ve got a big puzzle that’s 100 per cent. Maybe it’s a five-per center or a seven-per center, but a five- or seven-per center, whatever it may be, when you look at how close the league is, it does mean something. When you’re making decisions, it’s a tool.”

Ron Hextall, former Kings assistant general manager and current Philadelphia Flyers GM, on the value of advanced statistics

Ever since I was a kid fresh out of Grade One, when the subject of ciphering was called arithmetic rather than mathematics, I have harbored a disaffection for numbers crunching.

I wasn’t very good at it back then, you see. Actually, I was gawd awful. I failed Grade One arithmetic.

As a consequence, I spent a good portion of my summer vacation on the front porch, staring through a screen at all the other neighborhood children in full frolic on the street, sidewalks or lawns. While they engaged in their playful, pleasurable pursuits such as hop-scotch, skipping rope, roller skating, running through the sprinkler, playing ball or swapping bubble gum cards (yes, that’s what kids did in the mid-1950s), I wrestled mightily with the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems my mother had prepared for me in my scribbler.

I took no comfort in this. Arithmetic was a fearsome foe. An enemy on the level of brussel sprouts and spinach. No less quarrelsome was the notion that, since I was on the inside looking out at my friends in romp, I surely must have been the dumbest kid on the block, a suggestive that has gnawed at my self-worth ever since.

It was a painful time and, upon reflection, it perhaps explains my initial hesitancy to fully embrace the new-wave Corsi, Fenwick, PDO numbers that have been introduced to hockey.

I mention this because of Steve Simmons and his allies in hockey’s Flat Earth Society, a group of arithmophobes and/or neophobes waging war with the propeller heads who have penetrated puckdom with their percentages and probables. It could be that Little Stevie Blunder and the others failed Grade One math, too. Could be that they remain scarred.

So, when they see unfamiliar numbers—or, as Simmons describes them, “strange numbers”—they are threatened. They cannot comprehend. Thus, they circle the wagons and bleat about protecting their beloved game against the marauding blogger-nerds who lay seige with an arsenal of equations, slide rules and spreadsheets.

It doesn’t occur to them that theirs is a crusade without merit. Without hope. They have been Custered.

Almost across the board, National Hockey League outfits have embraced new-age analytics by creating a Department of Propeller Heads (see: Maple Leafs, Toronto; Devils, New Jersey; Oilers, Edmonton; Kings, Los Angeles; Blackhawks, Chicago; etcetera). Yet there is no surrender in the Flat Earth Societites. They won’t stand down until an NHL game sheet no longer looks like an algebra exam they once flunked. So they soldier on, like so many Lt. Hiroo Onadas hiding out in the jungle and conducting a guerilla campaign 29 years after the World War II bullets had stopped flying.

The question many of us ask is this: Why?

simmons statsI mean, Simmons and the Flat Earth Society write/talk like hockey analytics are as much a threat as the ebola crisis. In an age of information they reject information. Go figure. So what, pray tell, lies at the root of their refusal to yield to the large ball of fancy/advanced stats rolling toward them like that big boulder chasing down Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

I believe the answer is contained in one word: Ego.

Simmons has no reservations about self-worth. His ego is as large as he is loud. In any discussion of sports, the Sun Media columnist believes his to be the most intelligent voice in the room. And the sole truth. Lest there be any doubt, he will shout above your side of the debate because he believes he who shouts the loudest wins the argument. He will also take your opinions and “strange numbers” and hurl them “out the window” because you are most certainly an “idiot” or a “weasel” or “you need to learn hockey.”

Many of us recognize that name-calling in a verbal to-and-fro is the refuge of the ill-informed or those who have exhausted all counterpoint, yet Simmons too often positions himself in both areas.

Mainstream sports scribes like Simmons and Damien Cox of Sportsnet reject the notion that someone outside mainstream media (read: bloggers) might know something they don’t know. They believe bloggers to be beneath bottom feeders. After all, the MSM guys went to journalism school. They’ve been sniffing jocks for 20-30 years. They sit in a press box, not in their mama’s basement. And let’s never forget the preferred argument in support of their perceived superiority over the blogger—“We attend practice.”

The MSM scribe’s ego simply cannot accept the reality that someone working out of his, or her, basement can produce copy as good, if not better and more informative, than he who attends practice.

Well, let me tell you what sports scribes do during practice: They quickly take note of who’s playing with whom and who’s hurt. They then engage in an exercise in one-upmanship, whereby each takes a turn telling the others about his adventures covering the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup or the Olympics. That is usually followed by a rousing and animated discussion on which of the Gilligan’s Island girls they’d rather boink, Ginger or Mary Ann.

Trust me. Been there. Listened to it. It was one reason for my tendency to stray from, rather than run with, the pack.

The jock sniffers in MSM must understand that they no longer are where it’s at. Sports bloggers are a significant force with something to say. And, contrary to stereotyping, they aren’t a bunch of greaseball, ill-educated, nerd monsters who need a bath and troll from mama’s basement. One survey found that the majority are college grads and 29 per cent have graduate degrees. Quite frankly, the sole advantage MSM scribes have over bloggers is access and, unfortunately, the majority of them don’t know how to use it or they flat out abuse it (that’s an article for another day).

It’s time to stop arguing whether a hockey puck is flat or round. It’s both. So someone tell Steve Simmons and his pals that they can come in from the jungle. They don’t need to shout anymore.

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.