Let’s talk about the silence of live sports…walking in Michael Jordan’s old sneakers…the NHL doesn’t know spit…the “journalism big leagues”…a voice of reason in Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

If live sports returns and no one is there to see it, does it really happen?

I mean, this weekend there was UFC bloodletting in Florida. Footy in Germany. The good, ol’ boys were bending fenders in Darlington, S.C. Ponies were at full giddyup at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Men showing skin played Skins golf at Juno Beach, Fla.

All that without a paying customer in sight. Anywhere.

I didn’t watch any of the live stuff live, but I caught the highlights and there was a creepy weirdness to it all, which is not meant as a commentary on Robin Black’s wacko hair and his odd facial gymnastics during TSN’s UFC post-fights package.

It’s just that sports without an audience and live soundtrack doesn’t work for moi. It’s tinny and hollow, like your cable TV guy forgot to connect a wire or two.

Will we become accustomed to the sounds of silence? I suppose. After all, there’s not much choice. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a cork in the regularly scheduled hoorawing of the rabble, and that won’t change if and when Major League Baseball and other big-league sports are given the okie dokie to proceed next month, or later in the summer.

Besides, it’s not like we’ve never seen sports played in empty ball parks before. But enough about the Toronto Argonauts.

Donald Trump

Sounds like Donald Trump is also a fan of fans. The American president gave his Twitter thumbs a five-minute rest on Sunday, and had a telephone natter with Mike Tirico during NBC’s coverage of Skins golf featuring Dustin Johnson/Rory McIlroy v. Rickie Fowler/Matthew Wolff. Among other topics, he discussed the absence of a gallery. “We want to be back to normal where you have the big crowds and they are practically standing on top of each other and enjoying themselves. The country is ready to start moving forward,” he said. That’s right, Make America Sick Again.

Interesting to see the boys wearing short pants during the Skins match. Just don’t expect it to become commonplace on the PGA Tour. When it comes to breaking from tradition, men’s golf moves about as fast as a sloth in quicksand.

Hey, a pair of Michael Jordan’s old sneakers from 1985 sold at auction for $560,000. Apparently, the running shoes actually cost just $1. The remaining $559,999 went toward a lifetime supply of Odor Eaters.

Once all the beans had been counted, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came out $588,860 on the right side of the ledger on their 2019 operations. You know what $588,860 will buy you these days? That’s right, a pair of Michael Jordan’s smelly, old sneakers.

There’s continued talk that the National Hockey League will reboot its 2019-20 season, perhaps in July with very strict COVID-19 guidelines for player conduct. For example, they’ll no longer be allowed to spit. Ya, that’ll happen when dogs stop peeing on trees.

David Braley

In the department of Telling It Like It Is, I present David Braley: “I really believe if we don’t play this year, there’s a very good chance that we won’t survive,” says the owner of the B.C. Lions. And he meant the entire Canadian Football League, not just his Leos. I don’t think Braley is being alarmist, nor do I believe it’s his sly way of inserting himself into the argument for federal funding to save Rouge Football. But, as I wrote more than two weeks ago, if COVID-19 kills our three-downs game something will rise from the ashes, a structure that will look very much like it did in the 1950s and ’60s.

My, oh my, the things we discover when poring over a newspaper.

For example, not until I read the Drab Slab the other day was I aware that I had spent the largest portion of my 30 years in the newspaper dodge slumming. How so? Well, I had the bad manners to work for two River City dailies not named the Winnipeg Free Press.

The Freep, you see, is “the journalism big leagues,” meaning the Winnipeg Tribune was not, and the Winnipeg Sun is not.

We know this to be so thanks to Mad Mike McIntyre, who chose the occasion of his 25th anniversary in the rag trade to reach around with both hands and deliver himself a hearty pat on the back. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It’s a noteworthy milestone, especially given that much of his time was spent documenting the gritty misdeeds of scofflaws who like to spill blood on the streets.

If only he had confined his essay to self-admiration.

But no.

After mentioning that he had received his baptism at the Sun, working the cops-and-robbers beat for two-plus years, Mad Mike offered this nugget of pure piffle: “I got my call up to the journalism big leagues in the fall of 1997 when the Free Press welcomed me into the fold.”

So there you have it, folks. Broadsheet equals “journalism big leagues.” Tabloid equals…well, Mad Mike doesn’t tell us if the Sun is Triple AAA, Double AA or a sandlot operation. It just ain’t “the journalism big leagues.”

I’ve long held that inordinate levels of pompous assness is part of the Drab Slab’s DNA, but this particular whiff of arrogance cranks it up a notch. It’s ignorant and insulting to the very people at the Sun who were good enough to give a wet-eared Red River CreCom grad his kick start in the rag trade.

I swear, the wonder of the Freep is not that they put out a quality product, it’s how they manage to squeeze all those fat egos into one newsroom.

Nobody’s keeping score at home but, for the record, since Mad Mike defected from the Sun to join the “journalism big leagues” at the Drab Slab, 10 sports scribes from the tabloid have been inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Roll of Honour and only seven from the Freep. He might want to have a rethink on that “big leagues” bunk.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that there have been more women’s hockey games on TV during the two months of the COVID-19 sports shutdown than I saw live during the past decade, Olympic Games excluded. Ponytail Puck never has been a priority for either TSN or Sportsnet, and I say they should be ashamed of themselves for using “dead” games as a convenient filler after ignoring the women when they were “live.”

On the matter of Ponytail Puck, it’s interesting to note that the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has been moving some furniture around, reducing its training bases from eight to five. The Dream Gappers will set up shop in the Republic of Tranna, Calgary, Montreal, Minnesota and New Hampshire, with groups of 25 players in each. Do the math: That’s 125 total. Last year it was 150 (approximately). So it’s addition by subtraction, I guess, although the 25 women who’ll be left out in the cold might not see it that way. Odd bit of business, that.

How ironic that we didn’t hear from PWHPA main squawk box Liz Knox during the restructuring. I mean, when the National Women’s Hockey League announced its expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, Knox was quick to tsk-tsk them for conducting business during the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she pooh-poohed. But apparently it’s okay for the Dream Gappers.

Digit Murphy

If it’s a voice of reason you’d like to hear from in the mess that is Ponytail Puck, try Digit Murphy, president of the Tranna NWHL franchise. In a natter with Roger Lajoie, George Rusic and Rob Wong on Sportsnet 590, she had this to say:

“I really don’t play for either side. I play for the growth of the game mindset. So I’ve reached out to players on the Dream Gap Tour, I’ve talked to them, told them what I’m doing and, again, this isn’t an either/or, it’s an and. The players can do the Dream Gap Tour and we can do an NWHL. It doesn’t have to be exclusive. To think that hockey’s an exclusive game on one side or the other just isn’t in the conversation. It’s how do we include everyone that wants to be a women’s sports fan, a women’s hockey fan, because those are the words you really need.

“We’re in a tiny pond, a very, very small pond in women’s sports and we need to expand it and do whatever we can to grow it and not tear anyone down. Let’s build them up, empower them and let’s all work together toward a bigger goal.”

Digit made similar comments in a chin-wag with Emily Kaplan of ESPN, and it’s refreshing.

And, finally, I’m walking home from the market the other day and felt a sudden need to lighten my load. So, I plunked my weary and over-burdened bones on a bench two blocks from home. I hear a loud voice cry out from the nearest side street. “A woman!” an angry man shouts, glaring in my direction. “You’re just a bitch!” How charming. In another time and another place, I might have been wounded. But now? I just assume the guy reads this sports blog.

Let’s talk about a fresh batch of ruffled feathers…Wheeler’s classy gesture…no-throw Jimmy G…the real NFL MVP…a lesbian at the Super Bowl…Denis the Tennis Menace…Tie Domi and the Dream Gappers…and curlers have day jobs, too

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I had a dream last night that dozens of enormous meteorites hit Earth and the only thing to survive was women’s hockey. Unfortunately, there was no one else left to watch it…

Oh…my…gawd.

The Winnipeg Jets held a players-only, closed-door, navel-gazing session immediately after their 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday in the Toddlin’ Town, and you know what that means, don’t you?

That’s right. Cue the controversy and scandal.

I mean, the last time the Jets blocked entrance to their changing chamber and told news snoops to twiddle their thumbs on the heels of an irksome stumble, we were advised that the National Hockey League club was “rotten to the core” and the dressing room was “fractured.”

Why else would the local lads duck and hide, right?

Thus, galloping gossip ensued and we heard about fist fights in the room, fist fights in the parking lot, one player dating another player’s lady, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien in an alpha dog power struggle, Patrik Laine pouting, jealousy over the amount of money in pay envelopes, and head coach Paul Maurice tossed some petrol on that bonfire of speculation at his season-end squawk with the boys and girls on the beat, mentioning something about “ruffled feathers.”

None of those charges was ever proven in a court of law, or even a kangaroo court, but there was no stuffing that genie back in the bottle. The Jets were “rotten to the core” and a closed-door meeting was the smoking gun.

As if.

Let me tell you something about closed-door meetings in hockey: They’re as commonplace as spitting.

There’s been a handful of them this crusade, and I believe the Tranna Maple Leafs have held two, although defrocked head coach Mike Babcock described the first one as a “family discussion.”

So, hopefully, news snoops at the Drab Slab won’t do the Chicken Little thing this time around and commence to writing fiction. Unless, of course, they can provide ample evidence that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. If so, we’ll be all ears..

Classy gesture by Jets captain Blake Wheeler when, before departing the freeze following Sunday’s skirmish, he congratulated Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks on his 1,000th NHL point. Nice touch.

Jimmy G

A question about the San Francisco 49ers offence: Do they have any receivers? I mean, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tossed what, eight passes in Sunday’s 37-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers? He went more than an hour and a half without flinging the football. I’ve seen guys in straightjackets get more use out of a right arm. I can’t see Jimmy G getting away with that against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, though. Let’s see him try to beat them with one arm tied behind his back.

After watching Patrick Mahomes do his thing in dismantling the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, I can’t imagine anyone in the National Football League is more valuable to his team than the Chiefs QB. Lamar Jackson will get the MVP nod, but it won’t seem right when Mahomes is playing in the large match on Feb. 2 in Miami.

Hey, check it out: One of the 49ers assistant coaches is a woman. And gay. That would be Katie Sowers, who works with the San Fran offence that put 37 points on the board v. the Packers. Imagine that. A lesbian coaching in the Super Bowl. Who’d have thunk?

Early Super Bowl LIV prediction: Kansas City XXXV, San Francisco XVII, JLo/Shakira X out of X stars.

Dennis the Tennis Menace

Something tells me we’ll be seeing more of the spoiled-brat side of Denis (The Tennis Menace) Shapovalov on tour this year. Our guy Shapo is strung tighter than banjo strings, and he was reduced to a racquet-tossing mess in bowing out of the Australian Open on the weekend, losing 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-1, 7-6(3) to Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in the opening round. At one point, Shapo was tsk-tsked by umpire Renaud Lichtenstein for racquet abuse, which produced this growl: “It’s my racquet. I can do whatever the hell I want with it. What are you talking about? It’s a terrible call! Do your job! Do your job! That’s an absolute joke!” It wasn’t quite up to John McEnroe or Serena Williams standards on the rant-o-metre, but Shapo’s young. Give him time.

Tie Domi

The Dream Gappers need to do themselves a favor—tell Tie Domi to shut his pie hole. Pronto.

Domi, you see, awoke one recent morning and, much to his deep disappointment, arrived at the disturbing realization that the world wasn’t paying him enough attention, thus he started talking about women’s hockey.

That would have been acceptable, I suppose, had Domi confined his comments to the family dinner table or a convenient man cave. Alas, he was given voice on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast; the deep-thinkers plotting strategy for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association thought it would be a swell idea to include him in their Closing The Gap function; Tara Slone and Ron MacLean provided him a pulpit on Hometown Hockey; and, finally, he used his Twitter feed to insult anyone who has the bad manners to disagree with the Gospel According to Tie.

“I’m gonna do whatever I can to help these women have a real league, and they deserve it,” Domi informed Slone and MacLean a week ago. “The NHL started with six teams and I think we could start, in good markets, I think we could start with six teams and, uh, that’s my goal, to help them, whatever I can do.”

“Amen,” swooned Slone.

Michael Jordan

Well, let me just say this about that: Ponytail Puck needs Tie Domi about as much as Michael Jordan needs a comb.

Domi was an NHL thug and still acts like one (more on that shortly). He couldn’t cut it in today’s NHL, because players need more in their tool box than two fists and a head full of poured concrete. He wears his 333 career fights—plus one with a spectator—as a badge of honor, and seems to think his history of cement-head hockey and an out-of-nowhere interest in the distaff side of the game qualifies him as a spokesman for Ponytail Puck.

“I’ve watched it three times now,” Domi boasted on Spittin’ Chiclets.

Three women’s games. Wow. That many, eh? I suppose if he watches three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or New Amsterdam he’ll begin to share his knowledge of open-heart surgery with us, too.

Domi adds nothing to the conversation, except a bad attitude and to parrot what others have already said about the absence of a viable women’s pro league: “The NHL and the NHLPA really have to get involved. Fifty per cent of the crowd is girls, or women, so, like, you’re gonna have interest. And what do they have right now? They don’t have anything right now. They don’t have anything ’cause it got taken away from them, so…I’m a true believer it’s gotta be fixed, and that’s on the NHLPA and the NHL to get that right.”

Actually, they do have something right now. It’s called the National Women’s Hockey League. It’s just that Domi and those he pretends to squawk for—the PWHPA and its Dream Gap Tour—would rather trash talk than discuss ways of bridging the great divide in Ponytail Puck.

Consider this Twitter exchange last weekend:

Domi: “If you think that’s the best quality woman’s (sic) hockey has to offer your (sic) 100% wrong! NWHL is hurting woman’s (sic) hockey and the sooner they figure that out the better for the Sport! The time has come!”

Corinne Buie Stan Account: “Can you explain to me, in your own words, how the NWHL is hurting women’s hockey?”

Domi: “Your (sic) dumb.”

(We’ll have to excuse Domi has glaring spelling errors. After all, it must be difficult typing with two clenched fists.)

Anyway, the always-charming Domi went on to insult other NWHL supporters, telling them, “your (sic) dumb” and “your (sic) dummer (sic).”

That from a guy who, on Spittin’ Chiclets, claimed, “What’s most important is when people treat you with respect, you give it back, and I’ve always been that way.”

Sigh.

Once a thug, always a thug, and I’m surprised a number of the Dream Gappers have welcomed his voice to their crusade. Mind you, it wasn’t so long ago when Hilary Knight of the PWHPA was mean-mouthing the NWHL as a “glorified beer league,” so I suppose crapping on the women who just want to play hockey in an actual league is part of their strategy.

And that’s sad.

By way of contrast, consider what the NWHL has to say about members of the PWHPA participating in a 3-on-3 game at next weekend’s NHL all-star shindig: “Congratulations to the outstanding national team players from the U.S. and Canada selected to participate in the Elite Women’s 3-on-3. Every major showcase of women’s hockey is an important moment and a victory for all who care about the sport. This game will have speed, skill and magic, and we can’t wait to see it.” So, one group wants a cat fight, the other wants to keep it classy.

Mostly empty seats in Waterloo.

According to the PWHPA, total attendance was 4,310 for their six Dream Gap Tour scrimmages last weekend in the Republic of Tranna and Vaughan, Ont., which works out to an average of 718. The top head count was 1,151, the lowest 203 (there were actually less than 100 when they dropped the puck). Meanwhile, the Dream Gappers were in Waterloo on Saturday, and let’s just say the empty seats greatly outnumbered the occupied seats. How anyone expects to earn a livable wage at those numbers is a mystery, but I’m sure Tie Domi will be presenting his business plan any day now. And, naturally, he’ll dig into his own pocket and help bankroll the league.

Just as an FYI, here are the average attendance figures for three professional women’s leagues in 2019:
Women’s National Basketball Association: 6,535 (high: L.A. Sparks, 11,307; low N.Y. Liberty, 2,239).
National Women’s Soccer League: 7,337 (high: Portland Thorns, 20,098; low Sky Blue FC, 3,338).
National Women’s Hockey League: 954 (high: Minnesota Whitecaps, 1,200; low Connecticut Whale, 423).
I couldn’t find official head counts for the dearly departed Canadian Women’s Hockey League, but the Toronto Furies averaged about 200 patrons per game pre-Christmas 2018, and it was 500 after Santa’s annual visit.

With so many people anxious to spend the NHL’s money, I find myself wondering what Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman thinks about subsidizing a women’s league. I’d really like to know if the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll is for or against the notion, and I wish someone in mainstream media would ask that very question.

I find it interesting that Billie Jean King has thrown her full support behind the PWHPA, but she says squat in favor of the NWHL, which actually pays its players and has a 50/50 split on merchandise sales. Is the tennis legend and social activist in favor of all female athletes getting ahead, or just the select few that ask her for photo-ops?

Tip of the bonnet to The Hockey News, which doesn’t consider the NWHL to be hockey’s evil empire and continues to cover both sides of the great divide without prejudice.

Family man Kevin Koe

I’m fully on board with one pro women’s league, but I really wish they’d stop talking about what they “deserve,” simply because they’re the best in the world and shouldn’t have to hold down day jobs to put food on the table. Look, Kevin Koe is a world-class curler (perhaps the best), and he holds down a day job as a surface landman with Repsol Canada. “The day somebody says I’m going to quit (her or his day job), I’m going to be a full-time curler because I’m making so much money, well I don’t see it happening,” he told The Morning Cup during the recent Continental Cup event in London, Ont. “I’m not complaining, but I’m not about to quit my job…and I’ve been a pretty good curler over the last decade.” Pretty good? How about four Brier championships and two world titles worth of good? The planet’s top Pebble People spend anywhere from $150,000-$200,000 a year to compete, and they pray they break even. They receive no health benefits. They spend upwards of 200 days on the road, playing from August to May. Koe throws rocks during lunch hour so he can be home with his bride and their two daughters at night. He trains on his own time and on his own dime. The only way curlers get paid is to win, and that’s the only way they can attract sponsors. It’s the same story for 99.9 per cent of them, but I’ve yet to hear any of them talk about what they “deserve” out of life. When they believed they were getting a raw deal, they started their own league and made it work. It’s called the Grand Slam of Curling.

And, finally, some have asked why I’m still writing this blog after I vowed to shut it down. Simple: Doctors orders. I’m supposed to take two Aspirin and write in the morning.

About the Bombers’ binge…Huf huffing and puffing…a menage-a-goaltender…spoiled brats…and media groupies obsessed with a Raptors groupie

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

Many people were surprised to learn that Winnipeg has been ranked among the top seven most intelligent communities in the world. We’re not talking about one of the brightest burgs just in Manitoba, Canada or North America, understand. This is the whole world. The. Entire. Planet.

Ya, well, if there are so many Einsteins in Pegtown, why can’t one of them show the Winnipeg Blue Bombers how to win the Grey Cup?

John Hufnagel
John Hufnagel

I’m not sure what caused more raised eyebrows last week, the Bombers signing seven players scant seconds after the opening bell rang for the Canadian Football League’s annual livestock auction of untethered talent, or John Hufnagel’s reaction to the Big Blue’s free-agent binge. “I’d say that’s a little surprising,” the Calgary Stampeders grand poobah huffed and puffed. “How many years are they going to do it? You answer me that. They didn’t sign any of their guys, and they sign other people’s guys. I prefer to sign my own guys. That’s just me.” One day later, “just me” signed two “other people’s guys,” Bakari Grant and Taylor Reed of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then added a third, James Green, late of the Ottawa RedBlacks. Pot, meet kettle.

You’ll have to excuse me if I hesitate to join the hallelujah chorus in touting the Bombers as new, improved and bound for glory. No doubt general manager Kyle Walters has added some top-end talent in running back Andrew Harris, size-smurf receivers Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith, and place-kicker Justin Medlock, but it’s still about the offensive line, the starting quarterback, Drew Willy, and, perhaps most important, the sideline maestro and film fanatic, head coach Mike O’Shea. Does Walters’ handiwork make O’Shea any smarter today than he was at the close of business in 2015? I think the GM said it best when asked how much better a product he’ll field in the ’16 CFL crusade: “Well, we’ll see.” So color me curious but not convinced.

Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck

Speaking of curious, I viewed the three’s-a-crowd demotion of Connor Hellebuyck to the farm as a bit of a head-scratcher. Not surprising, though, because the Winnipeg Jets have long been goaltender blind. Hellebuyck did enough good things during his time in the blue paint to convince me that he’s a National Hockey League-calibre goaltender and might be the Jets’ starter-in-waiting, so Michael Hutchinson should have been the fall guy and dispatched to the American Hockey League Manitoba Moose once Ondrej Pavelec returned from sick bay. Yes, I realize Hutchinson would have been exposed to the waiver wire were he the odd man out in the Jets’ menage-a-goaltender, but so what. I doubt another outfit would have claimed him. If so, no loss. I just cannot see where he fits into the club’s future.

There can be just one reason for the Winnipeg Free Press to have recruited Scott Campbell to pen a weekly column on the Winnipeg Jets: To provide a (former) player’s insight. His latest offering? Zero insight. I mean, telling us that Michael Hutchinson is having “a disappointing season” is lame. And implying that Andrew Copp has struggled as an NHL rookie because he’s been flanked by “a variety of nondescript players” is a copout (pun intended). From everything I’ve seen, Copp himself is a nondescript player. Gotta do better than that, Scott.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Cam Newton, the losing quarterback in the National Football League championship joust, walks out during a post-game chin-wag with news scavengers and he’s Darth QB. The Carolina Panthers’ main man is roasted and toasted as a sore loser, a spoiled brat and cited as an example of everything that is wrong with today’s pro jocks. Yet, two days later, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville waves his arms in frustration and stomps out of a gab-session with the media and there isn’t a peep of protest. What am I missing here? Why is it unacceptable for an NFL quarterback to behave like a brat, but it’s permissble for an NHL coach?

Raptors groupie Drake
Raptors groupie Drake

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get this groupie-like love affair between scribes in the Republic of Tranna and the rapper Drake. I mean, I’ve read more headlines about Drake in the past few days than Stephen Curry, who, give or take a Lebron James, is the best basketball player on the planet. The National Basketball Association all-star weekend in Toronto has become a testimonial to Drake. There are feature pieces on him in both the Globe and Mail and National Post sports sections. And the headlines: Drake receives coaching tips from Michael Jordan; Drake starstruck by Michael Jordan; How Drake became the king of Toronto; Celebrate Valentine’s Day the Drake way; Drake gets key to the city; Drake to introduce all-stars.There were two pics of Drake on the front page of Toronto Sun website and three more on the sports front. And for what? Because he’s a Toronto Raptors groupie. And the media are groupies of the groupie.

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 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 in 2015.