Let’s talk about no sports for writers to write about…dog sled racing and a vasectomy in the Drab Slab…Cheech and Chintzy won’t show arena workers the money…strange scribblings from The ROT…trashing the Thrashers…the Church of Maggie…and Rachel Homan fires Lisa Weagle

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and great Caesar’s ghost, does anything good ever happen on the Ides of March?

My most-distant recollection of sports dates back to the mid-1950s, either ’55 or ’56, when I sat in the nose-bleed pews of Winnipeg Arena, which was rather spiffy in its newness.

Below on the freeze whirled Billy Mosienko and Eric Nesterenko and Spider Mazur and others adorned in the gold-and-black livery of the Winnipeg Warriors, a freshly minted outfit in a nine-team Western Hockey League that stretched from Good Ol’ Hometown to Victoria and dipped south into Seattle.

I would have been five or six years old at the time, my eyes as wide as the centre-ice faceoff circle, and although I don’t recall the Warriors’ foe—nor the final score or whether I had a hot dog, a box of popcorn or both to go with my Coke—I can report that none of us in attendance gave consideration to “social distancing.” We were scrunched into the barn, somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 of us cheek-to-jowl, each delighted to be eye witnesses to a real, live professional hockey match.

That night represents Ground Zero for me in a lifetime of observing the kid’s games that grown men play for what once was a working-man’s wage but now makes them instant millionaires.

I’m now four months into my 70th spin around the sun and I’ve not known a world without sports since my Winnipeg Arena baptism in ’55 or ’56, even if I have sometimes wondered what a world without sports would be like.

Winnipeg Arena circa 1955.

I played sports. I watched sports. I harbored a voracious appetite for sports reading. Had I spent as much time with my nose stuck in school text books as I did jock journals and the sports section of the daily newspapers, I might have achieved higher loft than a C student. And bringing my report card home might not have been done with such paralyzing dread.

That enchantment with all things jock led to a career in sports journalism, not by design so much as circumstance and a favorable nod from Dame Fortune.

But I divorced myself from sports on a professional level 20-plus years ago, three decades after walking into the fifth-floor toy department at the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time. I’d like to say it was a full, never-look-back split, but that would be a mistruth. There have been numerous freelance gigs. There was a brief and self-aborted return to the rag trade. There have been contributions to various websites. And, of course, every time I’m struck with the notion to shut down this River City Renegade blog, something or someone (e.g. my doctor) reels me back in.

“You have to keep your mind active,” has been his repeated reminder, always accompanied by a caution that a rousing game of bingo does nothing to activate my grey matter.

Thus, I have discovered there is no world without sports.

Until now.

Sports is over. It’s been dark since last Thursday.

They won’t flip the switch back on until intelligent women and men in lab coats and with microscopes and test tubes discover a vaccine to corral the coronavirus, then give health authorities the okie-dokie for athletes and the rabble to return to the playground.

So while the squints stare at germs under glass and sports remains in limbo, will it change my life? A smidgen.

I’ll still make my twice-a-week pilgrimage to my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and the pints Jack the Bartender pours will still be wet and cold. I just won’t be able to sneak a peek at the flatscreen in the corner to see how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Jets or Manitoba’s curlers are getting on, and I’m okay with that.

Frankly, the suspension/pause/cancellation of sports might be my cue to exit. Finally. I mean, I’ve had my innings. Like, more than 50 years worth of innings scribbling about the jocks in Good Ol’ Hometown.

It’s been a trip. A bloody good trip.

Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division. They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was “the right thing to do; life is bigger than sports”—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints have their say, and that will be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side.

You think I’m kidding about the ink-stained wretches running on fumes? Consider this: The sports front in the Drab Slab this very day is a full-page pic of a Chinese badminton player and, inside, you can read all about vasectomies and dog sled racing. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was tweeting about women’s Olympic wrestling on Saturday. He cares as much about women’s grappling, and ponytail sports in general, as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros care about getting caught stealing signs. It’s anything to justify one’s existence, I suppose.

Come to think of it, why were women wrestling in Ottawa when every other sports activity known to man has gone dark (except the UFC, where Dana White insists on showcasing grown women and men beating each other to a bloody pulp)? What, wrestlers don’t touch each other’s face with dirty hands while rolling around on a dirty floor? Odd bit of business, that.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “No pay for you!”

It’s not my business to tell Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or David Thomson how to spend their millions and billions of dollars, but I wonder if the Jets co-bankrolls know how chintzy they look by leaving their 1,050 event workers at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie high, dry and out of pocket now that the National Hockey League has hit the pause button. “They work when we work,” the Puck Pontiff informed news snoops last week, his tone as cold and callous as a jury foreman reading a guilty verdict at a murder trial. So the minions don’t get paid, but the millionaire players continue to fatten their wallets, and that’s something Cheech and Chintzy might want to reconsider. It’s a dreadful optic. Just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

This just in: Cheech and Chintzy now say they’ll pay their casual and part-time workers for postponed events until the end of the month. As I was saying, just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But True North Sports+Entertainment took a massive PR hit nonetheless.

Kudos to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for calling out Chipman on the no-pay for arena part-timers issue. It had to be written. Scott Billeck of the tabloid, meanwhile, shamed the Jets co-bankrolls on social media.  Unless I missed it, opinionists at the Drab Slab have been mum on the matter, but I suppose they were too busy digging up those compelling vasectomy and dog sled stories.

Cathal Kelly

Some seriously strange scribbling out of the Republic of Tranna last week, starting with Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. In reference to COVID-19 shutting down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, he offered this:

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

We did? My friends and I must have missed that memo.

Kelly then added, “Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.”

Oh, good gawd. Only someone from The ROT would believe that those of us who live in the colonies are clinging to the memory of a distant basketball game to get us through the coronavirus crisis. I guess we can all stop stocking up on toilet paper now.

Similarly silly was Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star calling Rudy Gobert “a hero.” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a hero is a war veteran, a firefighter, a cop, a first-responder, a doctor, a nurse, not a basketball player who thought the coronavirus was a big joke and likely infected people because he acted like a complete doofus.

Then there was Steve Simmons, whose weak attempt at humor re pro teams performing in front of empty facilities fell flat. “Anyone who attended Atlanta Thrashers games back in the day knows what it’s like to have a pro sporting event without fans,” he tweeted. That’s rich. A guy from The ROT trashing another burg because of poor attendance. The Tranna Argonauts, with their sub-10,000 head counts at BMO Field, are an embarrassment to the Canadian Football League, and the Blue Jays have led Major League Baseball in lost customers two years in a row. Fact is, the Argos attracted an average of 12,493 last season, and we all know the actual head count was considerably lower than that. In their final whirl in Atlanta, the Thrashers attracted an average of 13,469, and that included audiences of 16,000-plus five times down the stretch. But, hey, let’s ignore the facts and take cheap shots Atlanta. What a d’oh boy.

Pastor Maggie

Hey, turns out there’s an easy fix for the deadly coronavirus—gather all 7.5 billion of us together and squeeze us into the Church of Maggie, otherwise known as the Victory Life Church, a temple in Perth, Australia, created by tennis legend and raging homophobe Margaret Court. Seems Pastor Maggie sent out a communiqué last week claiming: “We are in agreement that this Convid-19 (sic) will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.” Hmmm. If only Tom Hanks and his bride Rita Wilson knew.

Pastor Maggie’s statement included this ‘oh, by the way’: “For your convenience, hand sanitiser readily available at all of our sites.” Meaning what? The “Blood of Jesus” isn’t enough?

Rachel Homan and Lisa Weagle

So Rachel Homan and her gal pals have fired lead Lisa Weagle from their fab curling team, and apparently Homan, Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney did the dirty deed behind Lisa’s back. Just wondering, will Homan now be crapped on from high heights, or is that treatment still reserved for Jennifer Jones? If you recall, Jones fired Cathy Overton-Clapham from her championship team back in 2010, and it was as if she’d tied a large rock to a little, warm puppy and dropped her in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. It will be interesting to see if there’s similar fallout for Homan, but somehow I doubt it.

And, finally, I’m down to my last pack of toilet paper, so why do I feel guilty about going to the market and buying another dozen rolls?

About P.K. Subban, boo birds and ‘laughably stupid’ tweets…the Boston Licker…an NHL rule book that ain’t worth a lick…when is a hot dog not a hot dog?…Burkie is boffo on Sportsnet…hi, ho silver—away with those Swedish ingrates!…a parting gift for the Sedin twins…soccer’s Stone Age, the Age of Enlightenment in the NBA…and jock journos in the Republic of Tranna making a big deal out of a drip named Drake.

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Dr. Phillip McGraw, Host, Dr. Phil

I opened a newspaper the other day and a Dr. Phil show broke out.

Seriously. I went directly to Section D of the Winnipeg Free Press to read Paul Wiecek’s column, figuring the oft-snarky scribe might have something contentious to say about the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators engagement in the National Hockey League playoffs, and instead I found 1,200 words devoted to the optics of a hostile, white-skinned, white-clad mob numbering 15,000-plus raining boos, obscenities and taunts upon a black man.

Apparently, that’s not a good look. Apparently, it conjures KKK imagery of torch-bearing men adorned in white bed sheets and pillow cases, and burning crosses in a remote setting. And the people on Twitter who actually believe this are “laughably stupid,” as Wiecek accurately describes them.

Well, let me say this about all that: There are times when I read or hear something that makes me say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” Most Jimmy Fallon monologues do that to me. Most Donald Trump tweets do that to me. And so did that Wiecek column. Made me want to call up Oprah and ask her to haul her couch out of storage so we could have a sit-down.

P.K. Subban

I mean, really? Some among the Twitter rabble cringe at the thought of outriders viewing Good, Ol’ Hometown as racist should the faithful in The Little Hockey House On The Prairie boo P.K. Subban of the Predators? This is Mississippi Burning visits Manitoba?

Sorry, but that’s a bigger stretch than the waistband on a pair of Charles Barkley’s old pants.

Wiecek writes “in the normal course of events, stupid things get said on Twitter all the time.” He’s correct. He adds that he is “loathe to give any of it further oxygen.” Yet he gives this racist “optics” nonsense 1,200 words worth of oxygen in a post-game column.

I wouldn’t describe that as “laughably stupid,” but it is stupid.

We now know that Brad Marchand is a serial licker. He has the most famous tongue this side of a Rolling Stones album or a KISS concert. And I can’t stop laughing about it. Don’t get me wrong. Uninvited licking is icky. I wouldn’t want Marchand’s tongue anywhere near me. He creeps me out. Totally. I’d rather have Roseanne slip me the tongue (trust me, I’m cringing at that thought). It’s just that this entire Boston Licker thing is so gob-smackingly absurd that my warped sense of humor keeps kicking in. I mean, think about it. When Marchand’s kid says, “My dad can lick your dad!” to another kid in the playground, he really means it. Literally.

The NHL, of course, has been in full howl since Marchand used Ryan Callahan’s face for a lollipop on Friday night (that after laying a licking on Leo Komarov’s neck in an earlier playoff game), and it’s been an outrage normally reserved for truly heinous crimes. The Boston Licker has become Beantown’s most notorious no-goodnik since Albert DeSalvo copped to the Boston Strangler slayings. The thing is, licking is such an unspeakable atrocity that NHL mucky-mucks didn’t think to include it in the 218 pages of their rule book. Spitting is in there. Hair-pulling is. Biting is. Cussing is. But not licking. Which only confirms what many of us have been saying during the mayhem that is the current Stanley Cup tournament—the NHL rule book ain’t worth a lick.

Apparently, it’s unanimous: Marchand should stop licking people. Even that Boston Bruins-loving blowhard on Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry, agrees. “Kids, you never do this,” was his sermon from the bully pit on Saturday night. “Gotta stop that nonsense. A kiss is all right, but…” No, Grapes, a kiss is not “all right.” Marchand needs to keep his lips and tongue to himself.

The Big Buff dance.

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: When P.K. Subban breaks into dance after scoring a goal in the Jets-Preds NHL playoff skirmish, he’s a self-serving showboat. A hot dog dripping with mustard. But when Dustin Byfuglien of Club de Hockey Winnipeg does a post-goal jig, it’s just so gosh-darned cute because, hey, that’s just big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff being big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff. Sorry, folks, you can’t have it both ways. Hey, I’m no fan of Subban’s theatrics. As a Shakesperean actor, he makes a fine hockey player. But I don’t see how anyone can condemn him for having fun.

Brian Burke

Hockey Central at Noon last Thursday was boffo. Best episode. Ever. Joining host Daren Millard on the panel were Brian Burke and Doug MacLean, two been-there, done-that former NHL general managers who engaged in banter that was humorous, insightful, revealing, raw and sincere. Basically, it was Millard lending an ear to two crusty, ol’ boys spinning yarns. Man, this was some kind of good chatter. So much more enjoyable than the pontifical natterings of Damien Cox and the gatling-gun prattling of Todd Hlushko (stop and take a breath once in a while, man). It reminded me of the old days, sitting in the bowels of the Winnipeg Arena and listening to local bird dogs like Bruce Cheatley, Billy Robinson, Dino Ball and Jimmy Walker talk hockey and swap lies. Good times.

Bringing “Burkie” on board as a talking head was a thumbs-up move by Sportsnet, and I have to believe it’s driving Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna bonkers. “I get disappointed when I see Bill Parcells or Jim Rice or John Tortorella or others who have treated the media with a certain disdain winding up in media positions on television or radio,” he wrote not so long ago when crapping on Marc Savard’s appearance as a gab guy on Sportsnet. “If you don’t care for media, I’ve always thought, don’t be part of it.” Well, okay. Except Simmons treats many of the athletes/coaches (e.g. Kevin Durant, John Farrell, Venus Williams) and sports (e.g. curling, figure skating, women’s hockey, 3-on-3 hoops) he writes about with complete disdain. If you don’t care about the athletes/coaches and sports you write about, Steve, don’t be part of it.

Lias Andersson: Take this silver medal and shove it.

So, the International Ice Hockey Federation has suspended five players and three coaches with Sweden’s national Junior side for the dastardly deed of displaying frustration. Oh, yes, the Swedes had the bad manners to remove silver trinkets from their necks at the most-recent world junior championships, and captain Lias Andersson, who hucked his medal into the stands in Buffalo, received the harshest slap on the wrist. The IIHF has grounded him for four games. “To be ‘frustrated’ by the loss of a game is not the right attitude,” some mucky-muck in a suit said in a statement. I suppose that’s tough love. But I can’t help but wonder what the punishment might have been had young Lias licked someone’s face.

I say the King Clancy Memorial Trophy would be a lovely, also fitting, parting gift for Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and I’d also say you can make book on the Swedish twins walking off stage with the bauble at the NHL awards shindig in Glitter Gulch next month. P.K. Subban and Jason Zucker are the other finalists for the Clancy trinket, which salutes leadership qualities on and off the ice and humanitarian contribution to community, but I have to think the Sedins’ retirement swayed voters.

Stephanie Labbé

Stephanie Labbé has been told by the Premier Development League to take her soccer ball and go home. The reason? She’s a she. One of our national women’s team keepers with 49 caps, the 31-year-old Labbé is good enough to earn a spot on the Calgary Foothills FC roster, but the PDL will have none of it. No penis, no play. So I ask: What year is this? 2018 or 1918?

But wait. It must be 2018, at least in basketball, because the Milwaukee Bucks plan to interview Becky Hammon for their vacant head coaching position. She, like Labbé, is a she. The Bucks apparently don’t care. They’re only interested in ability. Hammon has been apprenticing as an assistant coach with Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs since 2014, and that’s good enough for the Bucks to take a look-see at her resumé and have a chin-wag. Good on them.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I’m not really into hoops and haven’t harbored a rooting interest since my main man Kareem dropped his final sky hook for the Los Angeles Lakers, so I truly don’t give a damn how much of an ass clown the hip-hop artist/rapper known as Drake makes of himself as the Tranna Raptors’ unofficial court jester.

I mean, to me, the high-profile groupie’s hissing contest with Kendrick Perkins during and after Game 1 of the Raptors-Cleveland LeBrons playoff joust was a meh moment. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another puffed-up, self-inflated celebrity who’s entranced by himself and believes it’s all about him. Ignore him.

Except that’s not how media in the Republic of Tranna play it with the National Basketball Association’s celeb buffoon. To them, Drake is very much a “thing.” They can’t ignore him. They are the flies to his cow paddy.

Drake

Like, never mind DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Raptors’ collective faceplant in Game 1, followed by their total surrender in Game 2. Drake was in the house, don’t you know? Got into a gob-knocker with Kendrick Perkins. Talked smack. Huffed and puffed. Nasty stuff. He then received a tsk-tsking from the NBA and was told to go to his room. By the time he slinked back into the Air Canada Centre for the second Raps-Cavaliers go-round, Drake was as quiet as a church mouse tippy-toeing on cotton. All of which inspired Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, and Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star to make Drake the central point of their off-day analysis.

Drake

Here’s a portion of Simmons’ alphabet fart: “The Raptors’ global ambassador is becoming a global embarrassment. This isn’t Drake’s time or place to get in the way. He has become an annoyance, even by his own rather distinguished annoying standards, even if the Raptors don’t necessarily view it that way. This is his time to sit down, shut up, stop posing for the cameras and acting like you’re part of the show.”

Here’s Feschuk: “Beginning with Game 2, (the Raptors) need to play with a lot less ‘we’re-not-worthy’ self-doubt and a lot more Drake-esque ‘we-own-the-place’ swagger. They’re better off inhabiting the spirit of a hip-hop god than playing like they’re haunted by the ghosts of LeBron-induced failures past. This team doesn’t need to ban Drake. It needs to be a bit more like him.”

It’s all about Drake in the Republic of Tranna

And now Kelly (in mournful muse): “Among the many sad and disappointing things about Thursday’s basketball game in Toronto—basketball among them—Drake stood out. He arrived later than normal, flanked by bodyguards. He came out of the tunnel laughing a little too hard and slapped more hands than usual. Over on the Cavaliers bench, his recent sparring partner, Kendrick Perkins, pretended not to notice. Drake sat down and angled his body toward the Toronto Raptors bench. And that was it. Where he would normally have stood up and started shouting, getting in Dwane Casey’s way as the coach stalked the sideline, he just sat there. No jawing with the opponents, no encouragement, no nothing. This was Toronto’s first citizen tamed. As bad a week as the Raptors had, Drake’s was more terrible in factors. Seeing him brought low for the sin of caring too much, of embarrassing the rest of us by showing it, of being so damned Canadian pains me.”

Talk about people making ass clowns of themselves.