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The sports media dealing with social/political issues is nothing new

Stick to sports? Why?

Why should jock journalists and opinionists be limited to one-trick pony-ism, writing and gabbing about nothing other than wins and losses, home runs and touchdowns, free throws and three-pointers, and how much air there is in Tom Brady’s balls?

Sam Lacy, Dan Bankhead and Wendell Smith.

I mean, I’m guessing that if Twitter had been around in the 1930s and ’40s, Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith and other black sportswriters might have used their 140-character allotment to say something significant about segregation in baseball. Twitter didn’t exist back then, though. So they used newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American as pulpits from which to openly lobby for desegregation.

For example, when Major League Baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis died in 1944, Lacy used his Afro-American platform to scribble this about the appointment of Happy Chandler as MLB commish: “It appears that his choice was the most logical one for the bigoted major league operators, of which there is a heavy majority on hand.”

Similarly, in the chaotic 1960s, when young heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam and became Cassius X then Muhammad Ali, (white) sports scribes refused to use his Muslim name in their copy (it wasn’t until October 1970, six years after the fact, that the New York Times issued a directive that sportswriters were to call him Muhammad Ali) and they weren’t shy about spicing their prose with biting social commentary re “Clay,” race and religion.

Here are two examples from New York columnist Jimmy Cannon:

The fight racket since its rotten beginnings has been the red light district of sports. But this is the first time it has been turned into an instrument of mass hate…Clay is using it as a weapon of wickedness.”

And…

Jimmy Cannon

I pity Clay and abhor what he represents. In the years of hunger during the Depression, the Communists used famous people the way the Black Muslims are exploiting Clay. This is a sect that deforms the beautiful purpose of religion.”

The noise became amplified, also more threatening and vicious, when the champ refused to step forward for induction into the United States military in 1967.

Red Smith, legendary New York columnist: “Squealing over the possibility that the military may call him up, Cassius makes as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.”

Really? Those protesting the Vietnam War were “unwashed punks?”

Jim Murray, legendary Los Angeles Times columnist, who mocked Ali by calling him Abdul the Bull Bull Ameer: “Cassius Marcellus Clay, one of the greatest heroes in the history of his people, has decided to secede from the Union. He will not disgrace himself by wearing the uniform of the Army of the United States…From the safety of 103 years, he waves his fist at dead slave owners. Down to his last four Cadillacs, the thud of Communist jackboots holds no dread for him. He is in this country but not of it.”

Really? Dead slave owners and Communist jackboots in a sports column?

So, you see, when ESPN anchor Jemele Hill went off on Donald Trump on her personal Twitter account recently, calling the United States president a “white supremacist,” she wasn’t digging a shovel into fresh, unbroken ground. Social/political commentary in print and on air is older than the contract Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in baseball’s major leagues. Do you think the names and words Jesse Owens, Adolph Hitler, Nazis and Aryan supremacy have never appeared in a sportswriter’s copy?

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star is among the elite wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism today, but social/political commentary on his Twitter account heavily outweighs the sports content. Why would anyone find that objectionable?

Red Smith

I think it should be a personal decision, based partly on who employs you,” he said as a member of a Sports Illustrated panel. “But if you’re informed—or even just feel strongly about something—and you’re comfortable making your voice heard, then you should be able to say what you think. Sports are great, but they’re not the world. It’s okay to live in the world a little, too.”

On the night of the 2016 American presidential election, with Donald Trump winning the White House, Steve Simmons of Postmedia tweeted: “The saddest night in American history.” That is, of course, a totally illogical comment, especially coming from a non-American, but is he not allowed his emotional, if uninformed, opinion? Does it reflect on Simmons or Postmedia? I would submit the former rather than the latter, and numerous followers suggested he “stick to sports.”

If I have an issue with sports opinionists and their social/political commentary, it’s when they say nothing at all. Or when they’re inconsistent.

Ray Rice is pilloried for beating up one woman. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is given a pass on his thick file of repeated domestic violence. (I suppose the arrival of Johnny Manziel to a Canadian Football League outfit will be greeted with literary high fives.) That isn’t merely inexcusable, it’s the abandonment of responsible reporting.

Sports and politics/social activism are bedfellows, and to think otherwise is to live in a Utopian world. Social media has upped the ante, to be sure, but jock journos have always been there to write and talk about it. Usually in more than 140 characters.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

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About death by wedgie in the CFL…the Rodney Dangerfield Blue Bombers…diversity on the gridiron…nonsense on Sportsnet…boffo stuff from Ed Tait…dump the ump…hockey pride at Pride…and hot dogs for Phil Kessel

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

Randy Ambrosie wants to talk. That’s a good thing. I think.

Specifically, the Canadian Football League commissioner would welcome a fireside chat about division alignment and playoff structure, both of which are becoming hot-button issues due to a West-East competitive imbalance that borders on the sadistic.

I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” the commish told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

For those of you keeping score at home, West has met East 20 times during the current crusade. The tally is 17-2-1 in favor of the five outfits left of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary. One game finished 60-1.

That is not a typo. Do not adjust your monitors. It really was 60-1.

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

Actually, West Division clubs aren’t simply giving their nerdy eastern foes a basic wedgie. They’re the high school senior pulling the freshman’s underpants up to his ears, sticking his head in a toilet bowl, flushing, then stuffing him into a locker. Oh, but first he steals his lunch money.

And yet, under the current structure, two of the eastern rag dolls will qualify for the playoffs in November. And be rewarded with home dates. Nice gig if you can get it.

Little wonder that Ambrosie says he’s “willing to have the conversation for sure.”

Wyman and others suggest the CFL scrap its antiquated West-East divisional arrangement. Lump all nine teams together, with the top six advancing to the Grey Cup tournament. Radical, yes. After all, geographic rivalry has been the heartbeat of the CFL since its inception, and getting some people to abandon tradition is like trying to pry Donald Trump’s thumbs off his Twitter account. You’ll need the jaws of life, baby.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice tradition, though. Just tweak the schedule. Reduce it to 16 games (18 is two too many) and either eliminate, or reduce by half, interlocking play. You know, just like in the good, ol’ days when West and East were separate entities. In other words, go back to the future.

Works for me. So, gentlemen, start your chins wagging.

I wondered when one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect card, and running back Andrew Harris delivered not long after he and his blue-and-gold clad pals had paddywhacked the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 39-12, on Saturday at Timbits Field in Hamilton. “I always think someone is out there slouching us and not giving us any respect.” Here’s the deal, Andrew: Beat someone other than one of the lame and halting outfits from the east and more people will climb on board.

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

The CFL broke out its Diversity is Strength T-shirts last weekend, and it occurs to me that it’s more than just a fresh marketing slogan. Among other things, the CFL has included a female general manager, Jo-Anne Polak with the Ottawa Rough Riders; another female, Catherine Raiche, is an assistant GM with the Montreal Alouettes; the Larks once had an openly gay man, Michael Sam, in their lineup; Ambrosie’s predecessor in the commish’s office, Jeffrey Orridge, is African-American; and a black man, Bernie Custis, was playing quarterback for Hamilton as far back as 1951. That’s diversity.

Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet writes this: “The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.” Say again? A punter/place kicker, Justin Medlock of the Bombers, is the most oustanding player in the CFL? Spare us the nonsense, Donnovan. Everyone knows that kickers aren’t football players (sorry Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood). Once upon a time kickers were, indeed, football players (hello Kid Dynamite James, Choo Choo Shepard, Spaghetti Legs Parker, Jack Abendschan, Don Jonas, etc.), but now they boot the football and go for a Slurpee. Your MOP right now is Mike Reilly.

Terrific read from Ed Tait on Winnipeg O-lineman Jermarcus (Yoshi) Hardrick, who look a long, hard road to the CFL. Tait’s piece is the type of feature you seldom read in either of River City’s two dailies, due largely to space and access restrictions, and it’s a reminder of what the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages lost when he defected to bluebombers.com. Anyone at the Drab Slab who thinks Tait is a hack (hello, Paul Wiecek) has totally lost the plot.

Let’s see now, umpire Joe West provides a harmless, fun anecdote about Adrian Beltre and he’s suspended for three days. So what will Major League Baseball do with Detroit Tigers second sacker Ian Kinsler? He dumped all over ump Angel Hernandez, telling the Detroit Free Press, “He needs to find another job, he really does. He’s messing with baseball games, blatantly. I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious that he has to stop ruining baseball games. Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore.” I’m guessing MLB will be making an ATM withdrawal from Kinsler’s account, at the least.

Nice to see Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen of the Canucks get into the spirit at Vancouver’s Pride parade and hijinks. It takes some special kind of gonads for macho hockey players to put on a rainbow-colored skirt and lei.

Bravo to Phil Kessel. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has posted a pic of himself and the Stanley Cup stuffed with BBQ’d hot dogs, in what was a direct shot at Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who’d written a blistering piece about Kessel after he’d been dealt away by the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago. Among other things, Simmons called Kessel “poison” and he claimed that the winger pigged out daily at a certain downtown hot dog stand in the Republic of Tranna (proven to be false). So what did Simmons think of the Kessel burn? “One, I thought ‘Phil’s pretty funny. Good for Phil for making a joke about it.’” he said on TSN 1050’s Breakfast Club. “Two, ‘This is your day with the Cup. This is your day…you’ve worked this hard, you get this thing, you’re having a party, why be so small to reference something that really isn’t important in your life?’” Yo! Steve! “Small” is writing about a guy’s rumored eating habits and getting the rumored facts wrong. What Kessel did to you, meanwhile, is a classic burn. Try lightening up.

Which brings me to today’s list: Biggest hot dogs in sports…

1. Muhammad Ali: The former heavyweight boxing champion was many things, but he most definitely was a hot dog (in a fun way).
2. Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was also Mr. Swagger.
3. Terrell Owens: Popcorn anyone?
4. Deion Sanders: He once said, “They don’t pay nobody to be humble.” He’s living proof.
5. Johnny Manziel: There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover this do-nothing hot dog.

Further evidence of the Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun sports section: In Steve Simmons’ past two odds-and-ends, three-dot columns that appear weekly, he devoted 21 items to sports franchises or figures in the Republic of Tranna. That’s compared to zero (0) Winnipeg references. To repeat: Toronto 21, Winnipeg 0. So, again, I ask why is a Toronto-centric column appearing weekly in a River City sheet? Aren’t any of the local writers capable of stringing together a series of wide-ranging quotes, notes and anecdotes that include opinion snippets about Winnipeg’s sports scene? I mean, if I can do it from Victoria, surely someone with their feet on the ground in good Ol’ Hometown can do it.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About my favorite athletes…Mike O’Shea and brown tap water…no more hanky-panky from CFL coaches…scuzzy Pete Rose…Usain Bolt losing to a drug cheat…and another gay slur

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

From the top: Wilma Rudolph, Sandy Koufax and Arnold Palmer, Martina Navratilova, Rafa Nadal and Bjorn Borg.

Came across an interesting item on social media the other day, whereby folks were listing their all-time favorite athletes. Not a greatest athlete list, understand. A fave list. Here’s mine:

Wilma Rudolph: So sleek, so elegant. Such regal bearing. The Italians called her La Gazzella Negra and, to the French, she was La Perle Noir. I adored the American sprinter who blossomed from sickly child (polio, double pneumonia, scarlet fever) into an Olympic champion sprinter. She wowed the world at the 1960 Games in Rome, skedaddling to three gold medals. Once back home in Clarksville, Tenn., she insisted that a parade/gala in her honor include all townsfolk, and history records it as the first fully integrated municipal event in town history.

Martina Navratilova: When the tennis legend defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1975, she was a high school kid with everything going against her. English was not her first language. Family and friends were on the other side of the world. Fear of being seized and hauled back to her homeland by thugs in trench coats was ever-present. She had a fondness for Big Macs and large fries. And, as we discovered a few years later, she was a lesbian, which was a lot less cool then than it is now. But, as she was to tell news snoops in early September of ’75, “I wanted my freedom.” Once untethered from the leash of communist state suppression, Navratilova became the greatest player of her generation. To some, the greatest ever. And she’s long been a leading voice in the LGBT community.

Sandy Koufax: I should have been mad at Koufax on Oct. 6, 1965. The Los Angeles Dodgers—my team—were in Minneapolis to engage a hefty-hitting Minnesota Twins batting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series. Koufax, the premier pitcher in Major League Baseball, should have been on the mound. Instead, it was Don Drysdale, who, although no slouch on the hill, was no Koufax. But I couldn’t get mad at the great lefthander because his reason for taking the day off was unassailable—it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Sandy Koufax was my favorite player long before he deferred to his faith by declining to start Game 1, but his decision still resonates with me, much more than any of the other-wordly numbers that he posted during the 1960s. It was a shining life lesson, even for a Roman Catholic kid. (p.s. The Dodgers won the Series, with Koufax pitching successive shutouts in Games 5 and 7, the latter on only two days rest.)

Bjorn Borg: He was the anti-Johnny Mac. While John McEnroe would disrupt matches with volcanic eruptions of petulance, Borg played tennis with a Zen-like calm, utilizing an assortment of two-fisted, cross-court backhands and top-spinning forehands to disassemble foes en route to 11 Grand Slam championships, including five successive Wimbledon titles. I admired the Swede’s calm amidst chaos, his unflappable resolve, and his quiet intensity—all wrapped in a cloak of mystery—as much as I did his groundstrokes. To this day, I wonder what made Borg tick.

Arnold Palmer/Rafael Nadal: Okay, this is cheating. But I couldn’t decide between Rafa, the king of clay court tennis, and Arnie, the king of golf. Arnie and Sandy Koufax were my go-to guys as a kid, Rafa is my go-to guy in my dotage. Arnie was a swashbuckler, daring and charismatic, and universally respected and admired as a sportsman and, more important, as a person. Rafa arrived on the tennis scene with bulging biceps, sleeveless tops and pirate pants. “Different,” I thought upon seeing him for the first time. Well, vive la difference! Rafa adorns himself in regular tennis togs now, but there’s never been anything regular about his game. Especially on clay. And the Spaniard seems like such a nice, young man.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers offed the RedBlacks, 33-30, in Ottawa on Friday night, in large part because Mike O’Shea managed to stay out of his own way. I guess that means the natterbugs will have to squawk about something other than the head coach’s short pants this week. Maybe they can blame him for that scuzzy brown tap water in River City.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

Upon further review, further review was ruining the game, so bravo to commish Randy Ambrosie and Canadian Football League team poobahs for taking away every head coach’s favorite toy—the challenge flag. Well, okay, the sideline stewards aren’t exactly hanky-free. Each coach is still allowed to toss one yellow hanky each game, but that beats a total of six potential challenges per match.

In the world according to Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, changing the coach’s challenge rule this deep into the season makes the CFL head office a “clown show.” It’s “amateur hour.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The real “clown show” was coaches using frivolous challenges to challenge nothing but the integrity of the game and spirit of the rule, which is to “get it right.” I watched all four games last week and that “clown show” is definitely over. No more hanky-panky from the coaches.

Oh boy. Some people just don’t pay attention. We’re only at the front end of August and already Freep sports editor and Wiecek’s Grumpet twin, Steve Lyons, is promoting folly. “Best place to finish might be fourth in the West” for the Bombers, he advises us. That way, they’d earn a crossover post-season berth and play the patsies in Eastern Canada. Repeat after me, Mr. Lyons: No, no, no, no, no…nine times no. No West outfit has successfully navigated the eastern route to the Grey Cup game. Never. Ever. In nine tries. And you think it’ll work for the Bombers? Ya, just like attempting a 61-yard field goal worked at B.C. Place last November.

So, champion sprinter Usain Bolt lost some of the lickety-split in his long legs and was beaten to the finish line in his final individual race at the world track and field championships in London. No big deal. Sandy Koufax lost the final game he ever pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Muhammad Ali lost his final fight (badly). Babe Ruth grounded out in his final at-bat. Hey, stuff happens. I just wish Bolt hadn’t lost to a guy, Justin Gatlin, who’s twice been told to go away for failed drug tests.

Scuzzball Pete Rose

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, has been holding his own poor Petey pity party since being banned for betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the one-time jailbird has actually found sympathetic ears. In an ESPN sports poll conducted by Luker on Trends between November 2016 and last February, Rose was No. 50 on a list of most popular athletes in the U.S., active or retired. Only two ballplayers—Derek Jeter at No. 13 and Babe Ruth, No. 30—finished ahead of him in voting by 6,000 people 12 and over. I wonder what the Rose-ites have to say now that their hero has confessed to having had sex with a 16-year-old girl while he was in his 30s, married and a father of two. The man is a scuzzy as the brown tap water in Winnipeg.

Outfielder Matt Joyce of the Oakland Athletics is “beyond sorry” for using a gay slur during a hissing contest with a fan in Anaheim on Friday night. I’m sorry, but it’s “beyond sorry” that male pro athletes are still using homophobic language as their go-to slurs in 2017.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Bob Irving: As great as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is as a play-by-play man, he’s even a better person

Knuckles Irving

I’ve often wondered how, and why, Bob Irving has kept trucking along.

I mean, the man we know affectionately as Knuckles has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ main storyteller since 1974. It’s easy to do the math. That’s 43 years ago. Numbers, however, don’t provide perspective on his time describing the goings-on of the Canadian Football League outfit.

For perspective, try this: The year Knuckles began blah, blah, blahing about the Bombers on CJOB…

  • Mike Riley’s pop, Bud, was head coach and Dieter Brock was a rookie backup quarterback we knew as Ralph.
  • The Winnipeg Tribune was a vibrant alternative to the Winnipeg Free Press.
  • Richard Milhouse Nixon was still in the White House, although RMH left the building in August and our American friends said hello to President Gerald Ford.
  • Trudeau the 1st was Prime Minister of Canada, Ed Schreyer was Premier of Manitoba, and Steve Juba was Mayor of all the people in Winnipeg.
  • One-time teenage heartthrob Paul Anka released the regrettable (You’re) Having My Baby, but the top song in Canada was Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.
  • The top-selling album worldwide was Band on the Run by breakaway Beatle Paul McCartney and Wings.
  • Archie Bunker was the No. 1 bigot on TV, with he, Edith, Gloria and Meathead ruling the ratings on All in the Family.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union.
  • Muhammad Ali played Rope-a-Dope, then KO’d George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight boxing championship in the Rumble In The Jungle.
  • The RCMP swore in its first female police officers.
  • A Big Mac cost .65, a loaf of bread .28, a car $3,500, and minimum wage in Manitoba was $2.15.

So, ya, Knuckles has been around some. Squints use carbon dating to determine his age. But that doesn’t mean he’s passed his best-before date. His voice is still as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, his delivery as descriptive as a Steinbeck novel, his integrity unassailable.

That will be absent from the ‘OB broadcast on Friday night in Vancouver, when the Bombers pay a visit to B.C. Place for a skirmish with the Lions. Knuckles has retreated to the repair shop to permit medics to tinker with his ticker and, while there’s little doubt the capable Kelly Moore will perform admirably in his stead, Knuckles is one of those guys you fill in for but cannot replace.

If there is a Vin Scully of the CFL, it’s Knuckles Irving, who’s actually a nicer guy than he is a play-by-play broadcaster.

The sports media, on both the print and electronic side, can be an open range for galloping egos and a misguided sense of significance, but it is largely the province of genuinely good, honest women and men who recognize they’re working in the toy department and, thus, acknowledge that they’ve got a great gig.

I don’t think Knuckles has ever lost sight of that. He’s a humble, earthy man with a killer wit that often keeps the sidelines at Bombers practices at full guffaw. He takes his job seriously but not himself. His passion for his work, the Bombers and the CFL is unparalleled, and I suppose that’s what keeps him trucking after all these years.

No telling how long Knuckles will continue to blah, blah, blah about the Bombers, but his career is kind of like his forehead—it never seems to end.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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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.


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Colin Kaepernick is no Ali, but he has people listening to what he’s saying

Let’s not get silly and compare what Colin Kaepernick is doing to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to heed Uncle Sam’s call to arms.

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem.

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem.

Yes, Kaepernick has taken a stand by sitting/kneeling during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at National Football League games, but when the San Francisco 49ers commence their 2016 crusade he’ll be the backup quarterback. His protest against police brutality and the oppression of black people/people of color hasn’t cost him his livelihood. His bank account is no less ample. He’s in no danger of being arrested, cuffed, hauled into court and sentenced to five years in prison.

Ali was dealt every bit of that hand. And more. Including death threats. Yet he was all-in. He had “no quarrel with them Viet Cong” so he wasn’t going to drop bombs on, or shoot bullets at, innocent brown people come hell or hoosegow.

By way of comparison, Kaepernick’s posture has, at worst, earned him enemies who see him not as a caped crusader for colored people but, rather, as an anti-anthem, anti-military and an anti-America ingrate who ought to just play football and zip his lips unless he plans to pledge allegiance to a country that he believes has come undone.

But when did doing and saying nothing become acceptable?

Maybe Rosa Parks should have given her seat to that white man and moved to the back of the bus where the black folk belonged to save herself from finger printing and time in jail.

Maybe Martin Luther King Jr. should have stayed home to mow the lawn instead of marching through the southern United States and spending time behind bars.

Maybe Gandhi should have just bought government salt rather than walk more than 200 miles to collect his own and spare himself yet another stretch in jail.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos, right, at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

Maybe Tommie Smith and John Carlos should have played nice by putting on their shoes, unclenching their hands and smiling for the cameras at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.

Maybe Jesse Owens should have skipped out on the 1936 Olympics and let Hitler have his way.

Maybe Harvey Milk should have stayed in the closet.

Maybe students at Kent State should have gone to class instead of carrying signs, marching and shouting.

Maybe all those young people shouldn’t have taken sledge hammers to the Berlin Wall.

Maybe Marlon Brando should have accepted his Oscar as best actor for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather rather than send an Apache woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, to deliver a speech about the misrepresentation of Native Americans in film and on TV, at the same time drawing attention to Wounded Knee.

Maybe John and Yoko shouldn’t have acted like a couple of layabouts and gotten out of bed.

Maybe Johnny Cash should have worn more colorful clothing.

Maybe Nellie McClung should have stayed home to cook and clean for her hubby and their five children rather than make so much noise about women voting and being “persons.”

Maybe the drag queens, transgender individuals, cross-dressers, butch lesbians and gay men at the Stonewall Inn should have simply tucked their feathered boas between their legs and peacefully piled into paddy wagons rather than kick up a fuss.

Maybe all those draft dodgers who sought refuge in Canada should have been turned back at the border.

Maybe punter Chris Kluwe should have kept silent and not exposed homophobia among the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

Maybe Branch Rickey should have hired Jack Roosevelt Robinson to shine his shoes rather than sign him to a Brooklyn Dodgers contract that made him the first black man to play Major League Baseball.

Maybe what Colin Kaepernick is doing won’t amount to anything. He’s no Ali. He’s no Jackie Robinson (who, by the way, would not salute the flag or stand for the anthem toward the end of his life). He’s no Rosa Parks. He’s no Gandhi. He’s just a backup quarterback clinging to a high-paying job that grants him a lifestyle of privilege.

But, he’s got people talking. And thinking. He sees something that he believes isn’t right. He’s trying to fix it, as are other athletes who have begun to parrot him. How can that be wrong?

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.

 


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About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

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

No. 4, Bobby Orr

No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

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 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.