Let’s talk about women’s sports and the media…tough times for Ponytail Puck…pigging out on Big Macs…the Barnum and Bailey Brier…Chevy’s sales pitch to free agents…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I sprung forward this morning and brought some random thoughts along with me…

I think TSN and Sportsnet are trying to fool us into believing they actually give a damn about women’s sports.

Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson and Kim Davis.

I mean, both of our national jock networks have devoted copious air to the distaff portion of the playground in the past week, featuring interviews with movers and shakers like Stacey Allaster, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Cammi Granato and Kendall Coyne Schofield, and they’ve also given us retro peeks at moments of girl glory delivered by Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and others.

It’s been boffo stuff.

And tonight we’ll hear the all-female broadcast crew of Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Christine Simpson work the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hometown Hockey, something that—dare I say?—smacks of gimmickry and likely will have numerous men squirming and pressing the mute button on their remotes.

But here’s my question in the midst of all this rah, rah, rah about ponytail sports: Where are TSN and Sportsnet when it really matters?

You know, like when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was in business. Like during the women’s Under-18 world hockey championship. TSN covering competition like the world shinny tourney or World Cup soccer are no-brainers, but to the best of my recollection Sportsnet broadcast the grand sum of two CWHL games before the operation bolted its doors last spring. I could be wrong. It might have been three. Meanwhile, TSN completely ignored the U18 event.

The National Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, dropped the puck on its playoffs Friday night, but I haven’t heard a whisper about it on either network.

In the small hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I counted 136 news-related videos on the TSN website. The male sports v. female sports scorecard read 133-3 in favor of the dudes, and that included Justin Bieber practicing his shootout skills.

None of that’s surprising, of course, because numerous studies advise us that female jocks receive just two to six per cent of air time on sportscasts in the True North and U.S. The amount of space allotted to female sports in our daily newspapers would be similar. Maybe even less.

So, ya, it’s great that TSN and Sportsnet have been saluting women the past few days, but what’s their excuse for the other 51 weeks of the year?

According to a 2016 report, a study of sports coverage on our national networks (French and English) in 2014 showed that female athletes were featured in just four per cent of 35,000 hours of programming. More than half of that four per cent allotment showed women’s events at the Sochi Olympics and/or women’s tennis. Which means, of course, all other female activity received less than two per cent air time.

Whenever I contemplate the minimalist coverage female sports receives on air and in print, I think of comments from noted jock journos Steve Simmons and Bruce Dowbiggin.

“I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports,” Postmedia’s Simmons told the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2002. He also advocated for the removal of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games in 2010, calling it a “charade.”

Dowbiggin, meanwhile, wrote last year that ponytail sports was “second-tier entertainment” and, in another piece, added, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.”

I’m quite uncertain why Dowbiggin would want to swing a cat and hit a lesbian, or any woman for that matter, but I believe his indelicate and disturbingly crass remark about felines and females was an attempt at cutesy humor. If so, he failed. Miserably.

Point is, those are two loud voices in jock journalism completely dismissing female athletes.

Steve Simmons

Dowbiggin once was an award-winning jock journo and a main player on the national stage, twice winning a Gemini Award for sports reporting and broadcasting. He now cranks out opinion essays for Troy Media and his own Not The Public Broadcaster. Simmons is a high-profile columnist whose scribblings appear in Postmedia rags across the country.

As much as I wish it was otherwise, I’m afraid theirs is the prevailing attitude in our jock media.

It’s worth noting that neither of the Winnipeg dailies has a female in its stable of full-time sports scribes. The Drab Slab allows the talented and very readable Melissa Martin to make guest appearances for the provincial and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the Sun hasn’t had a Jill writing jock stuff since Judy Owen left the building. Judy is one of only four female scribes with whom I worked during 30 years in the rag trade, the others being Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib) and Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun). It’s been more than 50 years since I started at the Trib, and in that time I’ve known just five female sports writers in Good Ol’ Hometown—Judy, Peggy, Rita, Barb Huck and Ashley Prest. I know some women applied the last time the Sun had an opening, but Scott Billeck got the gig.

Billie Jean King

What a truly dreadful time it’s been for Ponytail Puck. First the CWHL ceased operations last spring, then close to 200 of the planet’s best players had a hissy fit and decided to boycott and trash talk the NWHL, and now the world championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tough to grow the game when all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

Speaking of Billie Jean, she’ll be part of the Hometown Hockey telecast tonight on Sportsnet, but we shouldn’t expect any hard-hitting questions from either Ron MacLean or Tara Slone. My guess is MacLean will serve the tennis legend and women’s rights activist nothing but softball questions, while Tara swoons.

Sportsnet won’t be the only network featuring an all-female broadcast crew tonight. Kate Scott, Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko will be the voices for NBCSN’s telecast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks skirmish, and I just hope they realize that criticism is part of the gig because they’ll be hearing it from the yahoos.

The PWHPA—also the talking heads on Sportsnet—would like the five-team NWHL to disappear at the conclusion of its fifth season, so they’ll be disappointed to hear this sound bite from NWHLPA director Anya Packer: “I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six.” If they want to play serious shinny next winter, the PWHPA might want to rethink that boycott thing.

The rapidly spreading coronavirus has a number of sports teams/leagues talking about playing in empty stadiums. In other words, just like a Toronto Argonauts home game.

Chevy

Ya, I think it’s great that the National Hockey League salary cap is going up and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a boatload of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s cash to spend on free agents this summer, but that won’t make it any easier for Chevy to sell Good Ol’ Hometown to high-profile players. River City remains No. 1 on most NHLers’ no-go lists, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I don’t know about you, but every time I see the Nashville Predators play, I have the same thought: “How do these guys beat anybody?”

Does this make sense to anyone other than Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas?
William Nylander: 30-goal seasons—1; salary—$9 million ($8.3 million bonus).
Kyle Connor:         30-goal seasons—3; salary—$7.5 million ($0 bonus).

People poke fun at the Canadian Football League for rewarding failure by giving a single point on a missed field goal. Well, excuse me, but the NHL does that very thing almost nightly with its ridiculous loser point.

Watched Sports Central on Sportsnet on Friday morning and I didn’t hear one word about the Brier. Nada. They managed to squeeze in highlights of Joey Chestnut pigging out on Big Macs, but the Canadian men’s curling championship wasn’t worthy of their attention. Canada’s #1 Sports Network my ass.

There’ve been so many incredible circus shots during this year’s Brier, I expected to see Barnum and Bailey meeting in today’s final.

So I call up the Globe and Mail on Saturday and note that Cathal Kelly is writing about the Brier. I roll my eyes, because Kelly doesn’t know a hog line from Hog Town. Well, surprise, surprise. It’s an excellent, entertaining read. And honest. “Don’t look for curling expertise here,” he writes. “You won’t find any.”

Did Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs look like he was having any fun before being ushered out of the Brier? I swear, the’s more serious than a tax audit, and it isn’t a good look.

WTF? During the first two Brier matches I watched on TSN last weekend, I heard three F-bombs and one goddamn. I heard zero F-bombs and zero goddamns during the entire week of watching the Scotties on TSN. Just saying.

Actually, I’d like to know why male curlers feel a need to go all potty mouth, yet the women don’t. I mean, they’re playing the same game, playing for the same stakes, making the same shots, feeling the same pressure. It would make for an interesting social study.

Big headlines all over the Internet last week about movie guy Spike Lee having a hissy fit and refusing to attend any more New York Knicks games this season. Hmmm. I must have missed the memo that informed us we’re supposed to give a damn what Spike Lee does.

Gotta say, TSN’s man on UFC, Robin Black, is the creepiest guy on sports TV.

Joey Chestnut

The aforementioned Joey Chestnut set some sort of world record for gluttony last week when he scarfed down 32 Big Macs in 38 minutes. We haven’t seen a pigout like that since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence ate the San Francisco 49ers’ lunch in the Super Bowl.

The Winnipeg Jets are in the grip of an intense playoff battle, two Manitoba teams were running hot at the Brier, and what was featured on the sports front of the Winnipeg Sun last Monday morning? Toronto Blue Jays wannabe pitcher Nate Pearson. Good gawd, man, who makes those horrible decisions?

Wilma Rudolph

And, finally, in a salute to International Women’s Day, these are my five fave female athletes of all time: Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navratilova, Tessa Virtue, Nancy Greene and Evonne Goolagong. (Honorable mentions go to to Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Jones.)

About those “rotten to the core” Winnipeg Jets…cranking up the gossip mill…putting Wheeler and others on ignore…parting gifts instead of banners for the Habs…nothing but bridesmaids in Canada?…talking about Ponytail Puck…and lady golfers at Augusta

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and you are under no obligation to grow a beard during the Winnipeg Jets playoff run…

Apparently, the local hockey heroes have issues.

They might be Dr. Phil-level issues. They might be let’s-drag-Oprah’s-couch-out-of-storage-and-give-everyone-in-the-audience-a-gift issues. They might be order-another-pint-and-vent-to-a-bartender issues. Whatever the case, after a week of stick-shattering hissy fits, an airing of grievances behind closed doors, giving news snoops the cold shoulder, and canceled practices for the airing of additional grievances, we’re advised that the Winnipeg Jets are not right in the head.

It’s nothing specific, understand. No details. Just a strong suggestion from the boys on the beat at the Drab Slab that les Jets have come undone like a school kid’s shoelace.

And we all know what happens with kids and undone shoelaces, don’t we. That’s right. Face plants.

So I suppose Jets Nation should fear the worst as Winnipeg HC preps for its opening salvo of Beard Season vs. the St. Louis Blues. I mean, it can’t be very comforting for the rabble to learn that the behind-the-scenes situation with their favorite National Hockey League club is “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy” as they enter the Stanley Cup runoff.

That, at least, is the picture painted by Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press, and you can choose to believe him or pooh-pooh his take on the local lads. I mean, he ought to have some insider intel because he’s been dogging the local lads across North America since October, but, at the same time, Mad Mike fell short of providing anecdotal evidence of squabbling in the inner sanctum. Actually, he produced exactly zero evidence, which is shameful reporting. He merely referenced Multiple Sources who, along with Reliable Sources, is every reporter’s go-to informant when no one is willing to say what needs to be said out loud.

For the sake of discussion, though, let’s accept that he’s accurate and Winnipeg HC is a house divided. Does that mean les Jets best-of-seven playoff assignment vs. St. Louis beginning Wednesday at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is a no-hoper? Not at all.

Allow me to direct your attention to the Winnipeg Jets circa 1978-79.

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Those of a certain vintage will recall the unique makeup of that outfit, in that it was actually two teams in one. On the heels of their second World Hockey Association title, les Jets were scuttled by a number of defections, most notably Ander Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to Gotham. To shore up a depleted roster, management purchased the nucleus of a Houston Aeros franchise that had gone belly up, with Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich and Scotty Campbell among the recruits.

It was a stroke of genius. Except for one thing: To say the Houston guys and the Winnipeg holdovers got along is to say hard-core Beatles fans were giddy when the dreaded Yoko Ono showed up on John’s arm one day. Some, myself included, still think of that as the day the music died, but I digress.

The Aeros-Jets had been fierce rivals on the freeze, and the residue of bitterly contested battles won and lost still existed when they began to share a changing room. Larry Hillman, the head coach of the day, could do nothing to achieve détente, in part because the Houston portion of the amalgamated roster was doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

“You don’t think the rest of the players in this league don’t know that?” Robbie Ftorek said one night after he and the Cincinnati Stingers had laid a licking on les Jets.

Tom McVie

It wasn’t until Tom McVie arrived in River City, bull whip in hand behind the bench, that the boys clued in and began working in concert, a collaboration that resulted in an unlikely third WHA championship.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich told me the night the Jets put away the Edmonton Gretzkys to gain permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski confirmed.

So, when they drop the puck for the Jets and Blues skirmish, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the “rotten to the core” home side. Even squabbling outfits can get the job done.

Mind you, it would help if these Jets had Ruskowski, Lukowich, Preston and Campbell on board.

Coach Potty Mouth

You can dismiss McIntyre’s essay as nothing more than click-bait sensationalism, if you like, and my main issue with him is this snippet: “I’m not about to start feeding the rumor mill…” Good gawd, man, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Use the terms “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy”—especially without supporting quotes and/or facts—and you’ve got rumor and innuendo running faster than a scalded dog. Are the players PO’d because Patrik Laine spends more time playing Fortnite than backchecking? Has coach Potty Mouth lost the dressing room? Whose track suit is Dustin Byfuglien dunking in the ice tub? Gossip, gossip, gossip. And if les Jets don’t get past the Blues, it’ll really crank up.

Craig Button of TSN had this to say about les Jets in advance of the Stanley Cup tournament: “They’re a weak team giving up a lot of goals. They’re the weakest (Western Conference) team going into the playoffs.” Ouch. That’s “anything but rosy.”

Blake Wheeler

After all the pomp, the praise, the worship, the Sportsnet headlines, the tributes, the mattress commercials, and the blah, blah, blah about John Tavares, he finished with three fewer points than Blake Wheeler’s 91. Now, I don’t buy the pre-fab bunk that players in Good Ol’ Hometown fly under the radar, because people around the league know what Wheeler has done. But I will submit that les Jets captain gets ignored. But, then, so do other elite performers with Canadian-based outfits. Five of them—Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Johnny Gaudreau, Mitch Marner and Wheeler—outscored Tavares this season, yet all but McDavid received less than half the ink devoted to the Tranna Maple Leafs centre by national media. Just saying.

If you’re keeping score at home, another of the over-ballyhooed Leafs, Auston Matthews, scored at a clip of 1.07 points per game. Twenty players were as good or better. Again, just saying.

Just wondering: Can Dave Poulin of TSN talk without holding a pen in his hand?

Sam Pollock

I keep hearing pundits say this was a successful season for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sorry, but I don’t follow. I mean, the Habs will be on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the playoff fun commences this week. When did parting gifts replace championship banners as a suitable reward for the most storied franchise in NHL history? It’s like Tom Hanks being happy about losing an Oscar to Adam Sandler. I swear, ol’ Sammy Pollock must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Really strange headline No. 1: “Jets’ Patrik Laine evolves from sublime scorer to all-around player.” Ya, Puck Finn is an all-around player like a box of Timbits is a seven-course meal.

Really strange headline No. 2: “Even Oilers not stupid enough to trade Connor McDavid.” No, the Edmonton Oilers would never be so dumb as to deal away Connor McDavid. You know, just like they would never be so dumb as to trade away Wayne Gretzky.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith. A truly gifted writer. It’s just that sometimes he totally loses the plot. Like his take on the rise of Canadian tennis teens Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov: “Our tennis was becoming like everything else this country does on the international stage—a strong second.” Right. We’re always the bridesmaid in sports like hockey and curling. As if. And Brooke Henderson, Penny Oleksiak, Clara Hughes, Donovan Bailey, Mike Weir, Virtue and Moir, Mikael Kingsbury, Percy Williams, Daniel Nestor, Lennox Lewis, Barbara Ann Scott, Nancy Greene, the Crazy Canucks, Cindy Klassen, Susan Nattrass, Jim Elder, Northern Dancer, Steve Nash, Larry Walker, Jacques Villeneuve, etc….I guess they all finished second best, too. Come on, man, give your head a shake.

So nice of mainstream media to finally notice women’s hockey in a non-Olympics year. Too bad it took the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to grab their attention. I think their newly discovered interest in Ponytail Puck was best summed up in a tweet from Diana Matheson, a member of our women’s national soccer side: “Speaks volumes to the problem that my initial response to a discussion about women’s hockey on the radio, is to be surprised they are talking about it.” Now we’ll see if the MSM attention span lasts long enough to actually cover whatever teams emerge from the ashes of the CWHL.

And, finally, scientists say Canada is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. In other weather news, women golfed at Augusta National this weekend, so hell just froze over.