Let’s talk about no respect for fitba…girl power on TSN’s World Cup coverage…Kaylyn Kyle blowing the whistle on refs…hair of the dog…Rafa and Big Red…and go Raptors

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you don’t like reading about soccer, you’d be wise to move to another blog right about now…

The women’s World Cup is comfortably underway in France, and I sometimes wonder why we in North America have been so slow on the uptake in embracing the beautiful game known around the globe as football but soccer here at home.

True, fitba can be slow, tedious and boring. And, of course, there are the play-actors and their near-death experiences, a dodgy bit of business that is shame-worthy but never Oscar-worthy.

Neymar

Perhaps it’s the theatrics of the soccer elite—almost exclusive to the men’s side of the pitch—that keeps us at arm’s length. I mean, watching Neymar and other faux thespians flopping and twitching and gasping for their last breath, like so many trout out of water, provides comic relief but it’s also a total turnoff. If I want to see bad acting, I can turn on Mama’s Family any night on MeTV.

But, hey, even with fake injury time added to each half of a soccer match, it’s over in less than two hours.

Cripes, man, the halftime show at the Super Bowl lasts longer than that, especially if Janet Jackson has to put her clothes back on. And yet the National Football League and its Super Bowl is a colossus, even when halftime entertainers aren’t flashing flesh.

The NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League are John, Paul, George and Ringo. Major League Soccer is George Martin or Brian Epstein or Billy Preston. You know, the so-called Fifth Beatle. Or worse—Yoko Ono.

Many myopic mainstream jock journalists are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge MLS as a major-league sport.

Steve Simmons in the Republic of Tranna, for example, recently posted this item to his Twitter feed:

Toronto big league championships in my lifetime (with apologies to Argos, Rock and TFC)
62 Leafs
63 Leafs
64 Leafs (have no memory of 62-63-64)
67 Leafs
92 Blue Jays
93 Blue Jays.

Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS title fails to register on the Steve-O-Meter.

Yet MLS qualifies on most measuring sticks as “big league.” Million-dollar player salaries? Check. Global reach? Check. Multi-million-dollar national TV contract? Check. Franchises worth mega-millions? Check. Healthy attendance? Check.

Atlanta United, in fact, has a better average head count (52,000-plus) than every team in Major League Baseball. Toronto FC outdraws the Blue Jays. Seattle Sounders outdraw the Mariners. Cripes, man, as of June 2, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League had better attendance than nine MLB outfits. See for yourself:

I see a lot of “big league” head counts in there.

Meanwhile, here are a few other points of interest about MLS:

Atlanta United fans

* Forbes valued four franchises at more than $300 million last year (Atlanta United $330M, L.A. Galaxy $320M; Seattle Sounders $310M; LAFC $305M) and Toronto FC at $290M. Again, that spells “big league” to me.
* In 2018, 53 MLS players collected $1,000,000 or more at the pay window, while both Zoltan Stieber of DC United and Andreu Fontas of Sporting Kansas City came in at one dollar less. If those aren’t “big league” wages, Pele was a punk rocker.
* Among all global leagues, only Poland’s First Division has had a faster growth spurt in the past five years, and MLS average attendance between 2013 and 2018 was eighth in the world.

Atlanta packs ’em in.

* Atlanta United puts more people in the pews than Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, among many others, while Seattle Sounders have a larger per-game following than outfits like Chelsea and AC Milan.

Is MLS the premier fitba operation on the planet? Of course not. But it doesn’t have to be on par with the English Premier League, Serie A Italy, La Liga or the Bundesliga to make it a member in good standing of the Big Five—and not the Fifth Beatle—in North America.

No surprise, really, that Simmons would pooh-pooh the MLS as a hamlet-sized dot on our sports landscape. Here’s what he had to say about fitba on the Toronto Mike’d podcast during Toronto FC’s championship run: “I’m almost embarrassed to be at the soccer games, because my knowledge of the game and my interest in the game is so limited. I don’t know the ABCs. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you all the positions. I don’t know how many players are on the field. Honestly, I have no connection to this game at all. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t play it, I never watched it, I didn’t care about it.” That’s an astonishing confession from a sports columnist with a nation-wide platform. Let’s hope it means he’ll leave the writing on the women’s World Cup to scribes who actually know how many players are on the pitch.

If you tune in to World Cup coverage on TSN, you’ll see something as rare as a Monday morning without a Donald Trump tweet—an all-female natterbug panel. Instead of simply looking all gussied up and pretty, they’re letting Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson analyze teams, break down plays and—oh…my…gawd—deliver opinion. You know, like they actually know what they’re talking about. Imagine that. Women with functioning brains on sports TV. What a concept.

Kaylyn Kyle

I really enjoyed the lively and spirited banter between Rustad, Kyle and Matheson at halftime of the England-Scotland skirmish. Kyle and Rustad disagreed sharply on what should and shouldn’t be a hand ball penalty, and host Kate Beirness knew enough to zip her lips and let the two former Canadian national team members have at it. Kyle was, to say the least, animated and agitated after the Video Assistant Referee awarded England a penalty kick due to an unintentional hand ball by the Scots. Kyle was emphatic: The game referee and VAR room should ignore one of the most fundamental rules of the game and let the women play on. Which, of course, is total nonsense. Do you know what we’d have if officials stopped calling games by the rule book? The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fashion note: The aforementioned Kyle has the most magnificent head of hair on TV. I know several drag queens who would give their first-born to have that mane.

Speaking of hair, what are the chances that Brett Hull is looking for some hair of the dog this morning? If Hull wasn’t five sheets to the wind on Sunday night in St. Loo, he was off his meds because he looked and sounded totally wasted prior to puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between the St. Loo Blues and Boston Bruins. I’m guessing his head is exploding right about now.

Someone hurled a can of beer onto the ice surface late in the Game 6 skirmish. I’d point to Hull as the most likely suspect, except he didn’t appear to be in the mood to let a good can of beer go to waste.

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

I never thought I’d see dominance in sports like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Big Red romped to horse racing’s Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in a world-record time that stands unchallenged to this day, and watching film of that gallop still gives me a shiver and has me reaching for the Kleenex.

Rafa Nadal

Even after the passage of so much time, it seems so unreal. Like a fairytale about a wonder horse that us old folks like to tell our grandkids. But it happened, and so did a different kind of thoroughbred—Rafael Nadal. If anything comes close to Secretariat at the Belmont, it’s Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris. In winning his 12th French Open title and 18th tennis Grand Slam on Sunday, Rafa is running neck-and-neck with Big Red on my personal scorecard of belief-challenging accomplishments. He’s 93-2 in France. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. The King of Clay has lost twice—in 15 years! Against the absolute best players on the planet. That’s insane.

Number of different women winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 9. Naomi Osaka has been the only repeat champion. Number of men not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 0.

Kawhi Leonard

Fun tweet from Gord Stellick of Sportsnet: “Taking attendance first day of JK at Toronto schools in 2024: Kawhi Smith, Kawhi Jones, Kawhi Murphy, Kawhi Watson…”

And, finally, it’s my understanding that they’ll be playing a rather significant basketball game tonight in the Republic of Tranna. Like the majority of Canadians, I won’t be watching, but I hope Kawhi Leonard and the Jurassics get the job done against the Golden State Juggernaut. I love it whenever we beat the Americans at our own game.

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Let’s talk about a River City ripoff…Sir Macca and the Cheeseheads…looking into the CFL crystal ball…the return of Kirk Penton?…sexism at the NHL combine…Unhappy Jack and the Jets…Cam Neely’s hissy fit and memories of Fergy…Uncle Sam’s NBA TV nightmare…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I wonder if the Blue Bombers will ever get to play a game at Lambeau Field…

I am not accustomed to telling others what to do with their money.

Oh, sure, I sometimes wonder why folks spend considerable chunks of their well-earned—or ill-gotten—coin on certain things. You know, like a Nickelback or Luke Bryan concert. Or that phony fist fight a couple years ago between wife-beater Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the planet’s most-vulgar athlete, Conor McGregor. Or an Adam Sandler anything.

But, hey, it’s your dime. Spend it as you like.

I will, however, make an exception in the case of the National Football League dress rehearsal featuring the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, proposed for Aug. 22 at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry. Tickets are priced from $75 to $340 (plus taxes, plus fees, plus your child’s university tuition)…and people are actually buying them.

To borrow a phrase from one-time tennis wingnut John McEnroe: “You CANNOT BE SERIOUS!”

Think about it, kids. Folks in Oakland will watch those same Raiders play the Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 10 for the equivalent of 13 loonies and couch change. Yet the tariff in Good Ol’ Hometown is $75-$340?

We haven’t seen a ripoff like this in River City since the night Dave Hanson ripped the rug off Bobby Hull’s head.

It couldn’t be more of a sham if the two teams were named Con and Job.

So, yes, you can count me as shocked that all the $75-plus seats were snatched up in less than 24 hours. I mean, we’re talking about Winnipeg here. The Ojibway word for Winnipeg is “wholesale.” Peggers wouldn’t buy a corned beef sandwich from Oscar’s Deli unless it was a bargain. Which, of course, it is. Yet they’re shelling out large dollars for faux football (read: exhibition season).

Go figure.

Someone suggested an NFL game in Winnipeg is comparable to a Paul McCartney concert. I agree. The Raiders haven’t been any good since the 1970s and neither has Sir Paul.

Sticking with Sir Macca and the Packers, the former Beatle played Lambeau Field, home of the Cheeseheads, on Saturday night as part of his Freshen Up Tour. Tickets went for $55.95 to $279.95, but they were fetching as much as $3,500 on the secondary market. Imagine that, spending $3,500 just to listen to Silly Lambeau Songs.

I have no quibble with the NFL invading three-down football territory. It’s not like the locals will stop watching or supporting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers simply because Aaron Rodgers and his American Cheesehead pals are coming to town. It might, in fact, confirm what some of us have believed since we were knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis—our game is more entertaining than theirs.

Dave Dickenson

My goodness. The Canadian Football League season is already upon us, with the fun starting on Thursday in the Hammer. I swear, it seems like only yesterday that Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders was squawking about the “fucking Canadian mafia” in Winnipeg.

I’ve already made my 29th annual prediction of a Grey Cup parade for downtown River City in November, and it doesn’t matter that my previous 28 forecasts were incorrect. (Hey, if meteorologists can be wrong every day, I can be wrong once a year.) This will be the order of finish in the CFL this season:

West Division
1. Winnipeg
2. B.C.
3. Edmonton
4. Calgary (crossover playoff spot)
5. Saskatchewan

East Division
1. Hamilton
2. Toronto
3. Ottawa
DNF. Montreal

Playoffs
Calgary def. Toronto
B.C. def. Edmonton
Hamilton def. Calgary
Winnipeg def. B.C.

Grey Cup: Winnipeg def. Hamilton

I hope the kickoff to the CFL season brings Kirk Penton back to his keyboard. Kirk’s take on all things three-down football for The Athletic are must-reads, notably the insider musings from league coaches, GMs, scouts and upper-management types.

If it’s a good read you’re looking for (and who isn’t?), you’ll want to check out Katy Strang’s piece on the NHL rookie combine in The Athletic. It’s lengthy, but worth the time because it provides incredible insight, including this cringeworthy gem:

“One agent mused that the later in the week the combine goes, the more some teams’ scouting staffs get bored and start screwing around for a laugh. But sometimes teams cross a line.

“Take the example of one current NHL player, who recalled his most vivid memory of the combine interview process. The wide-eyed teenager entered the room for an interview with the team, sat down and, rather than being questioned, was met with this jaw-dropping remark instead from one of the team’s high-ranking executives:

“So, I heard you’re a pussy.”

Like I said, it’s cringeworthy, but not at all shocking. That kind of degrading, sexist hockey-speak has been around since road apples were used for pucks and Eaton’s catalogs were shin pads, and hokey slogans like “Hockey Is For Everyone” won’t drown out the misogyny choir. It’s also the reason why any gay players remain hidden so deep in the closet that a team of coal miners can’t find them.

Unhappy Jack

Did he or didn’t he? Aaron Portzline of The Athletic says he did. Ken Robinson says he didn’t. But, to date, Jack Roslovic has neither confirmed nor denied that he asked for a one-way ticket out of Dodge at some point during the Winnipeg Jets’ latest National Hockey League crusade. Unhappy Jack certainly whinged about a lack of ice time, but so did his on-again, off-again linemate Mathieu Perreault and, no doubt, every other guy that head coach Paul Maurice forgot about (hello, Nic Petan). Hockey players bitch about ice allotment on every team, in every town, from peewee to beer league to pro, and I suspect it’s highly prevalent among young players with les Jets. I suppose that’s what passes for “ruffled feathers” these days.

If Coach Potty Mouth put Roslovic, Twig Ehlers and Kyle Connor together, he might have the fastest forward unit in the NHL. Also the most timid.

Had to laugh at a line in Mad Mike McIntyre’s column on Unhappy Jack. “The Roslovic trade bombshell was just another log on the fire for the ‘everything is broken’ crowd out there when it comes to the Jets,” he wrote in the Drab Slab. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to Mad Mike that he’s the dude who created the “everything is broken” mob with his fact-free “rotten to the core” yarn in early April. Since that initial installment of his whodunit novel Scandal, Jets Wrote, speculation and gossip have been running at full gallop, no surprise given that Mad Mike has yet to provide any hard-core evidence of corruption.

Cam Neely

Watching Boston Bruins president Cam Neely toss a water bottle in unrestrained fury during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final reminded me of the night John Ferguson, then GM of the Jets, dumped an entire bucket of ice cubes from his press box bunker onto the Buffalo Sabres bench in the old barn on Maroons Road. Fergy was a beauty.

Pedro Martinez, definitely a righty.

Luke Fox of Sportsnet offered an interesting take on the Neely water-bottle toss, inspired by a non-penalty call that led to St. Louis Blues’ decisive score in a 2-1 win: “So this is how we find out Cam Neely is a lefty. The uncalled penalty was so blatant and so instrumental to the outcome of the game and, possibly, the championship that the president of the Boston Bruins stood up enraged in the press box, snatched a water bottle with his left hand and, in one fluid motion, whipped it against the wall like Pedro Martinez.” Ya, just like Pedro. Except for one thing: Martinez wasn’t a freaking lefty. He tossed right-handed for the Dodgers, the Expos, the Red Sox, the Mets and the Phillies. The only thing Pedro ever did with his left hand was toss Don Zimmer to the turf.

I’m not saying officiating in this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament has been all bad, but it’s not a good sign when the zebras skate onto the ice to the tune of I Go Blind by Hootie and the Blowfish.

Dumbest headline of the week was delivered by Sportsnet: “U.S. TV ratings aside, Raptors-Warriors is dream matchup for NBA.” Oh, for sure. The NBA should ignore the fact that most folks in the world’s greatest basketball nation are watching Gilligan’s Island reruns instead of the hoops championship series. Viewership in the U.S. has reached 10- to 12-year depths. Game 5 in the Republic of Tranna, with the Jurassics positioned to put away the Golden State Juggernaut, could be the lowest-rated final match ever in Trumpland. This is a dream matchup for the NBA like Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman were a dream couple. We’re talking nightmare, kids.

Women’s hockey update: XVI Sports and Sportsground in Sweden have joined forces to produce all games in the SDHL on TV next winter. It’s a six-year, multi-million dollar deal. All that’s missing is a network partner to come on board. Meanwhile, the grand sum of 18 players have signed with National Women’s Hockey League outfits in the U.S., with the Boston Pride leading the way with eight players. That ought to make the Pride a shoo-in for the title. Except they don’t have a goalie.

Christine Sinclair

And, finally, boffo start to the women’s World Cup, with host France beating South Korea 4-donut. Our soccer ladies take to the pitch vs. Cameroon on Monday, and if this is Christine Sinclair’s final whirl with our national side I hope she goes out in a blaze of glory.

Let’s talk about cheering in the press box…negative bias…Red Smith getting the heave-ho…Brown Bagging It in the Drab Slab…Tim & Sid & Puck Finn…rooting for les Leafs…TV ratings…and sports IQ

A mid-week, media-centric smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and a happy hump day to all you working stiffs…

A couple of weekends back, I mentioned something about cheering in the press box and entered a guilty plea on the charge of silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets in the final waltz of the final World Hockey Association playoff gala.

The key word is “silently.”

I totally understood the ‘no cheering in the press box’ mantra and I subscribed to it without reservation during my 30 years in the rag trade. More to the point, I was inclined to cast the stink eye at anyone who betrayed the precious, unwritten code that dates back to the first chisel striking a stone tablet following David’s epic upset win over Goliath.

Thus it was with interest that I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s thoughts on the matter at the conclusion of his recent hoops safari to the Republic of Tranna at the behest of the Drab Slab.

While the Jurassics and the Golden State Juggernaut had at it on the hardwood, Mad Mike found himself somewhat discomforted by the presence of the most scorned and tut-tutted of press box inhabitants—he/she who waves pom-poms.

“That’s just gross,” he opined. “To be clear, I didn’t witness this from any of the mainstream press—who I expect would know better—but from a handful of fringe online writers who managed to score access. A big no-no, but the kind of thing that is happening in this rapidly growing media world where ‘fan-friendly’ copy can score you easy clicks and likes.

“Let me say this as loudly as I can: I don’t cheer for any team I cover. And I would hope my copy, not to mention 24-year journalism career in this city, would reflect that. The only things I root for are good storylines and quick-moving games that leave plenty of time for deadline to file. And Diet Pepsi in the press box, instead of Diet Coke.”

Well, let me say this about that (without being too loud) once again: Any news snoop who tells you that he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying. And because they have favorites, they want those people and/or teams to succeed. That isn’t wrong, nor does it make them sellouts to a sacred trust. It makes them human.

Imagine that. Sports scribes as humans. What a concept. It’s true, though. Especially among the women. I’ve yet to meet a female jock journo who isn’t human. The men, not so much.

But even the men are suckers for a good story from good people.

You think there wasn’t silent cheering in the press box at the old barn on Maroons Road when Teemu Selanne was about to shatter Mike Bossy’s rookie record for goal scoring in 1993? Teemu wasn’t just a fan favorite in Good Ol’ Hometown. He was a media darling. Scribes and talking heads loved the obliging, aw-shucks kid with the flashy nickname from Finland. They couldn’t get enough of him. So when Selanne passed Bossy, you wanted to stand up and damn well cheer.

Other things made you want to break down and bloody well cry, like a spring afternoon in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets bid farewell to the faithful and bolted for the Arizona desert. (I know, for certain, there were news snoops with tears in their eyes that day.)

The trick, of course, is to keep any bias on the down low while perched in the press box and, most imperative, prevent it from creeping into your copy.

To date, Mad Mike has managed to do that while sucking back his Diet Pepsi. But Big Sister is watching and reading.

Prejudice, you realize, can cut both ways. The most recent example of negative bias I can think of was the extreme and shameful hate-on former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek had for Jacob Trouba. The young Jets defender (allegedly) lied to Wiecek about a desire to play in Winnipeg, and the Freep scribe went into attack mode, never squandering an opportunity to discredit Trouba’s character, if not his play. It became an obsession, very personal, nasty and uncomfortable. That is as much a betrayal to the trade as standing up and cheering in the press box.

Red Smith

Here’s how legendary American columnist Red Smith handled a run-in with an athlete back in the day (from the book No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman):

“Over the years, of course, all sports writers, especially those assigned to and traveling with ball clubs, have difficulty with a ball player, or ball players. I never had anything as crucial as an actual fist fight, but I did have some differences with Bill Werber. This was when I was in Philadelphia and he was traded or sold. The A’s sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, and when the deal was announced I probably wrote something to the general effect of ‘Good riddance.’ I’m not sure. I didn’t care deeply for Bill. I thought he paraded his formal education. He was out of Duke, you know, and he used to correct the grammar of other ball players. There were things about Bill that didn’t enchant me.

“In 1939 the Reds were in the World Series. When we got to Cincinnati for the third game I went down to the bench before the game, and my old friend Paul Derringer said, ‘Hello, Red, you know Bill Werber don’t you?’ And Werber said, ‘Yes, I know the sonofabitch.’

“It went on, a tiny few exchanges like that, and then he said, ‘Get off this bench! Get out of the dugout!’

“I said, ‘No, I’m a guest here.’

“And he got up and shouldered me out of the dugout, just kind of strongarmed me out. I had my portable and I was strongly tempted to let him have it—with the typewriter. But I somehow didn’t feel like doing that on the field before the first World Series game in Cincinnati and so I left.

“I remember Charlie Dexter coming along behind me and he said, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to protest to the Baseball Writers Association?’

“I said, ‘No, Charlie, the player doesn’t like me.’

“I didn’t speak to him again.”

Doug Brown

Another interesting entry from Doug Brown on the pages of the Drab Slab. Despite evidence to the contrary in the 2018 Canadian Football League crusade, Doug’s not convinced that Chris Streveler is a suitable backup quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “It can take a lot more time to develop a pocket-passing acumen than a couple of starts, a year of practice and some preseason games. Call it a hunch, a best guess, but I’m not sure he eventually will.” Brown adds that Streveler’s “habits, and affinity for contact, aren’t sustainable for the long-term in the CFL.” Like I said, interesting. Brown, of course, saw some QBs during his time on D-lines in both the CFL and National Football League, but I’m saying he misses his “guess” on Streveler.

So, some dude named David Pagnotta from a blog called The Fourth Period cites “multiple sources close to the situation” and tells us that restricted free agent Patrik Laine plans to “explore” all his options. That, in turn, leads to rampant rumor that Puck Finn wants out of River City if les Jets don’t pony up to the tune of $10 million per season on a new contract. That’s where Tim & Sid weighed in on Sportsnet.

Tim Micallef: “Laine is an elite goal scorer.”
Sid Seixeiro: “But here’s the thing. Laine…there are some red flags on Laine a little bit. Would you not acknowledge? He’s extremely hard on himself, he’ll go in that slump…there are parts of Laine, when he’s scoring 45-plus you kind of ignore, but when he had a year like he had last year…look, they’re gonna pay him, they’re gonna keep him, I’m not saying they’re not. But his rep isn’t what it was 18 months ago.”

Tim & Sid

Tim: “But even then, so what do you drop to, a Phil Kessel? Like, honestly, the guy can score in his sleep, right?”
Sid: “When he’s scoring.”
Tim: “But when he’s scoring he ends up with 40, in and around. Right? Like, even with the slumps, he ends up with in and around 40, which, I don’t know if you checked, gets a lot of money in the NHL these days.”
Sid: “Oh, it does. Look, the Cheveldayoff thing and Laine, we’re gonna hear a lot of the breaking rumors, he is not leaving Winnipeg, he is signing long term in Winnipeg, he is not being traded, he is not exploring those options. Of all the restricteds, that one is gonna get locked down guaranteed.”

I’m with Sid, even though his numbers are a bit wonky (Laine has yet to score “45-plus” in a season). Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere.

Strange tweet from Scott Stinson of the National Post: “No one from outside Ontario would dare cheer for the Maple Leafs. The Raptors, though…” What rock has that dude been hiding under? When les Leafs make their annual pilgrimage to Western Canada, it’s like they’re the home team. Stinson might want to get out of the house more often. Or at least stay up late enough to turn on his TV and watch les Leafs when they’re playing in the colonies.

D’oh boy tweet from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: “More people watching these Raptor games in the NBA Finals than watch Grey Cups these days. That’s exceeding an annual piece of Canadiana. Think about that for a moment.” I don’t have to think about it. Although Cox doesn’t spell out what “these days” are, here are Canadian TV ratings from Grey Cup matches this century vs. the NBA final:

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2019 Game 2 NBA final 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2019 Game 1 NBA final 3.3M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

And, finally, I keep hearing pundits talk about hockey IQ and basketball IQ and football IQ, but I never hear anyone mention baseball IQ. I guess after listening to Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, the notion of intelligent life on Planet Baseball was ruled out years ago.

50 years after Stonewall, lesbian athletes make strides while gay men remain stuck at ground zero

The past does not tell us where we have been, it tells us where we are.

So where are LGBT athletes today as Pride Month 2019 kicks off, half a century after the Stonewall Riots in Gotham’s Greenwich Village?

The answer, I suppose, depends on which scorecard you use.

Certainly there has been considerable advancement in the inclusion file, both on and off the playing fields of North America and, indeed, in global frolics like the Olympic Games.

Here are some of the notations you’ll find on that particular scorecard:

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss.

* Lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss are part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group.
* Out lesbian Laura Ricketts is co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.
* Golden State Warriors out gay president and chief operating officer Rick Welts was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
* Out lesbian Caroline Ouillette is assistant coach with Canada’s national women’s hockey team (she’s married to former Team U.S.A. captain Julie Chu and they have a daughter together).
* Out lesbians Jayna Hefford and Angela James have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
* 56 LGBT athletes competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
* 15 LGBT athletes competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
* 16 out lesbians were on rosters at the 2015 women’s World Cup of soccer.

Abby Wambach

* The leading goal-scorer in the history of women’s international soccer, Abby Wambach, is an out lesbian.
* 7 players in the 2018 Women’s National Basketball Association all-star game were out lesbians.
* Both the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League have featured transgender players—Harrison Browne and Jessica Platt—and numerous out lesbians.
* U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe became the first out lesbian to be featured in the
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
* Rapinoe and hoops star Sue Bird became the first LGBT couple to be featured in
ESPN The Magazine body issue.

Katie Sowers

* Out lesbian Katie Sowers is an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.

That acceptance is terrific, for the LGBT collective and society as a whole.

Unfortunately, there’s a second scorecard:

* Number of out gay men in the National Hockey League:             0
* Number of out gay men in the National Football League:            0
* Number of out gay men in the National Basketball Association: 0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Baseball:                     0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Soccer:                        0

Cite another segment of society in which the bottom-line number in 2019 is the same as the bottom-line number in 1969. I can’t think of one.

Thus, the motion of life moves everything forward with the exception of the cultural phenomenon that is professional male team sports, an unbudging, frat-boy enterprise still stuck in the mud fifty years after all hell broke loose in and outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.

Are there gay men among the approximately 4,300 players on current NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS rosters? Here’s an easier question: Does Donald Trump tell fibs?

Gay male athletes have always existed. It’s just that 99.999999 per cent of them remained hidden in a closet, earnestly avoiding the most taboo of talking points until the final whistle had sounded on careers spent in fear of being outed as lesser-thans.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan.

Women and men with framed diplomas that indicate intellectual loft have given ponder to the curious case of the closeted male jock, and the eggheads advance numerous theories in an effort to explain the refusal to identify as gay. But, really, it isn’t a Cadbury chocolate bar mystery. It can be cataloged under the ‘fear’ file. It’s the fear of loss—loss of family/friends; loss of career; loss of income; loss of credibility; loss of status.

No male athlete wishes to be known by friend, foe or fan as a lesser-than. A Nancy boy, if you will. So he plays on, keeping his choice of romantic interests on the hush-hush.

Lesbian athletes, on the other hand, are far ahead on the social curve. They are less inclined to hide from themselves or anyone else. Elena Delle Donne and Sue Bird are not thought of as lesser-thans. Ditto Abby Wambach or Megan Rapinoe. Billie Jean King is greatly admired. The same could be said for Martina Navratilova until she recently went off on transgender athletes. Caroline Ouillette and Julie Chu proudly post pics of their daughter on Instagram. Former hockey stars Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan do the same with their wedding photos.

When Canada’s gold medal-winning goaltender Charline Labonté came out in 2014, she provided insight to the culture of the national women’s hockey club.

“Just like everywhere else our team had gays and straights, just like we had brunettes and redheads,” she wrote in an article for the LGBT website Outsports. “Everyone on my team has known I’m gay since I can remember and I never felt degraded for it. On the contrary, my sport and my team are the two environments where I feel most comfortable. The subject of homosexuality was never taboo with us. We talk and laugh about it like everything else. I feel privileged to live and be myself in an environment like this because I know that just a few years ago this topic was never part of the conversations in the locker room.”

Lesbians in sports has become a meh issue, and it’s only when a zealot like tennis legend Margaret Court turns the air toxic with illogical, wingnut rantings about same-sex marriage destroying Easter and Christmas that people give it any consideration.

Will men ever catch up to the women? Certainly not in my lifetime.

It is a peculiar business, indeed, when the San Francisco 49ers will happily hire a lesbian to tutor pass-catchers, yet there are no gay men in the NFL to catch passes.

Let’s talk about Kevin Cheveldayoff and slow news days…Winnipeg Jets draft-develop-and-D’oh!…just say no to Voynov…Drake the Courtside Drip…Raiders pulling a Cher?…bucking the boycott…Vlad the Gifted gets a day of rest…and the Drab Slab ignores a 40th anniversary

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and there’s only one NBA final (not finals) but I’ve got more than one item on my menu…

Top o’ the morning to you, Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Well, you sure fooled me, didn’t you? I thought you were doing the Rip Van Chevy thing (read: snoozing) when—poof—you convince Laurent Brossoit that being a millionaire caddie in Winnipeg beats being a backup keeper elsewhere in the National Hockey League.

Chevy

The question now is this, Chevy: When do the other three, four, five shoes drop?

Soon I hope, because I’ve had it up to my eyeliner with the free-wheeling speculation swirling around Jacob Trouba. The boys on the beat (hello Ken Wiebe, Murat Ates) were tripping over their dangling participles and run-on sentences last week trying to determine your next gambit for the top-pair defender, and I really wish you’d give them something juicy to write about.

I mean, both Wiebe at the Winnipeg Sun and Ates at The Athletic delivered chapters 4,375 and 4,376 in the Trouba Saga, and you know what I call that, Chevy? I call it a slow news day. Sloth slow.

Same thing with Mad Mike McIntyre over at the Drab Slab. He’s become so bored with your thumb-twiddling that he decided the cluster climb and body count on Mount Everest (120 reached the peak on Thursday, 15 dead or missing this year) are more interesting than Mount NHL, which you’ve been trying to scale for eight years. So he went Sherpa-speak on us with a yarn about a local dude who lived to talk about surviving the ultimate uphill trudge.

Mad Mike did, mind you, scribble a token piece on your Jets last week, a yawn-inducing recitation of Paul Maurice’s head coaching resume, confirming that a) Coach Potty Mouth remains the seventh-winningest bench jockey in National Hockey League history, b) he is also the losingest bench jockey in NHL history, c) you won’t find his name etched on the Stanley Cup, and d) he’s 52 years old.

You and Stevie Y in Detroit exchanging bubble gum cards would be more interesting than that, Chevy.

I suppose we should be thankful, though. After all, Mad Mike finally managed to get through an entire week without another installment in his whodunit novel Scandal, Jets Wrote.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Hey, maybe that’s what you can do, Chevy. Tell us what Mad Mike hasn’t been able to dig up. Give us the skinny on what went down in the changing room of that team you generally manage. That ought to generate some juicy, 72-point headlines and spice up an off-season that began at least a month too soon. But no. Don Cherry will turn his back on Bobby Orr before Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman allows you to hang out Winnipeg HC’s dirty laundry in public. If, that is, there’s dirty laundry to hang out.

That’s right, Chevy, I still insist on concrete evidence before I’m convinced that your players’ lair was as “rotten to the core” as Mad Mike and some among the rabble speculate.

The point is, news snoops need you, Chevy. Like Connor McDavid needs an escape route. Only you can save them from themselves. They’ve flat-lined. They’re like a 1960s, grooved-out DJ still spinning Monkees and Herman’s Hermits tunes as if they’re relevant.

Laurent Brossoit

You need to toss the boys on the beat a bone, Chevy, and it wouldn’t take much to arrest their attention. Trust me, news snoops like nothing more than shiny objects right out of the box. So give them something new to gnaw on between now and the NHL’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers next month in Lotus Land.

You’d be doing them, and us, a real large if you could see your way to handing them something that goes ka-boom. Like an upgrade at centre ice or on the blueline.

Anyway, Chevy, it’s good to know you still have a pulse. But the Brossoit signing is mostly meh. It was barely enough to bring Mad Mike home from the Himalayas. And it doesn’t change anything with your Jets, who were found wanting this spring. Improvements are mandatory. Get on with it. The news cycle is depending on you, Chevy. A 72-point headline awaits.

If you’re keeping score at home, Chevy heads to Lotus Land for the NHL entry auction in Vancouver (June 21-22) with just three shout-outs—second, fourth and fifth rounders. So much for that draft-and-develop mantra, I guess. More like draft-develop-and D’oh!

Not to worry, though. The only outfits still standing in this spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, are convenient reminders that there’s more to piecing together a championship-calibre squad than a GM’s handiwork on the draft floor. Here’s how the two finalists were built:
Boston:      9 drafted, 10 free agents, 4 trades.
St. Louis: 12 drafted,   3 free agents, 8 trades.

Slava Voynov

Since you asked, no, I don’t want to see wife-beater Slava Voynov back in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings have already issued a communiqué stating he’s persona non grata in Tinseltown, but it’s guaranteed he’ll find suitors before his suspension is lifted midway through the 2019-20 crusade. Are les Jets interested in the rancid Russian rearguard? Seems to me that would be a good question to ask Puck Pontiff Chipman, so why aren’t local news snoops asking?

Our little ray of sunshine at Postmedia Tranna, Steve Simmons, posits that any NHL club signing Voynov will “sully their ethics.” Interesting. I mean, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats brought the woman-beating Johnny Manziel on board, Simmons didn’t view it as a sullying of ethics. More to the point, he was so excited he basically piddled himself in print, gushing: “Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?” He suggested that the Tabbies signing a guy who thumped out—and threatened to kill—his girlfriend would make the Canadian Football League “maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing.”

Drake the a hands-on groupie.

I’m not a hoops freak, so I haven’t watched five seconds of the Tranna Raptors’ push to the National Basketball Association final. But it’s my understanding that Kawhi Leonard and Drake are the leading candidates for playoff MVP. What’s that you say? Drake doesn’t play for the Raptors? He must. I mean, c’mon man, every time I call up the Sportsnet website I’m looking at pics of Drake and reading headlines about him. When I turn on my flatscreen to catch the latest highlights, there’s Drake running around on court like the escapee from a village that just lost its idiot. I hear the Sportsnet anchors flapping their gums about him. Ditto Tim and Sid. Alas, the rapper dude is nothing more than a greasy groupie, or, as Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star describes him, “a jacked-up fan,” “spectacularly un-cool” and “the barnacle of blingy acolytes.” Rosie also mentioned something about Drake the Courtside Drip’s “mortifying buffoonery,” and I’m totally onside with her when she writes it’s “time for a Dear Drake kiss-off.” Somehow I doubt the geniuses at Sportsnet will get the memo, though.

So, the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders are good to go for a National Football League dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry in August. Any chance the Raiders will pull a Cher? You know, a no-show? We can only hope.

I wasn’t surprised to hear Cher cancelled her concert in Good Ol’ Hometown last week. What surprised me is that she’s still on tour. And that people still pay money to stare at her glitzy costumes and whatever potted plant she’s wearing on her head. Sorry, Cher fans, but your girl lost me when Sonny lost her.

So how’s that boycott thing working for female shinny stars? Well, the signing season for Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League has been upon us since May 15, and the grand sum of six players have checked in to buck the boycott. They are:
Boston Pride— Tori Sullivan ($5,000), Kaleigh Fratkin ($11,000), Christina Putigna ($5,000).
Connecticut Whalers—Shannon Doyle (undisclosed).
Metropolitan Riveters—Madison Packer ($12,000).
Minnesota Whitecaps—Allie Thunstrom (undisclosed).
At this rate, there’ll be no need for team buses. Cooper Minis will do.

Vlad the Gifted

My oh my, so much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing in the Republic of Tranna last week, all because Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo told Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to sit a spell. That is, Charlie failed to pencil Vlad the Gifted into his starting lineup on Victoria Day. Horrors! Some samples of the hue and cry:

Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star: “There’s just no measuring the tonedeafness of this franchise in the Shapiro era.”
Terry Koshan, Postmedia Tranna: “Dumb and short-sighted.”
Steve Simmons, Postmedia Tranna: “Does Mark Shapiro go out of his way to be obtuse and distant from Toronto? Sitting Vladdy Guerrero on a holiday Monday is just one thing—stupid.”
Rob Longley, Postmedia Tranna: “Sitting red-hot Vlad Guerrero Jr. on a national holiday is a big middle finger to fans with tickets and those watching on TV.”
Scott Mitchell, TSN: “Another example of a tone-deaf group running this team as strictly a business and a kinesiology exercise, regularly forgetting fans and the entertainment aspect.”

I swear, there hasn’t been this much fuss over a day of rest since God slacked off on the original Sabbath.

My favorite comment was delivered by Steve Phillips of TSN: “This was an organizational failure. Bad input leads to bad output. Montoyo didn’t understand what Victoria Day means to Canadians.”

Yo! Steve! You know what Victoria Day means to most Canadians? It means a day off. Vlad the Gifted got one. So give it a rest (pun intended).

And, finally, hard to believe that the Drab Slab ignored the 40th anniversary of the last pro shinny championship in Good Ol’ Hometown. I realize they don’t have anyone on staff who was there to witness the Winnipeg Jets’ third and final World Hockey Association triumph, but there’s a reason we have archives. And what, no one at the Freep knows how to work a phone? I guess it was more convenient to fill an entire page with the nonsensical natterings of the resident pen pals, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek, whose Say What?! shtick reached its best-before date about two years ago. Shame, shame.

About the NHL “code,” the Coyote and the Roadrunner…the Dinosaurs 3…earning R-E-S-P-E-C-T…zip those lips…J.T. and his PJs in The ROT…the Packers and the Raiders in the Peg…and are they really still curling?

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s baseball season, so I believe I’ll enjoy the ceremonial first hot dog today…

Let’s play Jeopardy!

Contestant: “I’ll take ‘NOT THE SHARPEST KNIFE IN THE DRAWER’ for $2,000, please Alex.”

Alex Trebek: “Okay, here’s your clue: This is the only group of people on earth known to be dumber than a doorknob, dumber than a sack of hammers, and dumber than Fox News.”

Contestant: “Who are the people sitting in the front row at a Donald Trump rally?”

Alex Trebek: “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s incorrect. While those folks definitely aren’t very bright, the correct answer is: Who are National Hockey League players?”

Yes, kids, let’s face it, your hockey heroes are D’oh! boys. The biggest D’oh! boys in all of jockdom. I mean, we’re talking Homer Simpson dumb.

I say that because they believe they’re obliged to fight, and nowhere else in professional team sports do you find athletes so easily duped.

Look at football. Very physical sport. Dirty, gnarly sport. On a play-by-play basis, it’s far more violent than hockey. Blind-sided quarterbacks are cold-cocked constantly. Ditto defenceless receivers. But they rarely come up chucking knuckles. If fists do fly, the combatants are dismissed pronto because fisticuffs is taboo.

Basketball? It can get right nasty under the bucket, with elbows and forearms crunching into jaws, cheekbones and bent noses. Knees dig into groins. But the tall lads seldom feel obliged to throw down. When they do, they’re gone.

Nolan’s noogies.

Baseball? You hit my batter with a thrown ball, I’ll hit your batter with a thrown ball. Then the benches clear, the boys slap and push one another (unless it’s Nolan Ryan delivering serious noogies to Robin Ventura), and the men in blue give the offending parties the rest of the day off.

But in the NHL, there’s a “code.” The “code” is as old as Gordie Howe’s first jock, and it’s misguided vigilantism on blades.

To wit:

You hit me with a cheap shot—or hit me legally but too hard for my liking—and I now must knock your block off. If not me, one of my guard dogs will take care of business. Might not do it immediately. Might not do it that same night. Might have to wait a year. But someone is coming after you and you better not turn tail when challenged. You want the respect of friend, foe and fan? Only way is to “man up.” That’s the “code.”

Well, the “code” is stupid and so are hockey players for following it.

A woozy Paul Byron.

The “code” has ended careers (hello, Steve Moore) and it took Paul Byron out of the Montreal Canadiens lineup last week because he felt obliged to accept MacKenzie Weegar’s invitation to go dukes up. It doesn’t matter that Byron weighs a buck 60—about 40 pounds less than the Florida Panthers defender—and gives away four inches in height. Nor did it matter that he’d already served a three-game sentence and taken a sizable wallop to his wallet for an illegal hit on Weegar in January. There’s league-mandated accountability, then there’s law-of-the-jungle accountability.

So, ya, Byron dropped his mitts…then swallowed the knuckles on Weegar’s left fist and wobbled off the freeze, presumably to a very quiet room with no windows and all the lights turned off. Post-concussion, he was unavailable to les Canadiens on Thursday night in Columbus, where they lost to the Blue Jackets in a skirmish that carried considerable playoff significance, and there was no sign of him at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Saturday night when the Habs tried their luck vs. the Winnipeg Jets.

All that because Byron has been duped into believing he had no choice but to “man up” to the “code.”

“It’s been in the game forever,” one of his teammates, Andrew Shaw, said matter-of-factly.

Ya, and Wile E. Coyote has been chasing the Roadrunner forever, no matter how many sticks of dynamite blow up in his face or how many Acme anvils fall on his head. He just keeps coming back for more. Because Wile E. is really, really dumb.

So what does the Byron-Weegar scenario tell us about hockey players? Just that they’re as dumb as the most pathetic cartoon character ever created.

Brian Burke

Naturally, the Dinosaurs 3—Don Cherry, Brian Burke, Nick Kypreos—weighed in on Byron-Weegar, and it was no surprise to hear their knuckles scraping the floor as they spoke.

Here’s Cherry: “I know it’s hard for people to, you know, it’s a code and all that stuff and everythink, he had to do it, he had to stand up, and I know the players respect him more. I know you people put down the code, it’s a code and it’ll always BE THERE.”

Here’s Burke: “(Byron) wasn’t compelled to take this fight. He took it, and I respect him for doing it. He does not have to take the fight. He does not have to take this fight. But keep in mind, in our league, historically, we have allowed the players to use self help, we have allowed the players to regulate, extensively, the level of violence that occurs on the ice. This is a good tradition, the code works, the injury’s unfortunate.”

Nick Kypreos

Here’s Kypreos: “I had a lot of respect for Paul Byron, I have more for him today because of that.”

Well, isn’t that comforting for Byron to know. I’m sure he’ll sleep more soundly at night now that he’s earned a higher level of respect from a former thug who, when last seen on an NHL freeze, was lying face down and unconscious as blood oozed from his mouth. How did Kypreos get there? He lost an argument with Ryan VandenBussche’s left fist, whereupon a neurosurgeon suggested he get on with life, one that didn’t include disputes settled with bare knuckles. Yet here he is, 22 years later, faithfully clinging to and preaching the “code.” Also praising the latest victim.

Like I said, dumb.

The end of Nick Kypreos’ career.

I agree, it’s illogical that a guy whose career ended in a pool of his own blood would use his Sportsnet pulpit to repeatedly and, without apology, advocate violence. It’s like the victim of a drunk driver promoting “one more for the road.” But here’s where Kypreos confirms he has truly lost the plot.

“Two things I wanna tell people,” he said on Hockey Central At Noon, as if delivering a sermon. “When you step on the ice to play the game of hockey, two things a player always remembers: That you’re either trying to earn respect, or you’re trying to maintain respect. Okay? People don’t understand that, that aren’t there, and they never will because you gotta be there to understand that.”

How arrogant. Because 99.99999 per cent of us never laced ’em up in the NHL we know nothing about earning or maintaining respect? Perhaps Kypreos can tell that to any female news snoop who’s been assigned to cover men’s sports. Earning respect is an every-day, never-ending challenge for them. Same goes for female fire fighters and cops. Ditto openly gay athletes. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, actors, singers, artists, writers, parents—women and men—we all strive for respect. The difference, of course, is that we don’t feel the need to punch anyone in the face to achieve it.

Kypreos is either delusional or a damn fool, and I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter.

J.P. Barry

Offering an anti-goon voice in the discussion was J.P. Barry, who represents Byron and called out the “code” for what it is: A sham. Bogus. “I’m sure you will hear from many others who see things much differently than me and will say ‘look at Paul Byron, what a warrior, he answered the bell.’” Barry said. “These are the people that believe in the old ‘code.’ It’s time for Player Safety to be the new ‘code.’ What really matters is eliminating avoidable concussions wherever we can in our player safety rules going forward.” Imagine that, a voice of reason. To which Burke responded: “J.P. should have kept his mouth shut.” That’s rich. A guy who now makes his living as a squawk box is telling others to zip their lips. What freaking ever.

John Tavares

Astonishing headline on the Sportsnet website last week: “Tavares’ excellent season with the Maple Leafs flying under the radar?” They were kidding, right? Nope. On the Tim & Sid chin-wag, the boys discussed John Tavares being “overlooked.” Said Sid: “I can’t believe I’m about to say this—there’s been so much other stuff—he has been overlooked to a certain extent.” Oh, pu-leeze. The leading goal-scorer with the Tranna Maple Leafs has been “overlooked” like the moon landing and the JFK assassination. His name has been in more headlines than Robert Mueller’s. Cripes, man, how often have we seen that pic of J.T. in his PJs? A dozen? Two dozen? Until I see Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby in a onesy, no player in the Republic of Tranna is “overlooked.” Ever. And certainly not by Leafsnet.

Aaron Rodgers

What’s this? The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in discussions to bring the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders to Good Ol’ Hometown for a National Football League preseason skirmish? Please, say it ain’t so. I mean, what if the Raiders refuse to leave?

Interesting tweet from Winnipeg FC voice Knuckles Irving on the Packers-Raiders invading three-down country: “Any CFL team that offers to host an NFL pre season (sic) game should have their franchise revoked. And I might not just be kidding.” I agree with Knuckles. But only if we get to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

And, finally, now that the Major League Baseball season is upon us, shouldn’t the curling season be over? Will anyone actually be watching the men’s world championship from Lethbridge? I can’t imagine that it’s must-see TV for many folks, not even hard-core Pebble People on the Prairies.

About Commish Randy’s flag football and NFL Lite…an “effing crazy” tennis champion for Canada…equal coin for female curlers…it’s criminal what the Bruins did…the CWHL final on Sportsnet…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, no, I don’t have a St. Patty’s Day hangover because I was in bed before they started pouring the pints…

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was already up my nose, but he’s digging in deeper and deeper.

Randy Ambrosie is playing a different kind of flag football.

I mean, the guy’s globetrotting and making nice with people who’ve never seen the pointy end of a three-down football was an annoying bit of business, but Commish Randy is playing a dangerous game of flag football when there’s talk of reducing the number of Canadian starters—seven down to five—for each game-day lineup and adding two “global” spots to each overall roster. That’s just wrong.

I’d like to think that Justin Dunk of 3DownNation received bad intel when sources advised him that our homebrews are under attack. But I fear he’s spot on about the Canadian-import roster ratio.

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy

Homeys are at the very core of our game and ought not be used as bargaining chips in negotiations for a fresh Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the CFL Players Association. If Commish Randy and U.S. players want fewer Canadian starters, let’s get rid of the rouge, too. And while we’re at it, let’s shrink the field, adopt the fair catch and four downs, eliminate that pesky 12th man on defence so American QBs like Johnny Manziel aren’t confused, and replace the CFL on TSN panel with Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy. We can call it NFL Lite.

That might sell tickets in the Republic of Tranna, but I doubt it will wash on the Prairies, which is the heartland of the CFL.

Bianca Andreescu

So, how do we like our “effing crazy” tennis champion so far? I like her a lot.

It’s one thing to wow ’em with an assortment of shots and gritty stick-to-itness on court, but Bianca Andreescu also wowed ’em in the press chat room scant moments after she had toppled Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, in the championship match of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., on Sunday.

“A year ago I’d been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body, so it’s crazy what a year can do,” the 18-year-old from Mississauga told news snoops. “I was playing $25Ks (tournaments) in Japan and now I’m the…can I say the F-word? No I can’t…I’m the effing champion of Indian Wells. Crazy. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me. Just crazy.”

For those of you who give tennis no more than a passing glance, this was no rinky-dinky tournament. Indian Wells is huge, one of the premier events on the calendar with most of the elite women and men on site. It’s a notch below the four Grand Slams. So where does Bianca’s achievement rank in Canadian tennis history? Numero uno in singles play. Milos Raonic has won eight titles on the men’s tour, Darling Carling Bassett and Hurricane Helen Kelesi had two each on the distaff side, and Genie Bouchard once racked up a W (that seems like a very long time ago). But what Bianca accomplished on Sunday—unparalleled.

Genie Bouchard

I know what some of you might be thinking, or at least hoping—that Bianca doesn’t go all-Genie on us. Bouchard, of course, was the flavor of the month on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour in 2015, rising as high as world No. 5, but then she started taking her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and putting on the ritz. As a consequence, her game has gone kaflooey. I don’t see Andreescu falling down that same rabbit hole. No “effing” way.

For those of you keeping score at home, Bianca has now beaten four Grand Slam champions this year—Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. Heady stuff for a kid.

I realize most of our vast land still remains covered in white stuff, so is it too early to anoint Bianca Andreescu our top athlete for 2019? Seriously, who’s going to trump the tennis neophyte’s astonishing run at Indian Wells? I suppose golfer Brooke Henderson might have something to say about it, but it will take some doing.

Chelsea Carey, third Sarah Wilkes, second Dana Ferguson, lead Rachel Brown with $32,000 worth of trophy.

Chelsea Carey has it all wrong and she’s selling herself and all elite female curlers in this country short.

Our Chelsea and her gal pals from the Glencoe Club in Calgary are over in Denmark right now, having swapped their Wild Rose of Alberta for the Maple Leaf to defend Canada’s rank as the global pebble power, but she left some interesting sound bites behind before crossing the big pond. Like her take on payouts at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

“I think,” she said, “from a financial standpoint, from a business standpoint, it’s hard to demand exactly equal money. That would be great, but it does need to get closer.”

No, Chelsea. It has to be equal, not just closer.

Kevin Koe, B.J. Neufeld, Jumpin’ Jack Flasch, Ben Hebert with $70,000 worth of trophy.

I mean, same number of teams. Same number of games. Same hard work to get there and stay there. Same TV appeal (the Brier in Brandon had more viewers than the Scotties in Sydney during round-robin play, but the women had better numbers for the playoffs and blitzed the Brier in final vs. final audience—762,000-659,000).

True, the boys at the Brier did better business at the box office, but Kevin Koe and his Glencoe team earned $70,000, so that’s what Carey and her Scotties champions should have collected, not $32,000.

If Curling Canada has to rob Peter to pay Paula, so be it.

Interesting comment from Reid Carruthers after he and his fellow Buffalo Boys—Mike McEwen, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson—had crashed and burned at the Brier. “It’s hard to put a team together and all of a sudden win in its first year,” the Manitoba third said. I’d buy that except for one thing—Koe won the Brier with a first-year team, and Carey won the Scotties in her first year with new teammates.

Conor McGregor

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Conor McGregor, the most vulgar and vile man in sports, was arrested in Miami Beach and charged with strong-arm robbery and criminal mischief after he stole and smashed a tourist’s cellphone. That was scant days after the former UFC champion and lousy boxer had completed community service obligations as punishment for hurling a dolly through a bus window in Brooklyn last year. (His lawyers arranged a plea deal on charges of assault, attempted assault and criminal mischief.) And that’s the guy the Boston Bruins trotted out—to considerable pomp and fanfare—for a ceremonial faceoff last week? They celebrated a criminal? What, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson weren’t available?

If you have a hockey-playing daughter who’s inclined to hang ’em up in her mid-teens because she doesn’t think there’s anywhere for her to go, you’ll want to give young Jeff Hamilton’s excellent piece on girls’ shinny a read in the Drab Slab. There’s such a thing as the Manitoba Women’s Junior Hockey League, and the championship was decided on Saturday night when Prairie Blaze beat the Silvertips in a shootout.

And, finally, on the matter of distaff shinny, it’s terrific that Sportsnet will air the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title skirmish featuring the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal on March 24, but what’s with the noon ET faceoff time? Does someone have a plane to catch? Like, they couldn’t drop the puck in mid-afternoon to give the Clarkson Cup reasonable air time across the country? That’s no way to sell the women’s game.