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 Terrible Ted taking a stand…Tessa is a living (Barbie) doll…Genie going Hollywood…puppies and spin-the-bottle in Carolina…puck luck, Puck Finn and lost in a snow maze…broken silence in Lotus Land…tabloid T&A in The ROT…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I think we need an International Day of Old Lady Bloggers…

Much has been said and written about Ted Lindsay since his death last week, all of it justifiably praiseworthy.

Terrible Ted

Puck pundits, opinionists and news snoops allowed that Terrible Ted ranks among the National Hockey League’s all-time elite, as a player and a gentleman, and they’ve made special note of the stiff price he paid for stirring up the serfs in the 1950s and attempting to form a players association.

Stripped of his captain’s ‘C’ and cast aside like a leper by the Detroit Red Wings, Lindsay soldiered on to finish his Hockey Hall of Fame career in 1965, and therein lies my favorite Terrible Ted tale, one that’s always worth retelling.

The HHOF was to fete Lindsay and eight other players at the 1966 induction soiree, but he wanted no part of it. Not unless his wife and kids could attend. Sorry, Ted, it’s strictly stag.

So he boycotted his own induction.

“(Players) are wonderful people when we’re winning, but when we go home and we’re losing, we’re miserable for our wives and our children,” was Lindsay’s explanation. “My feeling was, families put up with us when we were temperamental idiots, they should be able to enjoy the benefits of what the league is giving us. That’s a very simple decision.”

The following year, the HHOF opened the doors to its induction gala to women and family members.

And look where we are 53 years later: Six female players have rings to prove they’re card-carrying members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and another, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, has been added to the selection committee.

That’s a small part of the Ted Lindsay legacy, and it’s worth acknowledging on the heels of International Women’s Day.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

Where is female hockey today? Depends on who you ask.

During an interesting panel discussion on Hockey Night in Canada, Campbell-Pascall suggested the glass is “three-quarters full.”

“We need men to understand what some of our challenges are. What some of our needs are,” she told Ron MacLean in a chin-wag that included HHOF member Angela James, broadcaster Christine Simpson and Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, CEO of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity. “And also cover our sports like they would cover male sports. Just don’t use the same big stories over and over again. Get to the rink, get to the practices and cover our sports just like you would cover male sports and get those personalities out there, ’cause we have so many great ones in the female game today.”

That’s a tough sell, given that very few men in mainstream media give a damn about the distaff side of the game. Except, of course, when there’s an Olympic gold medal at stake.

Sami Jo Small

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” says Sami Jo Small, a product of the frozen ponds of Good Ol’ Hometown and now general manager of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Toronto Furies. “They love watching it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

To their point, consider this: The CWHL Clarkson Cup playoffs are currently in progress, with one skirmish pitting the Toronto Furies vs. the Calgary Inferno in a best-of-three set that goes to a rubber match this very afternoon. What kind of coverage did Game 2 warrant? Squat in the Toronto Sun. Nada. The Calgary Sun, meanwhile, scribbled a few hundred words (no byline) about the Inferno’s 3-zip win, yet devoted two full pages to the Calgary Roughnecks, a lacrosse outfit. Like I said, it’s a tough sell when mainstream media is reluctant, or refuses, to spread the word. And that’s sad.

Judy Owen

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’d like to acknowledge the women with whom I worked during my time in mainstream media: Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib), Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun) and my fave, Judy Owen (Winnipeg Sun). That’s it. Four women in 30 years. Today, there are no women writing sports at either of the two River City rags. Melissa Martin makes cameo appearances to cover the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the Drab Slab, but that’s it.

What’s this? Fox plans to make a movie out of tennis diva Genie Bouchard’s Twitter date with fan boy John Goehrke? Well, if the movie is anything like Genie’s one-and-done game, don’t order the large tub of buttered popcorn. You won’t have time to finish it.

Tessa and Barbie Tess

I always thought that Tessa Virtue was a living doll, so it’s no surprise that the folks at Mattel toys have included a likeness of our fave fancy skater in their Role Model series of Barbie Dolls. But here’s what I’m wondering: Whatever became of her lifelong accomplice, Scott Moir? I see our Tessa on TV regularly, peddling mattresses, skin cream and what have you. But poor Scott. We haven’t seen him since he was observed sopping up the suds at an Olympic hockey game last winter. He’s vanished, kind of like Art Garfunkel after Paul Simon went his own way. I guess that’ll teach Moir for playing with dolls all his life.

So, the Carolina Hurricanes continue to play little post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck, Goose, and along comes Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab to inform us that what is known as the Storm Surge has made the ‘Canes “somewhat relevant again.” He adds: “If you don’t like this, I’m going to assume you also dislike puppies, too.” Oh, please. I mean, exaggerate much, Mike? Look, the Hurricanes will be relevant if they make some noise in the National Hockey League’s Beard Season. As for liking puppies, I think they’re cute and cuddly, but that doesn’t mean I also have to like choreographed cornball-ism like grown men playing spin-the-bottle.

By the way, the Hurricanes have become so “relevant again” that their average head count is up a whopping 627 this season, and their average audience of 13,947 is fourth worst in the NHL. Seems as though the folks in Raleigh have better things to do.

Patrik Laine

While many of us have been curious or flat-out baffled by Patrik Laine’s herky-jerky goal-scoring pattern this season, the Drab Slab’s stats goomer, Andrew Berkshire, set about to solve the mystery of the Winnipeg Jets winger. Using a couple of charts with the required squiggly lines to get his point across, Berkshire arrived at this conclusion: “The biggest factor in his drop in goal scoring at even-strength this season is just bad luck…the puck just hasn’t bounced the right way for him.” That’s it? Puck luck? That’s what the squiggly lines tell him about Puck Finn? Well, I have a suggestion for Stats Boy: You might want to actually watch a game instead of staring at your pie charts.

I note that Angie and Clint Masse have made their way into the Guinness Book of World Records for building the planet’s largest snow maze on their farm near St. Adolphe, just south of Winnipeg. I imagine it’d be easy to get lost in there. Hmmm. Maybe that’s where Puck Finn disappeared to for three months. Whatever, it’s nice to have the kid back.

This from TSN’s Dave Poulin at the NHL trade deadline, on Feb. 25: “There’s not going to be eight-year deals anymore.” Just 11 days later, Mark Stone signed an eight-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. D’oh!

What part of “moment of silence” does the rabble in Lotus Land not understand? During what was meant to be a silent salute to the late Ted Lindsay the other night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists and some among the Canucks faithful engaged in a hissing contest. As Jed Clampett used to say whenever Jethro did something dumb, pitiful. Just pitiful. But I suppose we should be thankful that they didn’t try to burn the town down this time around.

In the department of Are You Really That Arrogant?, I present Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. In a tweet about the rag trade in the Republic of Tranna, he wrote this of his Toronto Sun: “The only paper still covering sports like it matters, with its own people.” Spare me. On that same day, there were seven bylines in the Toronto Star sports section, each one of them the Star’s “own people” covering sports “like it matters.” That coverage, by the way, included a terrific spread on women in sports on International Women’s Day. Simmons’ Sun, meanwhile, saluted International Women’s Day with a photo spread of a lass named Sydney, adorned only in her black lace bra and knickers. That’s the Sun—still covering T&A “like it matters” after all these years.

And, finally, at tip of the bonnet to the Drab Slab for its recent uptick in local amateur coverage. We read about university track and field on the sports front Friday, plus a full-page, deep dive into the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoffs and the high school shinny championships. They followed with U hoops, high school puck, U track, and elite female athletes on Saturday. That’s what I call old-time coverage. Took me back to the hey days of Winnipeg Tribune and Free Press sports pages.

Winnipeg sports media: Only half a dozen female sports writers in almost half a century

There are guy things and there are girl things.

Girls, for example, like shoes. Lots of shoes. We collect shoes like Adam Sandler collects bad reviews (does anyone other than 14-year-old boys actually think he’s funny?). Guys, on the other hand, are loath to discard their underwear.

Seriously. I know some guys with gitch older than a Bob Hope joke. Why, just last week, a friend of mine touched on that very topic. She had noticed that her hubby’s boxers were as tattered as Roger Goodell’s reputation, so she went on a shopping safari and, after bagging half a dozen pair of shoes, she made a pit stop in the men’s wear department.

“I bought him two packages of new underwear,” she advised me. “You would have thought I’d bought him tickets to the opera. He grunted something about his underwear being ‘perfectly fine.’ Good gawd! He’s still wearing the same skivvies he had in high school, and that was 50 years ago. I want to burn the bloody things, but I’m afraid I’d be breaking some kind of city ordinance against air pollution. What is it with men and their underwear?”

So, yes, there are guy things and there are girl things. Which is probably a good thing (ratty, old undies notwithstanding).

I am, however, curious about one thing that apparently is not a girl thing but should be a girl thing: sports writing, whether it be in newspapers or blogging.

It has been 45 years since I received my baptism in journalism. In that time, how many female sports scribes did I work with, or against, at the three Winnipeg dailies (Tribune, Free Press, Sun)?

a) 0
b) 5
c) 8
d) 12

The correct answer is b)—five. In close to half a century! Jack Matheson brought Peggy Stewart on board at the Trib during the 1970s and she was followed by Rita Mingo. The Freep, meanwhile, hired Barb Huck in the ’70s and Ashley Prest arrived on the scene in the late 1980s. Judy Owen worked the Blue Bombers beat, among others, for the Sun in the 1990s.

It can be said that, of the five, only Peggy Stewart was out of her element. The others were quality reporters, quality writers, quality people. Three of them—Barb, Ashley and Judy—have been inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Roll of Honor.

So why just a handful of damsels?

I mean, women are cops, firefighters, business leaders, religious leaders, political leaders, education leaders, astronauts, boxers, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. Yet, in River City, a Jill writing about jocks is as rare as a full set of natural teeth in an old folks home. Today, there is just Melissa Martin at the Freep.

The scarcity of distaff sports scribes extends to the blogosphere, as well.

I scrolled through five Winnipeg Jets sites and found the grand total of two female names—Cara and my own. We both contribute to Arctic Ice Hockey. There was no evidence of female authorship at Illegal Curve, Jets Nation, Winnipeg Hockey Talk or Winnipeg Whiteout.

I surely can understand a reluctancy on the part of women to join in the blogosphere fun, because it is very much a boys bastion and the lads can get rather raunchy. Also rude, crude and flat-out disgusting.

Once upon a time, for example, I contributed to Bleacher Report, but bailed for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t allowed to write satire (apparently, their readership is quite limited in scope and has difficulty distinguishing hard news from parody; 2) the comments were too often personal attacks about my gender and/or body parts as opposed to the issue at hand. (Go ahead and call me a boob if you like, but my boobs are off limits.)

Why would a woman wish to expose herself (no pun intended) to lewd language and the pitiable come-hithers of mysogynistic trolls?

Sara Orlesky
Sara Orlesky

There is also the issue of cred. Many men still harbor the notion that women don’t, and can’t, know sports. That, of course, is horse-and-buggy thinking, yet it remains a prime example of perception being reality. Many men don’t want a woman feeding them their sports information/opinion unless she looks like Sara Orlesky, who’s very good at what she does. Even at that, apparently it’s more important that Sara Orlesky look like Sara Orlesky than what she has to say.

That’s why Sara and all the women we see on TSN look like they just came in from a Glamour mag or Cosmo photo shoot. (The guys on TSN? Bridge trolls. I mean, have you ever watched The Reporters with Dave Hodge? It’s been suggested that Steve Simmons looks like a hamster with glasses. Nuff said about that.)

A girl doesn’t have to be Cosmo cover-worthy to write sports, though. She doesn’t have to be J.K. Rowling, either. As long as she knows her stuff and has a nice turn of phrase, she can look like Rosie O’Donnell and pull it off.

I have theories to explain why there aren’t more Jills writing about jocks in River City, but I don’t have an answer. Perhaps they aren’t given the opportunity. Perhaps it’s an anti-female bias. Perhaps they don’t want to put up with the BS from a boy-centric readership. Or perhaps they simply have better things to do, like shop for shoes.

I do know this, however: Half a dozen female sports writers in slightly less than half a century and two female bloggers is not a glowing example or endorsement of equality.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.