About the Winnipeg Free Press not giving a damn and the Winnipeg Sun being overrun by Postmedia outriders…flag football…Jim Barker’s lid…tell us what you really think, Kate…CFL power rankings…Mario’s pricey biffies…peeing in a bottle…and a chill in Winnipeg’s hottest summer

Three soft-boiled eggs on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

I cut my teeth in the rag trade by standing on the lumpy, pock-marked sidelines of local football fields, covering the Sisler Spartans, Churchill Bulldogs, Elmwood Eskimos and other outfits in the Winnipeg High School Football League.

If not at high school grid, I was courtside watching the best local tennis players do their thing on the clay courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club or Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club.

Major Junior/Junior/Senior hockey, kids curling, high school track and field, badminton, junior golf, bowling, figure skating, fastball, gymnastics, Junior baseball, hoops, amateur boxing…you name it, I was there to write about it. And if I wasn’t on site, I was on the Winnipeg Tribune sports desk, doing rewrites or laying out the pages that would prominently feature the games that local people played for no pay.

People continue to play those games today, but the sports sections of the two daily rags in River City have abandoned them. Almost entirely. And that is, indeed, sad and most unfortunate.

I mean, why am I reading about Miguel Angel Jiminez leading the Senior British Open golf tournament and a tie atop the ladies’ Scottish Open leaderboard in the Winnipeg Free Press instead of, say, the Manitoba Junior Baseball League playoffs, which are down to the short strokes and will feature two local outfits, the St. James A’s and Elmwood Giants, in the final?

Why does the Winnipeg Sun devote two full pages to a guy from Vancouver, Adam Zaruba, who’s in the training camp of the Philadelphia Eagles, two full pages to UFC blood-spilling in Calgary, and another two full pages to the Tranna-centric musings of Steve Simmons instead of the MJBL final four?

I know the reason behind the Sun’s dismissal of all local sports outfits that aren’t named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose or Goldeyes, and I addressed it in January 2016, after parent company Postmedia adopted a centralized sports desk for its member papers:

“Some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, Junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.? My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.”

The Moose and Goldeyes haven’t been ignored, but the others? Bupkus.

From July 15 until this very morning, the Sun printed 313 stories in 16 sports sections, and the professional-amateur split reads like a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals scoreline—308-5. That’s a paltry 1.6 per cent of all copy devoted to amateur sports coverage, which has been sacrificed for Postmedia piffle from hither and yon, articles that have scant or zero significance to the River City rabble. Seriously. Steve Simmons taking issue with Kyle Lowry’s silence is something I want or need to read about in a Winnipeg newspaper?

It’s only marginally better at the Freep, where sports columnist Paul Wiecek wrote this at the start of the month: “A confluence of events over the Canada Day long weekend got me thinking about how we as Canadians so dramatically undervalue the contributions our amateur athletes make to this country, while simultaneously just as dramatically overvalue the contributions of our professional athletes.”

That particular column was more a gripe piece about greedy play-for-pay athletes, but the Drab Slab toy department and Wiecek then proved how little they value amateurs. From June 30 until this morning, they ran 614 articles and here’s the pro-amateur split: 558-56, or 9.1 per cent for amateurs. In that same time frame, Wiecek scribbled a dozen essays, 100 per cent aimed at pro athletes and pro sports (hmmm, 12 columns in 31 days…nice work if you can get it).

Like I said, I understand why the Sun has bottomed out on local amateur coverage. It’s marching to a national drummer. But the Freep has no excuse. It’s an independent paper with a sports section that doesn’t have any less space today than it did in the 1970s, and there’s no less staff. Which means there can only be one reason—they just don’t give a damn.

Speaking of pro sports, I must say, there was some gawdawful officiating on display during the Bombers-Tranna Argonauts skirmish on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and it greatly benefited the home side. Winnipeg FC still would have beaten the Boatmen sans the generous flag-tossing, but, had the phantom infractions not been called, it might have made for a more compelling match.

The Bombers had a head count of 27,116 on Friday, their largest gathering of this Canadian Football League crusade, but Winnipeg FC is still 2,040 behind last-season’s three-game pace. That’s a dip of at least $57,000 in ticket revenue.

Rod Smith, Jim Barker, Matt Dunigan, Milt Stegall

I like Jim Barker’s input as one of the newbies among TSN’s cast of characters on CFL coverage, but he’s got to do something about his lid. If Barker’s grey-and-black locks aren’t flopping over his right eye, they’re sticking out at the back like he’s got bed head. Very distracting. As for that other newby, Davis Sanchez, if I want to listen to a man butcher the English language I’ll take Chris Walby any day. Bluto has better stories and he’s a lot funnier.

Listening to Kate Beirness of TSN glorify Johnny Manziel before and after the Edmonton Eskimos-Montreal Alouettes grass-grabber on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but wonder this: What does she really think about a guy who beat up his (former) girlfriend? What does she say about the Als quarterback once the camera is turned off? Is she being forced to promote him as the CFL’s shiny, new object?

I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek, he’s the only columnist in Canada who’s had the junk to write that Johnny Manziel’s doesn’t belong in the CFL due to his domestic violence history. If another scribe has spoken out, I missed it. So good on him.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (6-0): Who’ll stop these guys?
2. Winnipeg (4-3): Feasting on Tranna.
3. Edmonton (4-2): All those penalties (17) won’t cut it against a top-level foe.
4. Saskatchewan (3-3): Has anyone figured out what Chris Jones is trying to do?
5. Ottawa (4-2): Not going to win many games kicking seven field goals.
6. B.C. (2-3): Not convinced Travis Lulay is the answer at QB.
7. Hamilton (2-4): Going…going…gone?
8. Toronto (1-5): Time to try another quarterback.
9. Montreal (1-5): Still awful in either official language.

I note that hockey legend Mario Lemieux is selling his shack in Mont-Tremblant, Que., for a mere $21,999,066 million. It has eight bedrooms and nine washrooms. That’s $2,444,340.66 per biffy, for those of you keeping score at home.

On the subject of bathrooms, tennis great Serena Williams is whinging about men in lab coats continually knocking on her door and demanding that she pee in a bottle. Apparently, the doping sleuths have visited her five times this year. So what’s the big deal? I’ve had to pee in a bottle six times in the past 10 months, and I’m not even a world-ranked tennis player.

Shouldn’t the promotion of Gina Kingsbury to general manager of Canada’s national women’s hockey team warrant more than an ‘oh, by the way’ blurb in the media? It was bottom-of-the back-pages news in the Free Press, and 10 pages deep into the Sun sports section.

And, finally, the silence since a National Hockey League arbitrator awarded Jacob Trouba a $5.5 million contract has been deafening. Nothing from Winnipeg Jets ownership/management. Nothing from the Trouba camp. Kind of puts a chill into Winnipeg’s hottest summer in 30 years.

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About guts, glory and a civil rights icon peddling pickup trucks…warm-and-fuzzy Olympic Games…a fool at Fox News…fools at Postmedia…telling it like it is on NBC…a gay skip for the Brier…and other things on my mind

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

Guts, glory…Martin Luther King Jr.

Guts, glory…and Martin Luther King Jr.?

That was my main takeaway from the Super Bowl last Sabbath—the disturbing reality of Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice telling me to run out and purchase a Dodge Ram pickup truck. I mean, when I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I think “I have a dream,” not heavy pay loads with guts and glory. But there was the great civil rights icon/turned huckster, peddling pickups.

Given that this often is a copy-cat world, I suppose we ought to brace ourselves for the voices of other dead icons that rise from the other side and serve as product shills in the future. For example…

JFK: “Ask not what your Chevy Silverado pickup can do for you, ask what you can do for your Chevy Silverado pickup.”

Buddha: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment—and, at this present moment, nothing would go better at your Super Bowl party than a family bucket of finger-lickin’ good KFC and a case of cold Bud Light.”

Jeus Christ

Jesus Christ: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me—and trust in Trojan Bareskin lubricated condoms.”

Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world—so imagine yourself encircling the world on a Royal Caribbean International cruise.”

Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen—and when E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”

Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind—so visit your nearest Pearle Vision location for your prescription lenses and frames.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: “A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water—and there’s nothing like a cup of Red Rose tea to soothe the soul after a challenging day at the office, even offices that aren’t oval shaped.”

Amelia Earhart: “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others—and, girls, when I became the first female pilot to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, I had my Stayfree Ultra Thin Overnight panty liners—with wings, of course—to get me through the turbulent times.”

Andy Warhol: “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes—and when your 15 minutes of fame arrives, you don’t want to show the world your worst side. Use Clearasil to chase away those pesky blackheads and zits.”

Abraham Lincoln: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal—but, ladies, if you find your man isn’t equal to the task, have him try Viagra!”

Super Bowl LII Takeaway II: I heard three players and one coach with the Philadelphia Eagles give “all thanks” to God and/or Jesus Christ scant seconds after besting the New England Patriots for the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. And here’s what I was thinking at the time: “If I’m an Eagles fans, I’m not thanking God or Jesus for the win, I’m asking them, “Where the hell have you two dudes been hiding for the last 51 years?”

Left to right: South Korean President Moon Jae-in, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

I must say, there are so many warm-and-fuzzy stories coming out of the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, I can’t watch them without my Teddy bear. Exhibit A would be the debut of the Korean women’s hockey side, which featured a trio of North Koreans in the lineup. I haven’t root, root, rooted so hard for a team to score since 1972. Alas, Korea got the collar, losing 8-zip to Switzerland. But the image of South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s leading lady, Kim Yo-jong, sitting three seats apart—plus more than 200 choreographed North Korean cheerleaders—was poweful stuff.

Either Cassie Campbell-Pascall thinks we’re dense or she’s guilty of extremely bad timing. As the Swiss were putting the finished touches to their victory over Korea, the CBC talking head began prattling on about “parity” in women’s hockey. “If the Koreans can keep it at eight, it shows you just how far the game has come,” she said. “I know it’s an 8-0 game, but it’s not the 15-0 scores, the 18-0 scores that you used to see against these types of teams playing in their first Olympics.” C’mon, Cassie, don’t talk to us like we don’t know a puck from pasta. We’re Canadians. We live on Planet Puckhead. I’ve watched two games thus far: Swiss 8-Korea 0; Canada 5-Russia 0. Shots on goal: Swiss 52-Korea 8; Canada 42-Russia 18. That’s parity like a bag of hockey pucks is a plate of pasta.

John Moody

The Olympic Games aren’t even a week old and we already have a winner in the Complete Ass Clown event. Congratulations to John Moody, executive editor/executive vice president and spewer of vile commentary at Fox News, aka the Faux News Network.

Moody, displaying an astonishing level of ignorance as to the devotion, sacrifice, skill and qualifying process required to become an Olympic athlete, believes Uncle Sam’s reps in PyeongChang, South Korea, are a tad too dark, too gay and too inclusive. Thus, he’s cloaked the United States Olympic Committee in complete contempt, accusing it of operating a make-work-for minorities program masquerading as a sports organization that employs a quota system. You know, gather up any blacks, Asians and gays who can strap a skate, ski or snowboard to their feet and let ’em play! Talent and medal totals be damned!

Unless it’s changed overnight, the motto of the Olympics, since 1894, has been ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger.’ It appears the U.S. Olympic Committee would like to change that to ‘Darker, Gayer, Different.’ If your goal is to win medals, that won’t work,” Moody wrote in an appalling, vicious, hostile op-ed piece.

A USOC official was quoted this week expressing pride (what else?) about taking the most diverse U.S. squad ever to the Winter Olympics. That was followed by a, frankly, embarrassing laundry list of how many African-Americans, Asians and openly gay athletes are on this year’s U.S. team. No sport that we are aware of awards points—or medals—for skin color or sexual orientation.

For the current USOC, a dream team should look more like the general population. So, while uncomfortable, the question probably needs to be asked: were our Olympians selected because they’re the best at what they do, or because they’re the best publicity for our current obsession with having one each from Column A, B and C?”

A list of African-American, Asian and gay athletes as an example of diversity is embarrassing? If Moody ever quits his day job, I’m guessing they’ll find room for him at the Trump White House.

John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes

Second Complete Ass Clown of the Olympics Award goes to (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, who, 38 years into his career, remains too thick to understand the difference between a mean-spirited cheap shot and fair comment. The most recent example of this is his gratuitous broadside at mixed doubles curling. “Mixed curling, which is a fine event on Wednesday nights for husbands and wives at the Club, makes its Olympic debut this morning: and it just feels wrong to me,” he tweets. So he’s telling us that our Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris are faux Olympians. That they don’t belong with the real Olympians. Well, I have an idea. Let’s leave Lawes and Morris in PyeongChang to hopefully collect a curling gold medal and enjoy the experience, and Postmedia can haul Grandpa Simmons’s butt back home. His need to skewer well-intentioned athletes and their endeavours is seemingly addictive, incurable and speaks to a very significant character deficit. It’s a terrible look for a sports columnist with a national profile.

Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir

Tough start for the male fancy skaters in the team competition in South Korea. I swear, I haven’t seen that many men fall without being touched since the last Italian soccer game I watched. Tough crowd, too. Especially in the NBC broadcast booth, where former fancy skaters Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski held court. After Nathan Chen completed a flaw-filled performance, Weir went for the jugular, describing the American teen’s spin-stumble-and-ad lib routine as “a disaster. That was the worst short program I’ve ever seen from Nathan Chen.”

By way of comparison, CBC’s Brenda Irving, Carol Lane and Kurt Browning put on the kid’s gloves after our guy, Patrick Chan, hit the deck twice. “Unfortunately for Canadian fans,” said Irving, “not vintage Patrick today.” Browning mentioned Chan’s bravery for returning to a different “landscape” in figure skating and added, “I feel for him right now, tremendously, because I know his heart’s pretty broken.” Lane, meanwhile, served up apologies about a coaching change. How positively Canadian of her.

John Epping

John Moody and Fox News won’t like this—John Epping is going to the Brier next month (March 3-11) in Regina. And he’ll be skipping a team. Not only that, he’s gay. Openly gay. Must be part of some hidden agenda whereby Curling Canada has a “laundry list” that includes a gay quota. Seriously, it’s nice to see Epping finally get the better of nemesis Glenn Howard, who, until last weekend, had used the Peterborough skip as his personal pinata in Ontario for the past decade. Good guy Epping thus becomes the first openly gay man to skip at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Scotties champs (left to right) Dawn McEwen, Shannon Birchard, Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer.

Once upon a time, Winnipeg newspapers covered curling like no other sheets in the country. It was wall-to-wall. Couldn’t get enough “hurry hard” on the sports pages. Now? You can’t even find curling on the menu of the Sun website. As if that isn’t bad enough, the tabloid was MIA for the recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, allowing Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press to cover the Canadian women’s championship uncontested (she nailed it, of course). It didn’t matter that the field included three—count ’em, three—River City outfits (six-time champ Jennifer Jones, runner-up Kerri Einarson, Team Canada’s Michelle Englot). Some suit at Postmedia decided that the Winnipeg Sun would best be served at a Winnipeg-centric event by a guy (Murray McCormick) from Regina. Sigh.

Given the revelations and developments at the White House last week, does anyone out there still think a woman-beater like Johnny Manziel ought to be making a living in the Canadian Football League? If so, ask yourself this question: “What would my reaction be if my daughter brought Manziel home for dinner?”

 

Shhhhh…this is a press box…please don’t disturb the writers who are eating popcorn

Most people, I dare say, have not spent an afternoon or an evening in a press box, observing the little girls’ and boys’ games that big girls and boys play for great gobs of money or international acclaim.

So allow me to tell you a little something about the press box.

The press box, as I remember it, is generally occupied by gruff, hard-bitten, beer-swilling, middle-age wretches who failed miserably at sports and are now settling that score by writing nasty things about those who didn’t fail miserably at sports. And those are the female journalists. The men are unspeakable.

press-box2Again, as I recall, your basic male jock journo is white, middle-to-vintage in age, thinning on top, a confirmed heterosexual, unkempt, unfit (I’m being very kind when I say that), he’s dressed like he ought to be retired in Florida (with his pants hiked up to his arm pits), he’s usually seen filling his face with free popcorn or hot dogs (with the obligatory mustard drippings on his wrinkled golf shirt), and it’s not uncommon for him to be recovering from a hangover when he arrives at the rink or stadium for a night-time assignment.

There is nothing high brow about the male jock journo when observed in his natural habitat. As much as wry wit can be found in abundance in the press box, it is also a cesspool of irreverent, caustic, biting and ruthless humor. Adult humor. It would be rated R. You’d probably allow your 10-year-old daughter or son into a peep show before exposing her or him to three hours in a press box.

Seriously. If the scribes were to scribble what was said in the press box, they’d be sued, arrested or shot on sight. Yup, it’s that raunchy and raw.

Perhaps that’s changed. After all, I haven’t sat in a press box perch in almost 20 years.

I doubt it, though.

I mean, a football beat writer with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeff McLane, was ordered out of the press box during an Eagles game on Sunday because he was a loud-talker. Seriously, the guy got punted for being a loud-talker.

Now, I realize that the so-called City of Brotherly Love has a rep for being less than a warm-and-fuzzy locale. It was said long ago that the citizenry of Philly go to the airport just to boo bad landings. But come on. They kick a guy out of the press box for being a loud-talker? That’s like telling Santa he can’t go on his annual gift run because he’s fat and jolly. Santa is supposed to be fat and jolly. He has to be fat and jolly. And a male sports scribe has to be loud.

Well, okay, I suppose a case could be made that a male jock journo need not be loud. But trust me, he is. It’s in his press box DNA. So is being obnoxious.

I don’t pretend to know exactly what went down between McLane and the Eagles public relations staff on the Sabbath. I wasn’t there. But I’m quite certain that there was more at play than the Inquirer reporter being a loud-talker. There had to be.

Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has addressed the larger issue of professional sports teams attempting to control the message by eliminating the naysayers and those in the Fourth Estate who dare ask the difficult, uncomfortable and challenging questions, and I don’t think he’s far off the mark. Actually, he’s likely spot on.

The question I ask is this: Does anyone really care if the press box is full or empty?

Not likely. Among the rabble, there is little sympathy for the devil and, quite frankly, I’m not sure that the girls and boys on the beat should care if they’re sitting in the press box or not. I mean, is the free popcorn really that good? If it is and that means writing fluff, will the last jock journo to leave the press box please remember to turn out the lights?

What does a press pass for the Winnipeg Jets actually get a news scavenger these days? Access? I suppose that depends on your definition of access. To the Jets, access is making a player available to say “we just have to keep our feet moving and play the right way.” Then some PR flunky arrives to rescue him from the indignity of a post-game interrogation. To the jock journo, that isn’t access. It’s a waste of time.

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

The most interesting insight in Wiecek’s excellent piece was confirmation of something many of us already knew or suspected—the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, is a control freak of the highest rank. The way the Freep sports columnist tells it, the Jets’ co-bankroll is known for his in-game temper tantrums and, for fear a scribe might alert the rabble the next time he holds his breath and stomps his little feet, the Puck Pontiff banished the print posse to the press box outback. They’re now in a different area code and time zone than His Hockey Holiness’s bunker. Ballsy move by Wiecek, especially given that the Drab Slab is the official newspaper of the Jets. Whatever access he already didn’t have, he’ll have even less. Not that he should care.

John Ferguson didn’t worry about crap like that back in the day. His atomic explosions as Jets general manager are as legendary as his fists during his playing days as one of the toughest hombres in National Hockey League history. At worst, he would wince if we wrote about him dumping a bucket of ice on the Buffalo Sabres’ bench or kicking/punching holes in the walls of his bunker on press row, but he usually greeted us with an embarrassed wink and a grin.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.