Let’s talk about the Toronto Maple Elites and the Art of Angst…oh no, no O Canada en francais in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie…the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron have an $805 million toy…a Prairie town with Seabears…the CFL and the kind of voting Donald Trump would love…and other things on my mind…

No one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble and news snoops in the Republic of Tranna, which has a faster-falling sky than any other National Hockey League habitat.

I mean, the Toronto Maple Elites failed, once again, to win the Stanley Cup in October—just like 31 other outfits—and it was a dire bit of business that apparently demanded the dismissal of everyone from the hot dog vendors to the ivory tower, where Brendan Shanahan presides and sits in judgment of the serfs below.

Ten skirmishes into the current crusade, the Shanaleafs were 4-4-2, a tolerable account in most jurisdictions but totally objectionable in the Centre of the Hockey Universe, where the floor for acceptable conduct is first-round playoff success and the ceiling is a Stanley Cup parade. The reality that neither can be achieved in October seemingly escaped the comprehension of the faithful, many of whom recognized a month’s worth of .500 hockey as cause to flood the Twitterverse with 280 characters worth of angst and urgent urgings for the ouster of head coach Sheldon Keefe and/or general manager Kyle Dubas. (And, just for good measure, one or two want to show Mayor John Tory the door, as well.)

News snoops and opinionists, meanwhile, were less inclined to lean toward scorching the earth, with their analysis ranging from cheeky to pragmatic to harsh. Here’s a sampling of their scribblings:

James Mirtle, The Athletic: “They’re just really, to put it charitably, meh right now.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Maple Leafs just finished a western road swing that resembled a man falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion. The Leafs have a lot of problems. Their biggest is that they keep changing problems. Hanging above it all is their level of play: soft. Giggling Pillsbury Doughboy-level soft.”

Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun: “An underperforming mess.”

Marty Klinkenberg, Globe and Mail: “A hot mess. If this were Bugtussle it would be no big deal. But Toronto isn’t a hockey outpost. The faithful who have grown used to an annual collapse are already twitchy.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “No, it’s not too early to ask hard questions about this squad after a lousy western road trip. But it’s definitely too early to reach any meaningful conclusions, particularly after Keefe’s team had a nearly identical start last season and ended up setting a franchise record with 115 points.”

That was before the Philly Flyers arrived in The ROT, and 4-4-2 became 5-4-2. Next up were the Boston Bruins, brandishing the league’s best record, and 5-4-2 became 6-4-2. And then they vanquished Carolina to make it 7-4-2. Yup, the Elites are 3-for-November. Better re-order all those snazzy convertibles for the Stanley Cup parade!

Or not.

As sure as Johnny Bower liked the poke check, another acorn shall fall on Chicken Little’s head soon enough, and great and mournful cries—“They sky is falling! The sky is falling!”—shall again rumble and echo throughout The ROT and, indeed, in all corners of our Frozen Tundra.

Like I said, no one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble/news snoops in the Republic of Tranna. But, hey, they’ve had since 1967 to perfect the Art of Angst.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie, a no-French zone.

Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette has a beef with the Winnipeg Jets: “O Canada was sung in English and French for Habs in both St. Louis and Minnesota but only in English in Winnipeg. Not right,” he tweets. Stu is absolutely correct, of course. If sports teams on our vast Frozen Tundra insist on trotting out crooners for a pre-game anthem (it’s a dumb tradition), it should be in English et en francais. Especially when the Montreal Canadiens are in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Cowan’s comment brings to mind an incident back in the day, when the rabble booed PA announcements en francais during a Jets exhibition game vs. the Finnish National B side. Once back in the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom, I was instructed to pen a front-page piece on the audience’s bad manners, and followed that up with a good and proper scolding of the anti-French boors. The next morning, I received a phone call from a man who threatened to bomb my house. Tough crowd.

The Puck Pontiff

So, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his co-bankroll, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, lock, stock and jock, for US $170 million in 2011, and today Sportico has the Jets valued at $805 million. (And you thought the price of gas and groceries has taken a hike.)

The thing is, $805 million is just a number on a piece of paper unless the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron are inclined to peddle the franchise, and that’s about as likely as palm trees and a nude beach sprouting up at the intersection of Portage and Main in January.

Still, the Sportico list makes for good bar banter and, if you missed it, here’s how the NHL’s seven Canadian franchises stack up in the grand scheme of things:

1. Maple Leafs: $2.12 billion
3. Canadiens: $1.7 billion
8. Oilers: $1.29 billion
11. Canucks: $1 billion
19. Flames: $870 million
22. Jets: $805 million
27. Senators: $655 M

Just wondering: What do you suppose Barry Shenkarow thinks when he looks at those numbers? I’m guessing he winces, gives his head a shake and mutters, “if only.” After all, Barry and the group that bankrolled Jets 1.0 sold the club for $65 million in 1995.

Nothing makes me switch off an NHL game faster than Ron MacLean throwing to a commercial on Hockey Night in Canada by saying, “Cabbie after the break.” Why is there a Cabbie?

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get excited about Alexander Ovechkin chasing down Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky as the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Tough to feel good about Vlad the Bad Putin’s pal when bombs are still raining on Ukraine.

I’m liking what the Drab Slab is doing with it’s Jets post-match coverage. Gone are the yawn-a-thon game stories that drone on in play-by-play style, with cookie-cutter clichés from players schooled in the art of cookie-cutter clichés. Sports editor Jason Bell now has Mad Mike McIntyre and the boys on the beat delivering dispatches in point form, which lends itself to variety of thought and analysis rather than dreary recitation of every pass, shot and save the night before. Give me opinion, anecdotes and harsh truths if required, not a running tally of plus/minus numbers.

According to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, the Canadian Elite Basketball League is primed to set up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown, with a team to be called the Seabears. I guess that’s because Winnipeg is a seaside town and there are so many bears roaming the streets. I mean, who came up with a name like Seabears for a sports franchise on the bald prairie?

It truly pains me to see the Winnipeg Sun putting out a three-page tabloid sports section. Damn. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be for a daily sheet in a market the size of Good Ol’ Hometown. How are the tabloid’s Toy Department 3—Paul Friesen, Teddy Wyman and Scott Billeck—expected to compete against the Drab Slab, which pumped out eight broadsheet pages on Saturday? It’s like bobbing for apples with your lips zipped shut. So a pox on the suits at Postmedia. Double damn them.

Here’s the page counts for sports sections in Postmedia tabloids across the country Saturday:
Vancouver Province: No paper (13 pages Friday)
Toronto Sun: 11
Ottawa Sun: 8
Calgary Sun: 8
Edmonton Sun: 8
Winnipeg Sun: 3

But, hey, check it out: The tabloid has trashed its TV listings in the Sunday sheet and expanded the sports section, with 12 pages today. Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat musings, not a bunch of rot from the Republic of Tranna.

Boffo stuff from Paul Friesen on the 1990 Blue Bombers, many of whom found their way back to Good Ol’ Hometown last week for induction to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. Paul, as usual, captures the moment magnificently.

D’oh! The Canadian Football League announced its West and East Division all-star teams on Wednesday, then, scant hours later, sent out a missive saying they had it all wrong and provided revised results (with 19 corrections) after a recount. Now that’s the kind of election Donald Trump would like.

The Glieberguys, Bernie and Lonie.

A number of folks believe the Lords of Rouge Football ought to be red faced because of the voting snafu. Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, you want embarrassing? Try Dexter Manley and the Glieberguys and Mardi Gras beads and bare breasts in Bytown back in the day. How about Commish Randy Ambrosie panhandling on Parliament Hill in the thick of the pandemic? How about those many thousands of unoccupied seats at BMO Field for every Toronto Argos game? Let’s not forget dinosaurs Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca brawling at a meet-and-greet Grey Cup function. Drafting dead guys in the 1990s? And, hey, have you heard Dennis Casey Park’s rendition of O Canada before the Las Vegas Posse home opener in 1994? The list of Rouge Football’s red-faced moments is longer than a Winnipeg winter, but our quirky, three-downs game has survived ’em all and shall continue to chug along, even if it’s with a red face.

Nathan Rourke

Quiz me this, kids: How many is enough? No, that isn’t a Zen koan. It’s the question I have for the Football Reporters of Canada. The girls and boys on the beat, you see, have decided that B.C. Leos QB Nathan Rourke was not the most dazzling performer in Rouge Football this year, presumably because he only played half a season, whereas Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros was behind centre for 17 skirmishes. But wait. That same half-season was sufficient to earn Rourke the nomination as Most Outstanding Canadian.

Sorry, but that does not compute. I mean, he’s out as MOP but good to go as MOC? Is that some sort of Canadian exchange rate?

Well, here’s Teddy Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun to explain his thinking on CFL awards balloting: “There was talk among FRC colleagues about voting for Nathan Rourke over Collaros for MOP. Eventually I think right call was made. Rourke had amazing half season but no way of predicting how it would have gone after that. Collaros is deserving of the nomination.

“I voted for Rourke for most outstanding Canadian and majority of FRC voters did as well. The fact is, his half-season numbers were strong enough to outshine other Canadians. They weren’t strong enough to outshine Collaros for MOP.”

And now here’s Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: “Collaros had another solid season and is deserving of the nomination. Nathan Rourke was on his way, and it’s a testament to how great he was when playing. But winning MOP after playing just half the season would have been embarrassing for the CFL.

“Rourke was incredible though. And my basis for voting—I had Collaros MOP; Rourke MOC—is that Rourke had a better season than all other Canadians but not as good as Collaros. Guy had 7 rushing TDs, to go with 25 passing. But, again, I agree with sked and the opposite opinion.”

So, what’s the minimum number of games required to qualify as MOP? Twelve? Fourteen?

Quick picks for today’s opening round in the quest for Rouge Football’s Grey Grail: Calgary Stampeders over B.C. Leos; Hamilton Tabbies over Montreal Larks; Matt Dunigan “gets ‘er done” on the TSN panel; and I foresee a pepperoni pizza-and-football day at Chez Swansson.

The Saskatchewan Flatlanders’ coughed up a hairball the size of a prairie canola field in the back half of the Rouge Football season, going 2-11 with seven successive Ls to close the crusade, and now we know who was most responsible for the fiasco: Offensive coordinator Jason Maas, O-line coach Stephen Sorrells and receivers coach Travis Moore are the official scapegoats. Oh, and let’s not forget starting QB Cody Fajardo, also fired. (His permanent dismissal has yet to be made official.) Meantime, sideline steward Craig Dickenson and GM Jeremy O’Day survive to clean up the mess left behind (apparently) by Messrs. Maas, Sorrells, Moore and Fajardo. My guess: The Flatlanders replace Fajardo with the ghost of Bo Levi Mitchell, which gives them a convenient scapegoat for next year.

Cliff Clavin in a classic episode of Cheers.

Tyler Hubbard, Jordan Davis and Josh Ross are the halftime performers for the Grey Cup game on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20. That sounds like an answer Cliff Clavin would give on Final Jeopardy!: “Who are three people who’ve never been in my kitchen?” In this case, it’s more like: Who are three people I’ve never heard of? Well, apparently, they’re country crooners, so do we see one, two or all three of them surface in the TSN booth for face time with Glen Suitor? Or does Groupie Glen limit his man crush gushing to Keith Urban? Better yet, will TSN let us watch the game or force us to endure Suits Goes Fan Boy, the sequel?

A young dude at a New York Knicks game sank a half-court shot to win a car on Saturday. More important, they also gave him $1,000. You know, so he could afford about half a tank of gas.

The Houston Astros have won the World Series. Which reminds me, I have a bag of garbage I need to take to the trash bin.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the Rouge Football playoffs and the MOP…the Blue-and-Gold’s best in show head count…creepy things in sports that creep me out…Hot Dog! Phil’s the NHL Iron Man…a rinky dink rink…jersey fling in the Republic of Tranna?…and other things on my mind…

Forget about the CFL gas bags on TSN. For the best take on all things Rouge Football, lend an ear to my two favorite gridiron girls, Lady Portage and Dame Main, both unabashed admirers of large lads in blue-and-gold. Take it away, ladies…

Lady Portage: “Well, girlfriend, another Canadian Football League regular season has arrived at the finish line and we move on to the playoffs to see if our Winnipeg Blue Bombers can threepeat.”

Dame Main: “Oh, wouldn’t that be special?”

Lady Portage: “You know it. Not even the Bombers of the glory days brought the Grey Cup home three years in a row. The Bombers of Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Herbie Gray won the thing four times in five years back in the 1950s/60s, but not three straight.”

Dame Main: “If they pull it off, wouldn’t that make these the glory days?”

Lady Portage: “I suppose it would, for a younger generation. But it’s going to be a tall task.”

Dame Main: “You aren’t sold on the Big Blue?”

Lady Portage: “I am. They’ve got the best quarterback in the league, Zach Collaros, and that rookie receiver, Dalton Schoen, has made people sit up and take notice. Richie Hall’s D-dozen is as stout and as stingy as ever, and I imagine guys like Biggie Bighill and the J Men—Jefferson and Jeffcoat—are plenty geeked up about another championship ring. But I think the Calgary Stampeders will be a tough out. They’ve got a defence to match Winnipeg’s, and their running back, Ka’Deem Carey, is a beast. If the weather’s foul on Nov. 13, he could be the difference-maker. I like him more than our guy, Brady Oliveira.

Dame Main: “So you’re saying the Stampeders will take out the B.C. Lions in the semifinal next weekend?”

Lady Portage: “The Leos are done like burnt toast. Hey, I’m sold on Lions QB Nathan Rourke—fan-tabulous!—but I’m not sold on him as a QB who’s played part of one game since August.”

Dame Main: “He didn’t look like he was wearing a coat of rust against the Bombers on Friday night.”

Lady Portage: “No, but he didn’t look other-worldly, either. Not like before he suffered the foot owie that put him on the shelf for two months. If I can use just one word to describe his play, it would be ‘meh’. I fear he’s in for an afternoon of hurt courtesy the Stamps D-men. Total misery.”

Dame Main: “What do you think would have happened if Rourke hadn’t been injured? Think we’d be talking about Zach Collaros as Most Outstanding Player?”

Lady Portage: “What if Willie Jefferson had alligator arms instead of a wing span that stretches from Winnipeg to Kenora? I’m not into what-ifs, girlfriend. Rourke got hurt and played in 10 games. Zach didn’t get hurt and led the league in TD tosses and wins.”

Dame Main: “Ya, but the guy in Toronto, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson, had more passing yards and completions than Collaros. Maybe he’s the MOP.”

Lady Portage: “And maybe somebody spiked your tea. You and I will land a gig singing backup vocals for Lady Gaga before McBeth gets the nod as East Division MOP. The guy looks all-world for 30 minutes, then he looks like a kid trying to tie his laces with one hand. Sorry, but Eugene Lewis or Tim White deserves the East nomination. But, hey, the girls and boys on the beat are smitten with QBs, so…”

Dame Main: “I sure hope Zach wins. He seems like a wonderful young man, with an adorable family. And it’s so nice that he’s staying around for a few more years.”

Lady Portage: “As sure as O-linemen like second helpings of mashed potatos and anything that moos, Zach repeats as MOP, then it’s just a question of whether or not the Bombers threepeat. All they need is two more Ws—one vs. Calgary on our Frozen Tundra on Nov. 13, then vs. the Toronto Argos on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20.

Dame Main: “So that’s your call? Bombers-Boatmen? Who wins the Grey Grail?”

Lady Portage: “The good guys, of course. Best QB always wins, and that’s our boy Zach. He’ll be flinging TD passes while Bethel-Thompson is trying to figure out how to tie his boot laces with one hand.”

Dame Main: “Guess that’s a wrap for us, girlfriend. We’ll have to do this again Grey Cup week. Ya think the Calgary mob will bring a horse to Regina and clomp him into a hotel?”

Lady Portage: “For sure. And if the nag takes a dump in the hotel lobby, Rob Vanstone and the boys at the Regina Leader-Post can write it up as an editorial comment on the Saskatchewan Roughriders season.”

So, Milt Stegall tells us the Bombers have enjoyed “sellouts through the season.” I demand a recount. I mean, it’s nice that Milt wants to tout Winnipeg FC as the showcase franchise in Rouge Football, but he doesn’t need to fudge facts for the CFL on TSN panel. Here’s the reality: The folks in Good Ol’ Hometown packed the Football Field In Fort Garry twice this crusade, both times in September and both times with a Pil-swilling mob from the Flattest of Lands in town for a visit. But Milt’s correct about the Blue-and-Gold being a model operation, on and off the gridiron. Head counts this year:

26,002 (Ottawa)
23,600 (Hamilton)
29,746 (Calgary)
31,053 (Montreal)
30,062 (Calgary)
33,234 (Saskatchewan)
33,234 (Saskatchewan)
27,159 (Edmonton)
23,685 (B.C.)
Total: 28,641 average (best in show and up from 25,947 in 2021).

Zach Collaros

Dave Naylor asked this question of the TSN panel on Friday: “When’s the last time Zach Collaros stunk the joint out?” Answer: July 22, vs. Edmonton Elks when he was 7/16, 188 yards, 2 TD, 2 picks. But, hey, the Bombers still won, 24-10.

Collaros and Nathan Rourke aside, I can’t remember a more iffy crop of QBs in Rouge Football than what we’ve seen in the past two crusades. Bo Levi Mitchell and Cody Fajardo have become spare parts, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson is as uneven as the back roads in Alabama, we’re still trying to get a reading on Dane Evans, Jeremiah Masoli and Trevor Harris, and Tayler Cornelius might be the next Mike Reilly in Edmonton or the next Great White Nope.

Bytown RedBlacks QB Caleb Evans rushed for a QB record 16 TDs this season. Total yards traveled on those 16 TD rushes: 16.

It’s oft said that the CFL season doesn’t truly begin until the Labor Day weekend, so here’s how the nine teams stacked up in crunch time:

Ron MacLean

It’s Halloween eve and it’s scary out there, kids. Here are five things/people in sports that really, really creep me out:
1. Ron MacLean’s puns and librarian-like references to ridiculously obscure footnotes about historical events/people. The puns are mostly lame and the detours into the unknown are as baffling as they are painful. Just tell the guy to put on a cardigan, call his Hockey Night in Canada gig Mr. MacLean’s Neighborhood and be done with it. He’s become creepy, kids.
2. Conor McGregor. He’s rude, vulgar, obnoxious, a bully, objectionable on every level, and probably thinks mashed potatoes is finger food. Every time I see him on my flatscreen, I feel the need to hose down. He’s creepy, kids.
3. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I don’t know which of the two aging, slower-than-Sunday NFL quarterbacks creeps me out more. My problem with Brady is simple: His ego is the size of Texas, thus his plan apparently is to force himself upon us until he’s older than every tortoise on the Galapagos Islands. (Fittingly, Brady and the turtles move at the same pace.) Rodgers, meanwhile, has a matching ego and seems to fancy himself as a svengali, determined to bend and shape the Green Bay Packers into his image with his every thought. Or maybe it’s his idea of a Zen thing, where he props himself up as the Dalai QB. I’m uncertain. And when they lose? Never his fault. But it’s creepy, kids.
4. Ever since Phil Mickelson teed it up on the Saudis’ LIV Golf Series, he always looks like he needs a bath. That’s creepy, kids.
5. The fawning by news snoops over Tiger Woods and Serena Williams, two more ego-fueled jocks who refuse to take the off-ramp. Woods has three tournament titles since 2013, his most recent in 2019, then he drove his SUV into a ravine. Williams has won one event since becoming a mom five years ago. Yet both are gabbed and written about like they’ve ended the scourge of global homelessness. Can Woods and Williams still win? I suppose, if all the planets align favorably, but they’re both deep on the downside of the slope and I wonder what part of over-the-hill do the talking heads and scribes not understand? They’re creepy, kids.

Tom Brady

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Brady looks like he’s on a hunger strike? I realize he’s flying solo these days and probably can’t be bothered cooking for himself, but has he not heard of Skip the Dishes?

Things you don’t expect to read or hear in the same sentence: Donald Trump and humility. Andrea Bocelli and sour notes. Phil Kessel and NHL Iron Man. But a tip of the bonnet to Kessel, who hasn’t skipped a day of work since 2009, or 991 games ago. Not too shabby for a guy reportedly on a tube steak-a-day diet.

Hey, fans have stopped flinging $250 jerseys on the ice in Vancouver, which can only mean the Canucks are no longer playing like a bunch of ankle-benders. Most likely next stop for the Jersey Fling: The Republic of Tranna. The Toronto Maple Elites, after all, are second-last in the Atlantic Division and run the risk of going 0-for-California tonight vs. the Disney Ducks in Anaheim. Another L makes them a sub.-500 outfit, and that simply won’t do in a town where they’re accustomed to winning the Stanley Cup every October. Ladies and gentlemen, start your jerseys.

Nothing but positive dispatches from Mullett Arena, jazzy new playpen of the Arizona Coyotes in Tempe. It’s the size of a college dorm, which is fitting since it also houses college hockey, and we’re told those 5,026 fans crammed into the joint can really raise a ruckus. Well, so do kids in an elementary school playground, but that doesn’t make it college. A rinky dink rink is rinky dink rink is rinky dink rink.

Where did TSN dig up this Frankie Corrado dude? What are the bona fides that compelled TSN to prop him up as a hockey analyst? Well, Google tells me he spent time with 10 teams in 11 seasons of pro hockey, some of it in the NHL (76 games), some of it in Sweden and Russia, and that’s fine. But this is part of a recent Q&A Frankie did with Ben Kuzma of Postmedia Vancouver:
Kuzma: “Why are the Canucks struggling?”
Frankie: “I think that team is in trouble.”
Wow. Move aside, Sherlock Holmes. There’s a new super sleuth in town. And, yes, that’s sarcasm. I mean, the Canucks were the only NHL outfit without a W. What was Frankie’s first clue? If that’s the type of penetrating analysis he’ll bring to TSN, I’ll switch channels and listen to Ron MacLean’s puns.

In a dog-bites-man story, this headline from The Athletic: “PWHPA still working toward a new women’s pro hockey league.” In other news, WWII is over, JFK is dead, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and The Beatles broke up. I mean, we’ve been hearing about a league for the Ponytail Puck renegades for nigh on four years. When will they tell us something we don’t know?

Dusty Baker

How ironic that the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster might be won by a Black manager, Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros. I’ve liked Dusty ever since my one and only visit to Dodger Stadium in the 1980s. Every inning when he trotted out to his post in left field, he’d stop and natter with us fans in the bleachers. Nice man.

I want to go on record as saying I like Camila Cabello and Gwen Stefani on The Voice. John Legend is agreeable and Blake Shelton is Terry Bradshaw with a good head of hair, but not necessarily a better singing voice. Hee haw.

Here’s all you need to know about the Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: PGA Tour defector Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to show up. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” What a concept. Earning your wages. Meantime, Peter Uihlein collected $11.3 million in seven LIV events, compared to $4 million in 126 PGA tournaments. But, remember, it isn’t about the money.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about Pebble People getting a raw deal…McDavid, Draisaitl and who are those other guys?…dirty rotten scoundrels…no room in Cooperstown for cheats and Schilling…the Babe, booze and babes…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard (clockwise from top left) from Gimli are the defending Scotties Tournament of Hearts champions.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!

This is fair how?

Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.

That is so wrong.

Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.

If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.

Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?

We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.

That bothers me.

It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.

I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.

Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.

Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.

Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.

Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.

The Tkachuk boys, Brady, top, and Matthew.

Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.

Part of Curt Schilling’s Nazi memorabilia.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.

The Babe and the babes.

Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.

In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.

Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.

An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.

It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.

Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.

It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.

Pam Shriver, left, and Martina Navratilova.

So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:

Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16

Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190

Doubles Titles
Navratilova 187 Williams 25

There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.

Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.

The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):

Sports front
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Winnipeg Sun-1.

Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).

Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.

And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine’s adios…what the boys on the beat are saying…Grapes for GG of Canada…Bobby Hull dining on table scraps…Hammerin’ Hank…the Mets and their oinker GM…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this blog is officially listed as day-to-day…

First of all, Patrik Laine wasn’t a swing and a miss for Kevin Chevldayoff and his bird dogs.

When the ping pong balls bounced their way at the National Hockey League’s 2016 draft lottery, they wisely used that good fortune to claim Puck Finn with the second shoutout at the annual auction of teenage wannabes.

Patrik Laine

The kid’s a stud, and there’s been scant second-guessing the Winnipeg Jets’ choice, even if hindsight suggests a case can be made that Matthew Tkachuk might have been a better way to go.

Laine mostly delivered as the Jets had hoped, with 36-, 44-, 30- and 28-goal crusades, plus two more snipes in the opening gambit of his fifth season, which has been temporarily derailed due to an undisclosed upper-body owie of unknown origin.

Unfortunately, somewhere and somehow, the Jets-Laine union hit a very large pothole and we’re left to wonder what went wrong.

None of the usual suspects were willing to drill down to the core of the matter on Saturday after Chevy had completed his latest bit of handiwork, sending Laine to the Columbus Blue Jackets in barter for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Puck Finn spoke. General manager Chevy spoke. Potty-mouth coach Paul Maurice spoke. Captain Blake Wheeler spoke. Trouble is, it was nothing but hollow blah, blah, blah. We still don’t know why a 22-year-old stud with 140 notches on his shooting stick was expendable.

So we speculate, and here’s my guess: Coach PottyMo and Wheeler chased him out of town.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

In his sole frolic this season, Laine was given 16 minutes, 20 seconds of ice. Wheeler logged 21:27. Maurice stubbornly insists that the 34-year-old captain is a better bet at right wing, and that wasn’t about to change. No matter the numbers either player put up. So Puck Finn put a bug in his agent’s ear, whispering something about the desire for a new zip code, and he’ll now be collecting his fan mail at 200 W Nationwide Blvd., Columbus, OH 43215.

And that isn’t a good optic for Chevy.

None of us knows for certain what it would have taken to make Laine happy, but we can assume that Chevy wasn’t prepared to instruct Coach PottyMo to up the big Finn’s ice time. We can also assume that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, had a sizable say in the matter, because you don’t part company with a player of Laine’s loft without the owner signing off on the deal. Which means he’s okay with the reality that he’s now had four first-round draft picks and/or their reps walk into the GM’s office and request and receive a one-way ticket out of town—Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Puck Finn and Jack Roslovic.

So, rather than a mantra of draft-and-develop, it’s become draft-develop-defect.

Paul Maurice

Oh, yes, I realize that a handful of the Jets young studs have locked in for the long haul, but having four walk away is at least three too many. And, in Laine’s case, it didn’t have to shake down this way.

Rather than reward Wheeler with a ridiculous five-year extension (including a No-Move Clause) in 2018 and stunt Laine’s growth, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff should have cut the captain adrift. He would have fetched a handsome return, certainly better than he would today or two years from now given the dog ears on his birth certificate.

Instead, they opted to keep the senior citizen over the young gun, which I’m sure makes no sense to most of us outside the Jets think tank.

Hey, anyone can be traded, including Patrik Laine. And the Jets will learn to live without Puck Finn. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be traded. Chevy and the Puck Pontiff bungled this one. Badly. And if they can’t convince Dubois to sign up for the long haul, they’ll really wear it.

Paul Stastny

Remember last October when Chevy brought Paul Stastny back on board? According to the pundits, it was a move designed to put a happy face on Laine. Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, for example, wrote this: “One thing I no longer expect to see based on this week’s events is a trade involving Patrik Laine. The Jets didn’t bring Stastny and his big cap hit in just to send their Finnish sniper packing. They brought him in to play with Laine, a paring (along with Nikolaj Ehlers) that had great chemistry during the 2018 run to the Western Conference final.” Others provided backup vocals. So how’s that working out?

I always enjoy reading what the boys on the beat have to say about these big trades. Here’s a sampling:

Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun: “The Winnipeg Jets’ trading of Patrik Laine to the Columbus Blue Jacks is an abject organizational failure.”

Ken Wiebe, Sportsnet: “By strengthening themselves down the middle, the Jets have taken an important—and necessary—step to widening their collective window of contention. It came at a significant cost, but this blockbuster was a risk worth taking for the Jets.”

Murat Ates, The Athletic: “What does this acquisition mean for the rest of Winnipeg’s roster? The shortest, simplest read is that the Jets want to build strength down the middle and just traded a power-play star at right wing for an even-strength star at centre. It also gives Winnipeg the best player in the trade, while acknowledging that Laine’s potential for growth is as big of a wild card as he is.”

Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “Cheveldayoff has to bear responsibility for what has happened here—the trading of a very popular young star. He was unable to get Laine signed to a long-term deal before last season and the Jets salary cap situation—based on long-term deals given to other players—made it unlikely they’d be able to do so after this season. The cost, as it turns out, is the Jets traded two first-round draft picks for a player who was taken third overall. On paper, it simply looks like too much. The pressure will be immense on Dubois to make it look more even.”

Has there been a bigger swap involving local jocks than Laine-Dubois? I can think of just one—Dieter Brock to the Hamilton Tabbies for Tom Clements in 1983. Hall-of-fame quarterback for hall-of-fame quarterback. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup with Clements behind centre one year later, beating Brock and the Tabbies.

This is rich: Rebel News has started a petition to have disgraced hockey-talker Don Cherry succeed the disgraced Julie Payette as Governor General of Canada.

“He’s a loyal monarchist, perhaps the most loyal monarchist in the county!” the far-right wingnuts at the Rebel write. “And he upholds our Canadian values. Unlike Payette, he represents what it means to be Canadian. There is nobody more dignified and worthy of filling this historic and noble role for Canadians than Don Cherry.”

Hoo boy. That’s a whole lot of stupid.

When last seen and heard, Grapes was on Hockey Night in Canada, demonizing “you people that come here” (read: immigrants) because they enjoy “our milk and honey” but have the (apparent) bad manners to not wear poppies for Remembrance Day. After decades of similar rants peppered with bigotry, zenophobia, misogyny and anti-Quebec sentiments, they finally took away the Lord of Loud’s bully pulpit, yet now the Rebel would have him become Queen Liz’s official rep and take up residence in Rideau Hall. What next? Ron MacLean at 24 Sussex Drive?

I’m sure Queen Liz has enough worries with the royal litter without having to explain Don Cherry and his wardrobe to her loyal subjects loitering outside Buckingham Palace.

Big tidings from the Toronto Blue Jays camp last week, with the addition of outfielder/slugger George Springer, late of the cheating Houston Astros. Apparently Springer leaked the news of his signing by banging on the lid of a trash can.

Bobby Hull

There’s a fabulous anecdote about Bobby Hull, his boy Brett and Kelly Chase in James Duthie’s book Beauties, whereby they let the wolf loose after a game one night in Chicago, returning to the Drake Hotel at 2 o’clock in the a.m.

“The Drake has this elderly gentleman working the elevators, all dressed up with white gloves on,” Chase says. “He recognizes Bobby right away and says, ‘Mr. Hull, pleasure to meet you.’ Bobby says, ‘Good evening, young man. Could you press floor one for me?’ And Brett goes, ‘No, dad, we’re on three.’ Bobby says, ‘Goddamnit, I said press one!’ And out he goes on the first floor.

“We go up to our room, and a few minutes later, in walks Bobby with this food tray. He’s got a quarter of a clubhouse sandwich, a piece of pizza and a couple of chicken wings. I’m like, ‘What the…?’ And Bobby says, ‘Wasteful bastards! This is how Stan Mikita and I ate in the old days. He took the even floors, I took the odd!’

“This is my idol! Then they bring the cot up, and Bobby is insisting on sleeping on the cot. Well, there is no way I am letting Bobby Hull sleep on a cot, so I take it. Bobby goes into the bathroom, comes out, whips the rug off his head, hangs it on the bedpost and gets in bed. The first time I meet my idol, and he’s eating off food trays left outside people’s doors and his hair is hanging on the bed!”

Ya, that sounds about right.

Can’t let the day slip away without mentioning Henry Aaron, because the home run champ’s death on Friday meant another chunk of my youth has been snatched away.

Hammerin’ Hank, you see, was my older brother Richard’s favorite baseball player. Mickey Mantle was my younger brother Mick’s main man. Mine was Sandy Koufax. We’d squabble the way kids do, nattering about who was the best of the three—the rakish Black man from Mobile, Ala., the brawny Okie who spent his early off-seasons working in lead and zinc mines with his dad, or the soft-speaking Jewish kid from Brooklyn.

None of us budged from our positions. Still won’t.

I do, however, concede and conclude that Aaron traveled a more challenging path to baseball immortality because, whereas both Mantle and Koufax wrestled with chronic ailments, it was death threats for Hammerin’ Hank. Not just to him, but his family.

The nearer Aaron came to reeling in Babe Ruth and laying claim to the greatest record in sports—714 career home runs—the greater the peril for the Atlanta Braves outfielder. Not all of America was prepared to accept a Black man usurping the Sultan of Swat. Not in the 1970s. Yet Aaron soldiered on, swatting dingers and chasing the larger-than-life Bambino until the night of April 8, 1974, when he sent an Al Downing pitch over the left-field fence and into the Braves bullpen. He had touched ’em all for the 715th time.

“What a marvelous moment, for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. It’s a marvelous, wonderful, enjoyable moment here in Atlanta,” is how legendary broadcaster Vin Scully described it.

Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the Winnipeg Tribune building, anxious to lay out and design the next day’s sports section. Even though the Jets had opened a playoff series vs. Houston Aeros that night, I relegated them to the inside pages. The sports front was reserved for the great Henry Aaron. Every inch of it.

Jared Porter

Jared Porter has been outed as an oinker of the highest rank and, thankfully, the New York Mets squandered nary a nano-second in defrocking their creepy general manager.

Mind you, it’s not like the Amazins had any choice.

I mean, Porter’s one-man crusade to bed an unidentified female reporter while overseeing the Chicago Cubs stable of scouts in 2016 was as relentless as it was disturbing. More than 60 times he hounded the woman with come-hither texts and pics, the last of which brought an erect penis into focus, and it doesn’t matter that he claims the erect-penis pic he sent wasn’t a pic of his erect penis.

“The more explicit ones are not of me,” Porter assured ESPN. “Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images.”

Oh, ya, unwelcomed graphic porn is a real knee-slapper, Jared.

Listen, most women I know appreciate a man with a healthy sense of humor, but some scuzzball visiting porn sites and playing copy-and-paste with images of boners doesn’t qualify as giggle-worthy.

It’s sad, pathetic, dangerous and no one’s idea of slapstick.

Fortunately, the Mets did every female news snoop a solid by kicking Porter to the curb, and I can’t imagine any other Major League Baseball team bringing him and his baggage on board.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of Postmedia treating the Winnipeg Sun like the red-hair, freckle-face step-child of the chain. When I call up the Postmedia tabloids in the Republic of Tranna, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, I normally find seven or more pages in the sports section. In Good Ol’ Hometown it’s usually four pages. Some days just two. Other days there’s two pages of sports near the front of the rag and two more near the back. Ridiculous.

And, finally, I don’t like to say I told you so, but I did. At least six times between February 2019 and last week, I warned you that Patrik Laine would not finish his career in Good Ol’ Hometown. Moreover, I posed this question in June 2016, days before the Jets drafted him: “Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?” Puck Finn conceded on Saturday that “it wasn’t the right fit for me and for the team.”

Let’s talk about shaking fists and yelling at clouds…Flames get a leg up on Jets and Rink Rat Scheifele…Elliotte Friedman’s chinny, chin, chin…Eric Trump, NHL ally…the Diversity Alliance has no diversity…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, no, I didn’t watch the Jets-Flames skirmish Saturday night, because that’s past my bedtime…

Online subscribers to the Drab Slab (guilty, yer honor) receive morning briefings from sports editor Steve Lyons, who advises us what we should be reading and what he’s been reading.

It’s a nice touch. Really. It is.

Steve Lyons

It can also be revealing, which was the case on Friday when Lyons recounted a telephone tete-a-tete with the junior man in his stable of scribes, Taylor Allen. The bossman directed young Taylor’s attention southwest to Carman, where the best senior golfers in Manitoba had been swinging the sticks. His mission: “Spin a yarn” on champions Rhonda Orr and Bruce North.

“I love doing these golf stories,” responded Taylor, “but I was just wondering, does anyone care about them?”

Well, this is going to come across as one of those cranky-old-fool-shakes-fist-and-shouts-at-clouds posts, but back in the day we never would have asked such a question, and I don’t say that to pooh-pooh young Taylor. He’s excused his naivité. After all, what would he know of back in the day?

So let me shake my tiny fist and tell you what it was like.

We covered golf (shakes fist). Lordy, did we cover golf. We covered it like it was equal parts papal election and JFK assassination. We wouldn’t merely do a folo on the Manitoba Seniors Championships two days after the last putt had dropped (shakes fist again). We’d drive down Hwy. 3 and not stop until we were at the Carman Golf & Curling Club for the first round. We’d also be there when the trinkets were distributed and the winners had retired to the 19th hole (stops shaking fist long enough to take a swallow of beer).

We’d do it because there’d be hell to pay if we ignored local golf. People cared. A lot (shakes fist).

Usually it was Steady Eddie Dearden on the beat for us at the Winnipeg Tribune, and either Bags Bagley or Knobby Beck for the Winnipeg Free Press, but all of us on staff were dispatched to the links for a variety of tournaments, and it wasn’t uncommon to find our copy on the sports front the next day.

Steady Eddie Dearden

I think we even covered something called the Toymakers Tournament (shakes fist, shakes head), but memory sometimes betrays me. The Toymakers might have been a curling thing.

Whatever the case, it wasn’t just golf that received the royal treatment. It was all local sports.

To jog my grey matter, I called up the final two editions of the Trib the other day, and here’s the local content in the sports section:

Aug. 26, 1980—Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, lacrosse, boxing, a father-and-son golf tourney, senior baseball, senior fastball, Assiniboia Downs, soccer, track and field, field hockey, motor sports, curling, senior hockey, orienteering (shakes head again).

Aug. 27, 1980—Bombers, junior hockey, fastball, soccer, motor sports, ladies golf, Assiniboia downs, baseball, basketball.

I should point out that those two editions included dispatches out of Saskatoon from the talented and delightful Lester (Ronny) Lazaruk, on assignment at the Canadian Senior Men’s Fastball Championships. Yes, we actually sent Ronny to Toontown to tell readers all about our Winnipeg Colonels and their ace hurler, a long, tall drink of water named Pallister, Brian Pallister. Name probably sounds familiar. As for Ronny, he liked it so much that he’s still there.

Anyway, readers were conditioned to opening either paper to find coverage of local sports of all stripes. We tossed a blanket over the community (shakes fist). We got to know the movers and shakers at the grassroots level, not just at the top of the food chain, and they often would thank us for coming out to their event. Imagine that.

Today, the Winnipeg Sun functions on the whims and dictates of the faceless, unknowing taskmasters at Postmedia, which is most unfortunate. If it ain’t named Jets, Bombers, Goldeyes or FC, they ain’t interested. The Drab Slab does a much, much better job, but coverage is still scant in comparison to back in the day. Today, for example, other than the Jets there isn’t a single local sports story in a five-page section. Not good.

I suppose there’s hope, though. I mean, young Taylor Allen told Freep bossman Steve Lyons that he enjoys covering local golf, and I say that warrants a fist bump rather than a fist shake.

It’s incredible, really, that Bruce North is still atop the leaderboard in Manitoba golf, albeit in a different age category. I recall editing Steady Eddie Dearden’s copy about Bruce winning this tournament or that tournament as a sprig in the 1970s, so good on Bruce.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve viewed numerous replays of the Rink Rat Scheifele-Matthew Tkachuk incident on Saturday night—from various angles and at different speeds—and I failed to see anything sinister. No question that Tkachuk’s right skate clipped the back of Scheifele’s left leg, but nothing I saw suggested it was a deliberate kick with intent to cripple. Meaning Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice is off his nut or, most likely, he’s playing mind games when he accuses the Calgary Flames forward of a deliberate “filthy, dirty kick.” Tkachuk, to be sure, is among the National Hockey League’s high-ranking irritants and the Jets will be required to rein him in if they’re to survive their best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifying skirmish, but I don’t believe there’s any Russian blood in him. The Russkies kicked. Good American boys don’t.

I had the Jets pegged to take out the Flames pronto. I actually thought they’d get out the brooms. Now, after Saturday’s 4-1 loss, I can’t see them winning three of the next four if the Rink Rat’s wonky left limb puts him in the infirmary for the duration. I know, I know. Winnipeg HC overcame other inconveniences during the crusade that was paused in March due to COVID-19, but losing your No. 1 centre is more than a speed bump.

Elliotte Friedman

There was much talk about the lengthy absence of David Pastrnak from Boston Bruins’ training camp, but he returned to the NHL club last week. Apparently they found him in Elliotte Friedman’s beard.

Friedman’s epic chin whiskers are so thick and unruly that O.J. plans to make them his next stop in the search for the real killers.

You know you’re on Planet Puckhead when the Twitterverse is abuzz about Friedman’s foliage and also explodes into a loud howl over which man is the bigger cad, Don Cherry or Ron MacLean. Both Grapes and Sideshow Ron were trending mid-week, and I’d call it a debate over who does and doesn’t belong on Hockey Night in Canada, except much of it was your typically toxic Twitter trolling. In other words, name-calling. Let me sum up the rabble’s to-and-fro in one sentence: Cherry is a zenophobic bigot and one woman wants to punch MacLean in the face. For the record, I’m fully against bigotry and the punching of faces, but I’m not an anti-beardite.

Donald Trump’s boy Eric tweeted his thanks to NHL players for standing during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner when they returned to the ice last week, but Hockey Diversity Alliance co-founder Akim Aliu was having none of it. “Yo, real talk Eric Trump, you’re the last guy the NHL and the hockey world want support from. It’s not real patriotism if you’re using it to divide us,” he responded on Twitter. Hmmm. Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was news when an athlete or coach took a knee during the national anthem. Now it’s news when they stand.

Based on numerous Twitter comments, Americans actually believe it’s near impossible to take a knee while attired in full hockey kit. Are they really that dense? Little kids do it, for gawd’s sake.

I was in a local watering hole Saturday afternoon and the grand total of two people, one wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey and both clutching Oilers face masks, came in specifically to watch their E-Town hockey heroes play the Chicago Blackhawks. They both departed after the Chitowners took a 3-1 lead. Meanwhile, there was considerable bustle (but no TV) on the patio. So much for the notion that people will go inside, and stay, to watch shinny on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon during the drowsiness of August.

Is it permissible to question the Hockey Diversity Alliance, or is that taboo? I mean, the HDA roll call is comprised of nine hockey players, all of them men of color. There are no Indigenous hockey players. There are no female hockey players. There are no gay hockey players. Which tells me it’s actually the Hockey Anti-Racism Alliance. And that’s a commendable cause. Racism is a pox. But so, too, is misogyny. Ditto sexism. And homophobia/transphobia. Do we not want to blot out all those blights? I think yes. So this would be my question for Evander Kane and the aforementioned Aliu: If it’s truly about diversity, why is there zero diversity in your diversity group?

If anyone has a clue what’s going on in the Canadian Football League these days, please dial 1-800-4-A-ROUGE immediately and ask for Commish Randy Ambrosie. He’d like to know, too.

I’m still not sold on Winnipeg serving as a hub bubble for a potential three-down season, because it would mean an invasion of Yankee Doodle Footballers numbering in the hundreds. Seriously. They want to welcome all those large lads from COVID Country? I’m hard pressed to think of a worst-case scenario, except maybe hiring Harvey Weinstein to do odd jobs in a sorority house.

If the Miami Marlins lose another player to a positive COVID-19 test, is there any truth to the rumor that Dr. Anthony Fauci automatically moves into the starting rotation?

If enough top players take a pass on the U.S. Open tennis tournament, will Serena Williams win by default and will it count in her career Grand Slam total? That might be the only way the former neighborhood bully can still beat the top women.

I always say if there’s something you do better than all others, do it. So Megan Rapinoe, who’s been flapping her gums ever since the Yankee Doodle Damsels lapped the field at the 2019 women’s World Cup of soccer in France, now has a talk show to call her own on HBO—Seeing America with Megan Rapinoe. If Megan sees the same America as a lot of us looking in from the outside, she should really have something to talk about in November.

Sarah McLellan

And, finally, couldn’t resist posting this pic of Sarah McLellan, hockey scribe for the StarTribune in Minneapolis. That’s Sarah in Edmonton after completing her required quarantine before covering the Minnesota Wild-Vancouver Canucks playoff joust. Take special notice of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s vast mountain vista in the background. It’s truly spectacular. Oh, wait. There are no mountains in E-Town. They only exist in Kenney’s propaganda machine.

Let’s talk about Hal Johnson outing TSN…Where’s Waldo’s Sister?…Beep! Beep! There goes Alphonso!…Rouge Football takes a knee…Yippee for Youpii!…big bucks, baseball and bickering…the best of the Blue Bombers…Herb Carnegie gave the New York Rangers a pass…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…

Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:

What is the Black quota in 2020?

We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.

“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.

So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.

The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.

All of which has provided pause for ponder.

The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.

Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.

It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.

Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.

Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?

So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?

The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.

As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.

Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.

Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.

I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.

I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.

North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.

Take a knee, Donald.

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.

While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.

By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.

Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.

The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?

It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.

I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.

I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.

True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.

Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.

And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.

Let’s talk about Canadian jock journalism and its diversity deficiency

The soft, societal underbelly of Canadian jock journalism is being exposed.

Again.

It is ever thus when real-life concerns (racism, gender equality, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence, etc.) invade the playground and relegate final scores, statistics and Tiger Woods’ pursuit of Grand Slam golf titles to a seat of secondary thought.

That, of course, is what’s unfolding now as we observe the horror that is Battleground America.

Unrest has given way to rioting and rubble, the bitter backwash from the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose name held no position in the public conscience until video evidence confirmed that a Minneapolis-St. Paul police officer had used a knee to squeeze the final breath out of him.

In itself, the death of Floyd is not a sports story. Rogue cop kills a Black man. They’ve seen this movie, too many times.

Kareem

Except Michael Jordan is talking about this one. Masai Ujiri is talking about it. LeBron James is talking about it. Evander Kane is talking about it. Blake Wheeler, Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture are talking about it. Kareem has weighed in. Numerous pro sports organizations have issued communiqués condemning racism and social injustice, and that includes the National Football League, which has managed to place itself in the awkward position of being full-score against Colin Kaepernick’s knee of peaceful protest and, at the same time, against a cop’s knee of death.

But here’s someone who can’t talk about it from a platform of lived experience—99 per cent of Canadian sports scribes.

Unless your name is Morgan Campbell or Donnovan Bennett, the best our flowers of jock journalism can do is provide sound bites from Ujiri, Jordan, LeBron, Kareem, Kane et al.

And, yes, it’s terrific when they spread the word. It’s important.

Yet they themselves cannot provide explanation, analysis or offer first-person anecdotal evidence in the arena of marginalization. They fall short, like a warning-track fly ball. They are incapable of commenting and opinionating from a foundation of been there, had that done to me. They don’t know Black. Just like they don’t know female. They don’t know fists of fury. I doubt many of them know or care that this is Pride Month.

Consider this passage from a Michael Grange essay for Sportsnet the other day:

Michael Grange

“It was also a reminder that I’ve never had a moment to be nervous about the police. That I’ve never sent my teenaged son into the world and worried that he could be a victim of a tragic misunderstanding, or worse. I’ve never had to wonder if my skin colour or ethnicity or gender was an obstacle to me reaching my potential. No one should have those fears and concerns. Not today, not ever. I believe we should all act, think, and vote in ways that reflect those fundamental values. I’ve never felt the need to write that before because it’s always seemed so self-evident. So clear. It’s not.”

After viewing the George Floyd death video, a white scribe like Grange might have cringed and muttered something like “That’s just horrible” and maybe even wept, but a Black writer would be more apt to gasp, “Good lord, that could be me or my child,” then lock his doors and keep his family behind cover.

When racism in hockey became the topic du jour late last year, Ron MacLean had a natter with his Hometown Hockey co-host Tara Slone and Black filmmaker Kwame Mason, and he delivered this confession: “It’s a real eye-opener that I don’t recognize the structural racism or sexism that’s going on.”

Ron MacLean

It was an astonishing admission, but MacLean found no requirement to give ponder to racism and sexism because it wasn’t, and isn’t, his ox being gored. He has the privilege of being white and male, which is totally in keeping with the makeup of jock journalism.

I presented these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.) on Sunday, but they bear repeating:
90 per cent of sports editors were male;
85 per cent of sports editors were white;
88.5 per cent of reporters were male;
83.4 per cent of columnists were male;
82.1 per cent of reporters were white;
80.3 per cent of columnists were white;
44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.

Is that a recipe for racist, sexist coverage? Not necessarily. But it does explain why there are so few voices that speak to the very heart of those issues. Also why the message often gets misshapen.

For example, when Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped his trousers to his ankles and mooned a female security guard at 2 o’clock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz., male sports scribes turned the incident into a forum on his suitability to serve as team captain. They wrote it off as frat-boy frolic and gave scant consideration to his victim, Fayola Dozithee, and the every-day fears of females.

Auston Matthews

“We all do stupid things,” Cathal Kelly scribbled in the Globe and Mail. “We are all especially likely to do stupid things when it is late, when we are drunk and when we are 22.”

I submit that’s the language of a man who’s done a fair bit of stupid-thing, frat-boy frolicking himself, some of which might have victimized women.

On the domestic violence file, male scribes crucified NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his botched handling of the Ray Rice case after viewing video evidence of the former running back dragging his unconscious girlfriend off an elevator, but then the boys celebrated the arrival of woman-beating Johnny Manziel to the Canadian Football League.

“Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL,” rejoiced Chris Cuthbert of TSN.

Johnny Manziel

“It will be fun for everyone to watch,” agreed Dan Barnes of Postmedia.

“Welcome to Canada, Johnny Manziel. And where do I sign up,” chimed in Steve Simmons of Postmedia.

Again, no thought given to the big picture because they aren’t female and vulnerable.

Meantime, there are no figures for the percentage of gay editors/columnists/reporters at major newspapers/websites, but I doubt I’m far off the mark if I suggest it’s less than 1 per cent. Consequently, there’s no one with lived experience to speak to the issue when someone like Michael Sam, Jason Collins or Robbie Rogers are targeted with anti-gay language and deeds.

When Sam became the first openly gay man to participate in a professional football game, many in the LGBT(etc.) collective were delighted and proud. But one prominent jock journo, the aforementioned Simmons, denied that Sam had actually participated in a Canadian Football League game.

Michael Sam

“In reality, pro football still awaits its first openly gay player,” he wrote.

After Sam bugged out on the Montreal Alouettes due to mental health issues, an unidentified sports scribe accused him of “faking it.”

So we had one heterosexual man insisting that a gay man never existed, and another heterosexual man presuming to have first-hand knowledge of the demons that torture and haunt a gay man’s mind.

Jock journalism in our country has a serious diversity deficiency.

It could serve as a vehicle for societal change, but it isn’t constructed that way. Hiring practices make the business too white, too male and too hetero.

The women who appear on TSN, for example, are allowed to be pretty and read a teleprompter, but they aren’t allowed an opinion, the exception being women’s soccer. When skin hue is the topic du jour, Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro of Sportsnet can natter about it, but they are unable to reach the core of the issue until Donnovan Bennett is invited into the discussion. He might crack wise about “dial-a-Negro,” which he did, but there’s truth hidden in that joke.

Donnovan Bennett

Bennett authored a thought-provoking essay on the current racist unrest in the U.S., and he closed with this:

“I’m going to challenge my own industry. If you work in sports media and make a living off the talent and ingenuity of black athletes, the least you can do is use your journalistic skills and privilege to show that black lives have equal value to your own. The least you can do is allot more than 28 or 29 days in February to humanizing black people.”

My guess is they’ll have found a new chew toy by this time next week.

FOOTNOTE: Both Bennett’s essay and an article on former National Basketball Association player John Amaechi, who came out as gay after his playing career, are live on the Sportsnet website today. Yet the overlords at Sportsnet refuse to allow discussion on these race and LGBT(etc.) issues by disabling comments on both pieces. Go figure.

Let’s talk about the fallout from Sportsnet’s all-female broadcast…insecure men…Larry Walker in the blue paint…the Winnipeg Jets and the Ink Stained Wretch Virus…and keeping the rouge in Rouge Football

A rare midweek smorgas-bored…and it would be hump day if I was still working, but I’m too old and wonky to be working so it’s not hump day…

Danny Gallivan

The rabble has spoken and apparently Sportsnet’s all-female National Hockey League broadcast was the best thing since someone was wise enough to hand Danny Gallivan a microphone.

“Didn’t miss a beat.”

“A once a week all woman broadcast would be awesome.”

“Absolute HOME RUN.”

“Fantastic.”

“Hell of a job.”

“You all hit it out of the ballpark”.

But wait.

It seems that having three female voices in the Tower of Babble On was also the worst thing since Don Cherry looked at his grandmother’s kitchen curtains and decided they’d make a great sports jacket.

“Uggh—why can’t anyone speak the truth? It was not even close to the quality of the regular male broadcasters. It was not good.”

“They were downright boring.”

“Great idea, but I had to turn it off. Low, low quality.”

“I was going to watch but I would rather put a needle in my eye.”

“When and why did NHL become SJWs for all the progressive causes? Really sick of having politics invade every form of entertainment in this country. You all did a nice job, but is forced equality truly equal.”

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the talking-head troika of Leah Hextall (play-by-play), Cassie Campbell-Pascall (color commentary) and Christine Simpson (rinkside) has received both high hosannas and the royal raspberry for their work on the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, because that’s the way it is in the gab game.

Foster Hewitt

I mean, Danny Gallivan is a legend for his expansive vocabulary and scintillating delivery, yet many among the masses decided he was too pro-Montreal Canadiens. The Hewitt men, Foster and Bill, were praised as pioneers and scorned for waving the blue-and-white pom-poms of the Tranna Maple Leafs. Bob Cole earned praise for his pipes and, toward the end, he was ridiculed and maligned for an inability to keep up with the pace of play and incorrectly identifying players.

Some think Jim Hughson to be spot on with his play call, but a bore, also pro-Vancouver Canucks. Chris Cuthbert? One viewer says he’s knowledgeable, enthusiastic, another says his voice sometimes reaches too high a pitch. Greg Millen? Well, he might be the exception to the rule. It’s unanimous: He’s nails on a chalkboard.

So, ya, the rabble will critique Hextall, Simpson and Campbell-Pascall, and thumbs will be both up and down.

Here’s the deal, though: Just because a man pooh-poohs a woman’s work, it doesn’t necessarily mean the guy is an oinker who drags his hairy knuckles along the ground and lives in his mother’s basement. Not every guy believes women should be barefoot, pregnant and lose their voting privileges, so it’s wrong, also unfair, to assume a critique is rooted in sexism.

Jim Hughson

If the boys can rag on Hughson, Cuthbert, Millen et al, then Hextall, Simpson and Campbell-Pascall are also fair game.

Now, no doubt, there are dudes among the rabble who simply cannot handle a shrill voice delivering their play-by-play, but that’s no different than a guy who zones out Hughson because there’s too much of a deliberate, flat-line delivery in his game call.

It can be suggested, of course, that Hextall, Simpson and Campbell-Pascall are being held to a higher standard because they’re female. They simply can’t be as good as the boys, they have to be better, and perhaps there’s some truth to that. After all, that’s the way it often is whenever a Jill invades a Jack’s world.

Bob Cole

The thing is, Simpson and Campbell-Pascall aren’t new to the game. We’ve been listening to them for many years. Hextall was the only newby, working her first NHL game with a live mic, and that made her the headliner on Sportnet’s first all-female broadcast. It put her under a microscope. But only a fool expected her to be Danny Gallivan or Bob Cole. Or even Friar Nicolson or Sod Keilback.

I don’t know if we’ll ever hear Hextall do an NHL game again, but I do know she’ll always have her critics. It comes with the territory. Same as the dudes.

A thought occurred while listening to Campbell-Pascall, who suffers from a severe case of chronic verbaldiarrhea-itis: What if Sportsnet put her and Greg Millen together to work the same game? I don’t think my ears would ever stop bleeding.

Leah Hextall

This from Ian Mendes of TSN 1200 in Ottawa on Sportsnet’s all-female broadcast: “Reminder: The only people who think this is a gimmick are insecure men.” Hmmm. Is there anything more insecure than a man so insecure that he has to engage in male-bashing to earn brownie points with women? Sad. Fact is, it’s understandable that anyone, male or female, would think of this as a gimmick. I mean, it didn’t happen on International Women’s Day by accident. Sportsnet didn’t spend more than a week tub-thumping the event as “historic” by accident. And I suppose Mendes would have us believe that it was just a coincidence that Hextall was given her NHL play-by-play baptism on International Women’s Day. Really, unless Leah, Christine and Cassie become part of Sportsnet’s regular rotation, it’s hard to see this as anything but a once-a-year gimmick.

For the record, I thought Hextall did a good job and I hope it wasn’t a ratings-seeking one-off. I’d like to see her get more gigs.

Ron and Tara

So, as I wrote the other morning, I thought the intermission chin-wag between Hometown Hockey host Tara Slone and tennis legend/equal rights activist Billie Jean King was lame. Not so Pierre LeBrun of TSN/The Athletic.

“It was a wonderful interview, Tara,” he tweeted.

Wrong.

When the interviewer leads by saying, “Well, Billie Jean, this is a huge honor for us I have to say,” and, at the same time, blushes like a schoolgirl who just got asked to the prom by the football team’s quarterback, you know it’s going to be pure pablum.

By my count, Slone asked a total of two questions:

1) “What does feminism mean?”

2) “I want to know how you stay positive. Your energy is so infectious, your movement is always forward, even though you reference history and history is so important, but this stuff is taking a long time. It’s taking longer than it should. So how do you retain your forward momentum?”

When King claimed an NHL-owned women’s professional league would be “good business,” Slone failed to ask how losing money would be beneficial to NHL owners. When King asked “Why can’t we have 700 girls, a thousand girls playing in a league?” Slone failed to serve up the obvious question: “Where on earth would anyone find 700 to 1,000 elite-level female players?”

There were a lot of things Slone could have asked King, an adviser to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. But Tara and her accomplice, Ron MacLean, have become shills for the PWHPA, so hard questions were out of the question.

I interviewed dozens of famous people during my 30-year tour of duty in the rag trade, and I can report with absolute certainty that not one of them made me blush. Not even Muhammad Ali.

Larry Walker

What’s this? Incoming Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Walker will serve as emergency backup goaltender in Denver on Sunday when the Colorado Rockies play the Golden Knights? C’mon, man. He’s 53. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Walker anywhere near the blue paint unless he’s driving a Zamboni.

Interesting that news snoops have been barred from the Winnipeg Jets changing room for fear that one of the young millionaire shinny meisters might be stricken with the dreaded Ink-Stained Wretch Virus. Oh dear. How will the boys and girls on the beat get on without all those insightful quotes from a dressing-room scrum? It just won’t be the same now that the players have to talk about “moving our feet” and “playing the right way” from a podium instead of a sweat box. Everyone will get the same standard cookie-cutter blah, blah, blah. Oh, wait. I guess it will be business as usual after all.

Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler

Actually, Jets captain Blake Wheeler and linemate Rink Rat Scheifele delivered a bit of banter on Tuesday that wouldn’t have been possible if not for the dressing-room ban. According to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, the boys arrived at the podium together for the first time since their exit chin-wag with news snoops last April, and had this to say:
Wheeler: “Last time we sat in this room, you didn’t talk enough, so let’s do some talkin’ today.”
Rink Rat: “Ya, I think I answered one question and got in trouble for it.”
Scheifele then answered exactly one question on Tuesday, and I must say I like his cheek.

I didn’t realize that the rouge had become a hot-button issue in the Canadian Football League, but it seems that Matthew Cauz and Jamie Nye at cfl.ca have people talking because of their to-and-fro about the single point. I’m all for the rouge, except on failed field goal attempts. If you can’t hit a FG from 18 yards out, you don’t deserve anything other than your house being pelted by eggs and manure dumped on your lawn, and you can ask Paul McCallum all about that.

And, finally, if the Jets make the playoffs and there’s no one there to see it, will it really happen?

Let’s talk about girl power on Sportsnet…Billie Jean King doesn’t have a clue…snubbing the NWHL…and bust goes the Brier

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I don’t know if I gained or lost an hour on the weekend…

Oh, baby. They pulled it off.

Yup, Sportsnet delivered its first 99.9 per cent estrogen-fueled broadcast of a National Hockey League joust on Sunday night, so a few words are in order:

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Leah Hextall.

a) Leah Hextall is more than adequate on play-by-play.

b) Christine Simpson is a real pro.

c) Cassie Campbell-Pascall doesn’t know when to put a sock in it.

d) Billie Jean King needs to pop a reality pill.

e) Ron MacLean makes for a rather subdued token male (he calls himself an “ally”).

f) Tara Slone has the groupie gene.

g) Apparently no one involved with the production of Hometown Hockey knows the National Women’s Hockey League exists.

That’s the Coles Notes version of what transpired during the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, and if you’re wondering if the women did boffo work just ask them. They’ll assure you that they were absolutely fabulous, darling.

I mean, this was a 3½-hour exercise in excessive back-patting, and I believe they paid tribute to every woman on earth except Karla Homolka. Well, okay, that’s a stretch. But they did manage to squeeze Cher and Beyonce into the conversation, and we all know that no hockey broadcast is complete without mentioning Cher and Beyonce—not!

Curious name-dropping aside, full marks to Sportsnet for pushing the envelope. I just wish the main players hadn’t spent so much time kissing up to one another.

Don’t they realize you can catch coronavirus that way?

Leah Hextall

Among the women, Hextall had the most to gain/lose in this experiment. We’ve been listening to the empty squawkings of colorless commentator Campbell-Pascall for years now, and we’ve grown accustomed to Simpson’s smooth interview skills. But Hextall’s game call was something new, and I give her a passing grade.

I actually learned a new phrase from her: “He loses the boot.” Translation: A player lost his footing. Never heard that one before.

Hextall delivered another good line in the third period when two Golden Knights collided violently inside the blueline, describing it as “A bit of a Three Stooges moment.” I laughed out loud.

Hextall stumbled at times, though. She seemed caught by surprise when Nick Holden scored the second Vegas goal, also when Milan Lucic put the Flames on the board. “Lucic holds, fires and Lehner…oh, hang on, he scores,” she said. And she was flat out wrong on the Golden Knights winning tally, asking, “Is it in? Is it in? It looked in. From an angle shot, Max Pacioretty with the goal.” It was actually Shea Theodore who scored.

But, hey, other play-by-play people have made bigger blunders.

Is if fair to compare Hextall to male game-callers? Absolutely. After all, they’re the only measuring sticks available. So let’s just say she’s no Danny Gallivan, but who is? Like I said, she gets a passing grade.

I’m not sure what it is about Campbell-Pascall that gets up my nose, but I find her to be a total irritant, the same way skin rash is. She talked over Hextall too often, and she rudely hijacked the conversation when the two women were signing off. She also delivered the dumbest comment of the night when, as Ryan Reaves and Lucic lined up, she advised us that “the physicality on the ice right now is epic.” That would have been fine except for one small detail—they hadn’t even dropped the puck for the opening faceoff yet.

Ron and Tara

As expected, Slone and MacLean cooed and gushed during their taped first-intermission sit-down with Billie Jean King. MacLean was so dazzled to be in the presence of tennis royalty that he had Kendall Coyne Schofield winning the fastest skater competition at the NHL all-star game (she finished second last) and, when corrected by King, he mostly sat in slumped silence while Slone lathered the equal rights activist in praise.

Billie Jean King

No surprise that King called on the NHL to create hockey’s version of an adopt-a-pet program and subsidize a women’s professional league. “It’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be good business,” she said. “They can do this. They can do this. Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?” Earth to Billie Jean! Earth to Billie Jean! If it’ll be such “good business,” why don’t you peel off some of your personal bankroll and help fund a WNHL? And where’s your business plan? As for a women’s league with 700-1,000 players, that’s shocking naiveté. There are approximately 200 members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and another 120 suiting up with the five NWHL clubs. Where does King propose they scare up another 380-680 elite-level female players? She’d have better luck trying to find a virgin in a brothel.

During the game, Campbell-Pascall lauded King for her work on behalf of the PWHPA, telling us she’s “moved women’s hockey forward.” Rubbish. Ponytail Puck has never been in a worse mess.

Dani Rylan

In 3½ hours, the talking heads made numerous mentions of the PWHPA, but not once did they talk about the NWHL. And that’s shameful. Sportsnet is supposed to be a news-gathering and news-distributing operation yet, on International Women’s Day, it chose to completely ignore a hockey league that has a female commissioner, a female director of its players association, female general managers, a female head coach, female broadcasters, and the only operation in North America that pays females to play shinny. At some point, they should have advised us that the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps had won their semifinal matches on Sunday and advanced to the Isobel Cup final, scheduled for puck drop on Friday in Beantown. They didn’t, and that’s just wrong.

Sportsnet’s snub of the NWHL is particularly puzzling given that Kristina Rutherford’s in-depth look at commish Dani Rylan popped up on its website Sunday. It’s a terrific read on the woman who started the NWHL from scratch and is already planning for a sixth season.

And, finally, it’s about the Brier. After nine days of incredible shot-making and last-gasp dramatics, the boys delivered a dud in the Canadian men’s curling championship final in Kingston. It was like seeing Sinatra in concert all week, then getting Nickelback for a closing act. Brad Gushue and his pals from the Rock put on a clinic in a 7-3 win, while Brendan Bottcher and his bunch from Wild Rose Country coughed up a hair ball (many of them, actually). It was all over except for the muffled celebration after three ends, and that’s not the finish this exceptional bonspiel deserved.

Let’s talk about Jennifer Jones and Father Time…a tradition of top-drawer curling coverage…JLo, Shakira and a big-hair halftime show…Cassie for commish…SRO for the Rivalry Series…and oh woe is Puck Finn

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and now that the football season is over, it’s time for pitchers and catchers to report…

It would be easy this morning to write off Jennifer Jones as the latest of curling’s been-there, done-that champions who’ve discovered they cannot outrun Father Time.

Jennifer Jones

After all, shots that once were so routinely made now often seem so iffy.

Like her last-rock draw attempt in the fifth end of the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts final on Sunday in beautiful downtown Rivers.

All Jones needed was the eight-foot ring which, for a world-class curler, is no more difficult than cracking an egg and dropping it in a frying pan. If you were to ask the Olympic and world champion how often she’s drawn the eight-foot in a career of making the other team cry uncle, it would number in the many thousands. Not this time, though. Her stone ground to a halt, as if some unseen hand had reached down and placed a piece of sandpaper in its path. It was a shot she had no business missing.

Thus, instead of scoring one for a 4-2 advantage, it was a steal of three for Kerri Einarson and a 3-5 deficit.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t that gaffe that derailed Jones in her bid to earn a ninth Buffalo jacket, because she rallied to manufacture a 6-5 advantage through seven ends of a game that was as erratic as a teenager’s mood swings. But she never scored again.

In the final reckoning, the Manitoba women’s championship was decided by two bricks: Each skip’s last in the 10th.

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Meilleur

Both the four-foot and button were blocked by enough granite to sculpt a life-size statue of Sandra Schmirler, making it a delicate bit of business. Einarson’s rock took the scenic route and stopped—right…on…the…nut. And totally buried. Still, Jones had hope. She could glance off one of her yellow stones and nudge Einarson’s shot rock off the button. Game, set and off to Moose Jaw for the national Scotties, right?

Except that’s not how Jones’ universe unfolds anymore.

As she hunkered in the hack, I thought to myself, “No way she makes this shot.” I don’t recall ever doubting Jones before. She missed, her rock wrecking out front.

So, instead of swanning off to Moose Jaw with the Buffalo on their backs later this month, Jones and her gal pals—Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen—will be required to get the better of Tracy Fleury in a one-off, wild-card game on Valentine’s Day. The winner plays on, the loser returns home, presumably without parting gifts.

Even if she is to win the wild card, a daunting task is stretched out in front of the 45-year-old Jones.

Chelsea Carey

The Scotties field includes defending champion Chelsea Carey, former champ Rachel Homan, Krista McCarville, Robyn Silvernagle, Suzanne Birt and Laura Walker, a Scotties neophyte out of Edmonton but we all know that Alberta never sends a scrub team to the national tournament.

And that’s not to forget Einarson and Gimli playmates Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur, who enter the fray no worse than even-money to bring home the bauble.

That’s tough sledding for Jones.

Still, I wouldn’t be so hasty in having the bugler play taps for the six-time Canadian and two-time world titleholder. Jones still has, as they say, game. She and her St. Vital accomplices stand third in the country’s team rankings, and they didn’t get there by accident.

So let’s put it this way: I’ll be surprised if Jennifer Jones wins another Scotties, but I also won’t be surprised.

Thoroughly enjoyed reading Melissa Martin’s daily dispatches from Rivers. I assume the deep-thinkers at the Drab Slab have booked Double M’s passage to Moose Jaw, where she can cover the curling and hang out with local resident Burton Cummings. Unless Burt and old buddy Randy Bachman are already on tour by then.

Also many good reads from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. River City rags have a long history of top-drawer curling coverage (the best in the country, if you ask me), so I hope the tabloid plans to send him to Moose Jaw, where he can check out some of those tunnels Al Capone left behind. Just as long as he doesn’t get lost between draws.

It’s about Super Bowl LIV: Good game.

It’s about the halftime show, featuring JLo and Shakira: Lots of big hair, legs, gyrating groins and lip-syncing.

It’s about my pre-game prediction of Kansas City Chiefs XXXV, San Francisco 49ers XVII: Not bad. Final score was 31-20.

It’s about the American commercials: Haven’t seen any of them yet.

Caught the latest edition of Hometown Hockey on Sunday, and I must say that Sportsnet is pushing hard for women’s hockey. I just hope they’re as geeked up about Ponytail Puck if and when there’s a Women’s National Hockey League with outfits based in Canada. They basically ignored the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before it turned out the lights.

Ron MacLean

There’s a heavy bias in Sportsnet coverage of the women’s game, in that it’s slanted heavily in favor of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and its Dream Gap Tour. And Cassie Campbell-Pascall is given free rein to preach falsehoods about the National Women’s Hockey League, which is never a good idea. Objective journalists would invite NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan to the discussion and get her take on where the game’s at and where she sees it going. But Ron MacLean abdicated long ago, Tara Slone isn’t really a journo, and Campbell-Pascall is too busy campaigning to become the first commish of the WNHL.

We get another serving of Ponytail Puck this very evening, and this time it’s the real thing, not one of those half-baked Dream Gap scrimmages. It’s Canada vs. U.S.A. in the Rivalry Series at Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena in Victoria, and the barn is sold out. The barn is also just one block away from my modest dwelling, but financial limitations prevent me from attending. I shall watch it on TSN, though, even if it’s long past my bedtime.

Patrik Laine

Just wondering: Why are so many among the rabble down on Patrik Laine? True, the kid’s no Auston Matthews, and not just because he keeps his pants on in public. Puck Finn doesn’t score like Matthews, but last time I looked he had 19 goals, which likely means another 30-snipe season. That would make him 4-for-4. Seems to me that would have been acceptable when the Winnipeg Jets used their first shoutout to claim Laine in the 2016 National Hockey League auction of teenage talent. So why isn’t it good enough anymore? Maybe if Puck Finn went ice fishing instead of playing Fortnite he’d be more agreeable to the masses.

And, finally, it’s Feb. 3 and Paul Maurice is still head coach of the Jets. I told you he would be.