The River City Renegade


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About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

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

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Yes, you can play, but you can also expect to hear anti-gay slurs

Superman no more.

The ‘S’ on Kevin Pillar’s chest now stands for Superslur and, although he’s been saying (mostly) the right things since saying the wrong thing, what came down this past week in Atlanta is going to stick to the Toronto Blue Jays centrefielder like scandal to Bill Cosby.

Yes, Pillar is sorry he called Braves hurler Jason Motte a “faggot” for having the bad manners to quick pitch and strike him out. The mea culpa sounded sincere, at least it did once he moved beyond the scripted and standard “This is not who I am” denial and the mind-numbingly illogical and delusional “It’s not a word I ever use. It’s something that is not even part of my vocabulary.”

Kevin Pillar

But an apology, no matter how forthright, won’t make the anti-gay slur go away any more than winning another tournament made the stigma of an insatiable sexual appetite go away for randy Tiger Woods. Let’s face it, Woods is now known as much for his messy marriage and his coven of blonde cocktail waitresses on the side as for his glory on the golf course.

I suppose that isn’t fair, because neither Pillar’s or Woods’s trespass was ground-breaking stuff. Pillar has a potty mouth. Woods screwed around. Many have been there, done that. Yet both are high-profile, professional athletes whom the rabble places on a pedestal, although I sometimes suspect that’s for no reason other than to watch them fall off. Play-for-pay jocks are expected to march to the beat of a more virtuous drum, except that simply isn’t doable. Pillar and Woods are human beings and the human is an inherently flawed species that never fails to fail.

So, as much as Pillar’s mouth could use the kind of soap-scrubbing that mom threatened us kids with whenever we sprinkled our speech with a pinch of four-letter salt, his damnable choice of words is a rude reminder that even Major League Baseball players spit when brushing their teeth. You know, just like the rest of us.

Robbie Rogers

It also speaks to a larger issue, that being openly gay men in the five major North American pro team sports.

Officially there’s one openly gay player, but the active body count is zero. A wonky ankle is keeping defender Robbie Rogers in the repair shop and unavailable to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the entirety of their 2017 Major League Soccer crusade, and any other gays in MLS, MLB, the National Hockey League, National Football League or National Basketball Association remain in hiding.

Is that in part because the word “faggot” remains the go-to slur and the mind-set of the big boys who play little boys’ games? Could be.

I mean, Pillar insists that the gay F-bomb isn’t part of his vocabulary, and perhaps that’s so at the dinner table and in social settings, but video evidence supports the notion that it’s a different matter once he steps into the batter’s box or between the foul lines. Ditto Andrew Shaw who, during a National Hockey League playoff game last spring, labelled a National Hockey League referee a “faggot.”

That’s not the type of guy I am,” Shaw was quick to assure us.

Ryan Getzlaf

Perhaps Shaw and Pillar truly aren’t that “type of guy.” And, hey, maybe Ryan Getzlaf calls all his male friends “cocksuckers,” not just an on-ice official who annoyed him during Game 4 of the Anaheim Ducks-Nashville Predators playoff skirmish.

It was just kind of a comment,” explained Getzlaf.

Apparently, the NHL agrees, because it withdrew $10,000 from his pay envelope but permitted the Ducks captain to play on.

Well, I’ve got news for Getzlaf and the NHL: I can think of no circumstance by which one very angry straight man calling another straight man a “cocksucker” is meant as a compliment. It isn’t “just kind of a comment.” It’s anti-gay.

But that’s the type of culture Getzlaf, Shaw and Pillar work and play in. Men’s professional team sports is misogynistic and homophobic on a ghastly level, and snuggling up to the You Can Play Project has done nothing to temper that distasteful reality. If the NHL’s relationship with You Can Play was anything more than window dressing, Getzlaf would have been given at least one game off to contemplate his wicked words.

What we heard from Getzlaf and Pillar in the past few days, and Shaw last spring, helps explain why Robbie Rogers is the only gay man in major professional team sports who isn’t hiding in a closet.

And it’s a shame he doesn’t have any company on the outside. I mean, come on, man. This is 2017, isn’t it?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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Dis the Disney Ducks? Winnipeg Jets Nation doesn’t want to go there yet

So, it’s the Winnipeg Jets vs. the Disney Ducks in an opening-round skirmish of the Stanley Cup tournament. Puck drops on Thursday evening

Gotta get a hate-on. Gotta dis the other guy. Trouble is, there’s nothing to hate. Nothing to dis.

First of all, you don’t trash talk the Disney dudes. You don’t trash talk anything connected with Disneyland. Not even the Disney Ducks of Anaheim.

Yes, Ducks is a stupid name for a National Hockey League team, but none more so than Penguins or Flyers. And, let’s face it, the name Jets isn’t exactly dripping with dynamics or creativity, is it. Cripes, man, it isn’t even original. It’s a recycled ripoff from bygone days when Winnipeg was a member of the Western Canada Hockey League before becoming a force in the World Hockey Association and, later, a NHL outfit that did nothing other than break your heart every spring and stick a dagger into it in 1996.

But we aren’t prepared to reopen the name debate and mention how Jets’ co-bankroll Mark Chipman was bullied into regurgitating it, are we?

Second, Walt Disney’s head isn’t stored in a beer cooler. That’s myth. Faux lore, not folklore. Despite what you might have read, Walt’s noggin is not a skull-cicle. Even if it were, one block of ice hardly compares to the 750,000-plus frozen heads that trudge around Winnipeg from November to March every year.

So, no, you don’t trash talk the man who gave us Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi, who now plays for the Jets and wears No. 55.

Just like Walt’s head, dissing Disney ain’t cool.

You also leave Mickey and Minnie alone. I’m a big fan of the mice.

If you’re a member of Jets Nation, you can’t even trash talk the city of Anaheim. I mean, it’s in Orange County. That’s in Southern California. You know, sun, sand and surf, 365/24/7. Orange County sounds refreshing. Fruity. Citrusy. It conjures images of orange groves. Not at all like Winnipeg on the Frozen Tundra, whose images are snow drifts and snow plows. Sounds harsh. Cruel. C-c-c-c-c-old.

More to the point, how can anyone in River City trash talk a town that has never lost the NHL franchise it was awarded? The Ducks were hatched in 1993. They’ve survived in SoCal longer than the original Jets NHL franchise lasted in Pegtown. Anaheim has only required one kick at the cat. Winnipeg is working on its second. So here’s the scorecard on lost franchises: Winnipeg 1, Anaheim 0.

And, let’s not forget, Anaheim has won the Stanley Cup. For those of you keeping score at home, Winnipeg/Arizona is the sole survivor of the WHA which has yet to lay claim to hockey’s holy grail.

Peggers, and Canadians in general, like to look down their noses at U.S. Sun Belt cities that are home to NHL outfits. We pooh-pooh their very being. We see the empty pews in their ice palaces and we snicker. Rudely. To us, ice is for skating. To them, ice is something you put in your cocktail. Yet, an outfit from the Great White North has not brought the Stanley Cup home since 1993. In the ensuing years, the big, silver chalice has been housed in Anaheim, Los Angeles (twice), Tampa and Dallas.

Good grief, we mock the Sun Belters, yet we’re giddy because five Canadian-based outfits qualified for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, which commences Wednesday night, and two of them are guaranteed to advance to the second round. Oh joy.

The point is, Jets Nation can’t trash talk Anaheim or the Ducks because because they don’t have any ammunition. Anaheim and the Ducks have it all.

I have no doubt that the Jets and Ducks will strap on a good bit of nasty before their best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff joust is history, but dis the Disney dudes before the puck is dropped? Sorry, can’t go there. Not until the first elbow is raised in anger, and I have a hunch Ryan Getzlaf will have something to do with it. Now there’s a Disney Duck we can dis.

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


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Winnipeg Sports: Ondrej Pavelec’s new body and Dave Ritchie’s hall-of-fame induction are both mysteries

Cheat Shots from the Cheap Seats, Vol. 2…

If we are to believe the gospel according to Allan Walsh—and why wouldn’t we, since player agents never lie except when they move their lips?)—Ondrej Pavelec has “totally changed his body.”

What can I say? I just hope he doesn’t have Gump Worsley’s body now.

Actually, when word arrived from Walsh that his client, the worst starting goaltender in the National Hockey League, had “totally changed his body,” I couldn’t shake this image of lipstick on pigs.

I suppose that’s kind of harsh, but I think it’s safe to say that I know more about changing bodies than most. I changed mine “totally” five years ago. Sorry to report that it didn’t transform me into an elite NHL goalie. So unless Pavelec has become Dominik Hasek’s body double, the Winnipeg Jets’ most significant weakness remains their most significant weakness.

SUB-STANDARD STANDARDS: Dave Ritchie in the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame? You’re kidding me, right?

Ritchie wore the headset for five-plus seasons with the Blue Bombers. His clubs had one first-place finish, one appearance in the Grey Cup game (a loss to a vastly inferior Calgary Stampeders outfit) and they were sub-.500 three times. He had a losing record in the playoffs.

If this is what qualifies as a hall-of-fame career, then Doug Berry and Paul LaPolice best prepare their acceptance speeches for next year. I mean, Berry got the Bombers into a Grey Cup game. Ditto LaPolice. They both lost, too.

Ritchie’s inclusion in the Hall class of 2014 is wrong. Period.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE LA LA: You’re not likely to find critics of the Dave Ritchie honor among the local media. He made their jobs easier with quotes that could be one part acidic, one part home-spun blarney and two parts Yogi Berra. His gift was gab. News scavengers were smitten by Ritchie’s folksy charm. They giggled about his grumpy, old man persona. They were John Boy or Mary Ellen to his Grandpa Walton. So, it’s agreed, he was a hall-of-fame interview. He was not a hall-of-fame coach…So, I’m listening to Craig Button on TSN 1290 and he advises host Rick Ralph that the Jets are “two years behind Anaheim.” Since it was radio, I don’t know if Button said it with a straight face, but, if so, the TSN hockey analyst’s credibility took a serious whack. I mean, the Ducks finished first (116 points) in the Western Conference last season and were a sniff away from ousting the L.A. Kings in the Conference semifinal. They had two of the top five scorers in the NHL, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Does that sound like the Jets to you in two years? Didn’t think so…Belated bravo to Paul Edmonds, freshly minted radio play-by-play voice of the Jets. In the discussion about his appointment, someone actually compared Jets TV voice, Dennis Beyak to Danny Gallivan. Ya, and I’m Doris Day. When I watch the Jets on TV, I tune out Beyak and catch the opposing team’s feed. I prefer to stay awake…I get a kick out of analysis of the Jets. A summer of management by paralysis renders any attempt at analysis an exercise in nothingness. Unless there’s a major surprise at Camp PoMo next month, the Jets are no better or no worse than last season…It’s about those Bombers “signature” uniforms: It’s no longer the Blue and Gold; it’s the Blue and Bird Droppings…I haven’t taken the Ice Bucket Challenge yet. But my building was out of hot water the other day, so does a cold shower count?…I see it’s still the season of silly superlatives with River City scribes. First we had Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press describing Bombers quarterback Drew Willy as “part Joe Montana, part Johnny Unitas, part John Elway.” Now we have Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun labeling the rookie starter as a “growing legend.” I think the Bombers would settle for Willy being part Ken Ploen. You know, the part of him that won Grey Cups. Until then, there are no comparisons to be made to anyone and there is no growing legend…We can stop wondering if GM Kyle Walters made a wise choice when he anointed Mike O’Shea head coach of the Bombers, because La La Lawless assures us that he is the “supreme leader. He’s the right man for this team. And this town. He’s the right coach for this franchise.” If that sounds familiar, it ought to. Gary La La said the very same thing about Jets GM Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff: “We all have our views and opinions on the Jets in this city. Here’s mine: Kevin Cheveldayoff is the right guy for this job, this market and this set of circumstances.”…Love Bomber linebacker Derek Jones’s description of O’Shea: “He’s a big, scary dude.”

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