The past does not tell us where we have been, it tells us where we are.
So where are LGBT athletes today as Pride Month 2019 kicks off, half a century after the Stonewall Riots in Gotham’s Greenwich Village?
The answer, I suppose, depends on which scorecard you use.
Certainly there has been considerable advancement in the inclusion file, both on and off the playing fields of North America and, indeed, in global frolics like the Olympic Games.
Here are some of the notations you’ll find on that particular scorecard:
* Lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss are part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group.
* Out lesbian Laura Ricketts is co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.
* Golden State Warriors out gay president and chief operating officer Rick Welts was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
* Out lesbian Caroline Ouillette is assistant coach with Canada’s national women’s hockey team (she’s married to former Team U.S.A. captain Julie Chu and they have a daughter together).
* Out lesbians Jayna Hefford and Angela James have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
* 56 LGBT athletes competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
* 15 LGBT athletes competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
* 16 out lesbians were on rosters at the 2015 women’s World Cup of soccer.
* The leading goal-scorer in the history of women’s international soccer, Abby Wambach, is an out lesbian.
* 7 players in the 2018 Women’s National Basketball Association all-star game were out lesbians.
* Both the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League have featured transgender players—Harrison Browne and Jessica Platt—and numerous out lesbians.
* U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe became the first out lesbian to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
* Rapinoe and hoops star Sue Bird became the first LGBT couple to be featured in ESPN The Magazine body issue.
* Out lesbian Katie Sowers is an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.
That acceptance is terrific, for the LGBT collective and society as a whole.
Unfortunately, there’s a second scorecard:
* Number of out gay men in the National Hockey League: 0
* Number of out gay men in the National Football League: 0
* Number of out gay men in the National Basketball Association: 0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Baseball: 0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Soccer: 0
Cite another segment of society in which the bottom-line number in 2019 is the same as the bottom-line number in 1969. I can’t think of one.
Thus, the motion of life moves everything forward with the exception of the cultural phenomenon that is professional male team sports, an unbudging, frat-boy enterprise still stuck in the mud fifty years after all hell broke loose in and outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.
Are there gay men among the approximately 4,300 players on current NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS rosters? Here’s an easier question: Does Donald Trump tell fibs?
Gay male athletes have always existed. It’s just that 99.999999 per cent of them remained hidden in a closet, earnestly avoiding the most taboo of talking points until the final whistle had sounded on careers spent in fear of being outed as lesser-thans.
Women and men with framed diplomas that indicate intellectual loft have given ponder to the curious case of the closeted male jock, and the eggheads advance numerous theories in an effort to explain the refusal to identify as gay. But, really, it isn’t a Cadbury chocolate bar mystery. It can be cataloged under the ‘fear’ file. It’s the fear of loss—loss of family/friends; loss of career; loss of income; loss of credibility; loss of status.
No male athlete wishes to be known by friend, foe or fan as a lesser-than. A Nancy boy, if you will. So he plays on, keeping his choice of romantic interests on the hush-hush.
Lesbian athletes, on the other hand, are far ahead on the social curve. They are less inclined to hide from themselves or anyone else. Elena Delle Donne and Sue Bird are not thought of as lesser-thans. Ditto Abby Wambach or Megan Rapinoe. Billie Jean King is greatly admired. The same could be said for Martina Navratilova until she recently went off on transgender athletes. Caroline Ouillette and Julie Chu proudly post pics of their daughter on Instagram. Former hockey stars Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan do the same with their wedding photos.
When Canada’s gold medal-winning goaltender Charline Labonté came out in 2014, she provided insight to the culture of the national women’s hockey club.
“Just like everywhere else our team had gays and straights, just like we had brunettes and redheads,” she wrote in an article for the LGBT website Outsports. “Everyone on my team has known I’m gay since I can remember and I never felt degraded for it. On the contrary, my sport and my team are the two environments where I feel most comfortable. The subject of homosexuality was never taboo with us. We talk and laugh about it like everything else. I feel privileged to live and be myself in an environment like this because I know that just a few years ago this topic was never part of the conversations in the locker room.”
Lesbians in sports has become a meh issue, and it’s only when a zealot like tennis legend Margaret Court turns the air toxic with illogical, wingnut rantings about same-sex marriage destroying Easter and Christmas that people give it any consideration.
Will men ever catch up to the women? Certainly not in my lifetime.
It is a peculiar business, indeed, when the San Francisco 49ers will happily hire a lesbian to tutor pass-catchers, yet there are no gay men in the NFL to catch passes.
You know you aren’t teacher’s pet when you appear in a public service announcement about the evils of drinking and driving and the rabble boos.
What did Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans do after Saturday’s football game? Go to the airport and boo bad landings?
I mean, welcome to Philadelphia North, kids.
I don’t know if Matt Nichols is a drinking man, but what transpired at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Saturday afternoon might be enough to drive him to it. The guy had a bad day at the office and it’s like he kicked a Girl Guide off his front porch. After stealing her cookies.
But this is what happens when you’re the starting quarterback for the Blue Bombers and you keep throwing the football to the wrong people, which Nichols did early and often in Winnipeg FC’s latest face plant, a 32-27 loss to a Saskatchewan Roughriders outfit that failed to find the end zone on offence.
You normally win in the Canadian Football League if you limit the other guys to field goals, which the Bombers defensive dozen did in this annual renewal of the Banjo Bowl. It was a job well done.
Alas, Nichols was so inept that even his biggest booster finally noticed. That would be head coach Mike O’Shea, who’d rather pull out his back teeth with a pair of rusty pliers than pull his starting QB. This day, however, the coach had seen enough of Nichols by the time the large lads broke for recess, so he instructed him to stand on the sideline and observe while understudy Chris Streveler attempted to undo the mess he’d created.
Shortly thereafter, the drinking-and-driving PSA popped up on the big screen at Football Follies Field and down rained the boos on Nichols.
He couldn’t be less popular if he made rabbit stew out of the Easter Bunny.
But seriously. Booing a guy during a PSA for drunk driving? Get a grip, people.
Here’s the deal: There is no quarterback controversy in the Bombers coaching bunker. Unless there’s intervention from on high (hello, Wade Miller), Nichols, not Streveler, will be behind centre when Winnipeg FC returns to the fray against the Montreal Alouttes two weeks hence.
“Matt deserves another chance to play and lead this team to victory because he’s done it so many times. Matt’s won a helluva lot of games for us,” O’Shea said, not long after watching Nichols implode with five first-half interceptions (two were nullified due to Saskatchewan infractions) that included a pair of Pick Sixes.
He also mumbled something about reviewing film and allowing the sour taste of a fourth straight misstep to disappear before making a “rash” decision because “that wouldn’t be good for anybody.”
The thing is, what’s good for O’Shea might not be good for Miller, chief cook and bottle washer with Winnipeg FC.
It’s worth noting a comment a CFL coach or general managerdelivered recently to Kirk Penton of The Athletic: “I wouldn’t want to be around Wade Miller if the Bombers lose on Saturday. He’s a guy who loves the Bombers, wants to win a championship and when he isn’t happy everyone (bleeping) knows it. Heads are going to roll over there if things don’t change fast. Wade’s not going to put up with bull shit excuses.”
Just curious: Did Andrew Harris actually play in Saturday’s skirmish? The official stats sheet indicates the Bombers running back had 10 carries and one reception. I must have been making lunch at the time.
Old friend Troy Westwood started it all when, as the left foot of the Bombers in 2004, he called our prairie neighbors “a bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds.” Thus, the Banjo Bowl was born. Seemed like good-natured, harmless banter at the time, but what about today? Well, Roughriders radio gab guy Rod Pedersen asked this on Twitter: “Are you offended by the term Banjo Bowl?”
Results: 3,451 votes;
92 per cent “No;”
8 per cent “Yes.”
I’ve always been on Colin Kaepernick’s side in the Great American Kneeling Debate, but the slogan for the 30th anniversary of Nike’s Just Do It campaign baffles me a bit: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Are they telling us Kaepernick sacrificed “everything” by taking a knee during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at National Football League games? Okay, he’s been blackballed by NFL team owners, but, according to Business Insider, the now-out-of-work quarterback collected $39.4 million on the three-year contract he signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2014. Overall in a short NFL career, he made in excess of $43 million. Numerous sources place his net worth at $20 million or more. He bought a New York City condo for $3.21 million in 2016. He sold his home in San Jose last year for $3.075 million. And you know Nike isn’t paying him mice nuts to be its pitch man. Try eight figures. This is not a man who sacrificed “everything” and is getting by on food stamps and whatever spare change he can collect on a Manhattan street corner.
I don’t own any Nike sports gear or clothing, so I won’t be joining the Just Burn It protest of Nike apparel for the sweat shop giant’s new ad campaign featuring Kaepernick, who’s brought more people to their knees than the Pope. But I wouldn’t put a match to it if I did. If I’m going to light something on fire, it’ll be the Blue Bombers playbook, not the Nike swoosh.
The Tranna Maple Leafs plan to enter their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade sans the letter C stitched on any player’s sweater. Officially, which is to say according to general manager Kyle Dubas, that’s because they’ve yet to determine who’s “best suited to handle” the heft that comes with wearing a patch of cloth that weighs about an ouce. Unofficially, it’s because they don’t want to put John Tavares’s nose out of joint. Ditto Auston Matthews’ beak.
Speaking of noses out of joint, some Quebec politicos are having a proper hissy fit now that tennis diva Genie Bouchard has become an official resident of the Bahamas, where she won’t be taxed on all that money she collects for losing tennis tournaments and posing half naked in fashion mags and Sports Illustrated. “I think we should live where we were born, where we learned to play tennis and pay taxes in our country,” whinges Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec. Well, let me say this about that: I was born and learned to play tennis in Winnipeg. If it’s all the same to Mssr. Legault, I’ll stay in Victoria, which is not a haven from taxes but a haven from Winnipeg winters.
So, Blake Wheeler signs and extension with the Winnipeg Jets and TSN props up Dave Poulin to tell us what it means. Why do they insist on trotting Poulin out as a hockey expert/analyst when he was among seven people who didn’t believe Connor McDavid was the NHL’s top centre-ice man last season. The Edmonton Oilers captain was the scoring champion for cripes sake. His peers awarded him the Ted Lindsay Award as the game’s premier player. Yet Poulin saw something different. He voted McDavid off the island and listed Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin on his all-star ballot. It’s believed he also voted Mrs. Howell as the hottest babe on Gilligan’s Island, ahead of both Ginger and Mary Ann.
This from Kate Beirness of TSN on Steve Nash, inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday: “A playmaker who was more creative on the floor than anyone we had seen before.” Anyone? She would know this how? I mean, she’s 34 years old. Why do these young people insist on talking like they were there back in the day? It’s irksome. She never saw Bob Cousy. Oscar Robertson. If she saw Magic in his prime, it was from her crib or playpen. It’s fair for Beirness to talk about the traffic in her lane, but don’t talk about the traffic in my lane.
Serena Williams went all John McEnroe on chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the U.S. Open women’s final on Saturday in Gotham, and it was ugly. She was ugly. Williams turned her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka into an unhinged crusade for motherhood (“I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!”) and women’s rights. Ramos is “sexist” (also a thief for giving her two code violations and penalizing her a game). “This is not fair,” she whinged. “This has happened to me too many times. This is not fair. This is not fair. It’s not fair, it’s really not. Do you know how many other men do things, that do much worse than that? It’s just not fair.” Williams’ pity party hijacked what should have been a night of celebration for Osaka, a first-time tennis grand slam champion. Osaka was full of grace. Williams was a complete disgrace.
And, finally, something you never thought you’d see: An openly gay man referencing his partner in a hoops hall of fame induction speech. That would be Rick Welts, chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors, who spoke lovingly of his partner, Todd Gage, on Friday night. It was a beautiful thing.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Okay, Paul Romanuk had himself a serious “D’oh!” moment on Friday morning when, in a media scrum, he called out to Blake Wheeler by shouting, “Mark! Mark!”
Major blunder. It shouldn’t happen because, as Paul Wiecek correctly points out in his Winnipeg Free Presscolumn that exposed the incident, Romanuk’s one job is to “tell the players apart.” He’s a play-by-play guy, for cripes sake. He has the call for Wheeler’s Winnipeg Jets in their Stanley Cup skirmish with the Minnesota Wild on Sportsnet.
So, ya, he ought to know. I mean, this isn’t a Where’s Waldo? kind of thing. Wheeler is easily recognized: He’s the guy with a ‘C’ on his Jets jersey and scowl on his face.
But here’s my question for you, dear readers: Did Wiecek cross an ethical line?
That is, should he have used his platform to embarrass the veteran broadcaster in a front page piece guaranteed to attract the attention of the rabble, if not incite them? Isn’t there some sort of unspoken honor-among-thieves code with the sports media?
Personally, I have no problem with jock journos calling each other out. I’d prefer they do it more often. But where I think Wiecek went wrong, was in using the Romanuk affair as (shocking and damning) anecdotal evidence to prop up his ongoing case that no one east of Falcon Lake and west of Elkhorn gives a damn about Winnipeg and its Jets. Not only does the rest of the country not give a damn, Wiecek submits, they don’t even know who they don’t give a damn about.
“And so it still goes for a team that had the second-best record in the NHL this season, but apparently still needs to pin ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ stickers on its players,” Wiecek writes.
Romanuk’s astonishing gaffe would be the smoking gun in that argument.
But I believe it’s at this point that I’m obliged to point out that, hey, brain farts happen. Wiecek, for example, once referenced the 1991 and 2006 Grey Cup games in Winnipeg, scribbling, “both of those games were played at the downtown stadium.” Oops. Totally wrong. The closest thing River City has had to a downtown football facility, Osborne Stadium, lost an argument to a wrecking ball in 1956. But somehow Wiecek had two Grey Cup matches being contested there, 35 and 50 years after the walls came tumbling down. So there’s that. Last year, meanwhile, he described Wally Buono as a “former” coach, even as Buono stood on the sideline coaching the B.C. Lions. So there’s also that.
None of that excuses Romanuk, but there’s something to be said about pots calling kettles black.
I’ll tell you something else Wiecek and his newly expressed “we” and “us” homerism is wrong about—the Jets and national attention. When I hopped on the Internet surfboard at 2:30 Saturday morning (yes, I’m mobile at that hour), here’s what I discovered on various websites:
Globe and Mail—two Jets stories at the top of the page. National Post—four Jets-related stories at the top of the page. Sportsnet—three Jets stories and two videos at the top of the page. TSN—top of the page story and five of the top six videos. Toronto Star—one of the five stories at the top of the page.
It was much the same after Game 1 of the Jets-Wild series and, frankly, some might think of that as Jets overkill. But not Wiecek and the Freep. It isn’t enough to satisfy them.
“The rest of the country is still struggling to pay attention to a team—and a city, for that matter—they’ve grown accustomed to ignoring for so long,” he writes.
Oh, pu-leeze. What Wiecek and the Freep are serving up is Fake News 101.
Sorry, but I simply do not understand this desperate, irrational need for the love of outriders. Somehow I thought Winnipeg was comfortable in its own skin since the National Hockey League returned in 2011. It was running with the big dogs again. So, when did River City require the “rest of the country’s” acknowledgement, approval and endorsement? For anything. And what exactly do Wiecek and the Freep expect from “the rest of the country?” A parade? Pep rallies from Tofino to St. John’s? A gold star like the teacher gives to the kid who wins a Grade Three spelling bee?
Look, the story that Pegtown and les Jets are authoring in their Stanley Cup crusade isn’t some zen koan about a tree falling in the forest. It’s happening. In real time. It’s loud enough that anyone with a pair of ears can hear. And the national media are reporting it. In depth.
Using Paul Romanuk’s misstep to suggest there’s nationwide snubbery at play is not only inaccurate and misguided, it’s dishonest and stupid.
Brooke Henderson is a national treasure. There’s no other way to put it. Just 20, she has six victories (including a major) on the Ladies Pofessional Golf Association Tour, her latest success a wire-to-wire romp in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. She has won in four consecutive seasons. Did I mention she’s only 20? If one of our male golfers had won six times in four seasons before the age of 21, surely there’d be a statue. And Brooke’s always struck me as a delightful, young person, a notion supported by her post-event remarks in Hawaii. “It’s extremely sad, a terrible tragedy what happened up there,” said Henderson, dedicating her victory to victims and survivors of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident. “I know it kind of affected my whole country. Everybody really took it kind of personal. For all the survivors that are still fighting through it all and the ones who have passed away, I want to show them that we’re here for them and we’re supporting them. They’re always going to be in our thoughts and prayers.” Beautiful kid, our Brooke, who, I hasten to add, is the same age as some of the kids on that bus.
On the subject of beauties, a major tip of the bonnet to old friend Les Lazaruk. Ronnie has come up with a boffo idea to honor Tyler Bieber, the Humboldt play-by-play voice who was among the Fallen 16 on the team bus involved in the fatal crash nine days ago. Now the mouthpiece of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Ronnie has volunteered to sit in the play-by-play seat for one game during the Broncos 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, as a tribute to Bieber. No fee. No expenses. He’s suggested other broadcasters do the same, and look who’s on board with the idea—Chris Cuthbert, Gord Miller, Dave Randorf, Kelly Moore, Rob Faulds, Brian Munz, Jamie Campbell, Roger Millions, Darren Pang and Peter Young, among many other notable voices. It truly is a beautiful thing that Ronnie is doing. No surprise, though. He’s one of the genuinely good guys in the biz. (If you wondering, those of us who worked at the Winnipeg Tribune call him Ronnie because back in the day he had a head of hair just like Ronald McDonald’s.)
On the matter of hockey broadcasters, you might have noticed that the voice of Bob Cole has been silent during this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. NHL rights holder in Canada, Rogers, has shut down the 84-year-old. “The decision sure wasn’t mutual,” Cole tells Michael Traikos of Postmedia. “It was right out of the blue. Rogers decided to go with other teams and I have to live with that. But it was their decision—not mine.” Oh, baby! No question Cole has lost a step, but his ouster is sad, nonetheless.
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet refers to the Ted Lindsay Award as the “NHLPA vote for MVP.” Not true. The Lindsay trinket goes to the NHL’s “most outstanding player,” as determined by members of the players’ association. If the media can’t get these things right, why are they allowed to vote for seven award winners?
Last Wednesday night in sports: NHL teams toss everything but hand grenades at each other as the Stanley Cup tournament begins. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 0. Major League Baseball teams throw baseballs at each other. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 3. Yet hockey still gets a bad rap for being a goon sport. Go figure.
Yogi Berra-ism of the week comes from Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs, suspended three games for his predatory hit on Boston Bruins Tommy Wingels: “I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him when he was down like that, I just felt like he, uh, I was already committed to the hit.”
Tweet of the week comes from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, following a media exchange with Jets head coach Paul Maurice:
Media: “If Jack Roslovic was the Beatles and (Mathieu) Perreault was the Rolling Stones, what song would you be humming this morning?”
Maurice: “It’s all Led Zeppelin. It usually is.”
Masters champion Patrick Reed on fighting off challenges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler at Augusta last Sunday: “It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it.'” Question: If God was at Augusta National watching golf last Sunday and helping Reed win an ugly green jacket, who was watching over my church?
So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Seattle Seahawks cancel a workout for outcast quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he might take a knee during the national anthem, yet Reuben Foster is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers after punching his girlfriend eight to 10 times, dragging her by the hair and rupturing her eardrum. Foster is charged with felony domestic violence, inflicting great bodily injury, forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime, and possession of an assault rifle. He faces up to 11 years in the brig. But, unlike Kaepernick, he’s good to go. So that’s your NFL: Take a knee, go home; beat the hell out of a woman, play on. And they wonder why people aren’t watching anymore.
Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, so it’s worth noting that there were only 63 Blacks on opening-day rosters this year. That’s 8.4 per cent of all players. And for pure irony, consider this: The Kansas City Royals were one of two teams sans a Black player—K.C. is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Mark McGwire tells The Athletic that he could have swatted 70 home runs in the 1998 MLB season without the benefit of steroids. “Yes. Definitely,” the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger says. Right, Mark, and Rosie Ruiz would have finished the 1980 New York Marathon without riding a subway for 26 of the 26.2 miles. And she would have won the 1980 Boston Marathon if she had run all 26.2 miles, not just .2 miles.
When is a mea culpa not an apology? When Steve Simmons delivers it. The Postmedia Tranna columnist last week expressed a callous disregard for Marc Savard’s mental health issues, slamming the freshly minted Sportsnet commentator for failing to make time for media while dealing with post-concussion symptoms. And now? “What I wrote about Savard had nothing to do with concussions or his personal battles. But what I wrote about him was improperly worded and far too harsh. For that, I apologize. For not welcoming new media members who have treated the industry disrespectfully, I don’t apologize.”
And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons: “I’ll never understand the NHL. Playoff series starts tomorrow. Patrice Bergeron not available for 50 or so media members, many of whom just flew into Boston this morning.” The poor dear. Marc Savard wouldn’t take his phone calls and now Bergeron of the Bruins is unavailable. Oh, the humanity.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Meet Willie Desjardins, convenient scapegoat.
Yup, there’s a bucket of tar and a bagful of feathers with poor Willie’s name on it should our patchwork men’s shinny side stumble and fall at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. As sure as good Canadian boys pour maple syrup on their flapjacks, the head coach will be the fall guy. You can make book on it.
I mean, our not-so-jolly hockey heroes were a mere two games into their crusade—handily beating Switzerland before falling a score short in a shootout vs. the Czech Republic—and already the knives had been drawn from their sheaths. And for what? Because they failed in one of those objectionable shootouts that belong in a trash bin?
Willie Boy, it seems, is guilty of two things: 1) he has the bad manners to not be Mike Babcock; 2) he delivers lousy sound bites.
“If Canada’s players have looked nervous, Desjardins, at times, has appeared like a man overwhelmed by the strain. Maybe you caught the same pre-game close-up of Desjardins they showed in the arena here Saturday. Standing on the bench in the moments before the opening faceoff, Desjardins swayed from side to side, teetering from foot to foot like a self-conscious fourth-grader singled out in front of his classmates. His mouth twitched. His eyes gazed blankly into the distance. And he clutched his trademark whiteboard as though it was his dry-erase answer to a security blanket.
“It was dumbfounding how, in the wake of Saturday’s loss, Desjardins offered answers that were Belichick-ian in their curtness when he doesn’t own anything approaching a record that’s Belichick-ian in its peerlessness.
“Watching Desjardins so far, only the sleepiest observer wouldn’t raise questions about whether or not he’s up to this challenge.”
Whew…tells us what you really think, Mr. Feschuk. On second thought, don’t bother. You’ve already said quite enough.
Next up is Postmedia gasbag Steve Simmons, who’s forever chasing kids off his lawn:
“There is little about Willie Desjardins that is reminiscent of Mike Babcock…Desjardins comes across just a little bit nervous, a little unsure, not necessarily confident, not calming in the usual arrogant coaching I-have-this-under-control way, but instead there is just a little reason to wonder about the Team Canada head hockey coach. Desjardins doesn’t seem to take ownership of the environment the way Babcock has done in the past.”
Geez, you don’t suppose that might have something to do with talent, do you Stevie? Babcock was sending Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews over the boards when Canada was winning gold medals in 2010 and ’14. Willie Boy is sending out Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski. Do the freaking math, man.
But Simmons wasn’t done. He added:
“He showed up in the mixed zone Saturday afternoon—the Olympic area in which press, athletes and coaches meet—and looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. He barely said anything that mattered. His interview lasted 93 seconds. For most of the time his body language screamed: Get me out of here. Bill Belichick can get away with that. Willie Desjardins is no Bill Belichick.
“The Canadian coach needs to be better, stronger, more confident, more urgent, more definitive, appearing more in control and maybe a touch more defiant.
Good grief. Get a grip, boys. Our hockey heroes were two games in. They’re now three deep, having beaten South Korea 4-zip on Sunday, and they’ve earned a free pass into the quarterfinal round. What part of that do you not understand?
Scribes and/or broadcasters crapping on our Olympians is lame. Unless you’re a stooge like Ben Johnson and the mooks who used him for a patsy, the people wearing the Maple Leaf—and their handlers—ought to be totally off limits. I hope that’s something jock journalists keep in mind if the hockey crusade turns sour for coach Willie and the boys in the elimination rounds.
Olympic Games good reads: Like the athletes they write about, sports scribes are expected to “up” their game at the Winter Olympics. No mailing it in. And there’s been some terrific stuff coming out of South Korea. For example…
Gold medal: Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, for his heart-tugging piece on Canadian speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen’s bride, Marlinde, and her childhood friend who lost a baby.
Silver medal: Arthur again, this time for his piece on the difficult road travelled by Canadian fancy skater Eric Radford, the first openly gay man to strike gold at a Winter Games.
Bronze medal: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, for his piece on delightful curler Kaitlyn Lawes and her relationship with her late father, Keith.
It’s wonderful stuff, because Arthur and Wiecek are writing about people who happen to be champion athletes, not champion athletes who happen to be people. There should be more human interest tales in sports writing and less Xs, Os and naked animosity.
Is there anything more beautiful in athletics than fancy skating at the Olympic level? I think not. From the music to the women’s costumes to the sex appeal to the sensual/sultry-yet-robust athleticism, it’s breathtaking, especially the dance program. And if I was a little girl instead of an old lady, I’d want to grow up to be Tessa Virtue, the delicate half of Canada’s leading dance partnership. If I couldn’t be Tessa, I’d want to be Kaitlyn Lawes.
Here’s what happens when non-curling people are required to cover curling: Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail waded into the Olympics burned-rock controversy involving Canadian skip Rachel Homan and Julie Heogh, second on the Danish team. Kelly writes about “Homan’s decision to burn a Danish rock—take it out of play after being touched by an opponent.” Wrong. Homan didn’t “burn” the stone, she removed it. Heogh “burned” the stone while sweeping it in the rings. Kelly also notes that Canada no longer wins by divine right on the global curling stage, as if that’s something new. Earth to Cathal! Earth to Cathal! That’s not exactly man-bites-dog material. It’s been that way for quite some time. Our curlers have ruled the world of women’s curling just twice in the past 10 years. Yup, 2-8. The men, meanwhile, are barely above the break-even point, at 6-4. You might want to familiarize yourself with something called research.
This week’s notable quotable comes from skier Kjetil Jansrud of Norway: “We believe there is no good explanation or justification for why you have to be a jerk to be a good athlete. So we just won’t have that kind of thing on our team. You have to get along with everyone.”
Saw an interesting question the other day: “Should the Montreal Canadiens do something at the National Hockey League trade deadline?” Yes, they should. General manager Marc Bergevin should tie a white flag to the end of a stick and wave it.
Jennifer Jones is probably jumping for joy right now, knowing she and her rinkmates have a free pass into next year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts as Team Canada. Otherwise, they’d be required to get out of Manitoba, which just became more difficult. Joining forces, with an eye on a berth in the 2022 Winter Olympics curling tournament, are skips Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur. Einarson is a former ‘Toba champion. Sweeting is a former Alberta champion. Birchard just helped the Jones rink win the recent Scotties title. Meilleur has skipped her own team in the ‘Toba Scotties. Can you say juggernaut, kids? But wait. That’s four cooks at the same stove, maybe two cooks too many. Meanwhile, Tracy Fleury is assuming command of Einarson’s old team, which was beaten by Jones, Birchard, Dawn McEwen and Jill Officer in the Scotties final. Can we fast forward to next January? I’d like to know how this turns out.
The great Roger Federer is back atop the world tennis rankings, moving ahead of a temporarily inactive Rafael Nadal into the No. 1 slot last week. His ascent is notable due to his age, 36, which makes him the oldest world No. 1 in history. Meanwhile, in other tennis news, Genie Bouchard took her clothes off and said, “Wow, this is harder than playing tennis. It is very hard work.” Apparently, the Sports Illustrated photo shoot was done in one day—just like most of her tennis tournaments.
After the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera, I watched a highlights package and didn’t see anyone other than Tiger Woods swing a golf club. There was no mention of the leader. There was no mention of the golfers nipping at the leader’s Foot Joys. Just video evidence of Woods missing another fairway en route to a 1-over-par 72. What’ll the coverage be like if he actually breaks par one of these weeks?
The San Francisco 49ers have made Jimmy Garoppolo the richest player in National Football League history, with a $137.5-million contract.at $27.5M per season, and I’m asking myself this: What am I missing? I mean, that’s more coin that Tom Brady takes home. More than Aaron Rodgers. More than Drew Brees. Those three are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Garappolo has won…oh, that’s right, he earned two Super Bowl rings for holding a clipboard for Brady. Go figure.
Oh joy. Baseball is back. And it’ll be on TV at the end of the week, which means it’ll be beer and baseball at Bart’s Pub on Saturday afternoons from now until October. There’s just something about baseball that makes the beer taste better.
Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.
The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.
The black cloud that was 1968 also included…
North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.
All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.
But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.
I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.
I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.
And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.
Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.
You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.
What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.
So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.
One of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.
You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.
You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.
You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.
All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.
Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.
You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.
Let’s not get silly and compare what Colin Kaepernick is doing to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to heed Uncle Sam’s call to arms.
Yes, Kaepernick has taken a stand by sitting/kneeling during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at National Football League games, but when the San Francisco 49ers commence their 2016 crusade he’ll be the backup quarterback. His protest against police brutality and the oppression of black people/people of color hasn’t cost him his livelihood. His bank account is no less ample. He’s in no danger of being arrested, cuffed, hauled into court and sentenced to five years in prison.
Ali was dealt every bit of that hand. And more. Including death threats. Yet he was all-in. He had “no quarrel with them Viet Cong” so he wasn’t going to drop bombs on, or shoot bullets at, innocent brown people come hell or hoosegow.
By way of comparison, Kaepernick’s posture has, at worst, earned him enemies who see him not as a caped crusader for colored people but, rather, as an anti-anthem, anti-military and an anti-America ingrate who ought to just play football and zip his lips unless he plans to pledge allegiance to a country that he believes has come undone.
But when did doing and saying nothing become acceptable?
Maybe Rosa Parks should have given her seat to that white man and moved to the back of the bus where the black folk belonged to save herself from finger printing and time in jail.
Maybe Martin Luther King Jr. should have stayed home to mow the lawn instead of marching through the southern United States and spending time behind bars.
Maybe Gandhi should have just bought government salt rather than walk more than 200 miles to collect his own and spare himself yet another stretch in jail.
Maybe Tommie Smith and John Carlos should have played nice by putting on their shoes, unclenching their hands and smiling for the cameras at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.
Maybe Jesse Owens should have skipped out on the 1936 Olympics and let Hitler have his way.
Maybe Harvey Milk should have stayed in the closet.
Maybe students at Kent State should have gone to class instead of carrying signs, marching and shouting.
Maybe all those young people shouldn’t have taken sledge hammers to the Berlin Wall.
Maybe Marlon Brando should have accepted his Oscar as best actor for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather rather than send an Apache woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, to deliver a speech about the misrepresentation of Native Americans in film and on TV, at the same time drawing attention to Wounded Knee.
Maybe John and Yoko shouldn’t have acted like a couple of layabouts and gotten out of bed.
Maybe Johnny Cash should have worn more colorful clothing.
Maybe Nellie McClung should have stayed home to cook and clean for her hubby and their five children rather than make so much noise about women voting and being “persons.”
Maybe the drag queens, transgender individuals, cross-dressers, butch lesbians and gay men at the Stonewall Inn should have simply tucked their feathered boas between their legs and peacefully piled into paddy wagons rather than kick up a fuss.
Maybe all those draft dodgers who sought refuge in Canada should have been turned back at the border.
Maybe punter Chris Kluwe should have kept silent and not exposed homophobia among the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.
Maybe Branch Rickey should have hired Jack Roosevelt Robinson to shine his shoes rather than sign him to a Brooklyn Dodgers contract that made him the first black man to play Major League Baseball.
Maybe what Colin Kaepernick is doing won’t amount to anything. He’s no Ali. He’s no Jackie Robinson (who, by the way, would not salute the flag or stand for the anthem toward the end of his life). He’s no Rosa Parks. He’s no Gandhi. He’s just a backup quarterback clinging to a high-paying job that grants him a lifestyle of privilege.
But, he’s got people talking. And thinking. He sees something that he believes isn’t right. He’s trying to fix it, as are other athletes who have begun to parrot him. How can that be wrong?
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.