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 the way it was on the beat 40 years ago…hello Bobby…playing favorites…championship droughts…TSN and Johnny Rotten…calling St. Patrick…scandal on the links…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we called Victoria Day “firecracker day” when I was a sprig growing up in Winnipeg…us kids actually got to play with firecrackers and none of my friends ever lost an eye…

On the matter of lighting a fuse, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets.

While recounting the events of les Jets’ oft-turbulent run to their final World Hockey Association title on this very day 40 years ago, it occurred to me how obliging and honest the players were with their thoughts back in the day.

Kim Clackson, for example, pulled no punches when asked about the head coach, Larry Hillman.

“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” Clacker growled. “I’m tired of all the bull.”

Big Buff

You wouldn’t hear a guy like, say, Dustin Byfuglien go off like that on the current puppet master behind les Jets’ bench, Paul Maurice. Big Buff talks less than an Amazon parrot. On those rare occasions when the Winnipeg HC defender actually grunts something that passes for a complete sentence, it’s usually as bland as dried toast.

From what I can gather, it’s much the same with many of Buff’s accomplices in les Jets’ changing room. Listening to them preach the party line is like a day at the laundromat—all wishy-washy.

They don’t talk. They recite. Play the right way, move our feet, play a 200-foot game, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda.

It’s all cookie-cutter quotes from young guys schooled in the art of moving their lips while saying squat, and I’ve often wondered why news snoops even bother collecting the artificial bon mots the players deliver pre- and post-game, not to mention during down time.

Chevy

Mind you, the players are mostly muzzled by an organization that believes the daily weather forecast should be kept top secret, and they follow the lead of a general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who’s a practitioner of bafflegab. Ask Chevy for the time of day and he’ll explain the Julian and Gregorian calendars to you, but you still won’t know if it’s half past noon or half past happy hour.

Be advised that news snoops don’t get lousy quotes because they ask lousy question, so let’s reject that notion. They get lousy quotes because they get lousy, limited and rush-rush access to guys who a) would rather be sitting in a dentist’s chair, and b) usually have a PR flack hovering nearby to censor or cut short any interview that travels to close to the truth.

We had no such restrictions.

Friar Nicolson and sidekick Sod Keilback.

First of all, we traveled with the team. That is correct. The WHA Jets didn’t fly charter. The players mingled with the rabble on commercial flights, with assistant coach Sudsy Sutherland distributing the boarding passes, and that meant they sometimes were required to sit beside one of us news snoops, meaning myself, Friar Nicolson or Reyn Davis. As I recall, the players regarded that as cruel and unusual treatment, and I often suspected Sudsy of using his boarding-pass powers as punishment.

But, ya, we were part of the traveling party, and practical joker Willy Lindstrom would prank us with his stink bombs and sneezing powder as often as he would a teammate.

Tom McVie

We also rode the team bus to and from the airport, to and from the rink. I normally sat in either of the front two seats, right side, across the aisle from Hillman, his successor Tom McVie, John Ferguson and Sudsy. There was an unwritten code: What happens on the bus stays on the bus.

It sometimes became frosty, depending on what Reyn or I had written that day or what Friar had said on air the night before, and we would be blunt in our critiques of the team.

Some examples of my scribblings…

  • “Jets return from their week-long road trip this afternoon, and if they travel the same way they play hockey, they’ll all come home on different planes.”

  • “There are too many passengers on this team and the list gets longer every day. There are players more interested in getting an aisle seat on an airplane than digging a puck out of a corner.”

  • “Winnipeg management doesn’t like to hear references to Houston, but the players who came from the Aeros are the blood and guts of this team and the Winnipeg holdovers are living off them.”

You think any players wanted to sit beside me on the bus or flight home after reading that?

Reyn Davis

In general terms, however, it was an agreeable arrangement, in part because I like to think that Friar, Reyn and myself recognized we were in the players’ space, so we didn’t tell tales out of school.

In terms of dealing with the players post-game, post-practice, again, we had open access. I don’t recall any player hiding in the showers. And we weren’t required to go through a PR flack to get an audience. We just sat down beside them in the changing room.

By way of comparison, if you want any insight into today’s players you don’t go to the dressing room or grovel to a PR guy—you log in on Twitter, Instagram or another social media platform.

Pity that.

B. Hull

I still recall the first time I stepped inside les Jets’ lair. It was the season of 1977-78, and Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Bobby Hull, both with towels wrapped around their mid-sections, stood nearby. This was their conversation as they sized me up:

Sjoberg: “It looks like we’ve got a new reporter with the team.”

Hull: “Just another asshole to try and stir up shit.”

Nice to meet you, too, Bobby.

I’ve made this confession once or twice, but I’ll repeat it again: You aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box, but I was silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a real good bunch of guys, and I was partial to the players who’d come over from Houston. If a news snoop tells you he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying.

Yes, it was 40 years ago this very day when les Jets won the Avco World Trophy to bring the curtain down on the WHA. And it’s been almost 30 years since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brought the Grey Cup home. Thank goodness for our curlers, the Goldeyes, our university athletes and other amateurs who’ve delivered the goods.

Good grief. Did Matthew Scianitti and Marshall Ferguson of TSN actually spend a portion of their first chin-wag from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp talking about Johnny Manziel? As sure as the great Ticat Garney Henley played two ways, they did. “How good does Jeremiah Masoli’s body language look now that we are a year removed, thankfully, from the Johnny Manziel saga?” Scianitti asked Ferguson. Sigh. Will the TSN talking heads ever get past Johnny Rotten? Apparently not.

If the Ottawa Senators can do something stupid, bet on them doing it. And hiring Patrick Roy as head coach would qualify as stupid.

I don’t know which I’ve seen more often, Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater in the NBA playoffs or Vlad the Gifted’s first two dingers with the Tranna Blue Jays. Either way, TSN and Sportsnet can stop showing those replays any time now.

Brooks Koepka

Fashion note: Apparently Brooks Koepka isn’t going to let success go to his clothes. I mean, that NIKE cap that Koepka wore while successfully defending his PGA Championship on Sunday looks like something he picked up in a thrift shop. We’re talking butt ugly.

And, finally, this is what passes for scandal in golf these days: A chain-smoking John Daly rides a cart instead of walking, Brooks Koepka refuses to kiss his lingerie model girlfriend Jena Sims (twice), and Jordan Spieth zips his lips when the Associated Press comes calling for an interview. Whatever happened to the good old days when it wasn’t a scandal until it involved sex, drugs and a club-wielding bride (hello, Tiger Woods)?