Let’s talk about the aging of the Winnipeg Jets…to Tokyo in denim…Aaron Rodgers’ sticky notes…MLB grappling with lack of sizzle…old friend Big Jim takes a paddywhacking…Canadian Football Hall of Fame gets it right…what about Tricky Dick Thornton?…nightmare on TSN…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler

“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.

Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.

Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.

Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.

So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.

We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.

We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.

Chevy

So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.

Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.

Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.

Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?

This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.

Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?

As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.

I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work:
1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.”
2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.”
3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.”
4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.”
5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.”
6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.”
7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.”
8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.”
9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.”
10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”

Favorite headline of the week was delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.

If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.

Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rachel Homan

Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.

Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.

And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.

Ashley Prest

The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”

Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”

Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.

Gino Button and James McKenzie, or is it Craig Reda and Bob Duthie? Either way, it’s scary, kids.

Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.

This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.

Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.

And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.

Let’s talk about things I’m not going to write about…

I was going to write about Dustin Byfuglien this morning.

I was going to say that I don’t live in his grey matter, nor am I a fly on Kevin Cheveldayoff’s office wall, so most of what I’ve read and heard about Big Buff since he chose to gaze at his navel rather than play hockey this winter is equal parts gossip, falsehood and speculation.

Big Buff

News snoops, of course, have spent countless hours trying to get the skinny on Big Buff’s retreat from the fray last September, but they’ve been unable to drill to the nub of the matter because a) True North Sports+Entertainment is less revealing than a nun’s habit, and b) Byfuglien takes his right to remain silent more seriously than a guy handcuffed in the back seat of a cop car.

So I was going to suggest we just call it the Great Untold Story of this Winnipeg Jets crusade, and accept that it’s apt to remain that way.

I mean, Big Buff has always made like a street mime, and general manager Chevy’s lips are forever tighter than a pensioner’s budget, so why would we expect them to suddenly spill the goods? It’s not like they owe the rabble the wherefore and why of the one-of-a-kind defenceman’s refusal to join his mates in their teeter-totter National Hockey League season.

Or do they?

The faithful, after all, are invested in the Jets, financially and/or emotionally, so an argument can be made that True North is obligated to come clean on the Byfuglien file. I agree.

Except that’s not how this will play out.

Chevy

TNSE is a private company, even as it pigs out at the public trough, and it won’t fall prey to any urge or moral obligation toward full disclosure re the intimate details that have led to the expected termination of Big Buff’s contract. It will be strictly need-to-know tidbits of Chevy-speak while someone else at True North reminds the rabble that, “Hey, we slashed beer and hot dog prices not so long ago, and you want the truth, too?”

Byfuglien, meanwhile, has a right to his privacy, even if he’s been the biggest fish in the smallest of the NHL’s ponds since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

So go ahead and point accusing fingers at TNSE or Chevy or Byfuglien if you feel the need to vent and identify villains, but none of us knows the true story, and we’ll see Don Cherry back on TV talking about poppies and immigrants before we ever hear sound bites from Big Buff on his wonky ankle, the $14 million in salary he’s sacrificed, his favorite fishing hole, or his innermost thoughts.

And I’m totally okay with that because, as captain Blake Wheeler was saying the other day, “He doesn’t owe anyone anything.”

But I’m not going to write about any of that.

Kyle Connor

I was going to write about trade rumors this morning, because the NHL’s shop-and-swap deadline is only two weeks away and that usually means we’re apt to find James Duthie kneeling on a nearby church pew, praying that nothing significant goes down before his annual marathon and time-filling buffoonery on TSN.

James, for example, will be offering a few Hail Marys that the Jets don’t ship their perennial 30-goal man Kyle Connor to the Colorado Avalanche in barter for Bowen Byram in advance of D-Day on Feb. 24, but Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab informs us that Duthie might want to toss a few Our Fathers and at least one Apostles Creed into his prayer mix. He’s been hearing chatter, you see, and it’s all about Connor for Byram, a wet-eared rearguard with Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. Although “loathe to play the role of gossip monger,” Mad Mike does that very thing because a “source” advises him that a Connor-for-Byram swap “has legs.” Mad Mike adds that he doesn’t see the deal happening, but what the hell, why not fling it out there and see if it sticks because, you know, he’s “loathe to play the role of gossip monger?”

But I’m not going to write about that this morning, because stranger things have happened (see: Gretzky, Wayne) and Mad Mike might be on to something. Or not.

Willie Jefferson

I was going to write about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this morning, because one quarterback, Chris Streveler, has swanned off to Arizona and another, Matt Nichols, bolted to the Republic of Tranna, where he might be joined by defender extraordinaire Willie Jefferson.

I was going to say I don’t blame Nichols, because he was no longer the flavor of the month in River City, but I’m not sure where Willie’s head is at. I mean, the Bombers are champs of Rouge Football and the Tranna Argos are Grade A chumps with a following you can fit in a phone booth, with room to spare for a couple of circus clowns. Maybe Willie thinks he can stretch a $200,000-plus salary as far in The ROT as he can in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I suppose that’s doable if he doesn’t mind living in a lean-to.

But I’m not going to write about that, because it’s Willie’s business and the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding D-man has managed to get along just fine without my input. I just hope he doesn’t get stuck in traffic on the way to that empty ballyard the Boatmen play in.

Bill Murray

I was going to write about the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament this morning, because Nick Taylor will be in the final pairing with ol’ Lefty, Phil Mickelson this afternoon, and you might not know that Nick was born in Good Ol’ Hometown. He honed his skills in Abbotsford, B.C., but we can still claim him as one of our own.

But I’m not going to write about that, because my guess is the CBS cameras will be showing us more of Bill Murray making an ass clown of himself than the Nick and Phil duel.

Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers

I was going to write about curling this morning, because there’s a very real possibility that someone not named Mike McEwen or Reid Carruthers will win the Manitoba men’s championship this very day. Jeff Stoughton was the last skip not named McEwen or Carruthers to wear the Buffalo on his back at the Brier, and that takes us back to 2014.

Jason Gunnlaugson sits in the catbird seat today, already booked into the final at Eric Coy Arena in Charleswood, and I submit that a changing of the guard would be a refreshing bit of business.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I wouldn’t bet against McEwen and Carruthers.

The scene at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday night.

I was going to write about Ponytail Puck this morning, because the American and Canadian national sides wowed the rabble on the final three stops of their Rivalry Series. The Yankee Doodle Damsels got the better of our women twice (4-1 for the five-game series), but the real story was the head counts: 7,006 in Victoria, 8,467 in Vancouver, and 13,320 in Disneyland on Saturday night. Boffo stuff.

But I’m not going to write about that, because one reader called me a hypocrite for failing to fork out $20-$30 and walk across the street to watch the Victoria skirmish. I explained to him that I’m an old-age pensioner on a fixed income, living below the poverty line, and if the choice is between a hockey ticket and food I’ll take the hot meal every time. I’m not sure he bought my reasoning, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I was going to write about our terrific soccer and hoops ladies this morning, because both outfits have qualified for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, and I’m not sure we’ll be saying the same thing about our men’s sides.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I’ll probably be called a hypocrite if I don’t purchase air fare to Japan and watch the women in person.

Charlie Hustle and the Hustler

I was going to write about Donald Trump this morning, because the American president and noted hustler is campaigning to Make Pete Great Again. That would be Pete Rose, listed as persona non grata by Major League Baseball for gambling on games while skipper of the Cincy Reds. The Donald believes Charlie Hustle got a raw deal when he was blackballed, so he wants Rose on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

But I’m not going to write about that, because The Donald knows a good hustle when he sees one and this is fake news.

And, finally, I was going to write about that Skip The Dishes guy this morning, because I find myself wondering if I’m the only person who thinks he’s become the most annoying man on TV.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I’m too tired to write about anything.

Let’s talk about Kevin Sawyer, Jared Spurgeon and Saran Wrap…clashing opinions on the sports pages…newspaper competition…Coach PoMo sounding like Coach Claude…Mathieu Perreault’s retreat…Sheriff George’s gaffe…giving Trump the finger…remembering Al Davies and other terrific people at the Winnipeg Sun…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I wish the Packers and 49ers were the early game today, because it’ll be past my bedtime by the time they finish…

So, now we’re told it was just a 16th birthday prank. You know, teenage hijinks 14 years ago.

And, according to Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, “many laughs were had” and it was something that Jared Spurgeon “still chuckles about to this day.”

Except for this: There were adults in the room when Spurgeon’s teammates with the Spokane Chiefs thought it would be a hoot to strap the Western Hockey League rookie to a pillar, his tiny feet dangling high off the ground.

Kevin Sawyer

Kevin Sawyer, a 31-year-old assistant coach at the time, has admitted to being among those adults. He did nothing to stop it.

More to the point, Sawyer yukked it up with the teenage boys back then, and he still believed the incident to be a great source of humor two weeks ago when he spun this “favorite” Spurgeon story during the TSN broadcast of a Winnipeg Jets-Minnesota Wild skirmish.

“He was a 15-year-old, two months into the season we Saran wrapped him to a pillar in the arena, about six feet up in the air,” he told viewers. “He was tiny. He looked like he was 12.”

Yup, that’s some kind of fun.

The thing is, it isn’t such a knee-slapper anymore, because Sawyer has been ragdolled pillar to post (pun intended) in the past two weeks, first on social media and now by a mainstream media that has finally weighed in. The TSN gab guy, who hasn’t been heard from since, has some serious explaining to do, and apparently he’ll have his say during a Tuesday night broadcast from Carolina.

What will he tell the masses? Try this:

“I was wrong to make light of what many consider a hazing incident. In no way do I condone hazing in sports or anywhere else in society. That’s not who I am. Hazing was wrong then and it’s wrong now, and I regret what happened to Jared Spurgeon and I regret talking about it in a joking manner. I’ve already spoken to Jared, and I apologize to TSN, the Winnipeg Jets, and the National Hockey League for my inappropriate and misguided comments.”

Then it will be back to regularly scheduled sugar coating of Jets’ missteps for Sawyer.

Should that, however, be the end of it?

Jeremy Roenick

I mean, if NBC Sports pulls the plug on Jeremy Roenick because of glib remarks about his sexual fantasies on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, shouldn’t TSN discipline Sawyer for tee-heeing about a hazing incident dressed up as birthday buffoonery? Shouldn’t Bell Media at least say something?

After all, TSN had no hesitancy in trotting out its stable of squawk boxes to report on and gasbag about Bill Peters and Mike Babcock and Marc Crawford when those National Hockey League coaches were outed as racists and/or bullies. And, lord knows, they used up two weeks worth of oxygen dissecting Don Cherry’s very public views on poppies and immigrants.

Yet not a peep about one of their own boasting about hazing. Go figure.

Meanwhile, it’s about the Jets. Forget that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s signature isn’t on Sawyer’s paycheque. He’s their guy. Their broadcaster. If they consider his remarks offensive and inappropriate (they should), why wouldn’t they lean into TSN and suggest they zip his lips?

But, again, not a peep.

Mind you, that’s nothing unusual for True North Sports & Entertainment, which makes Dustin Byfuglien seem like a big blabbermouth. If the Puck Pontiff and TNSE have something to say, you can be sure they won’t say it.

In this case, what they aren’t saying pretty much says it all: They and, by extension, the NHL are okay with a team broadcaster who jokes about the hazing of a 16-year-old boy.

Mad Mike

This is what I like about a two-newspaper town: Differing opinions. And both of the main sports columnists at the two River City rags delivered contrary views of the Sawyer incident.

Here’s Mad Mike McIntyre: “The only thing Sawyer appears guilty of here is butchering the way he told a story and causing a massive misunderstanding that has been allowed to rage out of control.”

The headline on the website said the incident was a “big deal that isn’t,” and Mad Mike basically wrote it off as a meh moment. He also informed us that no adults were involved, but then totally contradicted his own narrative by writing, “Everyone gathered around to sing Happy Birthday, including Sawyer and other team staff.” So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: No adults were involved, but adults were involved. And he accuses everyone else of being misinformed? Good luck with that. Fact is, Sawyer admitted on air that he was present. Mad Mike also insists that Spurgeon “still chuckles about it to this day,” yet he provides no supporting quotes. We’re simply supposed to take his word for it, just like his “rotten to the core” narrative about the Jets last season.

Paul Friesen

Now here’s Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “It doesn’t matter if it was a birthday prank or a rookie prank. To say Spurgeon hadn’t complained about the incident and therefore it wasn’t serious is a moot point. A 15-year-old away from home for the first time being ridiculed by adults from a team that he needs to advance his career isn’t likely to speak out if he feels threatened or intimidated. Viewers of that Jets game were rightfully offended by the message Sawyer’s story sent to the kids watching. There was nothing funny about it. There never is when people are singled out to be mocked.”

Friesen is spot on.

I should point out that, according to Friesen, Sawyer called Spurgeon the night he made his regrettable remarks. If it was no big deal, as Mad Mike submits, why would Sawyer reach out?

Mad Mike totally lost the plot with this line: “Would such an incident be acceptable here in 2020? That’s debatable.” No. It isn’t. It’s debatable to say Nathan MacKinnon is a better hockey player than Connor McDavid, but there’s nothing debatable about the practice of hazing. It’s wrong. If Mad Mike thinks otherwise, I suggest he gather the boys in the Drab Slab newsroom and they Saran wrap a summer student intern to a convenient pole, six feet up in the air, outside the Winnipeg Free Press building. Then he can scribble a column telling us about all the yuks they had at the kid’s expense. Let’s see how well that plays in 2020.

Good Ol’ Hometown is fortunate to have competing dailies. The Sun-Drab Slab dynamic doesn’t exist anywhere else in the western colonies and, being a newspaper junkie, I feel cheated when I call up the rags in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan. Don’t get me wrong. There are quality scribes who crank out quality copy in those locales, but no contrasting viewpoints. The boys and girls on the beat don’t have to kick the other guy’s ass. Too often it’s one voice for two papers. I read Terry Jones in both the E-Town Sun and E-Town Journal. I read Ed Willes in both the Vancity Province and Vancity Sun. So, ya, as much as I rag on Mad Mike (he’s such an easy target), I’m glad he’s there to provide an opposing slant on issues.

So here’s something the rabble probably didn’t want to hear after their hockey heroes had been paddywhacked 7-1 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie: “I don’t have an explanation for you. We were, I think, moving right and then we got to 2-0 and now we’re waiting for the puck to come to us. That’s the best explanation I can give you. I don’t know,” confessed Paul Maurice, the Jets head coach who’s paid to know. The last guy to talk like that after ugly losses was Claude Noel, and we all know what happened to him. That’s not to suggest Coach Potty Mouth is on his way out of Dodge, but when I hear him say, “I don’t know,” it sure sounds like an echo of Coach Claude’s “I can’t give you the answers to why” we lose.

Mathieu Perreault

That was an impressive hissy fit Mathieu Perreault had after Jake Vertanen of the Vancouver Canucks fed the Jets forward a left elbow for a late-night snack last week, and I can’t say I blame the guy for being PO’d. Total cheap shot. “Player safety my ass,” he snorted. Equally impressive was Perreault’s retreat after threatening to use his stick for a pitch fork the next time some scoundrel decides to give him a noogie. “Obviously I wouldn’t slash anyone in the face. I’d like to take that back for sure,” he told news snoops. I haven’t heard anyone swallow words back that fast since Richard Nixon admitted he really was a crook.

Sheriff George

Not surprisingly, NHL player safety dude George Parros has felt more heat than a donut in a deep fryer for refusing to punish Vertanen. Perreault and the Jets are PO’d, the rabble (at least in Good Ol’ Hometown) is PO’d, news snoops (at least in Good Ol’ Hometown) are PO’d, and Prince Harry and Meghan might even be PO’d. But let’s not lay it all on Sheriff George’s lap. NHL players have a dog in this fight, and if they showed a bit more respect for each other’s well-being, we wouldn’t see such a steady parade of ne’er-do-wells marching to the principal’s office.

The Canucks are in first place. Go figure. The Tranna Maple Leafs, who could feed five third world countries for the next 10 years with the signing bonuses they’re paying, are below the playoff line. Go figure.

Conor McVulgar

The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, won in his return to the UFC octagon on Saturday night, and those who follow the game say he’s a changed man. Apparently, he’s kinder, more gentle, more soft spoken. I’m not convinced. I mean, immediately after the bout, McGregor demanded a rematch with that old man he thumped out in an Irish pub last year.

This is rich (but not at all surprising): When the Florida Panthers deep-sixed head coach Gerard Gallant, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna described them as the “most clueless front office in the NHL.” When the Vegas Golden Knights gave Gallant his walking papers last week, he tweeted, “If they believe a coaching change was necessary, then I will give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The International Olympic Committee has officially warned athletes that any form of political protest will be a strict no-no at this year’s Summer Games in Tokyo. Rule 50 outlaws messaging on signage and/or armbands, and there’ll be no hand gestures, kneeling or refusal to follow the IOC’s uptight protocol at venues or in the Olympic Village. But apparently American soccer star Megan Rapinoe is still allowed to flip Donald Trump the bird if he shows up.

Al Davies

And, finally, one of the Winnipeg Sun’s founding fathers, Al Davies, died recently, and a lot of us should be thankful for what Al, Tom Denton, Frank Goldberg and Bill Everitt started on Nov. 5, 1980. The tabloid isn’t everyone’s rag du jour and has long been mocked and ridiculed as a poor man’s version of the National Enquirer, but it offers another voice and that’s important. I enjoyed most of my time there, working with terrific people like Dave Komosky, young Eddie Tait, Tom Brennan, Ketch, John Kendle, Homer Connors, Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Jon Thordarson, Pat Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Rhonda Hart, Paul Robson, Big Jim Bender and so many others. Fabulous group.

Let’s talk about the rise of the gay athlete (female division)…the lady ain’t no Ali…thou doth protest…Jackie Robinson and Old Glory…and raising a fist

A hump-day smorgas-bored for the working stiffs…and if you have a voice, use it, but don’t expect everyone to agree with it…

Some people don’t want to read or hear another word about gays. They’ve had their fill.

Their reasons vary, whether it be religious belief, pure bigotry, or some cockeyed notion of a global gay agenda that seeks to brainwash our children in the manner of Adolph Hitler and Soviet communism (hello, Maggie Court). They just want the LGBT(etc.) community to shut the hell up. (And, hey, while they’re shutting the hell up, they can also put the brakes on that once-a-year, half-naked Pride strut nonsense. “Why do gays need a parade? There isn’t a straight parade!”)

Well, it’s hard to shut the hell up when:

NYC subway workers had to scrub the offensive scrawl off Megan Rapinoe posters.

* The very week the U.S. National women’s soccer team wins the World Cup, a vandal defaces New York City subway posters of Megan Rapinoe, simply because she prefers the company of women, specifically Sue Bird.

Can any among us imagine someone desecrating a poster of, oh, let’s say fabulous fancy skater Tessa Virtue because she’s straight? As if.

Yet apparently Rapinoe is fair game for a shaming with scrawl. It would be one thing, I suppose, if she was a meek lesbian who just shut the hell up about it. But that’s not Rapinoe. The American co-captain has to be as loud as her purple hair. She screams at the world. Can’t win without gays, says she. So someone with an axe (to grind) in one hand and a Sharpie pen in the other comes along to scribble “shemale” and “screw this ho” on half a dozen of her posters.

It’s also hard to shut the hell up when:

* Homophobes bookend Pride month by burning rainbow flags outside a NYC gay club.
* Two lesbian actors are struck by stones for kissing on a street in Southampton, England.
* A lesbian couple is mugged by five teens on a North London bus.
* Two gay men are attacked by knife-wielding teens in Liverpool.
* Posters with anti-gay messaging are displayed in downtown Peterborough, Ont.
* A sheriff’s detective in Tennessee delivers a sermon at Scripture Baptist Church calling for the arrest and execution of gays.
* Findings in the Out On The Fields study show that 84 per cent of 9,500 people interviewed have witnessed or experienced homophobia in American sports; 83 per cent of gay males and 63 per cent of lesbians remain completely or partially in the closet in youth sports due to fear of discrimination and/or bullying.
* Every gay in the five major men’s team sports in North America is afraid to come out of the closet.

Dutee Chand

If none of that was happening—or, in the case of out gay male athletes, not happening—the LGBT(etc.) collective likely would shut the hell up about their sexuality.

As it is, damn straight we’re going to bang the drum about the U.S. women winning the World Cup, because five of the Yankee Doodle Damsels, plus coach Jill Ellis, are out lesbians. They’ve become “hometown” heroes who reach across borders.

Ditto Alison van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, the first gay couple to compete together during any Wimbledon fortnight. It didn’t matter that the Belgian women failed to get past the second round in women’s doubles. There was a there there.

Ditto Dutee Chand, India’s fastest woman and an out lesbian who recently skedaddled to the 100-metre gold medal at the World University Games in Naples. Initially scorned by family and friends for her choice of partners, Chand is the first Indian to strike gold in the 100-metres at any global track event.

Marnie McBean

Ditto Marnie McBean, a lesbian installed as Chef de Mission for Canada’s entry at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“On the Canadian team the goal is to make sure everybody is competing in the event that they choose to compete in as their authentic selves,” the former rowing champion told Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star when introduced as the Chef de Mission.

Exactly.

For too long, gay athletes have been looked upon as lesser-thans. That, sadly, remains the default position in men’s team sports. So the boys hide and suffer. But that’s not how the women are wired. Gay female athletes aren’t viewed as a distraction or a drag on their straight teammates’ talents and efforts. They stand beside them, flexing their muscle and flourishing under the most intense spotlights. Right now, the U.S. women’s soccer side is Exhibit A, and the team they beat in the World Cup final, the Netherlands, would be Exhibit B with five open lesbians.

These gay women are being celebrated.

And somewhere there’s a gay kid—girl or boy—who’s reading the good news about these champions rather than dire news about gays being stoned or knifed.

That’s one of the reasons we continue to write and talk about the sexuality of these gay athletes. Even gay kids need role models and reachable skies. As McBean submits, everyone should feel comfortable competing as their authentic selves. Not just on our playing fields, but in life.

Once that day arrives, we’ll be happy to shut the hell up.

A lot of people believe Rapinoe has overstayed her 15 minutes of fame. They’d rather move on to the next flavor of the month. Can’t say that I agree or disagree, but when I read/hear pundits compare the American soccer star to legendary boxer and anti-war activist Muhammad Ali, that’s when I call a timeout. Franklin Foer of The Atlantic would be an e.g. He writes: “Megan Rapinoe is her generation’s Muhammad Ali.” Miguel Delaney of the Independent draws a similar parallel. Well, spare me. Had either man been alive in the 1960s to appreciate the political, cultural and racial climate, their words might carry some heft. But they weren’t so they don’t. A female athlete barking about pay equity and social/racial injustice is admirable, but not in the same ballpark as a man willing to go to jail rather than pick up a gun and kill Vietnamese. Ali was sentenced to prison, stripped of his heavyweight title, stripped of his livelihood for 3 1/2 years, and arguably became the most despised man in America. And Rapinoe? After the ticker-tape parade, she’s worked the TV talk-show circuit non-stop. It’s like comparing Secretariat to Mr. Ed.

Jackie Robinson, 1963.

I’ll say this in Rapinoe’s favor, all those upset by her silent/loud protest during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at international soccer events might be interested in an excerpt from Jackie Robinson’s book, I Never Had It Made.

“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only the principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

That is correct. The great Jackie Robinson, who knew a bit about racial and social injustice and death threats, and a man who served in the U.S. Military, could not bring himself to stand for and sing the Star-Spangled Banner. Couldn’t salute Old Glory, either.

So let’s have no more squawking about Rapinoe being disrespectful simply because she doesn’t place a hand on her chest and stands silent during a singalong.

And, finally, whenever the discussion turns to athletes and activism, I think first of Ali, then Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two medal-winning American sprinters known primarily for their protest against racial/social injustice in the U.S. Smith had just won the 200-metre sprint at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, with Carlos finishing third, and they shocked us with their rigid, heads-bowed, black-fisted, shoeless podium postures. Initially, we didn’t know what to make of it. But the U.S. Olympic Committee did—it banished Smith and Carlos. And like Ali but unlike Rapinoe, there was an after-cost to pay. “I got home and I was hungry. I lost my food. I lost my house. The price was devastating,” Smith says in Tim Layden’s excellent retro look at the incident in Sports Illustrated.