The River City Renegade


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About my favorite athletes…Mike O’Shea and brown tap water…no more hanky-panky from CFL coaches…scuzzy Pete Rose…Usain Bolt losing to a drug cheat…and another gay slur

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

From the top: Wilma Rudolph, Sandy Koufax and Arnold Palmer, Martina Navratilova, Rafa Nadal and Bjorn Borg.

Came across an interesting item on social media the other day, whereby folks were listing their all-time favorite athletes. Not a greatest athlete list, understand. A fave list. Here’s mine:

Wilma Rudolph: So sleek, so elegant. Such regal bearing. The Italians called her La Gazzella Negra and, to the French, she was La Perle Noir. I adored the American sprinter who blossomed from sickly child (polio, double pneumonia, scarlet fever) into an Olympic champion sprinter. She wowed the world at the 1960 Games in Rome, skedaddling to three gold medals. Once back home in Clarksville, Tenn., she insisted that a parade/gala in her honor include all townsfolk, and history records it as the first fully integrated municipal event in town history.

Martina Navratilova: When the tennis legend defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1975, she was a high school kid with everything going against her. English was not her first language. Family and friends were on the other side of the world. Fear of being seized and hauled back to her homeland by thugs in trench coats was ever-present. She had a fondness for Big Macs and large fries. And, as we discovered a few years later, she was a lesbian, which was a lot less cool then than it is now. But, as she was to tell news snoops in early September of ’75, “I wanted my freedom.” Once untethered from the leash of communist state suppression, Navratilova became the greatest player of her generation. To some, the greatest ever. And she’s long been a leading voice in the LGBT community.

Sandy Koufax: I should have been mad at Koufax on Oct. 6, 1965. The Los Angeles Dodgers—my team—were in Minneapolis to engage a hefty-hitting Minnesota Twins batting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series. Koufax, the premier pitcher in Major League Baseball, should have been on the mound. Instead, it was Don Drysdale, who, although no slouch on the hill, was no Koufax. But I couldn’t get mad at the great lefthander because his reason for taking the day off was unassailable—it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Sandy Koufax was my favorite player long before he deferred to his faith by declining to start Game 1, but his decision still resonates with me, much more than any of the other-wordly numbers that he posted during the 1960s. It was a shining life lesson, even for a Roman Catholic kid. (p.s. The Dodgers won the Series, with Koufax pitching successive shutouts in Games 5 and 7, the latter on only two days rest.)

Bjorn Borg: He was the anti-Johnny Mac. While John McEnroe would disrupt matches with volcanic eruptions of petulance, Borg played tennis with a Zen-like calm, utilizing an assortment of two-fisted, cross-court backhands and top-spinning forehands to disassemble foes en route to 11 Grand Slam championships, including five successive Wimbledon titles. I admired the Swede’s calm amidst chaos, his unflappable resolve, and his quiet intensity—all wrapped in a cloak of mystery—as much as I did his groundstrokes. To this day, I wonder what made Borg tick.

Arnold Palmer/Rafael Nadal: Okay, this is cheating. But I couldn’t decide between Rafa, the king of clay court tennis, and Arnie, the king of golf. Arnie and Sandy Koufax were my go-to guys as a kid, Rafa is my go-to guy in my dotage. Arnie was a swashbuckler, daring and charismatic, and universally respected and admired as a sportsman and, more important, as a person. Rafa arrived on the tennis scene with bulging biceps, sleeveless tops and pirate pants. “Different,” I thought upon seeing him for the first time. Well, vive la difference! Rafa adorns himself in regular tennis togs now, but there’s never been anything regular about his game. Especially on clay. And the Spaniard seems like such a nice, young man.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers offed the RedBlacks, 33-30, in Ottawa on Friday night, in large part because Mike O’Shea managed to stay out of his own way. I guess that means the natterbugs will have to squawk about something other than the head coach’s short pants this week. Maybe they can blame him for that scuzzy brown tap water in River City.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

Upon further review, further review was ruining the game, so bravo to commish Randy Ambrosie and Canadian Football League team poobahs for taking away every head coach’s favorite toy—the challenge flag. Well, okay, the sideline stewards aren’t exactly hanky-free. Each coach is still allowed to toss one yellow hanky each game, but that beats a total of six potential challenges per match.

In the world according to Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, changing the coach’s challenge rule this deep into the season makes the CFL head office a “clown show.” It’s “amateur hour.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The real “clown show” was coaches using frivolous challenges to challenge nothing but the integrity of the game and spirit of the rule, which is to “get it right.” I watched all four games last week and that “clown show” is definitely over. No more hanky-panky from the coaches.

Oh boy. Some people just don’t pay attention. We’re only at the front end of August and already Freep sports editor and Wiecek’s Grumpet twin, Steve Lyons, is promoting folly. “Best place to finish might be fourth in the West” for the Bombers, he advises us. That way, they’d earn a crossover post-season berth and play the patsies in Eastern Canada. Repeat after me, Mr. Lyons: No, no, no, no, no…nine times no. No West outfit has successfully navigated the eastern route to the Grey Cup game. Never. Ever. In nine tries. And you think it’ll work for the Bombers? Ya, just like attempting a 61-yard field goal worked at B.C. Place last November.

So, champion sprinter Usain Bolt lost some of the lickety-split in his long legs and was beaten to the finish line in his final individual race at the world track and field championships in London. No big deal. Sandy Koufax lost the final game he ever pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Muhammad Ali lost his final fight (badly). Babe Ruth grounded out in his final at-bat. Hey, stuff happens. I just wish Bolt hadn’t lost to a guy, Justin Gatlin, who’s twice been told to go away for failed drug tests.

Scuzzball Pete Rose

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, has been holding his own poor Petey pity party since being banned for betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the one-time jailbird has actually found sympathetic ears. In an ESPN sports poll conducted by Luker on Trends between November 2016 and last February, Rose was No. 50 on a list of most popular athletes in the U.S., active or retired. Only two ballplayers—Derek Jeter at No. 13 and Babe Ruth, No. 30—finished ahead of him in voting by 6,000 people 12 and over. I wonder what the Rose-ites have to say now that their hero has confessed to having had sex with a 16-year-old girl while he was in his 30s, married and a father of two. The man is a scuzzy as the brown tap water in Winnipeg.

Outfielder Matt Joyce of the Oakland Athletics is “beyond sorry” for using a gay slur during a hissing contest with a fan in Anaheim on Friday night. I’m sorry, but it’s “beyond sorry” that male pro athletes are still using homophobic language as their go-to slurs in 2017.

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

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About the mother of all bad schedules…look who’s climbing the NHL’s all-time loser list…adios to Cam Cole…a Penny for your thoughts…dumb debates…the golden age of nothing…and fun sports writing

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

You want to talk about a tough schedule, kids (we all know Paul Maurice does)?

Well, let me tell you about the mother of all tough schedules. Then I don’t want to hear another word about what the Winnipeg Jets have endured in the first two-plus months of their current National Hockey League crusade.

shoe

A horrible schedule didn’t prevent captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg and the Winnipeg Jets from parading around the Winnipeg Arena with the World Avco Trophy.

Here’s the deal…

Beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Feb. 27 in the final World Hockey Association season (1978-79), the Jets played 30 games (17 road, 13 home). Do the math. That’s 30 assignments in 58 nights. At one point, they played five games in six nights (3-2) and eight games in 10 nights (4-4). Overall, they went 14-14-2. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the grind and unfairness of the schedule. We just spoke to its quirkiness.

During a wacky stretch in February, for example, we were in Cincinnati long enough to qualify as registered voters in the Ohio primaries. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:

Feb. 8: arrive Cincinnati
Feb. 9: play Cincinnati Stingers
Feb. 10: leave Cincinnati, play at New England Whalers
Feb. 11-13: return to Cincinnati; practice in Cincinnati
Feb. 14: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 15: leave Cincinnati
Feb. 16: play at Birmingham Bulls; return to Cincinnati
Feb. 17: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 18: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 19: return to Cincinnati
Feb. 20: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 21: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England

We spent more time in Cincinnati than Venus Flytrap and Dr. Johnny Fever (Google WKRP in Cincinnati, kids; it was a terrific sitcom). Our home base had become the Cincinnati Marriott. A couple of times, we weren’t required to pack our bags and check out of the hotel because we would be back in less than 24 hours.

Maybe we should all just have our mail delivered to us at the hotel,” silky-smooth centre Peter Sullivan quipped one day.

Some of us could recite the Marriott restaurant menu from memory.

By way of comparison, here’s how often, or seldom, the six WHA outfits played during that Jan. 1-Feb. 27 time frame:

mother-of-all-schedules

 

 

 

 

The Jets were so tuckered out from their 30-games-in-58-nights grind that they only managed to go 19-10 the rest of the way, finishing 11-8 down the regular-season stretch then 8-2 in the playoffs to win the final WHA title. That’s why I refuse to listen to any more whining about the current Jets’ tough schedule. I don’t want to hear it from Maurice, his players, his parrots in mainstream media, or fans. I’ve witnessed worse and saw it conclude with the best result possible.

Paul Maurice: Soon he'll be No. 3 on the NHL's all-time loser list.

Paul Maurice: Soon he’ll be No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

I’m not into fancy stats. I like my stats like my life: simple. Thus, I look at the numbers in the W and L columns and they tell me all I need to know about a head coach. And here’s what they tell me about Paul Maurice: He has the second-worst won-lost percentage of all active NHL head coaches who have been on the job more than a month and, by the close of business next spring, the Jets bench boss will be the third-losingest head coach in the history of the NHL. At present, he has 550 career losses. Another 12 and he’ll pass Ron Wilson to slide into the No. 3 slot. That, mind you, puts him in mighty fine company, because the only two men ahead of him on the loser list will be Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, both Hockey Hall of Famers. The difference, of course, is that Bowman and Arbour are also Nos. 1 and 3 on the all-time win list and they’ve coached nine and four Stanley Cup champions, respectively.

I was sold on Maurice when he worked wonders with the Jets in his first full whirl behind the bench. He got them into the Stanley Cup tournament. Two seasons later, he no longer is working wonders. Some, in fact, wonder how he’s still working. Worth considering is this: A number of the Jets young players will improve as they mature, but Maurice won’t ever be a better coach than he is today. If the head coach can’t grow with his players, when is the right time to dismiss him?

The best of jock journalism in Canada is no more. Cam Cole of Postmedia has arrived at trail’s end, after 41 years as a jock sniffer. Cam was never a ranter and raver like, say, his Postmedia colleague Steve Simmons, who believes he who squawks the loudest rules the day. Cam, a very nice man, most always wrote in reasoned, measured tones with a subtle wit, and he had a heck of a ride, showing up in time to write about both the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers dynasties. Cam’s retirement means the torch as our nation’s top jock columnist is passed to Bruce Arthur, who’s very socially conscious and actually injects humor into his scribblings for the Toronto Star.

The boys and girls in the toy departments of the land got it right in their salute to kid swimmer Penny Oleksiak as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. She struck gold in the pool at the Rio Summer Olympic Games and twice at the recent world short course championships. It was a no-brainer. I did, however, find it odd that Andre De Grasse was part of the Lou Marsh Trophy discussion. Yes, I realize his bromance with Usain Bolt in Rio was a warm-and-fuzzy Olympic storyline, but De Grasse never won a race. He finished second or third. Shouldn’t you actually have to win something before you warrant consideration as the True North’s top jock? There should have been just three athletes in that conversation: Oleksiak, hockey player Sidney Crosby and golfer Brooke Henderson.

Puck Finn

Puck Finn

I don’t know about you, but I find the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine debate kind of silly. Go ahead and discuss which of the two is enjoying the better freshman season if you like, but to engage in a verbal to-and-fro over who will have the better NHL career is foolish in the extreme. Discuss that amongst yourselves when Matthews and Puck Finn have some mileage behind them. Like, in about 15 years.

Once again, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail has referred to this as the “golden age” of Canadian tennis and, once again, he has failed to explain himself. Yes, Milos Raonic is the world No. 3 on the men’s side, but he went another year without winning a tournament of significance. Genie Bouchard, meanwhile, has fallen off the grid. So, our premier men’s player can’t win the big match and our top female player can’t find her game. That’s what passes for a “golden age?”

Really enjoyed old friend Paul Friesen’s piece on the fictional Bud’s Diner in the Winnipeg Sun last week. It’s a nice, lighthearted piece that, although some might find hokey, shows imagination, creativity and a sense of humor, something that’s lacking in jock journalism. I was also pleased to see the return of my favorite Grumpets—Paul Wiecek and Steve Lyons—to the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages. Their Say What?! print chin-wag is light, breezy and often self-deprecating, with an appropriate amount of bite.

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.

 


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A helpful guide to political correctness for 21st century sports scribes and broadcasters

I feel sorry for scribes and broadcasters covering the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil.

I mean, they’re working without a net. Political correctness is running at a faster gallop than Usain Bolt and, coupled with a language landscape that has changed dramatically this century, they no longer know what is safe to say and write. That’s why, barely into the second week of the Games, media already have issued more mea culpas than Donald Trump’s apologists. Someone’s ox is always being gored and the jock journalists can’t tell all the special-interest groups without a program.

Well, I like to think of myself as a helpful sort, so I’ve begun to piece together a new, politically correct style guide for the news scavengers in Rio de Janeiro and, indeed, for those here at home, just so they know what no longer is acceptable.

Let’s begin with some time-worn cliches and phrases. Use any of the following and you’re sure to put someone’s knickers in a knot (and, remember, this is just a start)…

politically correct style guidBeggars can’t be choosers: Never use this phrase. It marginalizes the homeless. Most of them choose not to beg, but those who do choose to beg have their reason. You don’t have to agree with the reason—you don’t even have to know the reason—just leave the homeless out of it.

Life is a one-way street: Totally homophobic.

That’s a horse of a different color: Clearly racist. What does it matter what color the horse is?

Life is just a bowl of cherries: This can be perceived as a derogatory comment about a group of women who have yet to lose their virginity.

He’s in the driver’s seat: No, no, no, no, no. Women drive, too, and god forbid if you ever call in to question their ability behind a steering wheel. Nobody is in the driver’s seat. Ever.

They’re behind the 8-ball: Being behind the 8-ball carries a negative connotation. The 8-ball is black. Do the math.

He goes both ways: You might think you’re talking about a football player who plays both offence and defence, but someone is guaranteed to think you’re outing a bisexual athlete. Never out a gay or a bisexual athlete. Especially the men.

They control their own destiny: This will upset the gospel sharks who are convinced that their God controls all things and all people. They will remind you that all things are an act of God. Even game-winning field goals.

It was a clean sweep: Never use this phrase when referencing a women’s team, unless you want to do your own cooking and cleaning when you get home.

It’s a Cinderella story: That suggests it’s all about the shoes. More female-targeted sexism from male journalists.

Boys will be boys: What about Caitlyn Jenner?

He’s a real work horse: You want the people from PETA knocking on your door? Nothing will get them running faster than a suggestion that an animal is being used for anything other than petting. Animals are meant to be layabouts, don’t you know?

Let sleeping dogs lie: Go for it. This will make the PETA people happy. Then, again, it will likely alienate cat lovers, who’ll cry prejudice and insist that their kitties be considered equal-opportunity layabouts.

That’s his bread and butter: Promoting poor eating habits is a no-no. Generous helpings of bread and butter is an okay diet for sports writers, and I’ve seen enough of you scribes to know you’ve made a visit or three to the McDonald’s drive-thru. It’s okay for you to be soft around the middle, but dietitians will have your scalp (which is another phrase one never should use) if you talk up the benefits of bread and butter for athletes.

He’s a meat-and-potatoes guy: Oh, sure, tick off the vegetarians.

They’re feeling each other out: Oh my. What will the children think if they learn that grownups are feeling each other out? They’ll be scarred for life. Either that, or little Johnny will think it gives him license to cop a feel from little Suzie in the schoolyard.

It’s nip-and-tuck: Hey, plastic surgeons are people, too. They don’t want their serious skills to be trivialized into a sports cliche about a close game. They have feelings, even if that botox injection numbs the feeling in your face.

It’s a real barn-burner: Can you say KKK, kids?

That’ll put a few more grey hairs on his head: It’s acceptable to use this phrase when discussing men. There’s nothing wrong with some snow on the mountaintop. It doesn’t mean the coach can no longer think straight. At worst, it means he needs a little dab of Just For Men. If, however, you’re talking about a woman and grey hair, it’s ageism.

His coming-out party: Not a phrase to be used for male athletes. We know there are no openly gay men in any sports league that truly matters to the beer-swilling, belching lumps who sit on bar stools. But mention of a coming-out party tends to make the closeted gays antsy. Numerous gay female athletes have had their sexual coming-out parties, but since men only write about women’s sports once every four years, they probably haven’t noticed all the lesbians.

A pretty Penny: Holy sexism, Batgirl! Don’t even think of going here. Pennys aren’t to be told that they’re pretty. Not at any age. If you have to write about an athlete named Penny, change her name to something that is non-punable so tabloids can’t use it for a cheesy play-on-words.

Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public: Even though it’s been documented that many men (usually bachelors) wash their dirty laundry in those convenient places we call laundromats, radical feminists shall insist that this is yet one more example of sexist stereotyping.

She’s the (insert male athlete’s name) of her sport: Write or say this and you’re on your own, pal. And I shouldn’t have to explain why.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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.