The River City Renegade


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About clowns in mainstream media…depth in pro tennis…lady star power…budget cuts at TSN…too much Nadal-Federer…great rivalries…sports scribes defecting…and aiming for 50 years

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

Venus Williams

Steve Simmons has secured his position as the biggest assclown in Canadian sports media.

It’s one thing to have an ego higher than the CN Tower and deliver opinion, which the Postmedia columnist and TSN talking head offers in abundance, but Simmons totally lost the plot when he stooped to age shaming on the return of The Reporters with Dave Hodge to TSN’s air Sunday morning.

Discussing the U.S. Open, Simmons said:

Women’s tennis is in a bad way without Serena (Williams). There’s no real star. You’ve had four Grand Slams this year and four different winners. Venus Williams is in a final at Wimbledon and she’s what, 92 years old or something like that?”

Shameful. Also objectionable, rude and insulting in the extreme. It might even have an undercurrent of sexism.

I mean, Simmons had no quarrel with Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in July, scant days before he blew out 36 candles on his birthday cake. It was bravo Roger. Called him the “best ever” before the Swiss maestro rag-dolled Marin Cilic in the final. Thing is, Federer is just one year and two months younger than Venus Williams, who was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon ladies’ final.

Serena Williams

It’s good for tennis that 37-year-old Venus Williams didn’t win,” he wrote. “To win now would speak badly for the state of women’s tennis.”

But it was okay for a 36-year-old man to win Wimbledon? Interesting logic.

Once he was done age bashing Williams, Simmons—he’s 60, by the way—attacked the depth of the women’s game, comparing it unfavorably to the men’s draw. “There isn’t the depth…you look at men’s tennis, there’s the core at the top and then there’s about 15 deep of really good players,” he stammered. “It doesn’t exist on the women’s side.” Really? Factual evidence supports the notion that Grandpa Simmons is full of the stuff that comes out of the south end of a bull. In the past 48 men’s Grand Slam finals, only three lads not named Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic have won—Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. They’ve combined for a grand sum of five titles. In 12 flipping years! Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic claimed the other 43. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Big Four 43, Rest of World 5. That’s deep like a thimble.

Grandpa Simmons pooh-poohs the women’s side for delivering four different Grand Slam champions this year, as if that’s a bad thing. Yet he says there’s no depth on tour. Total contradiction. Total clown. You want depth? Sixteen women not named Williams have combined for 30 titles in the past 48 majors. None of the four women who won a Grand Slam this year was a top seed. Serena Williams was the closest, seeded second at the Australian Open. The French and U.S. Open champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, were unseeded and ranked world Nos. 47 and 83, respectively. The Wimbledon winner, Muguruza, was seeded 14th and ranked world No. 15. The final four at the U.S. Open—Venus Williams, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Stephens—were world Nos. 9, 16, 22 and 83.

Maria Sharapova

As for “no real star” on the women’s side…excuse me? Apparently Grandpa Simmons missed the memo advising us that Maria Sharapova is back on tour. No female athlete on this planet has more star power than her Royal Blondeness. The bottom line on her bank statement is proof. Had there been a lack of oomph to the women’s tour? You bet. Then Ostapenko happened on the red clay of Roland Garros. She’s a spark plug. Muguruza has style and tremendous appeal. Stephens is a bundle of charisma. Now Sharapova is back, and new mama Serena Williams hopefully will resurface at the Australian Open in January, perhaps with her bambino in tow. I’d pay to watch any of them play. Venus Williams, too. She should be saluted, not scorned, for being so competitive at age 37.

Guess the weekly commute from Montreal to the Republic of Tranna is quite costly, because Michael Farber was cut from the starting lineup on The Reporters due to budget restrictions. I just wish they’d given us a vote on who got culled from the herd.

Rafa and Roger

Grandpa Simmons wasn’t the only scribe donning a clown costume last week. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail tells us he’s had his fill of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Doesn’t want to see them anymore. “For its own sake, men’s tennis needs to start moving on from its top-two fetish,” he scribbles in a rambling treatise. “And not just as far as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are exactly like their better, older peers, only boring. Tennis needs to turn a page, rip the page out, then find a new book. We’ve been at this for a decade and it started to get old when Stephen Harper was still in charge. It’s time to move on from the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis.” Oh, yes, by all means let’s do that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to see Kevin Anderson in more Grand Slam finals? Good grief. Get a grip, man.

Here’s what Kelly wrote after Roger Federer had won the Australian Open last January: “We now have to confront the real possibility that Federer might never stop being great at tennis. Maybe he’ll just go on forever. Nobody would complain.” And now here he is, eight months later, complaining about Federer seemingly going on forever. Sigh.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

My five favorite all-time rivalries…
1. Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe: Bjorn was my main man.
2. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier: Brutal, especially the Thrilla in Manilla.
3. Jack and Arnie: I was a member of Arnie’s Army.
4. Secretariat-Sham: Never saw anything like Secretariat, before or since 1973.
5. Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert: Liked Chrissie until she got engaged to loathsome Jimmy Connors.

Longtime hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek has defected from the Globe and Mail to The Athletic Calgary, part of an expanding online sports venture that features some top-level writing talent. Pierre LeBrun, Michael Russo, James Mirtle and Craig Custance are among the ever-growing stable of scribes at The Athletic, which now has franchises in each of Canada’s National Hockey League cities. No word on who’s covering the Jets and Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, but Mirtle, the man putting it all together, says she or he is on the way.

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 48 years ago yesterday. My hope was to stay at the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years. Neither of us made it. The Trib went toes up in my 11th year and I felt obliged to bail from the rag trade after 30 years. To the day. None of the people with whom I worked at the beginning—running mail and copy to the various departments inside the old building at the corner of Smith and Graham—remain in the newspaper business. Five of the sports guys—Jack Matheson, Uncle Vince Leah, Gus Collins and freelancers Harold Loster and Ron Meyers—are dead. The very nice man who took a chance and hired a scrawny, 18-year-old kid fresh out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Sept. 10, 1969, Don Delisle, left us 10 years ago this month. I’m not sure how and why I’m still here, but I believe I shall continue to crank out the crap for a bit longer. Might still make it to 50 years. Or maybe just five more days. We’ll see.

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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Some red cards and yellow cards for you, you and you, and one “Gooooooooal!” for the Fab Four

It occurs to me that in honor of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’s time for some red cards, some yellow cards and a big salute…

red cardI don’t know who to red card first, Kyle Walters or Mike O’Shea.

I suppose it should be Walters, the chap who, as chief cook and bottle washer of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, extended a training camp invitation to Jordan Yantz. He said this was the real deal. Said the former University of Manitoba Bisons quarterback would be granted “every opportunity to win a job.”

“This isn’t a charity case, this isn’t any of that for-the-good-of-the-Canadian-quarterback stuff,” the Bombers GM told scribes.

As if.

This was such an obvious charity case that it probably qualifies as a tax writeoff.

The Bombers had two dress rehearsals in advance of their 2015 Canadian Football League crusade that commences on Saturday night in Yantz’s home town of Regina, and he never took a snap in either game. That’s what passes for “every opportunity” in Bomberland?

Walters gets a red card for the load of BS he dumped on news scavengers, and head coach O’Shea gets a red card for not giving Yantz at least one set of downs.

yellow card2Here’s the ultimate irony for Tiger Woods: By shooting three rounds in the 80s this year on the PGA Tour, including one in the just-concluded U.S. Open, he is now playing just like your basic weekend hacker but he no longer gets to play on weekends.

I’ve tried to think of another athlete of Woods’s stature who has experienced such a harsh, hurried and more inglorious plummet from the summit than His Royal Randiness. No one comes to mind. Yes, the skills of others, such as Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali, eroded over time and it was painful to watch their careers wither before our eyes. But with Tiger…well, this is cliff diving into a cement pond.

When Woods hands in his final scorecard and remains four wins shy of Jack Nicklaus’s standard of 18 golfing Grand Slam victories, he surely will include a footnote: If only I’d kept my pecker in my pants.

red cardOn the subject of vanishing acts, either Michael Sam has been placed in a witness protection program or he’s part of a David Copperfield now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t illusion. I say that because, in a day and age when seemingly everyone (except me) has a phone that is part camera, part tape recorder and part video recorder it’s astonishing that there has not been a peep from Sam since he bugged out of the Montreal Alouettes training camp.

The last confirmed sighting of Sam was almost two weeks ago. Where is TMZ when we need them?

I don’t know who’s been counseling Sam since he came out as gay, but I wouldn’t hire those people to advise me on what time of the day is best to brush my teeth. The Oprah reality thing, the Dancing with the Stars thing, the disappearing act…odd, odd, odd. Once he was out a gay, the advice should have been simple: Just play football, Michael.

gooooooool nuI call up the Winnipeg Free Press sports section and I see these bylines and/or column flags: Ed Tait, Paul Wiecek, Gary Lawless, Tim Campbell, Melissa Martin, Scott Billeck, Jeff Hamilton, Jerrad Peters and Doug Brown. That’s nine local scribes.

I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section, meanwhile, and I see these bylines and/or column flags: Paul Friesen, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe and Ted Wyman (in cameo appearances). That’s four local scribes.

Cripes, man, the Freep can field a complete baseball team while the Sun can barely scrounge up enough guys to enter a bonspiel or have a decent game of poker.

Custer’s 7th Cavalry was the last outfit outnumbered this badly.

So quiz me this: How is it that the Fab Four at the Sun somehow manages to fight the good fight against the Nattering Nine at the Drab Slab? Either one side is punching above its weight or the other side is pulling its punches, because the boys at Team Sun don’t get beat often and they manage to get in some good licks of their own.

Thus, it’s kudos to the Sun.

Still, I’d like to see them add a voice or two to give the section a bit more wallop. A female voice would be a welcome addition, too.

yellow card2Okay, we’ve got the Winnipeg Jets, named after the hockey outfit formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets.

We’ve got the Manitoba Moose, named after the hockey outfit formerly known as the Manitoba Moose.

We’ve got the Winnipeg Goldeyes, named after the baseball outfit formerly known as the Winnipeg Goldeyes.

Is there no one in River City with an imagination? I mean, seriously. Three professional sports franchises and not an original handle in the bunch?

I know Mark Chipman, co-bankroll of Jets the Sequel, was bullied into naming his club after the dead and buried Jets of yore, but what’s his excuse for the regurgitation of the Moose? As for Sammy Katz and his Goldeyes, I didn’t like the name when he introduced it in 1994 and I don’t like it today. Mention the Goldeyes to me and I assume you’re talking about the St. Louis Cardinals farm team that played out of Winnipeg Stadium in the early 1960s.

So I say thank goodness for Uncle Vince Leah, the legendary sports scribe who named the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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