Let’s talk about Hal Johnson outing TSN…Where’s Waldo’s Sister?…Beep! Beep! There goes Alphonso!…Rouge Football takes a knee…Yippee for Youpii!…big bucks, baseball and bickering…the best of the Blue Bombers…Herb Carnegie gave the New York Rangers a pass…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…

Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:

What is the Black quota in 2020?

We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.

“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.

So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.

The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.

All of which has provided pause for ponder.

The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.

Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.

It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.

Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.

Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?

So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?

The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.

As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.

Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.

Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.

I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.

I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.

North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.

Take a knee, Donald.

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.

While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.

By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.

Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.

The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?

It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.

I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.

I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.

True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.

Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.

And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.

Let’s talk about death threats and bomb threats in Good Ol’ Hometown…the Buddha and Brees…Jackie Robinson and the American flag…Chris Cuthbert goes over the wall…another jock journo out of work…the Winnipeg Sun’s six-pack…and Fidel Castro’s angst

At first blush, the inclination was to suggest that Khari Jones had it all wrong. That he was misremembering.

Khari Jones

I mean, death threats? To the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback? Naw. Can’t be.

Look, I realize the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown can be a demanding lot. They’ll turn on a starting QB faster than Judas on Jesus (hello Dieter Brock, Matt Nichols, etc.), and they’ll get louder and more ornery as the beer snakes grow longer and longer in the fourth quarter of a losing skirmish.

But threaten to snuff him out? That’s something you’d rather not believe.

Except as Jones told the tale the other day, his nose wasn’t growing and his pants weren’t on fire.

He delivered his revelation in a calm, matter-of-fact cadence, like he was telling us what he had for lunch or what his kids ordered the last time at a McDonald’s drive-thru. He even smiled, almost as if he recognized that some among the rabble might suggest there was a tich of far-fetchedness to the disturbing narrative of his 2002 Canadian Football League crusade.

“In Winnipeg,” Jones began, “I received death threats, you know, because my wife is a different color than me. We had police officers staying at our house, kinda patrolling our house while I was at away games. There was a series of letters, and I still have those letters.”

I don’t know about you, but those words produce chilling imagery for me:

Justine Jones

A woman—Jones’ bride Justine—home alone with her newborn, Jaelyn, while hubby and dad is flinging footballs hundreds of miles away, unable to protect his family from a wingnut lurking in the shadows of a darkening night. The stalker might have a gun. Or a knife. Maybe both. Stealth, slow-moving cop cars appear in the haze of dimly lit lamp posts, then disappear into the same darkness that protects the unseen scoundrel, prepared to pounce. It’s positively Hitchcockian.

It was just one person, we’re told, a racist who believes black and white belong together on piano keyboards, salt-and-pepper shakers and Oreo cookies, but not in the skin hue of a married couple. He penned a dozen letters to Jones, each peppered with vulgar language and threats. He was never caught.

Eighteen years later, Jones is finally talking about it because racism is the topic du jour in North America and he recognizes that his is a story people need to hear, even if they’d prefer not to hear it.

It’s the kind of stuff that gives pause for ponder, and you try to convince yourself that such a level of hate can’t possibly exist in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I was born, raised and spent most of my working life in Winnipeg and, sure, I recognize that racists, bigots, homophobes, etc. walk among the throng, but death threats because a quarterback is black and his bride is white? Come on, man, isn’t that supposed to be a 1960s Alabama thing? If only.

Truth is, I had my own close encounter with one of the wackos back in the day.

It was late March of 1979 and, with the Parti Québécois beating the separatist drums with gusto, the political climate was a tinderbox. Anti-Québec sentiment flowed freely in Western Canada and peaked in full, ugly voice the night the Finnish National B shinny side was in town for a friendly with the Winnipeg Jets, then still the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise but soon to be a charter member of the National Hockey League.

Because the skirmish was televised locally on the CBC’s English and French channels, public address announcements were delivered in both our official languages. That didn’t work so well.

Each time PA announcer Germain Massicotte would parlez vous, the audience of 10,113 filled the Old Barn On Maroons Road with a robust chorus of boos, which ramped up in volume with each word he uttered en francais. By the time Morris Lukowich scored in overtime, Massicotte’s voice had totally disappeared beneath the might of the anti-Québec outpouring.

“It was kind of rude,” said young Rich Gosselin, a product of nearby St. Malo and one of two francophones wearing Jets linen that night.

Bobby Guindon

“I just consider the source,” muttered Bobby Guindon, the veteran forward who, a year ealier, had been anointed most valuable player in the Jets championship crusade.

Like Gosselin and Guindon, I was unamused, so I scribbled as essay in the Winnipeg Tribune, giving the booing, bigoted boors a stern tsk-tsking.

“Winnipeg, if this is how you’re going to act next season when you’re in the National Hockey League, then you don’t deserve to see the Montreal Canadiens,” is how I signed off.

The following morning, the ringing of my kitchen telephone stirred me from slumber. It was a man. An angry man. He didn’t appreciate the tone of my column and volunteered to provide me with one-way passage to the Great Beyond. Yup, he’d bomb my house. Blow it up, me and my family with it. Apparently, that’s what you do with a “frog lover.”

Unlike Khari Jones, I didn’t call the cops. I told the boys at work about the bomb threat and we had a giggle, although I must confess mine was a bit of a nervous chuckle and there was some skittishness to my step for a few days.

But, hey, that house on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan is still standing, a block away from the Red River, and I’m still ticking, so I guess the guy had a bad batch of dynamite or he was a graduate of the Wile E. Coyote School of Mayhem.

I don’t know if you’ve been following Paul Friesen’s work on the Khari Jones file for the Winnipeg Sun, but it’s boffo stuff. Top drawer in every way. Makes me proud that I played a part in poaching Paul from CJOB all those many years ago, and it all began with a chance meeting in a checkout line at the Safeway on Roslyn Road in Osborne Village. So, if you like Paul’s work, kudos to him. If you don’t like it, blame me.

Really hard to believe the boys at the Drab Slab basically ignored the Jones death-threat narrative, except to run one Canadian Press piece. That’s shoddy. Or lazy. Maybe both.

The Donald and Drew.

Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are supposed to be bright guys. They aren’t allowed to be the dullest knife in the drawer, although Terry Bradshaw tests that theory every time he opens his squawkbox on Fox Sports NFL coverage. So what’s Drew Brees’ excuse for being such a D’Oh Boy? I mean, seriously, he thought Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was about the American flag and not social injustice and police brutality? That’s like believing the Bible is porn. But wait. The New Orleans Saints QB experienced an awakening, as if he’d shared a bodhi tree with the Buddha, and a couple of days after dumbing down he was schooling Donald Trump, advising the Commander-in-Chaos that kneeling protests have “never” been about the Stars ‘n’ Stripes. I swear, we haven’t seen a retreat that rapid since Tiger Woods’ wife came at him with a 9-iron. Makes you wonder how Buddha Brees ever mastered the Saints playbook.

Every time I hear someone like Brees rage against Kaepernick and other National Football League kneelers, branding them as disrespectful ingrates, I am reminded of this excerpt from baseball legend 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.” So there.

Jennifer Hedger

The other night on TSN SportsCentre, anchor Jennifer Hedger said racism is an “uncomfortable” conversation. Why? And who’s uncomfortable? Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down social gatherings, my friends and I discussed racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, etc. on numerous occasions, with zero discomfort.

Big shakeup in the Tower of Babble On, with Chris Cuthbert defecting from TSN football to Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada. Initial reaction: Geez, can he take Glen Suitor with him?

Apparently Suitor was unavailable for comment on his longtime sidekick’s departure. “He’s still in rehab after having his nose surgically removed from Keith Urban’s butt,” a TSN spokesperson familiar with the situation confirmed.

Chris Cuthbert

Seriously, this is an opportunity for TSN to bring a new, fresh sound to its Canadian Football League broadcasts. Surely there’s a vibrant, young voice out there who can slide behind Cuthbert’s play-by-play mic and, at the same time, they can spare us another season of groupie Glen’s gushing over Urban. If they insist on going with the old guard, I say give the job to Gord Miller, who’s solid whenever he calls Rouge Football. And, for gawd’s sake, keep Kate Beirness away from the CFL on TSN panel.

Oh, dear, the body count continues to grow in the toy department, and Ken Wiebe is among the latest casualties. The Athletic slashed salary and scribes the other day, handing out 46 pink slips, and that leaves Murat Ates to fly solo on the Jets beat. I never met Ken, but I’m told he’s one of the good guys, and we can only wonder when this carnage will end and who’ll be left standing.

The Winnipeg Sun made it through the week without anyone heading to the pogey line, but the overlords at Postmedia have decided to eliminate one day of the week—Monday. Commencing June 22, the tabloid will become a six-days-a-week print publication (Tuesday-Sunday), which means they’ll be a day late and a dollar short whenever something big breaks on the Sabbath. You know, like the Bombers winning the Grey Cup. Or—dare to dream—the Jets hoisting the Stanley Cup on a Sunday.

And, finally, news that the Sun is becoming a six-pack provided reflection on my time with the tabloid.

Now in its 40th year (the official anniversary date is Nov. 5), the Sun wasn’t supposed to have a shelf life longer than four months, never mind four decades, but a three-days-a-week sheet bulked up to a seven-day production in 1992, and they’ve been going toe-to-toe with the Goliath on Mountain Avenue every morning since.

You don’t survive that long unless you deliver something the rabble is looking for and, in the case of the tabloid, that’s meant a heavy emphasis on cops and robbers, entertainment and, of course, sports scribbling served with sizable portions of sass, irreverence and 200-point headlines.

Oops. Almost forgot Page 3 (or was it Page 2?), which once featured a damsel in her scantilly-clads and heels as high as a giraffe’s forehead.

The Sunshine Girl was just one of the oddball things we did at the Sun. I also recall management’s curious fascination for Panda bears, and there was a cheeky promo during the 1999 Pan American Games that attracted the attention of El Presidenté, Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro

Seems ol’ Cigar Breath was so distraught over Cuban defectors prior to/during the Games that it became the focal point of his annual Revolution Day natter, with the Bearded One barking about “traps and tricks” and “schemes” and “filth.”

We ran a “guess the number of Cuban defectors” contest, offering airfare and a one-week vacation in Havana, cigars not included.

“If this is a goodwill gesture, it is a perverse one,” noted José Fernandez, president of the Cuban Olympic Committee.

I don’t recall if it was eight or 10 Cubans who went over the wall during the Pan Ams, but that was us—the perverse paper.

Let’s talk about “hub bubble hockey” and jock journos…Elvis and his Jailhouse Jock…John Fogerty plays centrefield…sticking to sports, or not…the race and gender scorecard…snack time for Iron Mike…Commish Randy’s naked bootleg…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored, and it’s mostly quick hits this morning because my attention span is like the golf season in Good Ol’ Hometown—short…

Okay, as far as I can determine, this is the National Hockey League road map to a reboot and the coronation of a 2020 Stanley Cup champion:

Summon the boys from hither and yon, put 24 teams in a “bubble” in a couple of “hub” cities, stick swabs up hundreds of noses every morning, noon and nighttime for three months, and play summer-stretched-into-winter shinny until either Alexander Ovechkin or Brett Hull is too drunk to stand during the post-playoff celebration.

Ya, sure, works for me.

Except I’m not on the beat.

NHL bubble hockey.

There’s no sports editor instructing me to pack my bags and take enough clothes for a 90-day stay in one of those two “hub bubbles,” and it seems to me that news snoops are the forgotten, or ignored, element in the NHL’s quest to stem its financial blood-letting and, at the same time, determine a pandemic puck champion.

We know the rabble won’t be invited inside the “hub bubbles,” but what about sports scribes and natterbugs? Are they also persona non grata? Will those assigned to report on the goings-on in the “hub bubbles” be granted access to players, coaches, managers, etc.? If not (which is the most likely scenario), why bother going? If so, how many news snoops are willing to put their health, if not their lives, at risk?

I mean, people with medical diplomas on their office walls tell us that we can expect a surge of COVID-19 cases in the autumn, so do you really want to be in proximity to a bunch of guys who’ve been spitting and sweating on each other all day? That might be a tough sell on the home front.

A similar thought process would apply if the Canadian Football League sorts out its mess and establishes “hub bubbles” in two-to-four Prairie locales, for an abbreviated season that would commence in September and conclude in December.

I’ve long held that the toy departments of newspapers must discover fresh ways of doing business, given the immediacy of Internet news, the personal disclosures of athletes on social media forums, and the near-maniacal obsession of pro sports teams/organizations to control the message, so it could be that the COVID-19 pandemic will give sports editors no choice but to remake their sections in a significant way.

Same old, same old is done. Probably forever. Creativity must rule the day, and that will be a good thing.

Let’s say you’re a news snoop on the Winnipeg Jets beat and you’re told to tag along with the team to a locale in the United States sometime late this summer/early autumn, when the NHL reboots. Maybe our Yankee Doodle neighbors will have a handle on the coronavirus by then. Maybe not. Maybe the streets of America will no longer be flooded with clashing rioters and storm-troopers after another rogue cop executes another Black man, seemingly for sport. Maybe they will be. So do you go?

Good work by a clever headline writer at the Drab Slab re the proposed Stanley Cup tournament cooked up by the mad scientists in NHL Commish Gary Bettman’s lab: “The Franken-playoffs.” It’ll certainly be different, if only because the lads will be playing in echo chambers dressed up as hockey rinks.

Whichever outfit wins the Stanley Cup, it’ll be the first time in history that no one from the winning outfit will shout, “We couldn’t have done this without our fans!”

My favorite tweet last week was delivered by Shannon Szabados, our longtime women’s national team goaltender: “Happy the NHL will be back, but without fans how do we expect players to know when to shoot the puck? How will opposing goalies know they suck?” That’s my kind of humor.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos (Peter Norman on left).

I’ve never subscribed to the “stick to sports” mantra as it relates to jock journos, because societal issues and sports have been intersecting since David took out his slingshot and coldcocked Goliath. Think heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson and his white wives. Think Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and whites-only baseball. Think Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War. Think Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Olympics. Think Colin Kaepernick on one knee. Think Billie Jean King being outed as a lesbian. Think racist team names, like Washington’s Redskins, and team logos, like Cleveland’s clownish Chief Wahoo. Think Johnny Manziel, Ray Rice, Bobby Hull and numerous other male athletes and domestic violence. So good on Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for straying beyond the accepted boundaries of sports scribbling to serve up a column on the current ugliness and nastiness south of the great Canada-U.S. divide. Paul had a natter with former Winnipeg Blue Bombers DB Jovon Johnson, many times a victim of racist acts and language, and he wonders why white people aren’t raising their voices against systemic racism while Minneapolis-St. Paul and other U.S. burgs burn and protesters are trampled by the hooves of cops’ horses. It’s a boffo read.

Why don’t more sports scribes/sections tackle societal issues like racism, gender equality, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence? Because most of them can’t relate to the marginalized among us. Consider these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.):
90 per cent of sports editors were male;
85 per cent of sports editors were white;
88.5 per cent of reporters were male;
83.4 per cent of columnists were male;
82.1 per cent of reporters were white;
80.3 per cent of columnists were white;
44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.

Birmingham, circa 1960s.

Curious tweet re U.S. rioting from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “No I wasn’t endorsing police firing rubber bullets at members of the media. I just can’t comprehend the racism that’s behind all of this. It got Trump elected. And isn’t this where I came in back in the 60s? Forget the cops. I’d bring in the fire department and turn on the hoses.” I’m not sure what to make of that, but, as a product of the 1950s and ’60s, I know I don’t like the optics.

There’s talk about a third fist fight between former heavyweight boxing champs Iron Mike Tyson and Evander (The Real Meal) Holyfield. Or, as Tyson likes to call it, “Leftovers.”

Hey, look who’s blah-blah-blahing about the CFL—Johnny Manziel. That’s right, TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback went on something called Golf’s Subpar podcast the other day, and he informed listeners that he “loved Canada,” even if the business side of Rouge Football is “a little bit ticky-tacky.” Well, if anyone knows “tacky,” it’s Johnny Rotten. The former Montreal Larks/Hamilton Tabbies QB also confirmed his fondness for females and nightclubs, and added, “I got a good heart, I’m a good dude. I treat people the right way for the most part. Deep down, I truly am a good person.” Ya, except for beating up and threatening to kill women, he’s a swell guy.

Speaking of complete dinks, if any of you girls out there are looking to get that special man in your life something unique, how about Elvis Presley’s old jockstrap? Straight goods. The very garment that once holstered the King’s jewels in the 1970s is up for auction by Paul Fraser Collectibles, and this is no ordinary jockstrap. It’s rhinestone-studded, “sexually potent” and, according to auction rep Daniel Wade, “the new owner won’t be able to resist wearing it out on a Saturday night—the Elvis magic will work wonders.” Oh, for sure, that’s what every woman is hoping to discover about her man on a first date—his underwear is half a century old.

Seriously, why was Elvis the Pelvis even wearing a jockstrap? Was there a chance his boys were going to pop out of his jumpsuit?

Oh, one final thing about Elvis’ jockstrap: It’s a size Medium, so maybe the King wasn’t really the king after all, if you catch my meaning. (Thank you, thank you very much.)

Commish Randy

CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie continues to panhandle on Parliament Hill, asking the feds for welfare payments from $30 million to $150 million. PM Trudeau the Younger can just send the cheque to Rouge Football headquarters at the new mailing address: c/o 2020 Skid Road.

The adult website Stripchat, which boasts of 60 million monthly visitors for its live webcam sex shows, is offering $15 million for naming rights to the Superdome in New Orleans, home of the National Football League Saints. Hearing that, CFL Commish Randy immediately contacted the porn masters at Stripchat and said, “Give us $15 million and we’ll put your live sex shows on our Jumbotrons during TV timeouts. Hell, for an extra $15 million, we’ll have our guys play naked, except the O-lineman, of course. Nobody wants to go there.” We can just call it Commish Randy’s naked bootleg.

John Fogerty and the kids.

Coolest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time was John Fogerty celebrating his 75th birthday by singing Centrefield in centrefield at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He was joined by his kids Shane, Kelsy and Tyler, with Fogerty playing a custom-made Louisville Slugger guitar. Centrefield is only the best baseball song. Ever. And how cool it must be to have a 75-year-old dad that cool.

I’m not big on all the retro stuff that we’ve been force-fed during the pandemic, but Taylor Allen has a good read on Laurie Boschman in the Drab Slab. Bosch was one of the genuinely good guys to ever wear Jets linen.

Also good to see is a new feature in the Winnipeg Sun, Ted’s Talk, which debuted on Saturday. Ted Wyman takes a wordy walkabout through the sports neighborhood, touching on a variety of issues, and I have to say it’s bloody well time. I don’t know how sassy, cheeky or irreverent Teddy Football plans to be with his new toy, but I hope he has fun with it. And takes no prisoners.

In late April, Postmedia slashed 80 jobs and shut down 15 papers. Last week, it was revealed that there’ll be another 40 “permanent” reductions across the chain. Again, I wonder if Postmedia will be printing two papers in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver by the time the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course.

And, finally, a lot of us can use a little good news these days, and watching the SpaceX rocket leave the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center and roar off into the wild, blue yonder on Saturday was quite an emotional moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in my house. God speed to the two astronauts.

Let’s talk about the silence of live sports…walking in Michael Jordan’s old sneakers…the NHL doesn’t know spit…the “journalism big leagues”…a voice of reason in Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

If live sports returns and no one is there to see it, does it really happen?

I mean, this weekend there was UFC bloodletting in Florida. Footy in Germany. The good, ol’ boys were bending fenders in Darlington, S.C. Ponies were at full giddyup at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Men showing skin played Skins golf at Juno Beach, Fla.

All that without a paying customer in sight. Anywhere.

I didn’t watch any of the live stuff live, but I caught the highlights and there was a creepy weirdness to it all, which is not meant as a commentary on Robin Black’s wacko hair and his odd facial gymnastics during TSN’s UFC post-fights package.

It’s just that sports without an audience and live soundtrack doesn’t work for moi. It’s tinny and hollow, like your cable TV guy forgot to connect a wire or two.

Will we become accustomed to the sounds of silence? I suppose. After all, there’s not much choice. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a cork in the regularly scheduled hoorawing of the rabble, and that won’t change if and when Major League Baseball and other big-league sports are given the okie dokie to proceed next month, or later in the summer.

Besides, it’s not like we’ve never seen sports played in empty ball parks before. But enough about the Toronto Argonauts.

Donald Trump

Sounds like Donald Trump is also a fan of fans. The American president gave his Twitter thumbs a five-minute rest on Sunday, and had a telephone natter with Mike Tirico during NBC’s coverage of Skins golf featuring Dustin Johnson/Rory McIlroy v. Rickie Fowler/Matthew Wolff. Among other topics, he discussed the absence of a gallery. “We want to be back to normal where you have the big crowds and they are practically standing on top of each other and enjoying themselves. The country is ready to start moving forward,” he said. That’s right, Make America Sick Again.

Interesting to see the boys wearing short pants during the Skins match. Just don’t expect it to become commonplace on the PGA Tour. When it comes to breaking from tradition, men’s golf moves about as fast as a sloth in quicksand.

Hey, a pair of Michael Jordan’s old sneakers from 1985 sold at auction for $560,000. Apparently, the running shoes actually cost just $1. The remaining $559,999 went toward a lifetime supply of Odor Eaters.

Once all the beans had been counted, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came out $588,860 on the right side of the ledger on their 2019 operations. You know what $588,860 will buy you these days? That’s right, a pair of Michael Jordan’s smelly, old sneakers.

There’s continued talk that the National Hockey League will reboot its 2019-20 season, perhaps in July with very strict COVID-19 guidelines for player conduct. For example, they’ll no longer be allowed to spit. Ya, that’ll happen when dogs stop peeing on trees.

David Braley

In the department of Telling It Like It Is, I present David Braley: “I really believe if we don’t play this year, there’s a very good chance that we won’t survive,” says the owner of the B.C. Lions. And he meant the entire Canadian Football League, not just his Leos. I don’t think Braley is being alarmist, nor do I believe it’s his sly way of inserting himself into the argument for federal funding to save Rouge Football. But, as I wrote more than two weeks ago, if COVID-19 kills our three-downs game something will rise from the ashes, a structure that will look very much like it did in the 1950s and ’60s.

My, oh my, the things we discover when poring over a newspaper.

For example, not until I read the Drab Slab the other day was I aware that I had spent the largest portion of my 30 years in the newspaper dodge slumming. How so? Well, I had the bad manners to work for two River City dailies not named the Winnipeg Free Press.

The Freep, you see, is “the journalism big leagues,” meaning the Winnipeg Tribune was not, and the Winnipeg Sun is not.

We know this to be so thanks to Mad Mike McIntyre, who chose the occasion of his 25th anniversary in the rag trade to reach around with both hands and deliver himself a hearty pat on the back. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It’s a noteworthy milestone, especially given that much of his time was spent documenting the gritty misdeeds of scofflaws who like to spill blood on the streets.

If only he had confined his essay to self-admiration.

But no.

After mentioning that he had received his baptism at the Sun, working the cops-and-robbers beat for two-plus years, Mad Mike offered this nugget of pure piffle: “I got my call up to the journalism big leagues in the fall of 1997 when the Free Press welcomed me into the fold.”

So there you have it, folks. Broadsheet equals “journalism big leagues.” Tabloid equals…well, Mad Mike doesn’t tell us if the Sun is Triple AAA, Double AA or a sandlot operation. It just ain’t “the journalism big leagues.”

I’ve long held that inordinate levels of pompous assness is part of the Drab Slab’s DNA, but this particular whiff of arrogance cranks it up a notch. It’s ignorant and insulting to the very people at the Sun who were good enough to give a wet-eared Red River CreCom grad his kick start in the rag trade.

I swear, the wonder of the Freep is not that they put out a quality product, it’s how they manage to squeeze all those fat egos into one newsroom.

Nobody’s keeping score at home but, for the record, since Mad Mike defected from the Sun to join the “journalism big leagues” at the Drab Slab, 10 sports scribes from the tabloid have been inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Roll of Honour and only seven from the Freep. He might want to have a rethink on that “big leagues” bunk.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that there have been more women’s hockey games on TV during the two months of the COVID-19 sports shutdown than I saw live during the past decade, Olympic Games excluded. Ponytail Puck never has been a priority for either TSN or Sportsnet, and I say they should be ashamed of themselves for using “dead” games as a convenient filler after ignoring the women when they were “live.”

On the matter of Ponytail Puck, it’s interesting to note that the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has been moving some furniture around, reducing its training bases from eight to five. The Dream Gappers will set up shop in the Republic of Tranna, Calgary, Montreal, Minnesota and New Hampshire, with groups of 25 players in each. Do the math: That’s 125 total. Last year it was 150 (approximately). So it’s addition by subtraction, I guess, although the 25 women who’ll be left out in the cold might not see it that way. Odd bit of business, that.

How ironic that we didn’t hear from PWHPA main squawk box Liz Knox during the restructuring. I mean, when the National Women’s Hockey League announced its expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, Knox was quick to tsk-tsk them for conducting business during the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she pooh-poohed. But apparently it’s okay for the Dream Gappers.

Digit Murphy

If it’s a voice of reason you’d like to hear from in the mess that is Ponytail Puck, try Digit Murphy, president of the Tranna NWHL franchise. In a natter with Roger Lajoie, George Rusic and Rob Wong on Sportsnet 590, she had this to say:

“I really don’t play for either side. I play for the growth of the game mindset. So I’ve reached out to players on the Dream Gap Tour, I’ve talked to them, told them what I’m doing and, again, this isn’t an either/or, it’s an and. The players can do the Dream Gap Tour and we can do an NWHL. It doesn’t have to be exclusive. To think that hockey’s an exclusive game on one side or the other just isn’t in the conversation. It’s how do we include everyone that wants to be a women’s sports fan, a women’s hockey fan, because those are the words you really need.

“We’re in a tiny pond, a very, very small pond in women’s sports and we need to expand it and do whatever we can to grow it and not tear anyone down. Let’s build them up, empower them and let’s all work together toward a bigger goal.”

Digit made similar comments in a chin-wag with Emily Kaplan of ESPN, and it’s refreshing.

And, finally, I’m walking home from the market the other day and felt a sudden need to lighten my load. So, I plunked my weary and over-burdened bones on a bench two blocks from home. I hear a loud voice cry out from the nearest side street. “A woman!” an angry man shouts, glaring in my direction. “You’re just a bitch!” How charming. In another time and another place, I might have been wounded. But now? I just assume the guy reads this sports blog.

Let’s talk about the best of the best Winnipeg Jets…CFL indifference in Eastern Canada…bye-bye Leos?…bad boys chewing the ‘fat’ about women…Iron Mike back in the ring…Eddie Munster’s long-lost bro on TSN…and Little Richard has left the building

Plenty to unpack this morning, kids, so let’s get right down to business…

Well, the boys at TSN almost got it right, the operative word being “almost.”

I mean, they pieced together their all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and they’re trying to tell us that The Shoe, Larks-Erik Sjoberg, is not—repeat, is not—one of the top six blueliners to wear the local shinny side’s livery? Instead, they name him the “foundational” player?

Good gawd. That’s like giving Jesus Christ a participation badge for showing up at the Last Supper.

Speaking of Christians…it’s about Dave Christian. Fabulous guy. Part of the Miracle On Ice. Saw him score his first goal, seven seconds into his first shift in his first National Hockey League game. Crowd at the Old Barn On Maroons Road went bonkers. Led the team in scoring one winter. But no. He isn’t an all-timer.

And on what planet known to man is Rink Rat Scheifele superior to Alexei Zhamnov? Only Planet TSN.

Andrew freaking Ladd? Talk about losing the plot. Freddy Olausson? Great kid, scattershot game. Paul Maurice? Are they spoofing us now?

Look, I realize this exercise by TSN was meant to generate chatter at a time when there isn’t a whole lot of sports to chatter about and, on that score, I suppose it’s mission accomplished. And, as mentioned, they struck most of the right notes. But their gaffes were as big as Ondrej Pavelec’s five-hole.

Start with The Shoe.

I don’t know the makeup of the TSN selection panel, but apparently none of them saw Sjoberg play. Here’s how I described him in a recent essay: “Squat like a fire hydrant, The Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.”

And this from Ron Chipperfield of the Edmonton Oilers: “I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the (World Hockey Association) five years.”

Here are some of Sjoberg’s bona fides: Team captain in both the WHA and NHL; three WHA titles; most outstanding defenceman in WHA (1977-78); first team all-star (’77-78); member of WHA Hall of Fame; member of Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame; member of Jets Hall of Fame.

Apparently all that escaped the notice of the boys at TSN, who slotted Olausson into the starting six instead. Hey, Freddy was a treat. Always quick with a smile. But if he was a better defenceman than The Shoe, then a bowl of Cheerios is a cure for COVID-19. We won’t see the day when Freddy’s name and number are raised to the rafters at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie beside The Shoe’s banner.

Now let’s move on to Scheifele v. Zhamnov. No comparison.

Zhamnov was slick, inventive, clever and did things with the puck that Rink Rat can only pull off with a PlayStation or Xbox joystick in his hand. The Russian finished third in NHL scoring one season, behind Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros, and he averaged 1.14 points per game with the Jets. Scheifele’s PPG is .855. Zhamnov also knew his way around the defensive end of the freeze, something that is too often a concept foreign to Scheifele.

Meanwhile, it’s about Paul Maurice.

That’s coach Bobby Kromm on the right, with Ben Hatskin, Bob Graham and The Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

Coach Potty Mouth is TSN’s choice as bench puppeteer, even though he’s accomplished squat. They trumpet his longevity and a .579 win/loss percentage, but ignore the reality that his Jets had their noses pressed to the window looking in at the Stanley Cup tournament three times in his first six crusades. When they did qualify for the spring runoff, his win/loss percentage is .407. That’s beyond lame.

Bobby Kromm should be the coach. Regular season record: .621; playoff record, .697; WHA titles, 1.

Finally, part of the TSN all-time team criteria was a checking unit. So, you remove Ladd and Christian from their lineup and insert Bill Lesuk, and Willy Lindstrom, who flank Thomas Steen.

Case closed.

Kent Nilsson

The most talented of all Jets was Kent Nilsson, but the Swedish maestro wasn’t eligible due to a lack of games played. Kenta wore Jets linen for just two seasons before being taken hostage by the Atlanta Flames, and they were memorable. Both ended in WHA championships, he produced 107 points in each, and he was a two-time award winner (top rookie, most gentlemanly player).

Some might be surprised that I included Lesuk on my all-time team. Don’t be. When it came to dogging opposing forwards, no Jet did it better than the Tractor. He was like an extra layer of skin on foes, and also one of the nicest men in hockey.

Quick sidebar on Lesuk: After a particularly harsh critique in which I suggested the Jets had been wearing Pampers in a lopsided loss, the Tractor pulled me aside for a quiet chat the following day. “I don’t mind you being critical when we deserve it, but is it really necessary to write that we’re wearing diapers? I’m sure you can do better than that.” No screaming, no ranting, no confrontation. Just a reasoned comment. I’d never received such a polite dressing down. And, of course, he was correct.

By the way, I’m not alone in my rejection of TSN’s all-time Jets team. Old friend and longtime broadcaster Joe Pascucci and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun took to Twitter to provide their choices. I’ll let you decide if they’re flawed. (Hint: They are.)

Randy Ambrosie

Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie made his pitch for great gobs of cash ($30 million-$150 million) to the feds the other day, and he leaned heavily on syrupy sentiment, telling members of Parliament that private owners in our three-downs game aren’t in it for fame and certainly not fortune. “Sports philanthropists,” is how he described people like David Braley in B.C. and Bob Young in the Hammer, while Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment purchased the Tranna Argos out of “love,” don’t you know. There was also the predictable mention of “Canadian culture” and how much the CFL means to the masses. Except, according to a recent Angus Reid poll, the rabble doesn’t appear to be all-in on our quirky game. Asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled, here are the numbers:
Manitoba:            63 per cent
Saskatchewan:     61 per cent
Alberta:               45 per cent
B.C.:                    34 per cent
Quebec:               31 per cent
Ontario:               28 per cent
Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
As you can see, a huge majority of folks in Eastern Canada really don’t give a damn about the CFL and, in fact, they’ll be more disappointed if the National Football League season is trashed.

No COVID-19 vaccine, no herd immunity, no large gatherings in B.C. Which means no pro football. “The B.C. Lions need to have bums in the seats. I don’t see that happening,” Premier John Horgan said last week. So it won’t happen. The Leos’ bankroll, David Braley, isn’t going to pay his players to perform in front of empty pews at B.C. Place Stadium without cash flowing his way. Which begs the question: Will the Lions ever return, given the indifference that already exists on the Left Flank?

Just a thought: If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers don’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic, how long will it take for David Asper to hop on a white steed and rescue the franchise?

Brendan Leipsic

Now that Brendan Leipsic has been used as a pinata the past three days (justified) and the Washington Capitals have washed their hands of the fringe forward (also justified) for his dreadful, callous comments about women, let me just say this about that: I hope he enjoys hockey in Russia. The KHL, of course, is a haven for those with a sordid past. For evidence, see: Voynov, Slava. See: Peters, Bill. Hey, perhaps the Peters-coached Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg can provide a soft landing for Leipsic. Mind you, can there be anything “soft” about a place called Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast. Sounds like 200 square miles of hard labor.

Not all young, testosterone-fueled hockey players think of women as nothing more than meat on the hoof, but no one should be surprised that Leipsic and buddies harbor a mindset that belongs in another century. Their vulgar, body-shaming natter simply underscores the reality that misogyny and sexism in male sports remains as commonplace as chin whiskers at playoff time. And don’t run off with the notion that it’s limited to the locker room. It exists in the pews, or have you forgotten about the “Sedin sisters” and “Cindy” Crosby?

Brett Hull, right.

Former player Brett Hull has weighed in on Leipsic and pals, offering these thoughts: “We did the same things, we said the same things, but there was no way to get caught. We can go out after games, we can go to strip clubs, we can go to bars, and we could do whatever we wanted, and it would all be hearsay. The fun is gone. The game is not fun anymore to me.” Yes, hockey was so much more fun when the lads could spend their down time on the QT, hooting and hollering at a woman while she peeled off her clothing. Sigh.

Although the intimate details re locale and principals are sketchy, I recall standing on the fringe of a circle of Winnipeg Jets one winter, all of us loitering in an airport boarding area while awaiting a connecting flight. The topic du jour was trash talk. Although not a lengthy natter, it produced one nugget of insight: Players can rag on each other about anything—“Except wives, girlfriends and kids; they’re off limits.” I’m thinking it was Peter Sullivan who said it, but, as stated, my memory is iffy. It might have been Lyle Moffat or Kim Clackson. Doesn’t matter. Leipsic called Vancouver Canuck forward Tanner Pearson’s bride Meaghan “fat,” and that’s breaking an unwritten code.

My favorite tweet re L’Affaire Leipsic was delivered by Melissa Martin of the Drab Slab: “To be honest, I’m super burned out on writing about shitty men in sports. So I wrote about some awesome women instead.” Melissa’s column is top drawer, and hers is one of the few mainstream media female voices heard in the discussion. Which is most unfortunate. Only women can speak to the very heart of this issue, given that they’ve spent a lifetime listening to such bile, so we need more of them in jock journalism. Not just on the print side, understand. On air, too. As it is, it was left for Jeff O’Dog, Jamie McLennan, Ray Ferraro and Bryan Hayes to do the blah, blah, blah thing on TSN Overdrive. And what did they discuss? Leipsic not being welcomed back into the Capitals locker room and privacy issues/social media. There was very little mention of misogyny. Hayes feels “horrible for Tanner Pearson and his wife,” but he and the others expressed scant concern for the other woman trashed by Leipsic and fellow cads.

Worst take had to be a Twitter exchange between Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and a reader/follower. The latter called the former “a fat looking nerd” and the former responded by calling the latter “a garbage human being.” Good grief. Are we back in Grade 5, boys?

There’s talk of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson returning to the ring at age 53 to fight Kiwi boxer-turned-rugby star Sonny Bill Williams. But apparently Williams began to have second thoughts when Tyson looked at him and said, “My, what big ears you have.”

Is it just me, or does anyone else look at TSN’s UFC guy Robin Black and see an aging Eddie Munster? I swear, Eddie and Robin were separated at birth, and Herman and Lily Munster probably don’t even know about it.

And, finally, how big a star was Little Richard, who died on Saturday? Well, the Beatles and Rolling Stones once were his opening acts. Yup, that big. My favorite Little Richard tune is Long Tall Sally, and rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t get much better than the Beatles’ version. Paul McCartney really gets after it on vocals and Ringo gives his Ludwig drum kit a fearsome thrashing. The lads recorded Long Tall Sally in one take, and it’s the last song they ever performed on tour.

Let’s talk about panhandling on Parliament Hill…a new CFL might look like the (really) old CFL…the PWHPA pity party…a tip of the bonnet to Melissa Martin…the week in jock journalism…dead weight and dead horses…and other things on my mind

Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime?

How about 300 million of them? Do I hear 1,500,000,000?

Commish Randy

Apparently Randy Ambrosie doesn’t think that’s too much of an ask, because he’s panhandling on Parliament Hill these days, hoping that Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger is a fan of three-downs football and has a spare $30 million to $150 million stashed in his couch at Rideau Cottage.

If not…well, that’s the part of the big beg that Ambrosie has yet to spell out, but it suggests the end could be nigh for the Canadian Football League. Final score: COVID-19, CFL-0.

And, no, now that you’ve asked, I don’t think that’s being alarmist or extremist.

Look, I realize the CFL already has had more sticks of Acme dynamite blow up in its face than Wile E. Coyote, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a different kind of beast. The sports world will be harder to put together than a broken egg, and our quirky game requires a special kind of fix.

Rouge Football, you see, isn’t doable without fannies in the pews, even if the Argonauts and the dismissive citizenry in the Republic of Tranna do their best to prove otherwise. It can’t work. Not in The ROT, not in Good Ol’ Hometown, not on the Left Flank, where the locals won’t even come in from the rain to watch the Lions.

Thus, if turnstiles aren’t turning, it’s folly to discuss a Coles Notes version of a 2020 CFL crusade commencing on the Labor Day weekend.

PM Trudeau the Younger

Which means, yes, short of Trudeau the Younger morphing into PM Pigskin and tossing $30M into Commish Randy’s begging cap immediately (and another $120M if this season is a no-go), the CFL as we know it is likely a done deal.

“What would happen if that $30 million assistance was denied?” TSN’s Dave Naylor asked Randy the Panhandler the other day.

“I’m not indulging in the question what happens if it doesn’t work because I believe we’re going to find a way to make it work,” came the answer.

No surprise that Commish Randy would decline to engage in doomsday talk. He’s one of those dudes who’ll tell you his watch can’t possibly be broken because it shows the correct time twice a day. He’s never seen a half-empty stadium. Not even BMO Field in The ROT. Always half full. He knows what an empty piggy bank looks like, though, and he recognizes that saving the CFL will take more than a GoFundMe page.

And that’s a very grim reckoning for many of my vintage.

I remember when the CFL was the big dog in town, because we didn’t have National Hockey League outfits to call our own out in the colonies. But we had Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Bud Grant and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Saskatchewan had the Little General, George, Gluey Huey and the Roughriders. Calgary had Eagle Day, Earl the Earthquake, Ham Hands and the Stampeders. Edmonton had Spaghetti Legs, the China Clipper, Johnny Bright and the Eskimos. B.C. had Peanut Butter Joe, Willie the Wisp, Nub and the Lions.

So a Canada without Rouge Football? Sorry, that’s not my Canada.

It would be like a pub without pints. A church without prayer. The McKenzie Brothers without brown pops, toques, earmuffs and a “beauty day, eh.”

But that’s my take, owing to the fact I was weaned on the game when single-bar face masks were still in vogue, and east was east and west was west and never the twain did meet until the Grey Grail was up for grabs.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Others, however, won’t be swayed by notions of nostalgia and Canadiana culture. They don’t want their tax dollars used to pay Mike Reilly’s and Bo Levi Mitchells’ $700,000 salaries, and certainly not Commish Randy’s reported annual stipend of half a million loonies. That’s an impossible sell when many thousands among the rabble are forced to feed at the public trough due to COVID-19, and going-out-of-business signs are popping up like dandelions.

I’ve heard the CFL described as a mom-and-pop operation and, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is. It’s dwarfed by the goliath that is the National Football League, and robust broadcasting contracts allow the other main players (National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer) to re-enter the fray sans customers. At least temporarily.

Not so Rouge Football.

Pundits suggest Commish Randy’s beg is a Hail Mary pass, and I’m inclined to agree. But, hey, Trudeau the Younger is a good Catholic boy, so he probably owns a rosary and might have an “in” when it comes to answered prayers.

If not, I fear there’s a very real possibility the CFL will run out of downs.

Bo Levi Mitchell

I don’t want to pay Bo Levi Mitchell’s wage anymore than the next person but, for the record, I have no problem with the CFL panhandling on Parliament Hill. I’d do the same thing. That doesn’t make it the right thing, but it doesn’t make it wrong, either.

The hardest part of Commish Randy’s sales pitch? Convincing the feds that people hither and yon actually give a damn about Rouge Football. He can wax poetic about the beauty of the three-downs game, how it’s a significant and historic thread in the country’s fabric, but he can’t sugar coat the head counts in our three largest markets—the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, Vancouver. I’ve seen more people at a neighborhood flea market than the Argos attract to BMO Field. The Lions are a rumor in B.C. Montreal showed a pulse late last season, but it was faint. So never mind the odious notion of bailing out millionaire and billionaire owners, how does Commish Randy sell the feds on a product that most of the rabble is meh about?

No matter how this all shakes down, I’m convinced we’ll see someone ride a horse into a big-city hotel lobby on the final Sunday in November once again. But not this year. A post-pandemic CFL won’t look the same, at least not initially. I see reduced rosters, more Canadians and fewer imports on game-day rosters, wage shrinkage (on and off the field), and two leagues under the CFL banner: The Western Football League and the Eastern Football Union. No more interlocking play. Just West v. West/East v. East until the Grey Cup game. You know, like it was in the 1950s and into the ’60s. And road trips on the bus (except to B.C.) to lower costs. That’s what the tea leaves are telling me, so remember where you read it first. Or not.

Liz Knox

What a surprise—the CFL asks for money from the feds and we hear squawking from other athletes, notably Liz Knox, one of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association mouthpieces. “We’re asking for peanuts compared to a $150-million ask,” she bleated, recalling the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last spring. “When the CWHL was folding, we were talking in the hundreds of thousands to get us in the clear so the league didn’t have to fold. We’re talking two or three CFL salaries. That would (have) made the difference of us literally surviving or not. Women’s sport is often seen as a charity, but that’s not the narrative that we’re hearing about the CFL and their situation right now.” Well, actually, that’s exactly what many among the rabble are calling the CFL these days—a charity case. Liz might want to try a different narrative.

Why is it that members of the PWHPA seem to be caught in a never-ending pity party, constantly griping about the sorry lot in life that they’ve created for themselves and demanding what they “deserve,” yet we never hear similar grumbling from the National Women’s Hockey League? NWHL leaders simply go about their business, adding an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, conducting a player draft, and prepping for the 2020 crusade. At last report, 26 women are already on board for the NWHL’s sixth season, and none of them are bitching about “deserving” a living wage. That’s what they’re building toward—a better tomorrow for Ponytail Puck—and I’d say they’re going about it the right way.

Melissa Martin

In the winter of 2015, I was having a discussion with friend/former colleague Judy Owen about sports scribes at Winnipeg’s two dailies, and I directed her attention to a young writer still trying to find her way in the rag trade. “I really like Melissa Martin’s stuff,” I told Jude. “She doesn’t cover things the same old, same old way. She has a different style, and I like different. She’s the best pure writer they have at the Freep.” Jude didn’t disagree, but she seemed genuinely surprised, if not mildly amused, that I harbored such high regard for Melissa. Well, fast forward to spring 2020: Melissa won her second National Newspaper Award the other night, as top columnist in the country. Like I was saying five years ago, she’s the best they’ve got at the Drab Slab. Still. Too bad she only makes cameo appearances in the toy department.

Kate Beirness

The week in jock journalism…

Really nice read from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on Ralph Wild, a 101-year-old who’s been root, root, rooting for the Blue Bombers since Buddy Tinsley almost drowned during the Mud Bowl at Varsity Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. If you’re scoring at home, that was in 1950, so Ralph has seen some football…Shrinkage alert: The Winnipeg Sun sports section was reduced to just four pages three days last week. And, get this: They managed to fill those pages mostly with local copy. Imagine that. Running local copy by local scribes instead of all the usual flapdoodle from the Republic of Tranna. What a concept…Mind you, it was back to normal for today’s edition, with a Toronto-centric piece on the sports front and more on the inside…Made a point of watching the Her Mark show on TSN, but I’m afraid it totally missed the mark. The guest list included Christine Sinclair, Tessa Virtue, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kia Nurse, Natalie Spooner and Hayley Wickenheiser, and host Kate Beirness said, “I hope the stories they share will be as uplifting to viewers as they have been to me.” Excuse me? What stories? It was a series of public service announcements. So let’s just call it an opportunity lost for female athletes…Why does TSN, or anyone for that matter, think Will Ferrell is funny? He isn’t. Ferrell pranked the Seattle Seahawks on a Zoom gathering the other day, expressing his “love” for quarterback Russell Wilson and saying “let’s make a baby.” Beirness described the bit as “fantastic.” No. It was totally lame, just like Ferrell’s gig in the TSN curling booth…Sad news out of Calgary: Longtime broadcaster Russ Peake died at age 80. You’d have to look long and hard to find a nicer man than Russ.

If you have a spare 50 minutes in your day (and who doesn’t?), grab a beer or a glass of vino and check out Road to the Grey Cup, a documentary on the Bombers’ journey to their three-downs title last November. It’s the handiwork of Rheanne Marcoux (creative director), Riley Marra (producer, editor, videographer), Jeremy Derochers and Sam Calvert (videographers) and it’s boffo stuff.

Hafthor Bjornsson

There was considerable ballyhoo on Saturday when an extremely large Icelandic lad named Hafthor Bjornsson established a world record for dead-lifting 1,104 pounds. What’s the big deal? The Cleveland Browns have been carrying that much dead weight since the 1960s.

There’s also been much natter about the incomparable Secretariat winning NBC’s virtual running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Big Red out-galloped a field that included 12 other Triple Crown champions, including 1919 winner Sir Barton, who finished last by about 15 lengths. Talk about flogging a dead horse.

The talented Murat Ates of The Athletic has scanned the Winnipeg Jets roster and determined that there are five untouchables: Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. That’s right, he’ll trade away Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor or Puck Finn, but not Neal Pionk, whose only a top-pairing defenceman by default. I admire Murat’s way with words, but I’m not hiring him as GM of my hockey team.

And, finally, if the last month and a half has seemed more like an entire year, and if you can’t tell one day from the next, you’ve got an idea what life is like for a lot of seniors. Isolation can be very numbing, physically and mentally.

Let’s talk about empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie after COVID-19…what’s on my book shelf?…tee times…horrible takes on Ponytail Puck…a bull session with Chris Streveler in the Drab Slab…and other things on my mind

There’s been much natter about National Hockey League millionaires returning this summer to perform in front of empty seats in four select cities, none of which will be named Winnipeg (reportedly).

That’s a deep concern because the NHL is a gate-driven enterprise.

There is, however, a greater fret and threat looming. Try this: How many of those empty seats will remain unoccupied once the faithful have been given the okie-dokie to gather in groups and return to rinks hither and yon?

The Jets have made due with 15,000 and change at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie since 2011 and, once they’ve finished feeding at the public trough, it’s believed there’s black ink on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The profit is likely minimal, but we don’t know for certain because True North Sports+Entertainment has never been eager to open its books, even as it smugly expects the rabble to continue opening their wallets.

Unfortunately, the scourge that is COVID-19 has many thousands of workers also feeding from the public trough, and some of them won’t have a job at the far end of the pandemic.

It’s tough to part with thousands of dollars in support of the players’ millionaire lifestyles when you’re on pogey.

So let’s say the Jets lose 1,000 customers post-COVID-19 and can’t replace them. Is the NHL doable in Good Ol’ Hometown with just 14K in the pews? Well, when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, I seem to recall NHL commish Gary Bettman saying something about sellouts and SRO audiences being the absolute, no-margin-for-error requirement.

If so, 14,000 customers won’t cut it.

Oh, sure, the Jets boast of a robust wait list, so any available tickets would be scooped up faster than toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. But whoa Nellie. That was pre-COVID-19. The game has changed. It costs $100 (non-refundable) per annum to stay on that list, and $50 (non-refundable) to get on that list. Know anyone with a spare C-note or 50-dollar bill lying around these days, just in the hope of spending in excess of $1,000 to watch the millionaires frolic on the local freeze?

This isn’t meant to be a doomsday essay. It’s simply a cautionary note that once there’s a vaccine and the NHL arrives at its “new normal,” crowd concern might not be limited to warm-weather locales like Sunrise, Fla, and Glendale, Ariz. It might hit hard at the frost-bitten heart of the continent as well.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been catching up on my reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, these have been my favorite books:

  • My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score: The Sex Scandal That Sank Tiger Woods, In His Own Words.

  • If It’s Too Late for a Prenup, I’m Totally Screwed: The Tiger Woods Tell-All About Infidelity and Divorce (with special forward by Elin Nordegren).

  • I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew: Mike Tyson Recounts the Night He Made a Snack Out of Evander Holyfield’s Ear.

  • D’oh Canada! The Duping of a Dope: The Rise and Fall of Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics.

  • Deflated: Who Really Let the Air Out of Tom Brady’s Balls (with special forward by Gisele Bundchen)?

  • The Dead Speak Scrolls: Complete Transcripts of Everything Bill Belichick has Ever Said that the Media Understood (Total number of pages-2).

  • Serena Williams

    I’ll Shove This %$#% Ball Down Your *%$#% Throat: Memoirs of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.

  • Grey Cup and the Groupie: E! News Canada Takes A Deep Dive Into the Glen Suitor-Keith Urban Broadcast Booth Bromance (with special forward by Nicole Kidman).

  • You People: The Official Don Cherry Code of Conduct for Wannabe Canadians, where the former star of Coach’s Corner explains Milk & Honey & Poppies & EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT!

  • Still Searching In A White Ford Bronco After All These Years: O.J. Simpson Takes Us to Various Golf Courses In His Hunt for the Real Killers.

Speaking of golf, it looks like some courses across the land will be opening next month (a few in my neck of the woods never closed). I haven’t swung the sticks in more than 12 years, but I’ve been thinking about my ideal foursome were I ever to tee it up again. This is it: Moi, Alison Krauss, Babs Streisand and, of course, Jesus, because I figure that walk-on-water thing might come in handy given my skill level.

Oh drat. The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. has fallen victim to COVID-19, canceled for the first time since World War II. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to watching 10-year-old kids make me feel like a complete doofus again. Or is that spelled d-u-f-u-s? Or d-o-o-f-a-s? Or d-u-f-is? Or d-u-f-f-a-s? Geez, where’s a 10-year-old whiz kid when you really need one?

I note that Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna is now a kitchen, where they’re cooking 10,000 meals a day for front-line health workers, their families and the needy. Just wondering: How will the Tranna media make that feel-good story about Drake?

So, the National Women’s Hockey League has added an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna and, not surprisingly, at least one of the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at the team to be named later. That would be Liz Knox, who attempted to paint NWHL execs as uncaring, tone-deaf oafs for conducting business during the pandemic. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she snarked in a text message. Oh, for sure, Liz. No businesses should look ahead to the day COVID-19 is behind us. The NHL shouldn’t make plans to finish its season or begin the 2020-21 crusade. The National Football League shouldn’t have conducted its draft last week. And, hey, Roger Federer has no business talking about a marriage between the women’s and men’s pro tennis tours. All sports operations should just sit and twiddle their thumbs. What a pathetic take, but totally in line with the PWHPA hate-on for the NWHL, which refuses to get out of the Dream Gappers’ way.

Tim & Sid granted air time on Sportsnet to another Dream Gapper, Natalie Spooner, who informed the boys that the PWHPA will “keep fighting for what we deserve.” Part of what they claim they “deserve” is a living wage, but none of the Dream Gappers has ever explained how anyone can pay for it.

Second worst take on the NWHL franchise in The ROT came from (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.

“It has been officially announced that Toronto has been awarded an expansion team in the National Women’s Hockey League,” he scribbled without allowing his grey matter and fingers to connect. “What hasn’t been announced: the team’s name; the team’s logo; the team’s venue. And some of those things, if not all of them, can make an outsider rather skeptical and troubled about the future of this kind of endeavour. You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play, and no big-name players. When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.”

Really? There’s no credibility without a team name, a team logo or big-name players? Like the NHL’s expansion franchise in Seattle? The one that was announced in December 2018 and, 16 months later, remains without a team name, a team logo or any players. Or like the NHL Las Vegas expansion franchise that was announced in June 2016 without a team name, a team logo or any players? Or like the Jets, who arrived in Winnipeg sans a team name or a team logo in 2011?

Or does that lack of “credibility” only apply to female shinny outfits with no name, no logo and no big-name players at startup?

Simmons is on record as saying Ponytail Puck is a “charade,” so he’d be wise to concentrate on Golden Boy Auston Matthews’ mustache, Phil Kessel’s hot dog stand and Drake’s clown act, and leave the women’s game to news snoops who actually care and know something about it.

This week in jock journalism…

Jason Bell of the Drab Slab wins the prize for best off-beat yarn, with his piece on a Charolais bull named after Chris Streveler, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy. Streveler the bull is 1,499 pounds of pure Western Manitoba beef on the hoof—about the same as the entire Bombers O-line—and the brute recently sold for a whopping $45,000 at the Nykoliation family auction. The way Jason tells the story, 50 bulls were sold that day for $335,000, or about the value of a Tier-II starting QB in the Canadian Football League…I monitored bylines in the Winnipeg Sun from last Sunday through Saturday, and here’s the scorecard: Postmedia bylines 32; Toronto bylines 21; Winnipeg bylines 15; lady rassler bylines (Natalya Neidhart) 1. I swear, if I ever win Lotto Max, I’ll offer Postmedia the $1 Cdn. that the tabloid is worth today and convert it back to a local newspaper with local stories and enough scribes to actually cover the city…The NFL’s remote draft received favorable reviews from Bombers play-by-play guy Knuckles Irving and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. Here’s Knuckles on Twitter: “Watching the NFL draft and once again it’s completely apparent that no sports entity in the world can deliver elaborately choreographed, brilliantly produced, dragged out, mind-numbing TV hype like the NFL. Man are they good at it. Gotta be impressed.” And here’s Mad Mike: “You’ve got to hand it to the National Football League. Real life handed the league a lemon—in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic—but they showed why they’re the world’s most popular and successful sports operation by turning it into glorious, refreshing lemonade.” I never watched one second of the production, so I’ll just have to take their word for it…Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star misses sports and feels guilty about it. I don’t miss sports and feel guilty about it. Hmmm. I never thought of COVID-19 as a guilt trip, but apparently that’s what it is.

Jesse Stone and Thelma, one of his many female admirers.

And, finally, I went on a Jesse Stone movie binge last week. Watched all nine of the made-for-TV flicks. Jesse, played by Tom Selleck, is a scotch-swilling, non-smiling wreck of a cop so hung up on his ex-wife that he talks to her long distance every night. Between benders, sessions with his ex-wife’s shrink, and trying to figure out how to work a cellphone, Jesse always catches the bad guys in Paradise, Mass. He probably drinks too much caffeine, but Jesse’s coffee breath isn’t a turnoff to the ladies in Paradise. Apparently the woman who can resist his dimples has yet to be born. Jesse always gets the girl. And I do mean always. Tall, short, black, white, young, old…every woman falls prey to Jesse’s dimples and must dine or do lunch with him. Even a nun, Sister Mary John! It’s quite silly stuff, really. So why do I like it so much?

Let’s talk about the Legend of Big Buff and a few other things on my mind

Yes, Dustin Byfuglien was a trip.

Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.

Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.

They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.

“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”

“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”

The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.

And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.

Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.

I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.

Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.

More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.

Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.

If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.

Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.

I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.

And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.

He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.

I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.

Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.

Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.

Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:

Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”

April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”

So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.

Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.

Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.

This week in jock journalism…

I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.

And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.

Let’s talk about no sports for writers to write about…dog sled racing and a vasectomy in the Drab Slab…Cheech and Chintzy won’t show arena workers the money…strange scribblings from The ROT…trashing the Thrashers…the Church of Maggie…and Rachel Homan fires Lisa Weagle

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and great Caesar’s ghost, does anything good ever happen on the Ides of March?

My most-distant recollection of sports dates back to the mid-1950s, either ’55 or ’56, when I sat in the nose-bleed pews of Winnipeg Arena, which was rather spiffy in its newness.

Below on the freeze whirled Billy Mosienko and Eric Nesterenko and Spider Mazur and others adorned in the gold-and-black livery of the Winnipeg Warriors, a freshly minted outfit in a nine-team Western Hockey League that stretched from Good Ol’ Hometown to Victoria and dipped south into Seattle.

I would have been five or six years old at the time, my eyes as wide as the centre-ice faceoff circle, and although I don’t recall the Warriors’ foe—nor the final score or whether I had a hot dog, a box of popcorn or both to go with my Coke—I can report that none of us in attendance gave consideration to “social distancing.” We were scrunched into the barn, somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 of us cheek-to-jowl, each delighted to be eye witnesses to a real, live professional hockey match.

That night represents Ground Zero for me in a lifetime of observing the kid’s games that grown men play for what once was a working-man’s wage but now makes them instant millionaires.

I’m now four months into my 70th spin around the sun and I’ve not known a world without sports since my Winnipeg Arena baptism in ’55 or ’56, even if I have sometimes wondered what a world without sports would be like.

Winnipeg Arena circa 1955.

I played sports. I watched sports. I harbored a voracious appetite for sports reading. Had I spent as much time with my nose stuck in school text books as I did jock journals and the sports section of the daily newspapers, I might have achieved higher loft than a C student. And bringing my report card home might not have been done with such paralyzing dread.

That enchantment with all things jock led to a career in sports journalism, not by design so much as circumstance and a favorable nod from Dame Fortune.

But I divorced myself from sports on a professional level 20-plus years ago, three decades after walking into the fifth-floor toy department at the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time. I’d like to say it was a full, never-look-back split, but that would be a mistruth. There have been numerous freelance gigs. There was a brief and self-aborted return to the rag trade. There have been contributions to various websites. And, of course, every time I’m struck with the notion to shut down this River City Renegade blog, something or someone (e.g. my doctor) reels me back in.

“You have to keep your mind active,” has been his repeated reminder, always accompanied by a caution that a rousing game of bingo does nothing to activate my grey matter.

Thus, I have discovered there is no world without sports.

Until now.

Sports is over. It’s been dark since last Thursday.

They won’t flip the switch back on until intelligent women and men in lab coats and with microscopes and test tubes discover a vaccine to corral the coronavirus, then give health authorities the okie-dokie for athletes and the rabble to return to the playground.

So while the squints stare at germs under glass and sports remains in limbo, will it change my life? A smidgen.

I’ll still make my twice-a-week pilgrimage to my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and the pints Jack the Bartender pours will still be wet and cold. I just won’t be able to sneak a peek at the flatscreen in the corner to see how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Jets or Manitoba’s curlers are getting on, and I’m okay with that.

Frankly, the suspension/pause/cancellation of sports might be my cue to exit. Finally. I mean, I’ve had my innings. Like, more than 50 years worth of innings scribbling about the jocks in Good Ol’ Hometown.

It’s been a trip. A bloody good trip.

Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division. They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was “the right thing to do; life is bigger than sports”—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints have their say, and that will be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side.

You think I’m kidding about the ink-stained wretches running on fumes? Consider this: The sports front in the Drab Slab this very day is a full-page pic of a Chinese badminton player and, inside, you can read all about vasectomies and dog sled racing. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was tweeting about women’s Olympic wrestling on Saturday. He cares as much about women’s grappling, and ponytail sports in general, as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros care about getting caught stealing signs. It’s anything to justify one’s existence, I suppose.

Come to think of it, why were women wrestling in Ottawa when every other sports activity known to man has gone dark (except the UFC, where Dana White insists on showcasing grown women and men beating each other to a bloody pulp)? What, wrestlers don’t touch each other’s face with dirty hands while rolling around on a dirty floor? Odd bit of business, that.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “No pay for you!”

It’s not my business to tell Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or David Thomson how to spend their millions and billions of dollars, but I wonder if the Jets co-bankrolls know how chintzy they look by leaving their 1,050 event workers at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie high, dry and out of pocket now that the National Hockey League has hit the pause button. “They work when we work,” the Puck Pontiff informed news snoops last week, his tone as cold and callous as a jury foreman reading a guilty verdict at a murder trial. So the minions don’t get paid, but the millionaire players continue to fatten their wallets, and that’s something Cheech and Chintzy might want to reconsider. It’s a dreadful optic. Just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

This just in: Cheech and Chintzy now say they’ll pay their casual and part-time workers for postponed events until the end of the month. As I was saying, just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But True North Sports+Entertainment took a massive PR hit nonetheless.

Kudos to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for calling out Chipman on the no-pay for arena part-timers issue. It had to be written. Scott Billeck of the tabloid, meanwhile, shamed the Jets co-bankrolls on social media.  Unless I missed it, opinionists at the Drab Slab have been mum on the matter, but I suppose they were too busy digging up those compelling vasectomy and dog sled stories.

Cathal Kelly

Some seriously strange scribbling out of the Republic of Tranna last week, starting with Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. In reference to COVID-19 shutting down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, he offered this:

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

We did? My friends and I must have missed that memo.

Kelly then added, “Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.”

Oh, good gawd. Only someone from The ROT would believe that those of us who live in the colonies are clinging to the memory of a distant basketball game to get us through the coronavirus crisis. I guess we can all stop stocking up on toilet paper now.

Similarly silly was Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star calling Rudy Gobert “a hero.” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a hero is a war veteran, a firefighter, a cop, a first-responder, a doctor, a nurse, not a basketball player who thought the coronavirus was a big joke and likely infected people because he acted like a complete doofus.

Then there was Steve Simmons, whose weak attempt at humor re pro teams performing in front of empty facilities fell flat. “Anyone who attended Atlanta Thrashers games back in the day knows what it’s like to have a pro sporting event without fans,” he tweeted. That’s rich. A guy from The ROT trashing another burg because of poor attendance. The Tranna Argonauts, with their sub-10,000 head counts at BMO Field, are an embarrassment to the Canadian Football League, and the Blue Jays have led Major League Baseball in lost customers two years in a row. Fact is, the Argos attracted an average of 12,493 last season, and we all know the actual head count was considerably lower than that. In their final whirl in Atlanta, the Thrashers attracted an average of 13,469, and that included audiences of 16,000-plus five times down the stretch. But, hey, let’s ignore the facts and take cheap shots Atlanta. What a d’oh boy.

Pastor Maggie

Hey, turns out there’s an easy fix for the deadly coronavirus—gather all 7.5 billion of us together and squeeze us into the Church of Maggie, otherwise known as the Victory Life Church, a temple in Perth, Australia, created by tennis legend and raging homophobe Margaret Court. Seems Pastor Maggie sent out a communiqué last week claiming: “We are in agreement that this Convid-19 (sic) will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.” Hmmm. If only Tom Hanks and his bride Rita Wilson knew.

Pastor Maggie’s statement included this ‘oh, by the way’: “For your convenience, hand sanitiser readily available at all of our sites.” Meaning what? The “Blood of Jesus” isn’t enough?

Rachel Homan and Lisa Weagle

So Rachel Homan and her gal pals have fired lead Lisa Weagle from their fab curling team, and apparently Homan, Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney did the dirty deed behind Lisa’s back. Just wondering, will Homan now be crapped on from high heights, or is that treatment still reserved for Jennifer Jones? If you recall, Jones fired Cathy Overton-Clapham from her championship team back in 2010, and it was as if she’d tied a large rock to a little, warm puppy and dropped her in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. It will be interesting to see if there’s similar fallout for Homan, but somehow I doubt it.

And, finally, I’m down to my last pack of toilet paper, so why do I feel guilty about going to the market and buying another dozen rolls?

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?