About Vietnam and Las Vegas…a president in Puerto Rico…Tom Petty and the Traveling Wilburys…rude noise on The Voice…learning about Will & Grace…October baseball…and shining in 2019

Random thoughts before the candle goes out and the sun comes up…

I spent the entirety of my Sunday watching the final six installments of the Lynn Novick/Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War and went to bed emotionally spent and softly weeping.

Such atrocities. Such carnage. Such an unnecessary waste of human life.

I awoke 5 1/2 hours later, at 1:30 a.m. Monday, and clicked on my TV. I began weeping again. Another atrocity. More carnage. More unnecessary waste of human life, this time on our side of the world, in Las Vegas.

You wake up in the morning knowing the world will have changed overnight, but you don’t expect this kind of change. Fifty-eight people taken to the morgue. Approximately 500 whisked away to the ER at five different Vegas hospitals. That’s almost 600 people killed or cut down. By a man who, due to silent voices in his head and a disturbing, horrific sense of right and wrong, took a piece of pure Americana—a country music festival—and buried it in pure evil.

The physical toll is shocking, the worst human slaughter in modern-time United States. The emotional fallout is much greater.

Approximately 22,000 innocent, happy concert-goers are victims. Their friends and loved ones are victims. First responders are victims. Doctors and nurses are victims. Jason Aldean, on stage closing the Route 91 Harvest Festival when bullets from high-powered weapons began to rain down from a 32nd-floor room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and other performers are victims.

So the country to the south has been crippled. Again.

The Olympic Mountains

When I look out the main window of my humble home on a clear day, I can see the United States of America. Literally. The Olympic Mountains are off in the distance, standing tall and firm across the Juan de Fuca Strait in Washington state. It’s a peaceful, picture-postcard setting, totally at odds with the chaos, confusion and killings that occur far too often behind them.

It’s easy for us on the north side of those Olympic Mountains to feel smug and say these types of mass murders are “an American thing,” but do we really want to go there? Americans are our neighbors. Our friends. Even if we find them a tad loud and obnoxious when they visit, they’re North American kin.

Besides, it’s not like we’re immune to the depravity of minds that either snap or plot evil in Canada.

It was only nine months ago, remember, when a young man strolled into a Quebec City mosque and opening fired. By the time he walked out of the Islamic Cultural Centre, six people lay slain and another 19 were wounded.

It’s all so sad.

One of four students dead in Ohio.

The Vietnam War documentary, which aired on PBS, is a superb, enlightening and gripping work from Novick and Burns. It is a harsh reminder of the violence that prevailed during the 1960s and early ’70s—it definitely wasn’t all flower power, groovin’ and great rock ‘n’ roll like some Baby Boomers would have you believe—and I’m sure it opened eyes to the shameful deceit, cunning and flat-out criminal activity of people in the White House. The most heart-tugging and tear-inducing segment for me was the sight of students lying on the ground, dead, at Kent State after the Ohio National Guard had gunned them down. Innocent kids, killed by their own government. I can still hear the haunting refrain “four dead in Ohio” in Neil Young’s classic protest song Ohio. Sigh.

Speaking of government, did U.S. President Donald Trump actually tell people in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to “have a good time” and toss them paper towels? Well, yes, he did. Oh my.

Okay, it’s about Tom Petty. My favorite Tom Petty stuff was the stuff he did with Nelson, Otis, Lefty and Lucky, aka the Traveling Wilburys. Now, with Petty’s passing this week, there are only two of the Wilburys left—Lucky (Bob Dylan) and Otis (Jeff Lynne). George Harrison and Roy Orbison had preceded Petty to the big rock concert in the sky. Petty (Charlie T. Wilbury Jr.), Dylan, Lynne, Harrison and Orbison only recorded one album together —Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1—and it’s brilliant. Those boys could really get after it. There’s a second album (I have the both on vinyl), but Orbison had already left us.

The Traveling Wilburys: Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison.

My favorite Traveling Wilburys tunes…

  1. Handle with Care
  2. End of the Line
  3. Rattled
  4. Not Alone Any More
  5. Poor House

Gave The Voice a try last week, but, sorry, I cannot watch if Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Hudson are sitting in two of the four judges’ chairs. They both seem to be of the misguided notion that the show is about them, not the contestants. The hokey Adam Levine-Blake Shelton bromance wore thin about six years ago, but Cyrus and Hudson make the show unbearable. Click.

I’m told Will & Grace are back on TV. Hmmm. I didn’t know they had left. So, because I missed them during their first go-round on the small screen, I thought I’d give the new season’s first episode a look-see. I must say, that was a funny show. And imagine my surprise. There are gay characters. Who knew? Must check it out again. (Sidebar: Debra Messing has gorgeous hair. Love the color, which also happens to be my color.)

I love October baseball, even if I don’t have a cheering interest. Actually, I found myself root, root, rooting for the New York Yankees in their wild-card skirmish with the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night. I’m not sure what that means. I mean, I’ve always been an ABTY ball fan—anybody but the Yankees. So why was I cheering for them? I think I need to book some time on Dr. Phil’s couch.

If I was still in River City, working in mainstream jock journalism at the Winnipeg Sun, I’d be required to attend a hockey match this very night between the hometown Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs and pretend it’s important. I’m glad I’m no longer in River City working in mainstream journalism.

According to my October horoscope, “2019 will be your time to shine.” Excuse me? 2019? What the hell am I supposed to do until then?

Imagine: Two lonely souls, one from Liverpool, coming together the night John Lennon died

Thirty-five years ago last night, I was in a bar on King Street East in Toronto, talking to a young woman who found disagreement in the sight of me sitting on my own, thus she insisted that she join me at my table.

newest pic
patti dawn swansson

Stephanie’s eyes were damp. She dabbed at them with a tissue in her right hand.

This was rather awkward. I had been quietly reading a book in a corner booth built to seat four, and now I had a weeping woman—someone whom my eyes had not gazed upon until that very moment in history—reaching across a gnarled, dark chocolate wooden table, seeking comfort from a stranger.

“It’s so sad,” she whimpered softly. “It’s just awful that someone would do that to John Lennon.”

“Do what to John Lennon?” I asked.

“Kill him.”

“Kill him…someone killed John Lennon?”

“He was shot tonight outside his home in New York. He’s dead.”

Stephanie was probably about my age on the night of Dec. 8, 1980. We had grown up with The Beatles, who provided much of the soundtrack of our youth with their raw, simplistic rock ‘n’ roll during the early 1960s and their music with much greater complexities and deeper meaning for the remainder of a decade noted for its cultural change and civil rights upheaval.

So, yes, the report of Lennon’s murder had to be filed under sad tidings.

“I hope you don’t mind me sitting,” Stephanie said. “I don’t want to go home just yet. And I don’t want to be sitting on me own.”

“Where are you from?” I asked, noting a strong accent.

“Liverpool.”

I know, what are the odds?

john lennonStephanie and I sat and talked until last call, much of our discussion focusing on Lennon and the other members of the Fab Four—Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—and her life in Liverpool. We then stepped outside into a gentle snowfall, with those large, fluffy flakes that make you want to lie down and make snow angels. And that’s what we did. We made snow angels. Right there on a King Street East sidewalk. Tears had given way to smiles and laughter.

She started to shiver, so we ducked inside a bus shelter and held on to each other for warmth while awaiting a cab.

“You can come home with me if you’d like,” she whispered. “I can make us some coffee and we can talk some more.”

“That would be really, really nice,” I said, “but I think I should go.”

The cab arrived, Stephanie and I shared a tender kiss and a hug, then I tucked her into the back seat and trundled through the soft snow back to the Toronto Sun newsroom, just a block away, to learn that four of the five bullets Mark David Chapman had aimed at Lennon’s back outside his home at the Dakota in New York City found their mark.

I walked home that night, taking more than an hour to arrive at my tiny, basement apartment on Westminster Avenue in the High Park area. Most of that time was spent in quiet contemplation of Lennon and The Beatles, about what they meant to my generation.

Whenever someone mentions Lennon, as is the case today on the 35th anniversary of his death, I think of that night and Stephanie. I never saw or talked to her again, but I’ve often wondered what might have been had I gone home with that pretty Liverpudlian lady.

Imagine.

The gay male pro athlete: 365 days later, still in the same place

The past does not tell us where we have been, it tells us where we are.

So, as we prepare to close the book on the old and begin a new journal full of plots, sub-plots and fresh grist for the gossip mill in Jockland, where are we?

Well, a Toronto Star headline in early December posits the notion that gay athletes are “finally welcome” in sports. But are they really? Depends on the sport, I suppose. I mean, it’s fine to trumpet the fact that 109 athletes in 34 different disciplines came out this year, but, with 2014 prepared to give way to 2015, where we are today is precisely where we were 365 days ago.

To wit:

Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy is the only openly gay competitor in major team sports on this continent.

Some would actually suggest that the “major” in Major League Soccer is a misnomer. That it shouldn’t be catalogued alongside the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball. That it is to professional team sports what Ringo Starr was to The Beatles. You know, part of the band but clearly the runt of the litter with very limited vocal involvement and even less creative input.

In consideration of discussion, however, let’s accept that MLS is a member-in-standing of the North American Fab Five.

Thus, it’s Robbie Rogers flying solo under the rainbow. Same as a year ago.

Oh, sure, we had Jason Collins in the NBA for a brief time at the last-gasp stage of a lengthy, mostly closeted career that is now complete. We had Michael Sam in one NFL training camp and on another NFL outfit’s practice roster, but he now has nothing but free time on his hands and he tends to spend it chatting up Oprah. His phone still isn’t ringing and it still isn’t another NFL or a Canadian Football League team calling.

And Sam’s status is the nub of the matter.

Is Michael Sam an unemployed football player today due to shortcomings in his skill set, or is it because he shares his boudoir and bed with a boy?

There are those who say it’s the former. Sam’s skill set is wanting, which is why he was released by both the St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys and doesn’t have a spot on an NFL roster. Not even a practice roster.

Others insist it’s the latter. Sam is an openly gay man and every NFL outfit is onside with Tony Dungy, not wishing to deal with the “distraction” that would partner him were they to recruit the former Mizzou Tiger and SEC co-defensive player-of-the-year.

Either way, Sam is talking to Oprah instead of sacking quarterbacks, and you can be certain that any closeted gay male athlete in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB wants a definitive answer to the Michael Sam question before stepping forward into a brave, new world. If they’re convinced Sam is out of work because he’s gay, they’re going to crawl so deep into the closet that a crew of coal miners couldn’t find them.

It’s supposed to be safe for them, though. Each of the Fab Five have policies that decry discrimination based on sexual orientation. Numerous surveys indicate that the majority of players are on board with a gay teammate, and Collins’s brief time as an openly gay player with the Brooklyn Nets would seem to support this. Polls tell us the gay athlete has become a non-issue for the majority of people sitting in the pews and, indeed, many fans have grown weary of the topic. The sports media is, in general terms, gay friendly. Team ownership and management now know they can win a championship with an openly gay man on their roster, because myth-busting Rogers and the Galaxy did exactly that in claiming the 2014 MLS title.

Still, we enter 2015 with Robbie Rogers flying solo under the rainbow and, let’s face it, Rogers and MLS lack star power. They are not Lennon and McCartney. They are not George Harrison. They are Ringo Starr.

Perhaps star power is what it takes. The next out athlete has to be elite, someone a team simply cannot do without. He has to be Tom Brady or Kobe Bryant or Sidney Crosby or Mike Trout. Then others shall follow.

Until a gay athlete is convinced coming out is not a career-killing decision, though, he’ll remain in the dark. He knows Glenn Burke was drummed out of baseball in the 1970s because he was gay. He’s watched the Michael Sam saga unfold this year and he knows it didn’t work.

The past, you see, is telling him where he is: Still in the closet because it’s one step forward and two steps back, and we haven’t moved past the past.

Patti Dawn Swansson
Patti Dawn Swansson

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being.

Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and doesn’t know when to quit.

She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and becoming the first person in the LGBT community to be inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

%d bloggers like this: