Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Knives in Jones' back sully sport

Anonymous cowardice just plain un-Canadian

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RED DEER -- The haters certainly got what they wanted.

The legions of Jennifer Jones detractors in this world -- and they are legion -- got precisely what they had hoped for here Saturday night when the woman they love to hate got punted from the ball, stunned 6-5 by Alberta's Heather Nedohin in the semifinal of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

The vitriol that promptly spewed forth on Internet message boards throughout the curling world -- and, to the debasement of this grand old newspaper, on the Free Press site, too -- reflected more poorly on the commenters than it did on the object of their derision.

But it also served to illustrate what a truly polarizing figure Jones has become since she fired longtime third Cathy Overton-Clapham two years ago.

There are some folks -- a shocking number of folks -- who obviously have still not gotten over Jones's decision to gas Overton-Clapham from what was, at the time, her three-time defending Canadian champion squad.

And that group includes Overton-Clapham, who not coincidentally was on holidays in the Dominican Republic last week, as far away from all the Scotties coverage as she could get.

Too bad for her -- she'd have enjoyed what she saw. There was all kinds of schadenfreude to be had for Jones-haters in watching the woman with whom Jones replaced Overton-Clapham -- Manitoba third Kaitlyn Lawes -- put up a couple of horrendous performances in back-to-back playoff losses for Jones on the weekend, soiling what was otherwise a dominating week for Team Manitoba.

Lawes has been the all-star third at the last two Scotties and, in my books, is the most obvious Next One in Canadian curling. She's a tremendous player and a very humble young woman -- and she showed a bit of both Sunday morning in shooting a blistering 95 per cent in a Manitoba win over Quebec in the bronze-medal game.

But two cold, hard facts remain:

First, when it mattered most for her team, Lawes was awful in successive Manitoba playoff losses to B.C. Friday night and Alberta on Saturday. As for Jones, while Lawes frequently left her with tough shots, the fact is she didn't make many of them -- and even missed a couple of easy ones, too.

And second, after winning three straight Canadian women's curling championships with Overton-Clapham, Jones is now 0-2 without her, with the semi loss to Alberta -- on an extra-end measure -- to now go along with last year's loss to Amber Holland in the final.

So yeah, if you hate what Jones did to Overton-Clapham -- or if you just hate Jones, as plenty of people did even before she fired Overton-Clapham -- then you had all kinds of things over the weekend to fuel your passion.

But really? Whatever you think about what Jones did to Overton-Clapham, she remains an amateur athlete who has made tremendous sacrifices in her life to represent the province of Manitoba like no other female curler before.

She has not become rich off curling. Indeed, as a well-respected corporate lawyer, it'd be safe to say even when Jones wins money, she's losing money every hour she spends away from the office.

She has, to a fault, donated what little personal time she does have to pretty much any charitable cause that has ever asked.

And she has endured foul and mean-spirited intrusions into her personal life that I have seen bring her to tears, as recently as last weekend.

It's a great country, this Canada. And one of the things that makes it so great is the ridiculous things we get upset about sometimes. Where else on earth, after all, would women's curling inflame these kinds of passions?

But when the attacks are this mean and attack an amateur athlete, I'd argue that it stops being funny and starts getting very un-Canadian.

I'd give you a sampling, but that would only serve to legitimize the hate -- all of it gutlessly anonymous -- that's been floating around out there. If you're interested, it's not hard to find.

There will be, no doubt, more of it tagged to the bottom of this very column on the Freep website.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2012 C3

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