SPORTS TALK: I love sports – and Sig did as well

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I’ve often told anyone who will listen that I love my job. I write about sports and get paid to do it. How bad can my life be?

Jack Sigvaldason also loved sports and that’s what we’re talking about here and now.

Like many around the office, I was jarred with the news that our leader had died on Aug. 9. I was at home when I heard the announcement. Plenty of thoughts flooded my head as soon as I found out.

The first – and biggest – one was how much Sig loved the sports section. Sig passionately believed in local and territorial sports and once told me the thing that sets Northern News Services apart from every other media source in the North is that we have a dedicated sports section. That’s not a knock on the other outlets because they have their own way of doing things but Sig was right.

I’m not ashamed to say that we as a company have had a lion’s share of the sports coverage across the North because of NNSL’s sports sections. Inuvik Drum, Kivalliq News, Hay River Hub, Nunavut News – you name it. Every single one of our newspapers has either a sports page or section and that’s all because of Sig. Everything to him was local and he loved it.

Paul MacNeill, publisher and owner of Island Press Ltd. of Montague, PEI. MacNeill presents Jack (Sig) Sigvaldason with the The Eugene Cervi Award in Coventry, England, July 9, 2011,.

I knew he was reading as well because there would be suggestions from my superiors about what to feature in the section. I recall one time we were sitting around the table in the upper boardroom and the conversation eventually turned to me. Sig had mentioned, through an editor, that he would like to see more youth in the sports pages. You see, kids like seeing their picture in the paper and parents love seeing their children in the paper because they’ll get extra copies for grandparents, aunts and uncles.

I couldn’t argue with that. Not because Sig was the publisher but because he was right. I’m reminded of that suggestion every time I take photos at youth sporting events and some of them come up to me to ask if they’re going to be in the paper. I always joke with them when they do but I always remember that line from Sig when they approach me.

Another memory of Sig is this very column of which you’re reading.

Sports Talk only became a permanent fixture of the sports section in 2010 thanks to a chance e-mail which appeared in the inbox one day. Bruce Valpy, then the managing editor and now publisher of NNSL, called me into his office to discuss this e-mail, which featured someone offering to feed us general thoughts and some humour on the world of sports.

Bruce didn’t take the guy up on his offer but he did let me look at it and from his mouth came these words that would change the way this section looks today:
“Do you think you could come up with something similar to this for our audience?”

“Really?” I asked, stunned as anything.

“Sure. Keep it to about 700 words or so and keep it clean,” said Bruce.

He and I both knew that was never going to happen. This is me we’re talking about, I remember saying. My late grandfather always told me my mouth would constantly get me in trouble because I never know when to shut up. Bruce knew that as well.

Sig came for a visit in 2014 and said hello, hi, how are ya, to everyone. I was last in his salutations – intentional or not, I’ll never know – but the conversation eventually turned to Sports Talk. He told me about how he didn’t like the idea of it because, in his words, if it didn’t happen in the North, it didn’t happen at all as far as he was concerned. I was about to stand up and point the finger at Bruce and blame him for it. It was his idea, after all, right? No way was I going to take the fall for this stupid idea that the publisher hates.

He wasn’t finished, though, and the second part of his response floored me – almost:

“However, you seem to have found an audience for it and people seem to like it, as do I. It gives me a chuckle. Keep it going.”

Yes, sir, Mr. Sigvaldason. Was there any doubt this column was a stupid idea? Sig liked it … never in doubt, eh, Bruce?

In all seriousness, Sig’s passing leaves a legacy that very few in the media landscape can say. He built a Northern media empire – still independent, I might add – from his kitchen table starting in 1972 and eventually went on to buy the place which fired him, News of the North, which we now call News/North. I especially like the story of how he took great delight in sticking it to the city of Yellowknife when they turned him down for a start-up grant because they didn’t think he would be successful.

But more than anything, Sig loved sports and so do I.

Until next time, Sig … sleep well and thanks for everything.