You’re never going to have unanimity on the gay issue in the NHL or anywhere else

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Brian Burke is disappointed.

This, of course, is not uncommon. Burke’s smile is often turned upside-down. After all, he once generally managed the Toronto Maple Leafs, a tragic, ghastly hockey outfit that has perfected the art of disappointing its ownership, management, coaches and a fan base whose reach stretches far beyond parochial boundaries.

Not once since the spring of 1967 have les Leafs participated in a Stanley Cup parade, a stretch of annual faceplants that, while not equal in numbers to the Chicago Cubs’ century-plus death march, feels very Cub-ian. Burke can only be held personally responsible for a handful of the Leafs’ springtime melts, but some things tend to cling, and not even fleeing the Republic of Tranna and hiding out in Saudi Alberta can shake off the residue of ruin a man experiences in the Centre of the Shinny Universe.

It isn’t les Leafs who are up Burke’s nose these days, though. It’s a hockey player. A homophobic hockey player.

At least we assume him to be homophobic, because when USA TODAY unsealed the findings of a survey it conducted during a National Hockey League/NHL Players Association media meet-and-greet earlier this month in Toronto, one of 35 skaters turned thumbs down to the notion of welcoming an openly gay teammate into the lair. Guy’s gotta be a gay-hater, right?

“I’m disappointed by the one player,” said Burke, now Grand Poobah of all things Calgary Flames.

Well, sure he’s disappointed. Burke, after all, is among the founding fathers of the You Can Play Project, one of the leading entities in the crusade for inclusiveness in sports, professional and amateur. And already I have heard yelps of “Name him and shame him!” from the rabble. But let there be no witch hunt here. No McCarthyism, whereby we feret out the scoundrel who clings tightly to the notion that gay is wrong, gay is weak, gay is the devil’s own handiwork.

Let’s face it, this is life, which never has been, nor shall it ever be, one-size-fits-all. The crouching tiger of bigotry/racism/misogyny is always at the door.

P.K. Subban, for example, is to be admired universally and unanimously for his commitment to funnel $10 million to charity over the next seven years, yet I harbor no doubt that there are those walking among us who see not the Montreal Canadiens defenceman’s generosity but, rather, only the hue of his skin. To them, he’s just an uppity black man who shouldn’t be making that kind of money.

So finding one rogue hockey player in a group of 35? Not at all alarming.

Seriously, if you were to ask 35 anonymous NHL players if they believe women are nothing more than sex objects to be used for their pleasure, you’re apt to find at least one thick enough to give you an enthusiastic “Hell ya!”

Same thing with Europeans. Still. I mean, xenophobia ran rampant during the 1970s, first when those dreaded Ivans and Igors from Mother Russia tried to steal our game during the ’72 Summit Series, then when a tidal wave of Europeans washed ashore to take jobs from good Canadian boys mid-decade. I would venture to submit that there are still those who would prefer not to sit beside a Russian in the changing room. Some might not be too fond of Swedes. But the xenophobe ranks, I would suggest, have thinned considerably over time.

Ditto the homophobes. I doubt very much that USA TODAY would have received a whopping 97.1 per cent approval rate on its gay question 30-40 years ago. Oh, hell, they probably wouldn’t have gotten it 10 years ago.

So, this is a good-news story, and the fact that at least one player confesses to discomfort with a gay teammate is also positive, in a bass-ackwards way. If, for example, there had been 35-of-35 unanimity, the fallout would have been not only sharp cynicism but flat-out disbelief. Like, tell me Don Cherry is defecting to Moscow and I might buy it. But 100 per cent of NHL players being okay with a gay teammate? Sorry, no sale. That reeks of galloping political correctness.

As it is, we have been given a subtle reminder that educating is yet to be done, and the question now becomes: Is this survey, with its small sample size, enough to convince a gay player to come out?

If nothing else, it is encouraging and I, for one, don’t need to know the identity of the solitary homophobe who took part in the USA TODAY survey. I just assume he plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, because they always disappoint.

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

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2 thoughts on “You’re never going to have unanimity on the gay issue in the NHL or anywhere else

  1. Why the Swede bashing?, a loveable bunch of almost Canadians( but with working Socialism ).

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    • I’m not Swede bashing. The Swedes were among my faves. Loved ’em. Especially Kent Nilsson and Willy Lindstrom. But back in the day, there were a whole lot of North American players who didn’t want the Swedes taking their jobs. It was ugly for guys like Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson when they came over. They got butchered. But they persevered and conquered.

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