We all know what it means when one man calls another man a “girl” or a “ho.” He’s weak. Substandard. Inferior. Worthless.
Sometimes, of course, it is said in jest. Just flippant, laugh-it-off word play between buddies slumped on bar stools. Boys will be boys, right? No harm, no foul. Or so they believe. Other times, like when Simoni Lawrence brands Henry Burris a “girl” and a “ho,” the labels are delivered with scorn and contempt. They are insults meant to degrade.
This is not uncommon in the testerosterone-fueled man caves we call locker rooms, where misogyny is a ripe and plentiful fruit. “Girl” is among the main go-to insults for professional athletes. It is a default slag. “Fag” is another. There can be no creature lower than a man acting like a “girl” or a “fag.”
So let us harbor no confusion here. No misunderstanding. This is how many male pro jocks talk, and it’s disturbing.
Yet, it has been all but lost in the clamor that has ensued since Lawrence laid Burris low when the two men and their associates pitched battle on Sunday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. This was the opening salvo in a two-part engagement between the Tiger-Cats and Ottawa RedBlacks, a quarrel that shall determine top billing in the East Division of the Canadian Football League. The stakes were substantial. Ditto emotions.
Early in the skirmish, the temperature was heightened when Burris, the Ottawa quarterback, sprinted to his right in a hurried-yet-calm escape from the pursuit of the Ticats’ marauding defenders. A nanosecond after Burris had flung the football, Lawrence arrived, lauching himself at the QB’s left leg and striking it with considerable force between the hip and a knee wrapped in a protective brace.
Dirty hit, many yelped. Perfectly legal, others countered.
“I’m definitely angry,” Burris belched post-match. “For a guy to tell you he loves you during the coin toss, then try to take out my career…don’t tell me you love me and stab me in the back. He knows I’m wearing a brace on my leg…he chooses to go straight for my knee. Come on now. That’s bush league. There’s no room for that. I have a familty feed.”
Over in the Hamilton man cave, Lawrence was having none of that nonsense, saying, “If Hank is going to act like a girl…” before adding, “40 years old, acting like a ho.”
This from a player in an organization that, just three months ago, trumpeted its partnership with the Ending Violence Association of Canada in a crusade to curb abuse of women. All employees of the CFL and its nine member clubs are to be given mandatory training in anti-violence. The B.C. Lions, it should be pointed out, launched their own program—Be More Than a Bystander—in 2011, while the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week joined the Break the Silence on Violence Against Women alliance in Manitoba.
“It’s a learning process,” said Hannah Rose Pratt, community relations manager for the Blue Bombers. “Not every player will know what abusive language means. They won’t actually know what’s consider abuse…but it’s going to be made clear that this isn’t acceptable.”
What Simoni Lawrence said is unacceptable. It’s abusive. It’s insulting. It’s degrading. Kids hear it. Some will parrot it. Others might not understand it, something that did not escape the notice of Rick Campbell, head coach of the RedBlacks.
“I’m disappointed that a player in our league would call our player a girl or a ho, which is hard to explain to my neighbor’s daughters,” he told TSN 1200 in Ottawa on Monday.
Yet it’s not surprising that Lawrence would say it. That language and mindset is horribly ingrained into the male sports culture and, as much as the CFL is to be applaued for its initiative, it serves notice how much soil is to be tilled in this area.
Lawrence, be advised, has since apologized for his remarks, delivering his mea culpa on Twitter.
“My comments after the game was not acceptable,” he posted. “And for all the kids that had to watch my actions after the game I apologize that is not how you should handle yourself in any situation.”
You hope he’s sincere. You hope kids are listening. You hope other CFL players are, too.
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 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.