I really expected Christion Jones to say, “but I have gay friends.”
That, you realize, is the standard go-to squawk from any jock cited for uttering anti-gay slurs or, in Jones’ case, informing gays that their choice of life or sexual partners is sinfully wrong. As long as the shamers have at least one token homosexual buddy to prop up like a blue-ribbon steer at the county fair, they can’t possibly be homophobic, or so their thinking goes.
If they don’t invoke the “but I have gay friends” defence, they’ll turn to Page 2 in the Walk-Back-Those-Words manual and insist, “That’s not who I am.”
But the rest of us know that’s exactly who they are, otherwise we wouldn’t be having the discussion.
I mean, if you go around kicking dogs and someone calls you out for animal cruelty, claiming to have a pet Border Collie at home won’t convince the people at PETA that you’re actually a swell guy who spends most of his spare time feeding lambs at the petting zoo.
The thing is, Jones didn’t spew the typical dreck after this tweet on Global Pride Day:
“I’ma keep it this real….Man ain’t suppose to be with a man. A women is not suppose to be with another women. THAT’S ME THO! Live life with safety.”
Rather than retreat, he doubled down more often than a bad Black Jack player, responding to criticism with defiance and indignation. “Won’t be changing how I feel anytime soon. STAND ON WHAT I SAID FOREVER,” he tweeted. “Where’s the sign on Twitter that says you can’t give your opinion?” He also seems to believe that being “diverse” means having the right to speak evil of a marginalized segment of society.
Jones spent three hours mentioning God and defending his position on gay relationships and, the following day, recanted with a mea culpa conceding that his words were “deeply hurtful, painful and served zero purpose. I added to the struggle of a community, to live a life free of oppression of any kind. I sincerely apologize. I was wrong.”
Oops. A day late and a dollar short, fella.
The kickback was swift. Jones lost his job as a receiver/kick returner with the Edmonton Eskimos, and it’s unlikely another Canadian Football League team will be anxious to provide a soft landing spot for a player whose public spewings about gay lives sits in conflict with an organization that champions a Diversity Is Strength program.
Thus closes Pride month 2020, with another shrill siren to serve as a reminder that much work remains before major men’s sports in North America openly embraces an openly gay player, either at an elite level or in a subordinate role.
We presume there to be gays in the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, National Football League, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, but they’re so deep in the closet it would take a team of U.S. Navy SEALS to ferret them out of their hiding places. Christion Jones, and those of his ilk, keep them closeted.
An exception would be John Epping, a world-class curler, although only folks on the Canadian Prairies and certain spots in Europe would consider the roarin’ game to be worthy of the ‘major’ label.
Epping has been out and proud competing with and against the planet’s premier players since 2012, and his husband, Tom Shipton, has been known to tag along with the Ontario skip to the Brier, without fanfare or ugly incident. (Further evidence that Pebble People are, as a group, the finest in sports.)
“It started with, ‘I just want to help one person.’ I remember saying that to Tom,” Epping told Kristina Rutherford in a fantastic article for Sportsnet. “If it can make a difference in one person’s life, announcing it to the public and media, it’s worth it. I don’t need to do it for me. I don’t need to tell people I’m gay—I don’t. But I feel somewhat of an obligation to. I’m privileged to be given a talent in my life and to have people that watch and enjoy it, and I feel and obligation to use that platform. And I want to.”
Adds Shipton: “I know a lot of people say, ‘Well, why is this a story in this day and age?’ But I think people also don’t realize that marginalized communities aren’t treated the same as others. There still is a need for these voices and for these people to find courage in.”
We don’t read a lot about gay issues in mainstream sports media, because it isn’t trendy, and 99 per cent of the placeholders are white, heterosexual men, some of them perhaps homophobic. So, it isn’t a topic they give much of a damn about. Oh, sure, news snoops dutifully reported developments in the unfortunate Christion Jones incident, but it’s been mum’s the word from the main opinionists. They don’t see it as their battle.
But, as I have written numerous times, civil rights should be an everybody battle, not just for those of us in the LGBT(etc.) collective. Each of us has gay neighbors, friends, family and co-workers. We need allies. With voices.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…
Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:
What is the Black quota in 2020?
We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.
“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.
So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?
If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.
The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.
All of which has provided pause for ponder.
The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.
Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.
It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.
Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.
Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?
So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?
The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.
As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.
Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.
Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.
I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.
I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.
North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.
Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.
While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.
By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.
Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.
Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.
The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?
It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.
I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.
I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.
True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.
Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.
And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you might want to socially distance yourself from this…
There are times when it’s difficult to know where to begin, but experience has taught me that the beginning is a good place to start.
So, in the beginning…
I initially noticed the hue of skin at age five, perhaps six, when the family had gathered for dinner one night on Melbourne Avenue in Winnipeg. There, at one corner of the table nearest my mom, sat Delbert Wagner, local jazz musician. I stared, studying him hard, like I would a freshly opened pack of Topps baseball cards.
“Is something wrong?” my mother asked, observing my fixation with our guest and perhaps thinking there was something about Delbert’s table manners that I didn’t appreciate.
“He’s a Black man,” I said, pointing. “He’s not the same color as us.”
The three adults in attendance tittered, and I made no conscious decision to accept or reject Delbert’s blackness because I was unaware that skin tone might be a matter for disagreement.
Similarly, when treated to a Saturday night out at Haynes Chicken Shack on Lulu Street, I would notice the mixture of black and white faces and think nothing of it, except to acknowledge that there were more black faces than I was accustomed to seeing. In the main, my consideration went to the musicians, who were wonderful, and it was cool when one of the owners/performers, Percy and Zena Haynes (Delbert’s step-father and mother), would work the room and join us at our table for a brief time. I likened it to a visit from Nat King Cole or Ella.
Those were my first inter-racial inter-actions, and I’m happy to report that they leaned heavily toward extremely pleasurable.
The sporting and/ or entertainment heroes of my youth, meanwhile, were an interesting collection: The elegant Wilma Rudolph, a Black woman, was the athlete I most admired; Sandy Koufax, a Jewish man, was my favorite baseball player; Floyd Patterson, a Black Catholic, was my fave boxer until Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, a Muslim; my favorite singers were Barbra Streisand, a Jew, and Frank Sinatra, a mobster; my favorite actor was Sophia Loren, an Italian.
It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t like any or all of them simply because of skin hue, choice of temple, circle of friends, or place of birth.
So you’ll have to excuse me if I fail to comprehend why anyone would stoop to the verbal and/or literal boot-stomping of Black people. I didn’t understand it in the 1950s and ’60s, when fire hoses and German Shepherd dogs were among the tools used to subdue peaceful marchers, and I don’t get it now.
I give ponder to this matter because of the great group howl that has dominated the conversation pit ever since a rogue cop executed George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis-St. Paul in late May.
Sports organizations and athletes who’ve never used their voices (hello, National Hockey League players) now raise them in a new-born awareness of racial inequity. Their chorus has invited praise. But also skepticism. That is, some wonder if there’s universal sincerity in the squawk against racism, or is the high, angered pitch a product of too many athletes with an inordinate amount of free time on their hands?
The hope, of course, is that it’s meaningful natter destined to bear fruit, but the fear is that it’ll disappear like summer wages.
In the meantime, allow me to squeeze an alternative thought into the main holler about racism and direct your attention to the real scourge of boys’ and men’s sports, particularly hockey—sexism/misogyny and homophobia.
The Greater Toronto Hockey League was bullied into releasing some interesting data the other day, numbers that break down misconduct penalties assessed in the past three seasons. In 2019-20, gender/sexism-related infractions numbered 172. Racism? Five. Yup, 172-5. Do the math. That’s 34 times as many.
I’d like to tell you I’m surprised, but I’m not. The go-to slurs, on-ice and in hockey changing rooms, are sexist or anti-gay. It’s an ugly segment of the culture, older than the back of Aurele Joliat’s head. Most disturbing is that it still holds grip at today’s grassroots level, where kids continue to recite a lesson learned from fathers, uncles and older brothers—women are lesser-thans.
Ditto gays. Homophobia is so embedded in hockey that there’s never been an openly gay player in the NHL. Not ever. In more than 100 years. There have been 60-plus Black players, but zero gays have felt comfortable enough to come out. Before or after their tour of duty.
The GTHL numbers tell us that sexism/gender and homophobia are far greater worry points than racism, and I’d suggest you’d find similar results anywhere in Canada.
And here’s a troubling notion: Those kids are our leaders of tomorrow.
At first blush, the GTHL figures don’t seem so disturbing, not when you consider we’re talking about 40,000 kids and 14,000 games per season. But then you contemplate a sound bite from GTHL executive director Scott Oakman: “I don’t think it’s a measure of the real life experiences players have in our league. We’ve heard, over the last week or so, lived experiences of players that were undetected by officials.” So what do we do, multiply the incidents by 10? By 100? Do I hear 1,000? It’s scary stuff.
I should point out that the women/gays-as-lesser-thans is strictly a male sports thing. Women’s pro hockey and Olympic rosters have featured lesbian and transgender players. Women’s National Basketball Association rosters include numerous lesbians, some of whom are married. Tennis, golf…many gay women. And, of course, there’s soccer and it’s Women’s World Cup where, according to Yankee Doodle Damsel lesbian Megan Rapinoe, “You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before.” So when will male sports organizations and athletes join the 21st century?
When I called up the Sportsnet website early Saturday morning, there were 10 items on racism. TSN had five on its main page. The Athletic had five. Be interesting to note the numbers a month from now.
Wow, that was some kind of big news from the good ol’ boys in NASCAR—no one is allowed to fly or display the Confederate flag on race day anymore. Most fans actually took the news in stride, but rioting broke out when they were told they also had to put their teeth in.
Excuse me? Did I just stereotype U.S. Southerners? My apologies. I was actually talking about Saskatchewan Roughriders fans.
It looks like scribes who follow the National Basketball Association might be required to live in quarantine at Disney World for 3½ months. No big deal. Most of them are too big for the rides anyway.
I tried watching some of the Charles Schwab Challenge from the Colonial in Fort Worth on Saturday, but it wasn’t working for me. I prefer spectator sports.
So, the NHL’s disgraced and outcast misogynist Brendan Leipsic has apparently found work in Russia. Finally, something the rest of us saw coming before the Houston Astros.
Here’s what’s on my in-isolation book shelf this week…
It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Lady with Three Chins Sings: The Collected Sayings of Yogi Berra (Politically Correct Edition).
Gone with the Blowhard: How Humpty Harold Ballard Huffed and Puffed and Turned the Maple Leafs from Champs to Chumps.
Left Turns & Whistling Dixie: The Illustrated History of NASCAR.
My Pants were On Fire and Your Nose was Growing: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa Finally Tell the Truth About Their Juiced-Up Home Run Race of 1998.
Hell,Yes, There’s Crying in Baseball: What Every Cleveland Indians Fan Needs to Know.
What’s this? Could it be that there’s an awakening in the world of women’s hockey? Appears to be so. Whereas members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association once took delight in trash talking the National Women’s Hockey League and it’s “beer league” product, the Dream Gappers are suddenly playing nice “What we forget about along the way is any opportunity in women’s sport right now is a good one,” says Kristen Richards, who opted to align with the PWHPA rather than join the NWHL. “Why are we women forced to say that we only deserve one league after all of this?” And here’s Jayna Hefford, main mouthpiece for the Dream Gappers: “When you look at men’s hockey, everybody knows the best players play in the NHL. It doesn’t seem confusing on the men’s side that there’s multiple professional leagues. To put it in laymen’s terms, there’s McDonald’s and there’s Burger King. They do the exact same thing. Are they pressured to be one company?” Could be that it’s just window dressing and the Dream Gappers are still as catty as ever, but I prefer to think they’ve grown some.
Here’s something only a scribe from the Republic of Tranna would write, re the Tranna Jurassics winning the NBA title a year ago: “That life-altering feeling may never go away, even now as we struggle through some of the largest challenges of our lives,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tells us. Say what? “Life-altering?” Good grief. COVID-19 is “life-altering.” The other thing is a basketball game. Get a grip, man.
Simmons also had this to say in his weekly alphabet fart that appears in many Postmedia papers: “We need to do more in this country to make sports accessible and available and cool enough for young women to participate.” Right. That coming from a guy who once said, “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” He also called women’s hockey at the Olympic Games “a charade.” When the discussion is female sports, it’s best if Simmons just sits it out.
And, finally, I’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld lately, and I must say that those four main characters are quite unpleasant people. George Costanza, in particular, is among the smarmiest, most annoying people on TV, yet despite that and his lack of physical attractiveness, most of his girlfriends are babes. I don’t know about you, but most women I know wouldn’t date George Costanza on a dare, especially if it meant spending any time with his parents.
The soft, societal underbelly of Canadian jock journalism is being exposed.
It is ever thus when real-life concerns (racism, gender equality, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence, etc.) invade the playground and relegate final scores, statistics and Tiger Woods’ pursuit of Grand Slam golf titles to a seat of secondary thought.
That, of course, is what’s unfolding now as we observe the horror that is Battleground America.
Unrest has given way to rioting and rubble, the bitter backwash from the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose name held no position in the public conscience until video evidence confirmed that a Minneapolis-St. Paul police officer had used a knee to squeeze the final breath out of him.
In itself, the death of Floyd is not a sports story. Rogue cop kills a Black man. They’ve seen this movie, too many times.
Except Michael Jordan is talking about this one. Masai Ujiri is talking about it. LeBron James is talking about it. Evander Kane is talking about it. Blake Wheeler, Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture are talking about it. Kareem has weighed in. Numerous pro sports organizations have issued communiqués condemning racism and social injustice, and that includes the National Football League, which has managed to place itself in the awkward position of being full-score against Colin Kaepernick’s knee of peaceful protest and, at the same time, against a cop’s knee of death.
But here’s someone who can’t talk about it from a platform of lived experience—99 per cent of Canadian sports scribes.
Unless your name is Morgan Campbell or Donnovan Bennett, the best our flowers of jock journalism can do is provide sound bites from Ujiri, Jordan, LeBron, Kareem, Kane et al.
And, yes, it’s terrific when they spread the word. It’s important.
Yet they themselves cannot provide explanation, analysis or offer first-person anecdotal evidence in the arena of marginalization. They fall short, like a warning-track fly ball. They are incapable of commenting and opinionating from a foundation of been there, had that done to me. They don’t know Black. Just like they don’t know female. They don’t know fists of fury. I doubt many of them know or care that this is Pride Month.
Consider this passage from a Michael Grange essay for Sportsnet the other day:
“It was also a reminder that I’ve never had a moment to be nervous about the police. That I’ve never sent my teenaged son into the world and worried that he could be a victim of a tragic misunderstanding, or worse. I’ve never had to wonder if my skin colour or ethnicity or gender was an obstacle to me reaching my potential. No one should have those fears and concerns. Not today, not ever. I believe we should all act, think, and vote in ways that reflect those fundamental values. I’ve never felt the need to write that before because it’s always seemed so self-evident. So clear. It’s not.”
After viewing the George Floyd death video, a white scribe like Grange might have cringed and muttered something like “That’s just horrible” and maybe even wept, but a Black writer would be more apt to gasp, “Good lord, that could be me or my child,” then lock his doors and keep his family behind cover.
When racism in hockey became the topic du jour late last year, Ron MacLean had a natter with his Hometown Hockey co-host Tara Slone and Black filmmaker Kwame Mason, and he delivered this confession: “It’s a real eye-opener that I don’t recognize the structural racism or sexism that’s going on.”
It was an astonishing admission, but MacLean found no requirement to give ponder to racism and sexism because it wasn’t, and isn’t, his ox being gored. He has the privilege of being white and male, which is totally in keeping with the makeup of jock journalism.
I presented these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.) on Sunday, but they bear repeating: 90 per cent of sports editors were male; 85 per cent of sports editors were white; 88.5 per cent of reporters were male; 83.4 per cent of columnists were male; 82.1 per cent of reporters were white; 80.3 per cent of columnists were white; 44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.
Is that a recipe for racist, sexist coverage? Not necessarily. But it does explain why there are so few voices that speak to the very heart of those issues. Also why the message often gets misshapen.
For example, when Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped his trousers to his ankles and mooned a female security guard at 2 o’clock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz., male sports scribes turned the incident into a forum on his suitability to serve as team captain. They wrote it off as frat-boy frolic and gave scant consideration to his victim, Fayola Dozithee, and the every-day fears of females.
“We all do stupid things,” Cathal Kelly scribbled in the Globe and Mail. “We are all especially likely to do stupid things when it is late, when we are drunk and when we are 22.”
I submit that’s the language of a man who’s done a fair bit of stupid-thing, frat-boy frolicking himself, some of which might have victimized women.
On the domestic violence file, male scribes crucified NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his botched handling of the Ray Rice case after viewing video evidence of the former running back dragging his unconscious girlfriend off an elevator, but then the boys celebrated the arrival of woman-beating Johnny Manziel to the Canadian Football League.
“Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL,” rejoiced Chris Cuthbert of TSN.
“It will be fun for everyone to watch,” agreed Dan Barnes of Postmedia.
“Welcome to Canada, Johnny Manziel. And where do I sign up,” chimed in Steve Simmons of Postmedia.
Again, no thought given to the big picture because they aren’t female and vulnerable.
Meantime, there are no figures for the percentage of gay editors/columnists/reporters at major newspapers/websites, but I doubt I’m far off the mark if I suggest it’s less than 1 per cent. Consequently, there’s no one with lived experience to speak to the issue when someone like Michael Sam, Jason Collins or Robbie Rogers are targeted with anti-gay language and deeds.
When Sam became the first openly gay man to participate in a professional football game, many in the LGBT(etc.) collective were delighted and proud. But one prominent jock journo, the aforementioned Simmons, denied that Sam had actually participated in a Canadian Football League game.
“In reality, pro football still awaits its first openly gay player,” he wrote.
After Sam bugged out on the Montreal Alouettes due to mental health issues, an unidentified sports scribe accused him of “faking it.”
So we had one heterosexual man insisting that a gay man never existed, and another heterosexual man presuming to have first-hand knowledge of the demons that torture and haunt a gay man’s mind.
Jock journalism in our country has a serious diversity deficiency.
It could serve as a vehicle for societal change, but it isn’t constructed that way. Hiring practices make the business too white, too male and too hetero.
The women who appear on TSN, for example, are allowed to be pretty and read a teleprompter, but they aren’t allowed an opinion, the exception being women’s soccer. When skin hue is the topic du jour, Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro of Sportsnet can natter about it, but they are unable to reach the core of the issue until Donnovan Bennett is invited into the discussion. He might crack wise about “dial-a-Negro,” which he did, but there’s truth hidden in that joke.
“I’m going to challenge my own industry. If you work in sports media and make a living off the talent and ingenuity of black athletes, the least you can do is use your journalistic skills and privilege to show that black lives have equal value to your own. The least you can do is allot more than 28 or 29 days in February to humanizing black people.”
My guess is they’ll have found a new chew toy by this time next week.
FOOTNOTE: Both Bennett’s essay and an article on former National Basketball Association player John Amaechi, who came out as gay after his playing career, are live on the Sportsnet website today. Yet the overlords at Sportsnet refuse to allow discussion on these race and LGBT(etc.) issues by disabling comments on both pieces. Go figure.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored, and it’s mostly quick hits this morning because my attention span is like the golf season in Good Ol’ Hometown—short…
Okay, as far as I can determine, this is the National Hockey League road map to a reboot and the coronation of a 2020 Stanley Cup champion:
Summon the boys from hither and yon, put 24 teams in a “bubble” in a couple of “hub” cities, stick swabs up hundreds of noses every morning, noon and nighttime for three months, and play summer-stretched-into-winter shinny until either Alexander Ovechkin or Brett Hull is too drunk to stand during the post-playoff celebration.
Ya, sure, works for me.
Except I’m not on the beat.
There’s no sports editor instructing me to pack my bags and take enough clothes for a 90-day stay in one of those two “hub bubbles,” and it seems to me that news snoops are the forgotten, or ignored, element in the NHL’s quest to stem its financial blood-letting and, at the same time, determine a pandemic puck champion.
We know the rabble won’t be invited inside the “hub bubbles,” but what about sports scribes and natterbugs? Are they also persona non grata? Will those assigned to report on the goings-on in the “hub bubbles” be granted access to players, coaches, managers, etc.? If not (which is the most likely scenario), why bother going? If so, how many news snoops are willing to put their health, if not their lives, at risk?
I mean, people with medical diplomas on their office walls tell us that we can expect a surge of COVID-19 cases in the autumn, so do you really want to be in proximity to a bunch of guys who’ve been spitting and sweating on each other all day? That might be a tough sell on the home front.
A similar thought process would apply if the Canadian Football League sorts out its mess and establishes “hub bubbles” in two-to-four Prairie locales, for an abbreviated season that would commence in September and conclude in December.
I’ve long held that the toy departments of newspapers must discover fresh ways of doing business, given the immediacy of Internet news, the personal disclosures of athletes on social media forums, and the near-maniacal obsession of pro sports teams/organizations to control the message, so it could be that the COVID-19 pandemic will give sports editors no choice but to remake their sections in a significant way.
Same old, same old is done. Probably forever. Creativity must rule the day, and that will be a good thing.
Let’s say you’re a news snoop on the Winnipeg Jets beat and you’re told to tag along with the team to a locale in the United States sometime late this summer/early autumn, when the NHL reboots. Maybe our Yankee Doodle neighbors will have a handle on the coronavirus by then. Maybe not. Maybe the streets of America will no longer be flooded with clashing rioters and storm-troopers after another rogue cop executes another Black man, seemingly for sport. Maybe they will be. So do you go?
Good work by a clever headline writer at the Drab Slab re the proposed Stanley Cup tournament cooked up by the mad scientists in NHL Commish Gary Bettman’s lab: “The Franken-playoffs.” It’ll certainly be different, if only because the lads will be playing in echo chambers dressed up as hockey rinks.
Whichever outfit wins the Stanley Cup, it’ll be the first time in history that no one from the winning outfit will shout, “We couldn’t have done this without our fans!”
My favorite tweet last week was delivered by Shannon Szabados, our longtime women’s national team goaltender: “Happy the NHL will be back, but without fans how do we expect players to know when to shoot the puck? How will opposing goalies know they suck?” That’s my kind of humor.
I’ve never subscribed to the “stick to sports” mantra as it relates to jock journos, because societal issues and sports have been intersecting since David took out his slingshot and coldcocked Goliath. Think heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson and his white wives. Think Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and whites-only baseball. Think Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War. Think Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Olympics. Think Colin Kaepernick on one knee. Think Billie Jean King being outed as a lesbian. Think racist team names, like Washington’s Redskins, and team logos, like Cleveland’s clownish Chief Wahoo. Think Johnny Manziel, Ray Rice, Bobby Hull and numerous other male athletes and domestic violence. So good on Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for straying beyond the accepted boundaries of sports scribbling to serve up a column on the current ugliness and nastiness south of the great Canada-U.S. divide. Paul had a natter with former Winnipeg Blue Bombers DB Jovon Johnson, many times a victim of racist acts and language, and he wonders why white people aren’t raising their voices against systemic racism while Minneapolis-St. Paul and other U.S. burgs burn and protesters are trampled by the hooves of cops’ horses. It’s a boffo read.
Why don’t more sports scribes/sections tackle societal issues like racism, gender equality, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence? Because most of them can’t relate to the marginalized among us. Consider these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.):
90 per cent of sports editors were male;
85 per cent of sports editors were white;
88.5 per cent of reporters were male;
83.4 per cent of columnists were male;
82.1 per cent of reporters were white;
80.3 per cent of columnists were white;
44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.
Curious tweetre U.S. rioting from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “No I wasn’t endorsing police firing rubber bullets at members of the media. I just can’t comprehend the racism that’s behind all of this. It got Trump elected. And isn’t this where I came in back in the 60s? Forget the cops. I’d bring in the fire department and turn on the hoses.” I’m not sure what to make of that, but, as a product of the 1950s and ’60s, I know I don’t like the optics.
There’s talk about a third fist fight between former heavyweight boxing champs Iron Mike Tyson and Evander (The Real Meal) Holyfield. Or, as Tyson likes to call it, “Leftovers.”
Hey, look who’s blah-blah-blahing about the CFL—Johnny Manziel. That’s right, TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback went on something called Golf’s Subpar podcast the other day, and he informed listeners that he “loved Canada,” even if the business side of Rouge Football is “a little bit ticky-tacky.” Well, if anyone knows “tacky,” it’s Johnny Rotten. The former Montreal Larks/Hamilton Tabbies QB also confirmed his fondness for females and nightclubs, and added, “I got a good heart, I’m a good dude. I treat people the right way for the most part. Deep down, I truly am a good person.” Ya, except for beating up and threatening to kill women, he’s a swell guy.
Speaking of complete dinks, if any of you girls out there are looking to get that special man in your life something unique, how about Elvis Presley’s old jockstrap? Straight goods. The very garment that once holstered the King’s jewels in the 1970s is up for auction by Paul Fraser Collectibles, and this is no ordinary jockstrap. It’s rhinestone-studded, “sexually potent” and, according to auction rep Daniel Wade, “the new owner won’t be able to resist wearing it out on a Saturday night—the Elvis magic will work wonders.” Oh, for sure, that’s what every woman is hoping to discover about her man on a first date—his underwear is half a century old.
Seriously, why was Elvis the Pelvis even wearing a jockstrap? Was there a chance his boys were going to pop out of his jumpsuit?
Oh, one final thing about Elvis’ jockstrap: It’s a size Medium, so maybe the King wasn’t really the king after all, if you catch my meaning. (Thank you, thank you very much.)
CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie continues to panhandle on Parliament Hill, asking the feds for welfare payments from $30 million to $150 million. PM Trudeau the Younger can just send the cheque to Rouge Football headquarters at the new mailing address: c/o 2020 Skid Road.
The adult website Stripchat, which boasts of 60 million monthly visitors for its live webcam sex shows, is offering $15 million for naming rights to the Superdome in New Orleans, home of the National Football League Saints. Hearing that, CFL Commish Randy immediately contacted the porn masters at Stripchat and said, “Give us $15 million and we’ll put your live sex shows on our Jumbotrons during TV timeouts. Hell, for an extra $15 million, we’ll have our guys play naked, except the O-lineman, of course. Nobody wants to go there.” We can just call it Commish Randy’s naked bootleg.
Coolest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time was John Fogerty celebrating his 75th birthday by singing Centrefield in centrefield at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He was joined by his kids Shane, Kelsy and Tyler, with Fogerty playing a custom-made Louisville Slugger guitar. Centrefield is only the best baseball song. Ever. And how cool it must be to have a 75-year-old dad that cool.
I’m not big on all the retro stuff that we’ve been force-fed during the pandemic, but Taylor Allen has a good read on Laurie Boschman in the Drab Slab.Bosch was one of the genuinely good guys to ever wear Jets linen.
Also good to see is a new feature in the Winnipeg Sun, Ted’s Talk, which debuted on Saturday. Ted Wyman takes a wordy walkabout through the sports neighborhood, touching on a variety of issues, and I have to say it’s bloody well time. I don’t know how sassy, cheeky or irreverent Teddy Football plans to be with his new toy, but I hope he has fun with it. And takes no prisoners.
In late April, Postmedia slashed 80 jobs and shut down 15 papers. Last week, it was revealed that there’ll be another 40 “permanent” reductions across the chain. Again, I wonder if Postmedia will be printing two papers in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver by the time the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course.
And, finally, alot of us can use a little good news these days, and watching the SpaceX rocket leave the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center and roar off into the wild, blue yonder on Saturday was quite an emotional moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in my house. God speed to the two astronauts.
As the discussion about the cult of shinny rages on, I find it most disturbing that some opinionists are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone.
Consider, as a prime example, a recent Twitter exchange between Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star and a chap with the user handle I Drink And I Know Nothing:
I Drink: “My daughter loves hockey but the ‘boys only’ culture she has to endure is going to ruin it for her. The area is too small to have a girls league and if you want to play, you have to put up with the players and coaches who feel that ‘girls are too weak.’”
McGran: “Even today? I thought we were at least past this.”
Earth to Kevin! Earth to Kevin! You might want to have a meaningful chat with some of the women in your life, and I’m guessing they’ll suggest you haven’t been paying attention.
Seriously, 2019 is a moment in history, not a cure-all for what ails shinny.
I mean, sure, women are now being accepted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, more females are playing the game today, and there’s a pro women’s league, but to assume the ‘old boys club’ mentality has gone the way of the dinosaur, the dodo and home milk delivery is pure folly. Also remarkably naive.
Meanwhile, one of The Athletic’s finest scribes, Sean Fitz-Gerald, has had an awakening of sorts, telling us that “hockey, increasingly, is not for everyone,” and a Calgary Sun editorial described racist language used by now-former Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters as “shocking.”
Come on, people, where have you been hiding? Like, I’d be shocked if someone discovered JFK and Marilyn Monroe were still alive and shacked up together somewhere behind the Grassy Knoll, but a hockey coach spewing racism or bullying a player? That’s a dog biting a man.
Hockey has never been for everyone, and anyone who’s spent more than five minutes inside the cult that is hockey shouldn’t be shocked by the disgusting language Peters used 10 years ago, when he and the target of his toxic tongue, Akim Aliu, were trying to claw their way to the National Hockey League.
Since L’Affaire Peters-Aliu became top-of-the-page news, pundits hither and yon have had their say, but have you noticed anything about the jock journos who’ve been given a voice?
That’s right. All white faces. Male white faces.
I turned on Sportsnet the other day and three white guys were talking about it. I turned on TSN and four white dudes were talking about it. I called up newspaper websites, and no one but white guys were writing about it.
Does that not strike you as odd? Also wrong?
Like, what in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. do male sports scribes and talking heads of white privilege know about discrimination based on skin hue? Nada.
It was no different last March when Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs was thought, mistakenly, to have used a homophobic slur during a match. Both TSN and Sportsnet trotted out the usual suspects for panel gasbagging about the evils of anti-gay language, and those usual suspects had one thing in common—all were heterosexual men. How in the name of Harvey Milk can heterosexual men in hockey—a culture that is deeply and disturbingly homophobic—speak with any level of authority on anti-gay slurs?
The simple answer is they can’t. Yet no gay man or woman was invited to participate in panel discussions.
So we now are having a yackety-yack about racism in hockey, with tentacles also reaching out to touch on bullying, hazing, sexism, misogyny and LGBT(etc.) matters, and not until Saturday night on Hockey Night In Canada did we finally hear from a gathering of black people in the game.
Imagine that. People of color discussing racism. And one of them, Sarah Nurse, is a woman. What a concept.
Although inviting Nurse, Anthony Stewart, David Amber and Anson Carter to join the conversation, HNIC remains complicit in perpetuating the whiteness of hockey, something host Ron MacLean acknowledged in another discussion with black filmmaker Kwame Mason and singer/sports broadcaster Tara Slone.
“When the kids throw back to Hockey Night In Canada,” MacLean said, “as a general rule they’re all white, and if they’re not all white, the whites often have the speaking part, and it’s the same with our Hometown Hockey, we’re so proud of being inclusive but how many times do we get people of color to pick the three stars?”
He confessed that it’s “a real eye opener that I don’t recognize the structural racism or sexism that’s going on.”
That is an astonishing admission. How could MacLean not see and hear it?
For gawd’s sake, he spent the past 33 years sitting beside Don Cherry’s horrible wardrobe, listening to the gasbag promote cement-head hockey while, at the same time, flailing away at Europeans, Russians, French guys, pinkos and anyone else whose hairy knuckles don’t drag on the ground. MacLean heard Cherry insist that female reporters don’t belong in changing rooms. Over at TSN, their idea of diversity on its many hockey panels is allowing Marty Biron to prattle on in his fractured English. He’s the token Quebec guy. Sportsnet gives the aforementioned Stewart a voice, but their panel pundits are 99.9 per cent white male.
Women, meanwhile, aren’t a minority group, but they’re treated like one. They aren’t allowed to join hockey panels, even though there are numerous former and/or current players from our national and Olympic sides quite capable of stringing together complete sentences. I’ve heard them do that very thing.
It’s no different in the rag trade. This country’s top jock columnists are white, heterosexual males. They simply cannot relate or speak to issues of marginalized communities. To see the light at the end of the tunnel, one must first step inside the tunnel, so good luck to them trying to deliver the kind of meaningful commentary that only a lived experience allows.
People are talking about L’Affaire Peters-Aliu, also Mike Babcock’s bullying of Mitch Marner, as “watershed” moments for hockey. Maybe so. We’ll see. But I hope it also serves as a swift kick in the butt for mainstream sports media as it relates to hockey.
It isn’t just white, heterosexual men who know the game. Women and minorities also have something to say. Let them roar.
A work week hump day smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the back half of August feels an awful lot like the front half…
I thought Megan Rapinoe’s 15 minutes of fame was fini. Hadn’t heard from her for a few weeks.
Then her purple hair showed up on Good Morning America a few days ago and, along with Yankee Doodle Damsel teammate Christen Press, she talked about faith and hope and compromise and, most significant, bang for your buck.
“We won’t accept anything less than equal pay,” the U.S. women’s national soccer team co-captain declared.
Or what? They’ll quit?
Like approximately 200 elite female hockey players quit? Like members of the Swedish women’s national hockey team quit?
The Swedish women are supposed to be in Vierumaki, Finland, for the 5 Nations Tournament this week, but they’ve had it up to their blonde ponytails with being treated like second hand Roses and found something better to do. What that something is, we don’t know, but it isn’t wearing a yellow-and-blue hockey jersey with three crowns on the front.
There are 10 points of contention between the women and their governing body, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association (SIF), and they include everything from increased funding (top of the list) to wardrobe. Yes, clothing.
It seems that being forced to adorn themselves in male attire is a disagreeable bit of business to the Swedish women.
“For a five-year period, we have asked for clothes in a women’s model, clothes that must be sewn and adapted for women,” is Point 7 in their list of necessary upgrades. “In response, we are told that SIF provides equal clothing to all national teams, ie. men’s clothing. It should be in SIF’s interest that the Crowns represent SIF in a professional and respectful way. How does SIF want the Women’s Crowns to represent Sweden and the Swedish Ice Hockey Association?”
That might sound petty, but I’m reasonably certain that if members of the Swedish national men’s side were required to drape themselves in female finery, they’d sparka upp en stor stank (kick up a big stink). But, then, they’d never ask the fellas to do that, would they?
Anyway, as much as I enthusiastically applaud and endorse any female athlete’s fight for equal pay, equal benefits, equal opportunity, and the equal right to change tops courtside during a tennis tournament, it seems to me that quitting is an ill-conceived strategy when one of the main laments of all women’s sports is lack of exposure.
The women want to be seen and heard in print, on air and in the public conscience, yet they choose to disappear in a quest to achieve said goal.
Let’s say the U.S. national side takes its lawsuit against U.S. Soccer to court and a jury decides the pay scale is not gender based? Hence, no additional coin. Does that mean Rapinoe and her world champion gal pals will be no-shows for next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo? Certainly they’d be present by their absence, and whichever country were to emerge as champion would have an asterisk attached to its name, but I fail to see how that helps the cause of women’s fitba.
Are Sweden’s female hockey players getting a bum deal? Certainly sounds like it, yes. But there’s a danger in their ploy. That is, what if nobody gives a damn? It’s the same predicament players on this side of the big waters find themselves in. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League has already bolted the doors, and now approximately 200 elite players say they won’t lace ’em up again until Dani Rylan pulls the chute on her National Women’s Hockey League and a sugar daddy/mama (read: NHL) surfaces. Well, there are no signs of surrender in commish Rylan, so will anyone really care that the ForTheGame200 have gone AWOL?
The ForTheGame200 bully tactic doesn’t appear to be intimidating Rylan, because the latest roster update from The Ice Garden tells us that 66 players, including 13 Canadians, have signed on for the NWHL’s fifth season, set to face off on Oct. 5. That happens to be World Girl’s Hockey Weekend, and I’m thinking there’ll be about 200 elite women who’d like to be part of it.
Prediction: At some point, the 200 boycotters will turn on Rylan. They’ll accuse her of acting like she believes herself to be “bigger than the game,” and make her out to be Darth Damsel, an evil force standing between them and the “$50,000 to $100,000” salaries Cassie Campbell-Pascall thinks they deserve. Bet on it.
How significant is exposure? Well, let’s consider what Ladies Professional Golf Association commissioner Michael Whan has to say on the matter.
The distaff swingers mostly fly under the radar unless you subscribe to the Golf Channel. Still, they’re playing for a total prize purse of $70.5 million in 2019. By way of comparison, the men appear on network TV every weekend 10 months of the year, and it doesn’t seem to matter if Tiger Woods shows up to hack his way to another over-par score or not. NBC, CBS or Fox Sports will be there on Sunday to tell us Tiger’s wearing a red shirt. Oh, and the boys divvy up a $300 million-plus pot of gold.
“If you give me 39 weeks on (national) TV, I’ll close the gap on viewership in a long way, and if I close the gap on viewership I’ll close the difference in purses and pay,” says Whan. “But you can’t do one without the other.”
So, what part of being seen do female hockey and soccer players not understand?
The 10 highest-paid female athletes in the world, according to Forbes, are tennis players. The women’s purse at all four Grand Slam tournaments is equal to the men’s. They didn’t get there by going into hiding. They got there by negotiating while still playing.
Media, of course, plays a significant role in exposing sports to the masses, and there’s definitely a substantial divide in coverage of women’s and men’s competition. For example, I’d wager that few, if any, of you are aware that Canada and the U.S. recently engaged in two hockey tournaments—three-game series between the women’s under-22 and under-18 sides. TSN ignored both events. Yet if I thought watching shinny in summer was a worthwhile activity (I don’t), I could have tuned in to the boys’ World Junior Summer Showcase and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Perhaps someone at TSN can explain why our future female Olympians aren’t as important as our future male Olympians. Meanwhile, at Troy Media, they have award-winning journalist/columnist Bruce Dowbiggin telling us that women’s sports is “second-class entertainment.” Steve Simmons of Postmedia once advocated for the elimination of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games. With friends like that, it’s a wonder female athletes even bother to leave the house.
So, you say you’d like to coach college hoops. Sorry, no can do. Not if you’re lesbian. What about pro football then? Sorry, no can do. Not if you’re female.
That, kids, is a double whammy of discrimination and Katie Sowers lived it.
Sowers now earns her daily bread as an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers, but she only landed the gig after another National Football League outfit told her it was “not ready” to have a women join their stable of on-field instructors.
Years earlier, she had offered her services as a volunteer basketball coach to alma mater Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana.
“I had just finished up my basketball career,” Sowers told Kristine Leahy on the FS1 show Fair Game. “My four years of eligibility were done, so I was on my victory lap and I started playing track and field for fun, and I also was thinking ‘I really want to get my coaching career started.’ So I went to my basketball coach, who had given me…I was a team captain all the years I played, I was a leader on the team, and I knew that they were low on staff, they were low on practice players. I actually emailed him and I said ‘Would this be an opportunity where I could be a volunteer coach?’ I didn’t even think there was a chance for a no. But he responded saying just to come into his office to talk about it.
“And what he told me was that because of my lifestyle, he didn’t want me around the team. And when I was on his team, I was someone that he would protect, but now that I’m not, there’s not much he can do about it. And there were prospective students’ parents that were concerned that if there was a lesbian coach, their daughter might ‘catch the gay’ or whatever it might be, because people might think it’s contagious or whatever it was. But for some reason, they didn’t want me around.
“There was another school in the division that I played, I had a really good friend who played basketball, got kicked off the team at her school because they found out she was gay. She lost her whole scholarship. This was 2008, 2007.”
And people wonder why there are still Pride parades.
And, finally, this from the aforementioned Dowbiggin of Troy Media: “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.” Sigh…there just aren’t enough words.
A hump-day smorgas-bored for the working stiffs…and if you have a voice, use it, but don’t expect everyone to agree with it…
Some people don’t want to read or hear another word about gays. They’ve had their fill.
Their reasons vary, whether it be religious belief, pure bigotry, or some cockeyed notion of a global gay agenda that seeks to brainwash our children in the manner of Adolph Hitler and Soviet communism (hello, Maggie Court). They just want the LGBT(etc.) community to shut the hell up. (And, hey, while they’re shutting the hell up, they can also put the brakes on that once-a-year, half-naked Pride strut nonsense. “Why do gays need a parade? There isn’t a straight parade!”)
Well, it’s hard to shut the hell up when:
* The very week the U.S. National women’s soccer team wins the World Cup, a vandal defaces New York City subway posters of Megan Rapinoe, simply because she prefers the company of women, specifically Sue Bird.
Can any among us imagine someone desecrating a poster of, oh, let’s say fabulous fancy skater Tessa Virtue because she’s straight? As if.
Yet apparently Rapinoe is fair game for a shaming with scrawl. It would be one thing, I suppose, if she was a meek lesbian who just shut the hell up about it. But that’s not Rapinoe. The American co-captain has to be as loud as her purple hair. She screams at the world. Can’t win without gays, says she. So someone with an axe (to grind) in one hand and a Sharpie pen in the other comes along to scribble “shemale” and “screw this ho” on half a dozen of her posters.
It’s also hard to shut the hell up when:
* Homophobes bookend Pride month by burning rainbow flags outside a NYC gay club.
* Two lesbian actors are struck by stones for kissing on a street in Southampton, England.
* A lesbian couple is mugged by five teens on a North London bus.
* Two gay men are attacked by knife-wielding teens in Liverpool.
* Posters with anti-gay messaging are displayed in downtown Peterborough, Ont.
* A sheriff’s detective in Tennessee delivers a sermon at Scripture Baptist Church calling for the arrest and execution of gays.
* Findings in the Out On The Fields study show that 84 per cent of 9,500 people interviewed have witnessed or experienced homophobia in American sports; 83 per cent of gay males and 63 per cent of lesbians remain completely or partially in the closet in youth sports due to fear of discrimination and/or bullying.
* Every gay in the five major men’s team sports in North America is afraid to come out of the closet.
If none of that was happening—or, in the case of out gay male athletes, not happening—the LGBT(etc.) collective likely would shut the hell up about their sexuality.
As it is, damn straight we’re going to bang the drum about the U.S. women winning the World Cup, because five of the Yankee Doodle Damsels, plus coach Jill Ellis, are out lesbians. They’ve become “hometown” heroes who reach across borders.
Ditto Alison van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, the first gay couple to compete together during any Wimbledon fortnight. It didn’t matter that the Belgian women failed to get past the second round in women’s doubles. There was a there there.
Ditto Dutee Chand, India’s fastest woman and an out lesbian who recently skedaddled to the 100-metre gold medal at the World University Games in Naples. Initially scorned by family and friends for her choice of partners, Chand is the first Indian to strike gold in the 100-metres at any global track event.
Ditto Marnie McBean, a lesbian installed as Chef de Mission for Canada’s entry at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“On the Canadian team the goal is to make sure everybody is competing in the event that they choose to compete in as their authentic selves,” the former rowing champion told Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star when introduced as the Chef de Mission.
For too long, gay athletes have been looked upon as lesser-thans. That, sadly, remains the default position in men’s team sports. So the boys hide and suffer. But that’s not how the women are wired. Gay female athletes aren’t viewed as a distraction or a drag on their straight teammates’ talents and efforts. They stand beside them, flexing their muscle and flourishing under the most intense spotlights. Right now, the U.S. women’s soccer side is Exhibit A, and the team they beat in the World Cup final, the Netherlands, would be Exhibit B with five open lesbians.
These gay women are being celebrated.
And somewhere there’s a gay kid—girl or boy—who’s reading the good news about these champions rather than dire news about gays being stoned or knifed.
That’s one of the reasons we continue to write and talk about the sexuality of these gay athletes. Even gay kids need role models and reachable skies. As McBean submits, everyone should feel comfortable competing as their authentic selves. Not just on our playing fields, but in life.
Once that day arrives, we’ll be happy to shut the hell up.
A lot of people believe Rapinoe has overstayed her 15 minutes of fame. They’d rather move on to the next flavor of the month. Can’t say that I agree or disagree, but when I read/hear pundits compare the American soccer star to legendary boxer and anti-war activist Muhammad Ali, that’s when I call a timeout. Franklin Foer of The Atlantic would be an e.g. He writes: “Megan Rapinoe is her generation’s Muhammad Ali.” Miguel Delaney of the Independent draws a similar parallel. Well, spare me. Had either man been alive in the 1960s to appreciate the political, cultural and racial climate, their words might carry some heft. But they weren’t so they don’t. A female athlete barking about pay equity and social/racial injustice is admirable, but not in the same ballpark as a man willing to go to jail rather than pick up a gun and kill Vietnamese. Ali was sentenced to prison, stripped of his heavyweight title, stripped of his livelihood for 3 1/2 years, and arguably became the most despised man in America. And Rapinoe? After the ticker-tape parade, she’s worked the TV talk-show circuit non-stop. It’s like comparing Secretariat to Mr. Ed.
I’ll say this in Rapinoe’s favor, all those upset by her silent/loud protest during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at international soccer events might be interested in an excerpt from Jackie Robinson’s book, I Never Had It Made.
“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only the principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
That is correct. The great Jackie Robinson, who knew a bit about racial and social injustice and death threats, and a man who served in the U.S. Military, could not bring himself to stand for and sing the Star-Spangled Banner. Couldn’t salute Old Glory, either.
So let’s have no more squawking about Rapinoe being disrespectful simply because she doesn’t place a hand on her chest and stands silent during a singalong.
And, finally, whenever the discussion turns to athletes and activism, I think first of Ali, then Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two medal-winning American sprinters known primarily for their protest against racial/social injustice in the U.S. Smith had just won the 200-metre sprint at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, with Carlos finishing third, and they shocked us with their rigid, heads-bowed, black-fisted, shoeless podium postures. Initially, we didn’t know what to make of it. But the U.S. Olympic Committee did—it banished Smith and Carlos. And like Ali but unlike Rapinoe, there was an after-cost to pay. “I got home and I was hungry. I lost my food. I lost my house. The price was devastating,” Smith says in Tim Layden’s excellent retro look at the incident in Sports Illustrated.
It was in the autumn of 1964 and, as we gathered around our TV set with the black-and-white screen and rabbit ears to watch Hockey Night in Canada, we were puzzled.
Frank Mahovlich, the Big M of the Toronto Maple Leafs, wouldn’t be playing that night.
None of the talking heads (I can’t recollect if it was Foster or Bill Hewitt calling the game, or if it was Ward Cornell or Ed Fitkin as the studio host) provided us with the definitive why and wherefore of the Big M’s absence from the Leafs lineup, except to say something about fatigue. Mahovlich was plum tuckered out. The remainder of the story was a mystery.
“How can Mahovlich be tired?” the 13-year-old version of my former self wondered. “The season has just started.”
As history records, the Big M was bedded down in a Toronto hospital that night, a victim of depression. Acute depression. The Leafs and their tyrannical head coach Punch Imlach, later identified as the main source of Mahovlich’s emotional undoing, had to get along without him for a month. And there was always a hush-hushness about his absence. Mental illness, you see, was among the taboo topics of the day. Most folks didn’t talk about their “crazy uncle in the attic.” It was looked upon not as an illness, but a weakness, if not an embarrassment. And, in the case of a National Hockey League star like Mahovlich, any whisper of mental frailty implied a softness, which seldom found favor with fans or media and certainly not Imlach.
The abrupt, abrasive Leafs’ dictator once said this of Mahovlich: “Hockey is a streetcar named desire and too many days Ma-hal-o-vich doesn’t catch the train.”
The Big M, whose life under Imlach seemed so much like a Shakespearean tragedy, managed to flee the tyrant and the Leafs, but not before surviving a second major bout of depression, exactly three years after the first. His escape led him to Detroit, then Montreal, where he played a significant role in two Stanley Cup-winning crusades, then the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Senate and, by most accounts, a happily-ever-after life.
I thought of Mahovlich when I heard about Roberto Osuna, the Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher who booked off work the other night because he’s been feeling “a little bit anxious, a little bit weird, a little bit lost” and doesn’t know why (been there, felt that). I also thought of the late Jimmy Piersall, the original poster boy for athletes dealing with mental illness.
Piersall was 22 years old and 56 games into his rookie Major League Baseball season when the Boston Red Sox thought it wise to have his head examined, thus they sent him to a mental hospital, whereupon medics probed the young centre fielder’s mind and determined what to do about his bipolar disorder.
Unlike the Mahovlich situation, there was nothing hush-hush about Piersall’s descent into depression. He wrote a book with Al Hirshberg, Fear Strikes Out, which became a TV movie then a feature film, and he followed with his 1985 memoir, The Truth Hurts. People called him an oddball, a kook and a basket case because of his antics and fits of rage that would sometimes lead to fisticuffs. He labeled himself “crazy” and a “gooney bird” and confirmed it by running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th career home run, shimmying up a flag pole during a game and wearing a Beatles wig to home plate.
I remember reading Fear Strikes Out as a teenager and thinking, “Wow, this guy has some serious issues. But he’s funny.”
When his issues struck close to home—visiting a family member in a psych ward and hearing a heavy, metal door clank shut and locked tight—Jimmy Piersall didn’t seem so funny anymore. When I was confronted by my own mental challenges—blackouts from anxiety attacks, suicidal ideation, uncontrollable crying, elaborate mood swings, panic attacks—it wasn’t funny at all.
To this day, I sometimes feel like a recluse because the thought of stepping out of doors can be a serious challenge. Like Roberto Osuna, I feel anxious, weird and lost. Also afraid. And that depresses me.
Osuna is 22. So young, so vulnerable, such a shame. But not helpless or hopeless.
Here’s what Piersall wrote in Fear Strikes Out in 1955: “I want the world to know that people like me who have returned from the half-world of mental oblivion are not forever contaminated. We have been sick. The best way to help us get well and stay well is to treat us like human beings—as I’ve been treated. We don’t have to talk about our sickness in whispers or prowl about on the edge of society with our hands to our ears to block out the whispers of others. We have nothing to be ashamed of. All we want is to be understood by those who have never been where we have. There is no better therapy than understanding.”
I’d like to think people will try to understand about Roberto Osuna, even if they’ve never been where he’s at.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.
At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.
I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.
Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)
So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!
Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.
Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.
If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.
That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.
Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.
“We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.
I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.
By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)
It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.
“I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”
And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?
“She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”
In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.