In another century that today seems so distant, the use of sexist language and stereotyping in sports was not uncommon, and that included the writing game.
I recall, for example, the great Jack Matheson using what now would be considered sexist terms when mentioning female athletes or politicians in his Winnipeg Tribune column. One might be “a doll” and another might be “a cutey.” When Pierre Trudeau introduced Iona Campagnolo as his Minister of Sport in 1976, she became “Elegant Iona” to Matty, and it was true. She was elegant.
Other women were “beautiful” or “sweet” or “glamorous or “a dame” or “a broad.”
High jumper Debbie Brill became “Darling Debbie” and “Delicious Debbie,” and Matty made note of her long, shapely legs more than once.
“Indoor track fans always enjoy watching girls jump high,” he wrote, “especially girls with legs like Debbie’s.”
Legendary sports scribe Trent Frayne similarly gazed upon the Brill gams with unreserved admiration, writing, “There she is, maybe 20 yards from the crossbar, calmly eyeing it, one foot slightly ahead of the other, teetering slowly, back and forth, back and forth, long legs bare and smooth and tanned, twin cynosures.”
Seriously. Twin cynosures? I had to cozy up to my good friend Merriam-Webster to clue in. Means Debbie Brill’s underpinnings were “the centre of attention or attraction.”
So where am I going with this?
Well, it certainly isn’t to discredit Matty, my first sports editor and the best jock essayist during my time in Good Ol’ Hometown, or Trent, with whom I had the considerable good fortune of sharing a work space at the Toronto Sun. They weren’t guilty of some heinous crime punishable by public flogging or prison time.
Those old boys wrote in the fashion of the 20th century, which allowed for descriptors not meant to be viewed through the judgmental lens of 2020. (Actually, reading it today, one might find humor in its antiquity. Like, they actually got away with writing that stuff?)
I don’t suppose Matty or Trent would use many, if any, of those terms were they around today to crank out their cheeky, witty, sassy essays, because the Politically Correct Police would be knocking on their doors and it wouldn’t be a social call. (Mind you, chances are Matty would tell them to shove it, but their visit might put him off his dinner, nonetheless.)
And it’s not like they’d gone rogue in their scribblings.
As we learn from Maclean’s magazine and The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sports in Canada by Margaret Ann Hall, it was commonplace for scribes, almost exclusively male, to wax poetically about the different “cynosures” of various female athletes, and it wasn’t always flattering.
This, for example, is the way Jack Batten of Maclean’s described the women on the LPGA Tour in 1973: “Tousle-haired, sunshiny, more muscular and perhaps more ‘masculine’ than most women, like a gang of phys-ed teachers, but fresh and appealing in an Anne Murray kind of way.”
Of Canadian Jocelyne Bourassa, he wrote: “She’s a husky woman, a little broad in the beam. Her face can’t make up its mind whether it belongs to the cute kid next door or to a determined pug, someone with a tough style. It lets you know, anyway, that it is the face of someone independent, aggressive, a woman who can—what the hell—play touch football or baseball with the men.” He added that, at a formal function, Bourassa “radiated an approachable tomboy charm.”
Which is sort of like saying she wasn’t full-on butch, but butch nonetheless.
Meanwhile, here’s how journalist/author Paul Grescoe described members of the Vancouver Chimos volleyball team: “They are not the big, butch girls the male chauvenist might expect. Under their loose sweaters—’Up Your Volleyball,’ the back of one reads—their baggy sweatpants and shorts, the protective pads on their knees, lurk some women who’d be whistled at in their civvies. Only thick thighs and the occasional masculine-muscled arm reflect their training.”
Hmmm. Whistled at in their civvies. No doubt what every elite female athlete strives for—not!
An even more-blatant example of sexism in sports writing would be an Associated Press dispatch from the U.S. Women’s National Open golf tournament in 1967. It mentioned that former champion Mrs. Murle Lindstrom was “a pretty divorcee of 28,” but not as pretty as Sharron Moran, declared the “prettiest golfer” in America by Golf Digest. Marlene Bauer wasn’t pretty, but she was “little and cute.”
The article included this comment from tour director Leonard Wirtz: “A few paint on their shorts. If their figures are good, we don’t say anything to them. But if some of the plumper girls do it, we give them a gentle hint. We figure it’s good for them and the tour.” So Jennifer Aniston would be permitted to “paint on” her shorts, but Amy Schumer would receive a verbal undressing (pun intended) if she teed off in anything more form-fitting than a hoop skirt.
When the U.S. Women’s Open tees off later this week in Houston, I don’t expect we’ll be reading or hearing a discussion about butchness, hemlines, pretty divorcees and plump girls. The focus will be on their golf, not their gams.
Times change. Language changes. What’s tolerable changes. What’s acceptable changes.
I mean, it’s one thing to mention that our Brooke Henderson has a fabulous smile and girl-next-door appeal, because it’s true. She seems like an absolute delight. But her “babe” factor ought not come into play. Go ahead and describe her outfit, just don’t tell us she’d look a whole lot “hotter” golfing in short skirts. Not unless a higher hemline would help her get the ball into the hole.
Female athletes have made strides in how they’re perceived, but most still struggle to be taken seriously, just as female sports scribes and broadcasters do.
If only they didn’t have those damn “twin cynosures” for the boys on the beat to gawk at.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, yes, I realize I said I’d be going into hiding for a month—unless stupid happens. Well, stupid happened…
So, Evander Kane and the Reaves brothers, Ryan and Jordan, engaged in a bit of name-calling on social media last week, the kind of empty-headed “my pop can beat up your pop” banter normally reserved for children in the schoolyard.
Ordinarily, this sort of exercise in manhood-measuring would be ignored.
I mean, if three grown men choose to sound and act like total nincompoops, have at it, boys. It isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, especially in Kane’s case.
Except in his zest to discredit Reaves and Reaves as too frail or frightened to engage in fisticuffs, old friend Evander referred to his foil as “sisters,” and we all know that’s steering smack talk in the wrong direction. One guy labeling another guy a girl is a sexist trope that belongs in the same dust bin as anti-gay slurs, and it only serves to confirm that dinosaurs still walk among us.
Kane, of course, ought to know better.
The San Jose Sharks forward is co-founder of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, a group that, according to its website, aims to “inspire a new and diverse generation of hockey players and fans.” It also boasts of making the game “accessible and safe for everyone.”
One assumes that would include the 50 per cent of the population identifying as female, yet here we are, HDA co-founder Kane dipping into his trash talking tool box and using girls/women as an instrument to sissify Ryan Reaves, an on-ice foe with the Vegas Golden Knights, and Jordan Reaves, a D-Lineman with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
That is so 20th century.
No surprise that Kane was quick to delete his offensive tweet and deliver this mea culpa: “My intention wasn’t for it to come across that way at all. I would like to apologize for using that term and to anyone who was offended by it. But remember no ones (sic) perfect, especially if your (sic) on Twitter.”
Here’s the deal with Kane, though: This wasn’t the first time he’s popped a stupid pill and let his thumbs do his talking.
I direct your attention to June 2013 when, observing a National Basketball Association playoff game, Kane suggested Chris Bosh “looked like a fairy going to the rim.” Much tsk-tsking about his homophobic comment ensued, but Kane would have none of it.
“Man there’s a lot of overly sensitive people on here,” he tweeted in defiance. “It’s unreal how some of you on here turn nothing into something so wrong. As I have said before and I’ll say it again if you can’t handle real talk #clickunfollow if you can’t handle it.”
Not until he engaged in a “real talk” parlez-vous with Patrick Burke of the You Can Play Project, also his employers with the Winnipeg Jets, did Kane retreat into recovery mode, apologizing and vowing “this will not happen again.”
Well, it has happened. Again. Only this time the National Hockey League veteran is slagging women instead of gays.
Kane and those of his ilk remain hard-wired to the notion that being female equals lesser-than. It’s been drilled into them, and they’ve heard the echoes of sexist language for so long that using it as weaponry in a volley of smack talk is as routine as ordering a cup of java at Tim’s. No matter how lame and antiquated it might be, it’s one of the two main go-to insults in men’s sports. Still.
But it’s particularly objectionable when the dreck is coming from Kane’s cake hole. He’s a Black man who props himself up as a holier-than-thou champion of diversity, yet he’s once again exposed himself as a chump in that arena, if not a fraud.
I’m thinking women, lesbian or straight, are tired of hearing the same dog-eared tropes from male athletes. I know I am.
Get some fresh material, boys.
Stupid Pill No. 2: Some among the rabble, and at least one news snoop, thought the Kane-Reaves dumb-and-dumber routine was boffo banter. You know, good for some boys-will-be-boys, knee-slapping yuks. Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab described it as “a refreshing change of pace,” and “a breath of fresh air.” No. Any discourse that includes the demeaning of women is just plain wrong. But whatever floats his boat, I guess.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for trash talking—if it’s witty, clever and humorous. What Kane and the Reaves bros delivered was funny like a dog bite.
Stupid Pill No. 3: Cris Collinsworth, one of my favorite TV gab guys, was gobsmacked and “wow, just blown away” to discover that “ladies” in Pittsburgh are football savvy. “They had really specific questions about the game,” he gushed during NBC’s coverage of last Wednesday’s Steelers-Baltimore Ravens skirmish. Imagine that. Some women actually know a pigskin from a pedicure. Why, I’ll just bet that the really, really smart ones don’t even need their hubbies, beaus or Collinsworth to mansplain the difference between a false start and false labor. I declare, if this keeps up, we’ll see women officiating and coaching in the National Football League any day now. Oh wait. Been there, doing that.
I’ve got a “specific question” for Collinsworth: Does he know what century this is?
Stupid Pill No. 4: I don’t know who writes Jermain Franklin’s copy at TSN, but the SportsCentre anchor might want to call someone in rewrite. Talking about Forge FC’s footy skirmish v. Haitian side Arcahaie last week, Franklin suggested a win by the Hamilton 11 “would officially put Canadian soccer on the map.” Excuse me? Jermain Franklin, meet Christine Sinclair and our national women’s soccer side, winner of two Olympic bronze medals and a Pan Am Games gold. I dare say, before Alphonso Davies came along, if you were to ask anyone in our vast land to name a Canadian soccer player, the most likely answer would have been Christine Sinclair. So I don’t know what map Franklin is looking at, but mine has had Canadian soccer on it for many years, and it wears a ponytail.
I tested my theory on Saturday, asking my friend Cullen to name a Canadian soccer player. He is not a sports fan. I doubt he’s ever watched a full game of soccer in his life, even if he wears a Pacific FC mask. He pondered for about 15 seconds, then said, “Christine.” Point made.
Stupid Pill No. 5: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has called out the Tranna Jurassics for “hypocrisy” in their kid-glove treatment of Terence Davis, a young player charged with assault after allegedly smacking his girlfriend in a New York City hotel.
Rather than put distance between themselves and Davis, Jurassics ownership/management is allowing the National Basketball Association to handle the investigation, thus he’s in attendance for training exercises in Tampa until a court appearance on Dec. 11.
“It is his presence alone that sends the worst of all possible messages to those who care about the Raptors,” Simmons harrumphed. “It says the Raptors will stand up for what’s right, just not necessarily when it affects them. It says the Raptors will proudly wave flags for all the issues that matter, but when it involves one of their own, a young, promising, second year player of some magnitude, who was arrested in late October and charged with several counts of assault—essentially charged with domestic violence—they either say nothing, trip over their own words, or try to say they are respecting the process here.”
That would be fine, except…this:
Here’s Simmons on woman-beater Johnny Manziel in September 2017: “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game.”
And here he is when the woman-beating Manziel joined Hamilton Tabbies in May 2018: “Where do I sign up?”
And here he is on Euclid Cummings in March 2018, after the former B.C. Lions lineman was charged with sexual assault, assault and uttering threats to cause death: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.”
So, if you’re keeping score at home, Simmons gets all giddy about the arrival of a woman-beating quarterback to the Canadian Football League, he believes the leaders of Rouge Football had no business punting a guy who beat and threatened to kill women, yet the Jurassics are bad guys for refusing to have one of their players drawn and quartered before his day in court.
That level of hypocrisy is a special kind of stupid.
I don’t know if this will pass the sniff test, but noted Tranna Jurassics groupie Drake is marketing scented candles, one of which supposedly smells just like the rap star himself. Hmmm. Can’t help but wonder if the candle smells like Drake before or after he’s been chasing his hoops heroes around a basketball court for two hours.
Speaking of rappers, on the heels of his acclaimed gig as boxing commentator at the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. fossil fight last weekend, Snoop Dogghas created what he’s calling The Fight Club, a series of boxing cards featuring knuckle-chucking between pro athletes, actors, musicians and social media celebs, but no boxers of note. Which, I suppose, makes it a real Dogg-and-Phony show.
Quick questions: If Snoop pulls off his quirky boxing cards, does that make it a legal Dogg fighting ring? If so, does Michael Vick land the commissioner’s gig?
According to TMZ, some crackpot took a swing at Tyson while the former heavyweight boxing champion was signing autographs following his dust-up with Jones Jr. in L.A. No arrests have been made, but police are searching for a man who’s lost his mind.
Rare job posting: Queen Liz II is looking for a personal assistant. If interested, apply to The Royal Household. So that’s what we’re calling Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle these days? A household?
Saw this headline on the CBS website the other day: “How to watch Jaguars at Vikings.” Hey, it’s the Jaguars. There’s only one way to watch them—with your eyes closed.
If dispatches drifting from the Republic of Tranna are accurate, the Blue Jays are poised to sign every free agent who stepped onto a Major League Baseball diamond this past season. Except Dr. Anthony Fauci. The good doctor will require an emergency Trumpectomy on Jan. 20 and he isn’t expected to fully recover in time for training camp.
A tip of the bonnet to Jason Bell of the Drab Slab for his fantastic feature spread on the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League. It’s the kind of copy a local newspaper is supposed to deliver.
Also kudos to Mad Mike McIntyre for his piece on Allan Walsh, the sometimes-too-vocal player agent who gets up so many NHL manager noses. More of same please, Mad Mike.
Nice to see Murat Ates has returned to the fray, which is to say the Winnipeg Jets beat for The Athletic. If you count yourself among the hard-core Jets mob, you’ll want to dive into his deep dive on the local hockey heroes, but be warned: You might want to brew a pot of java and settle in, because his state-of-union is longer than a Winnipeg winter.
The Jets aren’t feeling the love according to Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic. He quizzed 15 NHL coaches/execs/scouts on an all-Canadian division in the NHL, and nine of 15 peered into their tea leaves and had the Jets on the outside looking in, which is to say a fifth-place finish or worse, assuming there’s a 2021 crusade. That isn’t unexpected, I suppose, given that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has basically ignored his most-pressing need—defence. Still, I don’t see the Jets worse than any outfit other than the Tranna Maple Leafs, so I say they finish as high as second and as low as fifth.
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The cash-strapped CFL has declared itself open for business at noon tomorrow, meaning the nine Rouge Football outfits can commence getting signatures on player contracts. Yet this is the same bunch that went panhandling on Parliament Hill last spring/summer, looking for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million to put an abbreviated season in motion. So, with zero revenue coming in, they’ll pay these players how?
The Vancouver Canucks have kicked anthem singer Mark Donnelly to the curb because he’s an anti-masker. Guess that rules out an appearance on The Masked Singer.
And, finally, I tuned in to The Voice this season, and I’m really not sure why. Perhaps it was boredom, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not one of the coaches’ chairs is occupied by the insufferable Miley Cyrus, and that the Blake Shelton/Adam Levine bromance is no longer a thing. Having said that, the current coaches—Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Gwen Stefani and her squeeze, cowboy Shelton—might be the the most dishonest group of people not working in the White House. I mean, they tell us every singer is fantastic, every performance is better than fantastic, no one is ever off-key, they’re already superstars, every performance is better than the previous warble, and they could listen to every singer all day every day. I swear, they’re feeding us so much sugar, I have to book a dentist appointment after every show.
A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and welcome to the 71st November of my lifetime…
So, I’m doing some research the other day and I stumble upon this May 9 headline from the Boston Globe:
“50 years later, Bobby Orr remains gracious, humble, and incomparable.”
Few have been describing Robert Gordon Orr as gracious, humble and incomparable in the past few days. More like dumb, ignorant and fallen idol.
All that because the great No. 4 has outed himself as a hard-core Trumpite who plans to scratch an X next to the name Donald Trump on his ballot for tomorrow’s U.S. presidential election.
Lest there be any doubt about his political posturing, Orr took out a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader last week to confirm his unwavering devotion to the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., trumpeting Trump as “the kind of teammate I want.”
I’m not sure what Derek Sanderson or Eddie Westfall or Wayne Cashman or Pie McKenzie have to say about that, but I suspect one or two of Bobby’s former big, bad Bruins teammates might be cringing.
Many among the rabble and numerous pundits certainly are.
I mean, this is Bobby Orr. Canadian icon. Squeaky-clean boy next door. The greatest player in National Hockey League history on many scorecards, including mine. And he’s marching in lockstep with a man known to put children in cages, who believes groping women is harmless horseplay, who wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him on his orange face? That’s who Bobby Orr has cozied up to?
What, he couldn’t find a better pair of boots to lick?
The same could be said, of course, for golf great Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre, one-time flinger of footballs and renowned flip-flopper. They, too, are confirmed Trumpites. But we don’t care about them so much on this side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.
It’s Orr who has taken a paddywhacking in print and on social media, as if he’s the product of Satan’s loins.
Stu Cowan, Montreal Gazette: “It’s always a sad day when your childhood sports heroes let you down. I’ll never again look at Orr with the same boyhood wonder. (The endorsement of Trump) hit me like an open-ice bodycheck. It shouldn’t have because I’ve been around pro sports as a journalist long enough to know that sometimes the less fans know about their heroes away from the field or arena, the better off they are. But this one did hurt. I’ll sadly scratch him off my hero list. The stain of Trump just won’t wash away.”
Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “Sadly, Orr’s comments reek of appalling ignorance, of a man who has watched too much Fox News. He says he just wants ‘my grandchildren to know the America that I know’ and then chooses to cast Trump as some sort of victim.”
Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “It’s not easy for many sports fans to hear that men they have held as idols for the last half century would endorse a political candidate known for his racism, his sowing of divisiveness in his country and his thorough disregard of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most golf fans, I’ve always revered Nicklaus. Like most Canadians, I’ve always idolized Orr. Like many, I’m bitterly disappointed in them.”
Bruce Arthur, the Toronto Star/TSN: “These guys are wealthy. They’re really rich and Donald Trump wants to airlift money from the poor to the rich, and that helps them. This tells you a lot about Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, what they value in life and what they don’t have to worry about.”
Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “On one level, Orr’s and Nicklaus’s statements took some stones. Neither of them needs the hassle. This opens them up to all sorts of nastiness from the other faction. On the other level, it is dumb beyond measure. Not because of their choice (though that is also dumb), but because two giants of their respective games felt the need to announce it. The United States is tilting sideways for a bunch of reasons. This is one of them.”
Well, let me say this about that: Must be nice to be so filthy rich that you can afford to take out a full-page ad in a newspaper. But I’ll robustly defend Bobby Orr’s right to be as horribly wrong about Donald Trump as any of the other lemmings wearing a MAGA cap. His choice. And if you don’t like it, don’t put halos on athletes.
Last week in America: The sports power couple of hoops great Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe announced their wedding engagement and, one day later, U.S. senator and Trumpite bootlicker Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told “every young woman” that “there’s a place for you in America if you are pro-life, if you embrace your religion, and you follow traditional family structure.” Which means there’s no “place” in Graham’s America for a woman who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in basketball and another women who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in soccer, because they’re lesbians. Lindsey Graham is a special kind of messed up.
Why is it that whenever I watch men’s tennis highlights, there’s a trainer rubbing down one of Milos Raonic’s broken-down body parts, or either Denis Shapovalov or Felix Auger-Alliassime are tossing racquets?
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The Drab Slab is kicking butt when it comes to coverage of lower-tiered sports in Good Ol’ Hometown. I know this because I monitored both the Freep and Winnipeg Sun sections during the past three months, and both rags do boffo work on the big-ticket beats—Blue Bombers, Jets, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC. But it’s a rout otherwise. Here’s the tally on coverage of local/amateur sports (excluding pro teams):
August ……..1 article
September….7 articles, 3 briefs
October…….10 articles Totals………18 articles, 3 briefs
Seriously, 122-18. That reads like a Harlem Globetrotters scoreline.
Do readers want more local coverage? My experience tells me they do, but the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna won’t let them have it in the Sun. And that’s wrong. So don’t point accusing fingers at the Sun’s Scribblers Three—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck. It isn’t their fault. It’s a corporate call.
Here’s something I found interesting: In a recent edition of his morning Playbook feature on the Drab Slab website, sports editor Steve Lyons took issue with commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the aborted Canadian Football League crusade. “It’s been a little over two months since the CFL cancelled its 2020 season,” he wrote. “Since then, a Stanley Cup has been awarded; Game 1 of the World Series was last night; the NFL is into Week 7; LeBron James won another NBA title; heck, even the upstart CPL had a championship. The CFL? Silence.” Notice something missing there? That’s right, no mention of the Women’s National Basketball Association starting and completing a season, nor the National Women’s Soccer League commencing its Fall Series. Unfortunately, that’s the default position for too many upper-management people in sports media—female sports is an after-thought. Or no thought at all.
I’m still reading and hearing that the signing of Dylan DeMelo improves the Winnipeg Jets defence. That simply is not true. Repeat after me: DeMelo was with the Jets last season. That’s not an improvement. It’s status quo. So the glass-is-half-full pundits can cease with their false narrative any time now.
There’s talk of the Ontario Hockey League going to pure pond hockey this winter, which is to say no bodychecking. Hmmm. If they had that rule when I was a kid, I might still be playing.
And, finally, Agent 007, Sean Connery, is dead and I still don’t know what I’m missing, because I’ve never watched a James Bond movie. Loved Sir Sean in Finding Forrester and The Untouchables, though.
There are three stages to the coming-out process for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Discovering yourself is the interesting part, accepting yourself is the hard part, revealing yourself is the frightening part that goes bump in the night.
Yanic Duplessis has arrived at Stage 3.
Young Yanic came out publicly earlier this month and, no, it didn’t qualify as news with an uppercase N because no one is talking about him as a hockey prodigy. He’s still a kid, just 17, and he’s trying to find his way in life and on the ice, where he might one day suit up with Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and possibly beyond.
That’s a big if.
Les Voltigeurs selected the product of Saint-Antoine, N.B., in the ninth round of the Q’s entry draft in 2019, but he was not among the 34 participants in training exercises that began last month. He also declined an invitation to join Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Junior Hockey League for their pre-season frolic. He’s chosen to stick close to home and play high school hockey.
That isn’t the preferred path to a professional career.
Still, Yanic’s coming out caused something of a stir because homosexuality is a taboo topic in male hockey. Except, of course, when anti-gay slurs are used as weaponry.
“It should be a non-event, and some day it will be a non-event, but it’s not a non-event now,” Brian Burke said of Duplessis from his Hockey Night in Canada lectern the other night.
Burke is correct.
A teenage hockey player’s sexuality shouldn’t be news, front or back page. But it grabs the attention of the CBC and HNIC because the National Hockey League has never known an openly gay player. Active or retired. Nor have any of its affiliated minor leagues and its main breeding ground, the Canadian Hockey League. There have been more confirmed sightings of Sasquatch than the gay male hockey player. At least one woman, Manon Rheaume, has appeared in an NHL game (preseason), but never an openly gay man. There are female scouts and coaches. But gay guys? They need not apply.
Many wonder why Yanic Duplessis is news. So he’s gay, they say. Why make a fuss out of his sexuality? Nobody cares, right?
Oh, but they do care.
There were three anti-gay incidents in Airdrie, Alta., this summer, including a rainbow crosswalk that was tarred and feathered.
Would-be Conservative party leadership candidate Richard Décarie believes being gay is “a choice,” and marriage should be exclusive to men and women.
Tennessee governor Bill Lee recently signed into law an anti-gay adoption bill. Nine other states have similar laws.
A student at the University of Louisville entered an LGBT studies course and distributed anti-gay pamphlets.
Last month an employee of a Catholic fringe group in Detroit ordered a cake from the lesbian-owned Good Cakes and Bakes and requested that this message be written on the icing: “Homosexual acts are gravely evil.”
LGBT hate crimes in England and Wales went from 5,807 in 2014-15 to 13,530 in 2018-19.
According to a 2017 report, 60 per cent of LGBT students across the U.S. feel unsafe at school due to sexual orientation and 40 per cent feel unsafe due to gender.
Then there was the recent raising of a Pride flag outside city hall in Minot, N.D., the very heartland of the U.S.A. Mayor Shaun Sipma and council invited the citizenry to share their thoughts on the matter. Here are some of their natterings:
“Today it’s LGBQ. What’s next? BLM? Antifa? White supremacy? You opened up a can of worms Mr. Mayor, and I pray that lunacy does not prevail on the streets of our fine city due to a poor decision brought to us by you. I’m not here to judge. Judgement belongs to a higher power than all of us here.”
“We can pull down the 10 Commandments out of our court yards, out of our schools, we can slap God in the face, mock God. His word says he will not be mocked, just so you know, you ain’t getting away with it, and then raise up a flag praising something that God’s word speaks against. Now I’m gonna tell you a warning, I’m gonna warn you, that’s why I’m here…not about physical violence…I’m here to warn you of God’s judgement. God will…not…let…this…go.”
“The American flag represents the hearts of Americans, and the LGBT flag represents the genitals of certain Americans. Now, I’ve always thought the genitals were kind of a sacred thing, in the sense that, for one, what you do with them is your business and not mine. In terms of the numbers game here, there’s probably a larger Star Wars fan base here than there is LGBT community, and where’s the Star Wars flag being raised? Or Vikings fans? Since we’re next door to Minnesota, let’s raise a Vikings flag. As long as we’re on that page, how about a heterosexual flag and a Confederate flag and the list goes on and on. You opened a can of worms, and do you want all those worms?”
“You can’t even look at the small little things that can turn into a bombshell. I already see our guns coming. It’s coming next. Our freedoms are being taken away. I’ve never been so pissed off in my entire life and so disappointed in our mayor, ’cause you’re bringing war to the city of Minot.”
“I’ve got relatives that were ex-homosexuals, I got friends that are homosexuals. I love ’em all, but here’s the choice: We gotta make a choice for life and not for death.”
“I was raised under the 10 Commandments, and that’s also a law, it’s the law of God. I hope you have the nerve to back up our police department when this city starts seeing the kind of garbage that’s been going on around the country, when people start coming in rioting and tearing things down because of the door you’ve opened.”
“That flag is called an abomination to God. We love God and must stand for truth. When the righteous rule, the people rejoice. When the wicked rule, the people mourn.”
“(The Pride flag) identifies Satan.”
“If that letter P (pedophile) is added to LGBTQ a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, are you still gonna fly that flag?”
Lunacy. Rioting and looting. Worms. Loss of freedoms. Guns. War. Death. Satan. Pedophilia. All that hostility and holier-than-thou condemnation (and there was much, much more) simply because a flag was raised to recognize support for the gay community. Remind me to cancel that weekend trip to Minot.
Homophobia isn’t going to disappear any time soon, and certainly not during what remains of my lifetime. Gays are still too often considered lesser-thans, and men’s hockey represents the final frontier in mainstream sports, even as it trumpets itself as a game that “is for everyone.”
If hockey truly was “for everyone,” Yanic Duplessis coming out wouldn’t even be a blip on the news radar screen.
I don’t know if there’s a God but, if so, I like to think she or he is looking down on young Yanic with favor. Those things that go bump in the night can be mean and nasty and frightening for any 17-year-old kid who’s come out, let alone a hockey player, and they/he need all the positive reinforcement and acceptance they can get.
I know how toxic a hockey changing room can be, so godspeed to him.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m not protesting against anything today, but you might protest my still being here…
Social issues like racism, domestic violence, homophobia, sexism and misogyny tend not to have lengthy shelf lives around the ol’ sports hot stove, at least not with mainstream media.
They’ll use it as a chew toy for a few days—sometimes as long as a week—then abruptly turn their attention back to the scoreboard and more pressing matters, such as the Tranna Jurassics’ bid to repeat as rulers of the hardwood or Tiger Woods’ duck hook.
There’s a reason for the short attention span: They can’t relate.
I mean, the toy departments of Canadian newspapers are diverse like a Chihuahua is an elephant. It is an enterprise consisting of 99 per cent men, all of them white. They’ve never felt the sting of the barbs. Thus, it is head-shakingly laughable and absurd that numerous jock journos, print division, have been lecturing and preaching about proper protest protocol re racial injustice.
Worse, they’ve been scolding the National Hockey League and its players for a stutter-step before Planet Puckhead joined a professional athletes’ “racism is bigger than sports” call-to-action last week.
Ed Willes, Postmedia Vancouver: “On Thursday, the NHL bowed to pressure from the players and cancelled the two playoff games set for that night. Predictably, it was followed by a self-serving statement in which the league—along with the NHLPA in a joint statement—pledged unwavering support to the fight against racism. But it also came a day late and a dollar short. It was also perfectly in keeping with the league that it sat on the sidelines for 24 hours and let the players take the responsibility when it should have been leading the way.”
Mad Mike McIntyre, Drab Slab: “One thing we were reminded of today: The NHL and the vast majority of its players will care about a cause when it’s convenient to them, their schedule and their bottom line. Otherwise, all bets are off and the games go on. Actions really do speak louder than words.” He later called the NHL players’ retreat from the rink “an overdue step.”
Bruce Arthur,Toronto Star: “Instead of Black Lives Matter, they said We Skate For Black Lives. They said they were fighting against racial injustice and for health care workers, like it was a buffet menu. The NHL is a small white town on the US-Canada border and the same people have been in charge forever.”
Damien Cox,Toronto Star: “Apparently response from most NHL players will be ‘we didn’t know.’ What they don’t know is how clueless that makes them sound.” And: “Hockey players are really demonstrating themselves to be clueless.” And “By playing on, NHL is basically saying racial unrest is someone else’s problem. Undermines all the words said earlier this summer.”
Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton: “Hockey missed its moment to make a major statement and act in solidarity with the basketball players the night before. The way it worked out, however, was better late than never. The puck players got it right in the end and doubled down for effect. The NHL players thus managed to pull themselves up by the skate laces and emerge by making a significant statement after all.”
Steve Simmons, Postmedia Toronto (in a string of tweets): “Shouldn’t somebody on the Boston Bruins, who share a building with the Celtics, have taken a knee? Anybody? The NHL players tonight didn’t even take a knee. Sad. If you want to be disappointed, be disappointed in how NHL players responded last night.” Later he wrote: “The fact that NHL players chose to play on Wednesday night without any kind of sign of political awareness or togetherness—not a symbol, not a knee taken, not an arm locked—is a condemnation of them, not the league. This didn’t reflect on the league. It reflects on the players.”
Whoooo, boy. That’s a tall can of righteous ranting. Basically, what we have here is a bunch of white men from a very white business telling white men from another very white business what to do about something they’ve never experienced.
What next? They tell Paul McCartney how to write songs? Show Eric Clapton how to play the guitar? Explain method acting to Tom Hanks?
Look, racism ought to be an everybody issue, but it seems to me that the sports scribes should be asking questions, listening and learning, not telling people what to do and how to do it. Nor should they be tsk-tsking anyone, not when their own operation is naked in its whiteness.
Really what does it matter that NHL players were a day late and a dollar short in moving into lockstep with athletes from the National Basketball Association, the Women’s NBA, Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball and tennis players, who walked off the job earlier last week? As venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama has been heard to say, “One is never late to the party if one brings good wine.”
Since I was knee high to Howdy Doody, athletes have been using their voices to pitch products from Gillette razor blades to ravioli in TV commercials, but now they’re using them to hopefully change minds, change habits and change built-in biases. More significant, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. before them, they’re speaking with their feet. That’s boffo stuff, but it’s also a risky bit of business. What happens the next time a cop kills a Black woman or man? Do they walk away again? If so, do the fans they still have give a damn if they ever return?
Not sure what message Nazem Kadri was trying to send when he wore a Cassius Clay hoodie for a show of solidarity re racism by NHL players last week. Muhammad Ali considered Cassius Clay his “slave name,” so I don’t get it. I’ve been waiting for Kadri to enlighten us, but so far no explanation.
Lived experience is, of course, the best of teachers and, yes, I have felt the sting of the barbs. Too many times and to the point of suicide ideation. I have been denied work, denied service, bullied, ridiculed, taunted, stalked and groped. I’ve been made to feel a lesser-than based on gender, and I’ve received physical threats. I once was told that I shouldn’t be allowed to sit at the bar in the very nightclub I cleaned for a living. “This is where the boys sit,” a longtime regular advised me, his voice dripping with contempt. “You should respect that and sit somewhere else.” All that in the past 12 years. Which is the reason I’ve written more than 100 essays on sports/social issues since I began blogging. Awareness leads to conversation and conversation hopefully leads to understanding and change.
Devin Heroux, a terrific CBC Sports reporter who happens to be gay, tells us he hears homophobic slurs “with alarming frequency during media scrums and in the press boxes and at sporting venues today.” That’s very disturbing. I mean, experience has taught me that the language on press row can get rather raunchy and salty, but homophobic? Call me naive, but I thought that would be strictly taboo in the year 2020.
Devin’s essay recounting his experiences listening to anti-gay slurs as a closeted gay kid playing sports (“I quit hockey because of it.”) is excellent. It’s the kind of stuff you’ll rarely find in a mainstream newspaper sports section because, again, the jock journos can’t relate. Thus they ignore issues like homophobia, sexism, misogyny and domestic violence until it becomes an inconvenience they can’t avoid.
Hey, for the bargain-basement price of $349, you can have your name engraved on the new base of the Canadian Football League’s biggest bauble, the Grey Cup. Which is sort of like having your name engraved on the hubcap of a 1958 Edsel. I mean, neither the CFL or the Edsel are up and running.
If CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie and the three downs overlords insist on panhandling shamelessly, why not go all in? Hold a nationwide telethon. If folks across the land care about our quirky game—and they surely do on the Prairies—they’ll pony up. If not, I guess it’s garage sales, weekend car washes, bake sales and lemonade stands.
Telethons have worked for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who were near extinction more than once. Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands has an interesting piece on the club’s history of financial challenges, which included a bank account that once showed a balance of exactly 30 cents. It’s worth a read.
So, a Mike Trout rookie bubble gum card has sold at auction for $3.936 million. Scant seconds later, millions of parents across North America grounded their kids indefinitely for putting baseball cards in the spokes of their bike wheels.
Just wondering: Do they still include that rock-hard, sugary bubble gum in a pack of baseball cards? I’m guessing dentists everywhere hope so.
Well, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriquez are no longer in the bidding to buy the New York Mets, and that’s really too bad. It would be nice to have another female owner in baseball not named Marge Schott.
Last week I suggested some local news snoops went double-ply Charmin soft on the Winnipeg Jets after their failure to qualify for the NHL Stanley Cup tournament. Basically, they gave the local lads a high-five because they tried really, really hard. Ugh. Therefore, it was with much interest that I read Stu Cowan’s take on the Montreal Canadiens, who, unlike the Jets, actually won a qualifier series and took the Philly Flyers to six games before bowing out. “This year, the Canadiens were a bad team that didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs,” he wrote in the Montreal Gazette. “There aren’t many NHL cities that will celebrate a first-round playoff exit, and Montreal definitely shouldn’t be one of them.” I trust the softies on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown are paying attention.
And, finally, what’s the over-under on the number of positive COVID-19tests it will take before the U.S. Open tennis tournament is double faulted? And, if they manage to finish what they start this week at Flushing Meadows, will it be a walkover for Serena Williams in the women’s draw, since six of the world’s top eight players have chosen to give the Grand Slam event a pass?
A return of the Sunday morning smorgas-bored after a pause that was supposed to last a month…and you’ll have to forgive me if I play a bit of catch-up…
Whenever I see the name Mike Milbury trending on Twitter, it tells me that he’s said something stupid and has undergone an emergency footectomy, whereby one of his large feet has been surgically removed from his even larger yap. Yet again.
It also prompts me to check my calendar to confirm that this is 2020, not 1960.
Whenever I hear someone like Thom Brennaman spew an anti-gay slur on-air and then, in delivering a mea culpa, he assures us that “this is not who I am, it never has been,” I sigh, then wait for my eyeballs to roll back into their sockets.
And, again, I glance at the calendar to confirm that we are post-Stonewall, not stuck in the ’60s.
Sadly, it was a messy week in the sports blurt box, and it’s frustrating and wearisome in the extreme that we’re still listening to the “did he really say that?” natterings of dinosaurish men unable to drag their hairy knuckles into the 21st century.
One of them, Milbury, is a product of the 1950s. The other, Brennaman, is circa ’60s.
Milbury is a former National Hockey League player of plodding mediocrity, his career noteworthy only because he one night clambered into the seating area of Madison Square Garden and whacked a paying patron on the head with a shoe. In terms of shinny theory, he’s a direct descendant of rock ’em, sock ’em Don Cherry, a lineage that failed him miserably as an NHL general manager and has racked up similarly unfavorable results in the NBC Sports broadcast booth.
Milbury, is a serial sexist, with strong leanings toward homophobia.
He laments the “pansification” of hockey. He once observed the play of NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin and called the supremely talented twins “Thelma and Louise.” Years after Slava Voynov was sent to jail and deported to Russia for thumping the crap out of his bride, Milbury described the wife-
beating as an “unfortunate incident.” He called fellow talking head Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom.” More recently, he drew a parallel between empty NHL rinks and women’s college hockey, even though numerous American female college teams attract robust audiences. And, of course, there’s his latest bit of sexist misspeak during a New York Islanders-Washington Capitals skirmish the other night. Discussing the impenetrable playoff bubble the NHL has established in the Republic of Tranna, he noted, “Not even any women here to disrupt your concentration.”
Apparently, it has escaped Milbury’s notice that each year, scant seconds after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, the smiling, giddy victors are joined on the freeze and at rinkside by smiling, giddy wives and girlfriends.
Imagine that. Winning a championship with all those pesky women on site to “disrupt” their concentration. How is that even possible?
But, hey, maybe this explains why Milbury was such a colossal flop as GM of the Islanders: The poor sap went home to a woman every night. She was such a disruption to his concentration that he traded away Zdeno Chara and Roberto Luongo.
Brennaman, meanwhile, was raised by baseball broadcasting royalty, his dad Marty the voice of the Cincinnati Reds for nearly half a century. He insists he isn’t homophobic (he’s a “man of faith,” don’t you know), except the evidence supports the notion that he’s very much anti-gay. He was heard, on-air, calling an unidentified locale “one of the fag capitals of the world” during a bit of banter with co-workers, and his emphasis on the word “fag” carried an unmistakable tone of contempt.
“That is not who I am. It never has been,” Brennaman said while apologizing “for the people who sign my paycheque, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with.”
Notably, he did not apologize to the very people he thinks he might have offended—the LGBT(etc.) collective.
It was an “I’ve gotta save my ass,” clichéd mea culpa. At no point did he mention the word gay. Or homosexual. Or the LGBT(etc.) community. Worse, he followed the next day with Part 2 of his exercise in ass-saving: “I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence,” he said of his slur.
Oh, shut the hell up, man. Nobody’s that thick.
Brennaman believed his mic was dead when he uttered the offensive word, which suggests he’s quite comfortable using anti-gay language in his work space, and only the most naive among us would conclude that this was a one-off.
Look, there’s no crime in growing old. It happens to most of us. But there is something terribly wrong with networks hiring wrinkled men who can’t adjust to the motion of life. Some of what was acceptable in the 20th century doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not hard to figure out.
Those who can’t—or refuse—are the true disruption. And a great many of us are tired of it.
Turns out the boys in the NBC Sports blurt box will have to get along without Milbury’s mangled mutterings for the remainder of the Stanley Cup runoff, because he’s retreated from the Republic of Tranna bubble. No word on how he plans to spend his downtime, but perhaps he’ll go on a search for the real Seattle Space Needle.
Honest, I hadn’t planned on returning to the keyboard until the Labor Day weekend. You know, the same time the Canadian Football League was supposed to kick off its Coles Notes version of a 2020 crusade. But here I am. Back early, even if Rouge Football isn’t and won’t be.
The cancellation of the CFL season brought to mind an incident a few years ago while I was walking to my home on the hem of downtown Victoria.
I passed a pair of panhandlers and tossed two toonies into their begging cap.
One of the men politely thanked me. The other made a crude comment about my skirt. I reached down, withdrew both toonies from the cap and handed one to the fellow who had expressed his gratitude for the offered alms. The guy with the potty mouth squawked mightily, but there would be no toonie for him.
Moral of the story: Panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
And so it was with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and his three-downs overlords, who thought it would be a swell idea to put the squeeze on Trudeau the Younger for a COVID-19 handout. We’re told the ask was $150 million in early May. Then $30 million. Then $42.5 million. Then $30 million again, interest free.
Considering Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill have earmarked many billions of dollars for at-risk businesses and salary-strapped working stiffs since spring, the CFL beg was chump change.
Alas, the buck stopped with Rouge Football. No funds for you!
Thus the three-downs overlords—some of them (hello, Wade Miller) absolutely aghast that the feds had no appetite for propping up an enterprise that took a $20 million bath in red ink a year ago—put the kibosh on the 2020 crusade. No hub in Good Ol’ Hometown, no six-game season, and no swilling of bubbly from the Grey Cup for the first time since Prohibition. (The very thought must send shivers up and down Chris Streveler’s spine.)
Many accusing fingers, not surprisingly, have been pointed in the direction of Commish Randy, for proper reason.
Aside from apparently finding his business plan at the bottom of a box of Flutie Flakes, he had the bad manners to do his Parliamentary panhandling sans the input and allyship of the very people who, in non-COVID times, attract customers to all those fancy-shmancy, government-subsidized facilities that dot the landscape—the players.
That was dumb, and we’ve already established that panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
Worth noting: Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez just forked out $40 million for new digs. Maybe Commish Randy should have hit up JLo and ARod instead of Trudeau the Younger for the $30 million.
Hey, we aren’t here to flog Commish Randy this morning. We’ll leave it to the three-downs overlords to determine if his work warrants a few whacks of the lash, or if they’d be wise to look for someone else to do their bidding as they proceed toward a 2021 season that surely must include patrons in the pews. Whichever route they take, the best starting point in the reworking of the CFL would be for the overlords to cozy up to the players association.
As much as I miss our quirky three-downs game, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted in May, whereby the citizenry was asked if they would be “disappointed” should the CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba (63 per cent) and Saskatchewan (61 per cent) did the majority respond with a “hell ya!” The rest of the land? Just a shrug of the shoulders. Here are the numbers: Alberta 45 per cent, B.C. 34 per cent, Quebec 31 per cent, Ontario 28 per cent, Atlantic Canada 17 per cent.
Interesting how sports sheets across the land played the big CFL story. It was front page news in every rag on the Prairies. It was inside filler in the Toronto Sun (pages 8-9), the Montreal Gazette (page 2) and the Vancouver Sun (pages 6-7). The National Post, meanwhile, ran Scott Stinson’s column on a news page, beside a piece on Peter Nygard and rape. Little wonder that those are Rouge Football’s three worst markets.
Let’s see, what else went down during my time away from the keyboard? Well, Dale Hawerchuk left us, so we lost one of the good guys. I never got to know Ducky well. Unlike other news snoops, I kept my relationships with jocks strictly professional, and I always found Ducky to be obliging and authentic. He was seldom shy about sharing his feelings re my scribblings (he thought them to be complete “crap”), but that didn’t prevent me from defending him in print when the Drab Slab stirred the pot with a story on a deep rift between Ducky and Dan Maloney, then head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was pure fiction, and both Friar Nicolson and I reported it that way.
Ducky was sports royalty in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t imagine many, if any, among the rabble objecting to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s plan to plop a statue of No. 10 outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
I still say there should be a likeness of Ben Hatskin somewhere in the vicinity of the Little Hockey House, because there’d be no Jets today if not for the original bankroll. But I doubt I’ll ever see that happen.
Read a couple of truly wonderful essays on Ducky after his death, one by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and the other by the Drab Slab’s Mad Mike McIntyre. Both are worth the read if you missed them.
The Winnipeg Jets’ frolic at the Jason Kenney Mountain Resort in downtown Edmonton came to a rather inglorious conclusion earlier this month, and the farewell natter between news snoops and head coach Paul Maurice delivered one terrific sound bite.
Jason Bell of the Drab Slab: “Why are you still the right man for the job in this organization?”
Maurice: “We would say off the start that the first playoff round that we won two years ago was the first playoff round this franchise won, so it’s the right guy then. You know, I’ve been to the conference final three times, Stanley Cup final. This year I’m gonna rate as top three years that I’ve had in this league, and I’ll include my staff on that. We did a fantastic job surviving what we went through.”
Coach Potty Mouth added some other mindless blah, blah, blah about going forward, but he chose to ignore the facts. The Jets were not in a playoff position when the NHL shut down in March. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in four years, ousted by the Calgary Flames in four games. Maurice has missed the playoffs four times in his seven seasons as the Jets bench jockey. He has won the grand sum of two playoff series and is 12-19 post-season, including this month’s failed qualifier. They have regressed. But, sure, he’s the right man for the job.
Some interesting, also poor, analysis on the Jets season from news snoops. Mad Mike McIntyre glorified the local lads because they tried really, really hard, don’t you know. We should think of them with “pride” he tells us, because “they busted their tails right to the bitter end.” Oh joy. Let’s give them a participation badge. Over at the tabloid, Scott Billeck mentioned something about “what the Jets did achieve.” Good grief. They achieved squat. Bupkis.
The only honest breakdown on the Jets was provided by Ted Wyman who, following their ouster from the Stanley Cup qualifying tournament, wrote this in the Sun: “The Flames had better scoring, better defence, better goaltending, better special teams, better physicality and better production from their very best players. If you were picking the five best performers in the series, they’d all be Calgary players—including goaltender Cam Talbot, who outplayed Jets Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck by a wide margin.” That’s telling it like it is, Teddy boy.
Nice to see Rick Bowness has his Dallas Stars running hot in the Stanley Cup tournament. Bench boss Bones is a former Jets player/coach and one of the truly good guys in the game.
I must confess that I had my doubts about the NHL successfully pulling off their playoffs in the two bubbles, one in E-Town and the other in the Republic of Tranna, but it’s working. And what is it proving? Just this: The NHL doesn’t need in-rink fans and it doesn’t need independent media to send out the message. Makes you wonder what it’s all going to look like on the other side of COVID-19, doesn’t it? Daily newspapers should fear the worst.
So, Elliotte Friedman has hacked off his mangled chin whiskers. That’s a good thing. The Hockey Night in Canada gabber looked like a guy who’d spent too much time stranded on an island, talking to a volleyball with Tom Hanks. And there’s not a chance that a female broadcaster would be allowed to appear on camera looking that unkempt, which is what we call a double standard.
Steve Simmons is in a stew because the Vancouver Canucks are the last hoser team standing in the Stanley Cup tournament, and the NHL/Sportsnet are disturbing his bedtime sked. “One team left in Canada and the NHL can’t figure out how to schedule them at a time when the country can be awake to watch? Dumb of Sportsnet, dumb of the NHL. That’s an 11:30 pm start in Nova Scotia, midnight in NFLD,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe whinges. Yes, by all means, let’s televise the Canucks games when all their faithful followers on the West Coast are still at work, just so easterners who don’t give a damn can ignore them in prime time. Just put on your jammies, Steve, and watch the game.
And, finally, the greybeard boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. has been pushed back from mid-September to the end of November. Apparently scientists require the extra time to complete carbon testing on the ancient pugs.
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.