Let’s talk about “Delicious Debbie’s” gams and how the boys on the beat saw them

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.”

Debbie Brill

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?

Trent Frayne

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.

Jocelyne Bourassa

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.

Translating Chevy-speak into real talk…

On the eve of the National Hockey League entry draft, and four days in advance of the free agency window opening, Kevin Cheveldayoff had a natter with news snoops and, as is his custom, the Winnipeg Jets general manager talked in Chevy-speak.

That is to say, he said a lot without really saying anything.

Not to worry. We have a code cracker. And she’s listened to the tape and decoded Chevy-speak, providing insight into his thoughts scant hours before he delivers the 10th shoutout at Tuesday’s auction of teenage talent.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question: What are the organization’s thoughts on the 10th overall selection?

What Chevy said: “Well I think it’s an exciting time to look at the board and see a top-10 pick and know that…we feel there’s a real good player there. I think there’s a possibility it could have multiple different combinations ahead of us. I think there’s lot of different processes how it might unfold.”

What Chevy really meant: “Damn ping pong balls. Any luck at the lottery and we’d be picking that Lafreniere kid from Quebec instead of another Finn or American. No matter. Officially, whomever we pick on Tuesday, we’ll be gobsmacked that the Finnish or American kid was still available.”

Question: How would you describe the NHL market place right now?

What Chevy said: “Specifically, as far as our organization, there’s been no change in philosophy with respect to spending to the cap if the possibility of requiring the right people or players are there.”

What Chevy really meant: “Get serious. No one wants to come to Winnipeg. We all know that. We’ll be sifting through the dregs as usual.”

Question: Are you looking to bring back your own UFAs?

What Chevy said: “We would like to bring some, um, I guess ultimately you’d love to have the ability to bring everybody that you wanted in. Hopefully we’ve got an opportunity to bring some of them back.”

What Chevy really meant: “Oh, hell’s bells, nobody else wants ’em, so I guess we’re stuck with ’em.”

Dustin Byfuglien

Question: Would it be the blueline or down the middle that tops the list of needs right now?

What Chevy said: “Well, again, we have two situations, or we had two organizational situations that had a big impact. Obviously, you know, Dustin Byfuglien on the eve of training camp…um, we had a two-year deal and all our planning and prognostications were, you know, having him for this coming season as well. So obviously that created a hole that until you get into this period of time you truly try to address. So that’s an area that we’re trying to address. Then obviously waiting to get a better understanding where things are with Bryan (Little). So certainly the centre position is equally important.”

What Chevy really meant: “Buff screwed us. Screwed us royally. Oh, I know the fans love the big lug, and I’d feel the same way if he hadn’t left us standing at the altar, so to speak, last year. I swear, if Buff signs with the Minnesota Wild, I’ll break both his ankles. Well, okay, I won’t do it personally, but I know people who know people with tire irons.”

Question: Is a virtual draft different than an in-person draft?

What Chevy said: “It has changed how we’ve had to do things. From a draft, scouting perspective, there was a tournament that was cancelled that I think everybody really banks on to, you know, get the final exam so to speak for the prospects and that didn’t occur. So there was less viewing opportunities.”

What Chevy really meant: “If you thought the entry draft was a crap shoot before, this is like playing pin the tail on the donkey without a donkey. Someone’s gonna end up looking like an ass, and I just hope it isn’t me.”

Question: Is there a guy at No. 10 that’s pretty close to stepping into the lineup?

What Chevy said: “Um, you know, it’s hard to say who’s gonna be there at 10. I’m not sitting here right now planning that, you know, the player we get at 10 is gonna be pegged to step in the lineup right away.”

What Chevy really meant: “Get a grip, dude. The Finnish or American kid we pick at No. 10 has as much chance of making the final roster as Clint Eastwood joining the Radio City Rockettes.”

Question: Is there an opportunity in the next 10 days to alter the look and feel of the club?

What Chevy said: “There’s desires to be active in the free agent market and there’s desires to potentially be active in the trade market if something’s there that makes sense that makes our organization better. But, again, the lure of just simply relying on free agency, again, you know, lots of money, lots of term gets thrown around at those times, there’s an impact that lasts well beyond October ninth that you have to truly understand.”

What Chevy really meant: “Are you hard of hearing, dude? I’ve already said no one wants to come to Winnipeg. Never mind October the neuf. Pick a month. Any month. January, June, August. December. Free agents would rather be stranded on an island with nothing but Yanni and Anne Murray tapes and plant-based burgers. As for the guys traded here, they squawk like a Thanksgiving turkey that knows the jig’s up.”

Question: Will you target a specific forward position in this draft?

What Chevy said: “I think, again, we’re gonna stick to our philosophy of certainly, you know, in the first round of drafting the best player available. If you don’t do that, I think you can really, you know, really make some mistakes.”

What Chevy really meant: “Does the name Logan Stanley mean anything to you?”

Question: Does an offer sheet interest a general manager in your position?”

What Chevy said: “I think, again, knowing…being on the other side where people were talking about potential offer sheets in the past, I think everybody has contingency plans. There’s ways to get around an offer sheet as well with respect to trading other players or creating the cap space. I think any general manager that feels vulnerable to that has contingency plans in place. I think that’s probably one of the reasons why you don’t see it as a pool that’s used very much because it’s not often successful.”

What Chevy really meant: “You saw what Carolina Hurricanes did last year when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to that wimpy offer sheet. I think Hurricanes GM Don Waddell peed himself laughing. Same thing would happen if a team targeted one of my guys, except I’ve got a stronger bladder than Don, so it wouldn’t be as messy.”

Patrik Laine

Question: Why would a player of Patrik Laine’s stature be in trade conversations?

What Chevy said: “I just think it’s the way the game is, with respect to looking at all your different options. I think that’s what, you know, you’re supposed to do when you’re looking at trying to improve a team. Again, there’s certain things that, your know, are behind closed doors that are between manager and manager that, again, I’m just not privy to give out those kind of conversations. It’s the nature of the industry that everyone gets talked about.”

What Chevy really meant: “Who are you? Lord of the Flies on the Wall? You wanna know what other GMs and I are saying about Patty? Hire Bob Woodward.”