The Elliotte Friedman Flub: Will the sports media cut athletes the same kind of slack?

So, Elliotte Friedman had a Bill Buckner d’oh moment.

He didn’t simply stumble in his clumsy call of the men’s 200-meter individual medley final on Thursday at the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. He performed a full-on face plant into the compost heap. Misidentifying Michael Phelps and declaring Ryan Lochte the gold-medal winner when, in fact, the latter finished a distant fifth is as bad a broadcasting blunder as you’re apt to hear.

What I find interesting, however, is the fallout to Friedman’s epic faux pas.

Elliotte Friedman
Elliotte Friedman

Basically, the CBC gab guy has been given a get-out-of-jail-free card. From 95 per cent of tweeters. And, more notably, from 100 per cent of his brethren in the toy department of Canada’s Fourth Estate. The prevailing theme seems to be, “Hey, stuff happens. Nothing to see here, folks. Let’s move along.”

That would be fine, except for one thing—sports scribes/chin-waggers are the first to brandish the pitchforks and torches whenever a professional athlete, coach, manager, commissioner (hello, Roger Goodell) or team owner stubs a toe.

Glossing over the Friedman Flub, as they have, is hypocrisy unharnessed.

I realize that jock journalists, most notably in the print stable, are loath to eat their own, and I’m not advocating the kicking of a good man when he’s down. But if they’re going to pick Friedman up, dust him off, smooth his clothing and apply salve to his emotional owies, should they not extend similar sympathies and kindnesses to the athletes they write and talk about?

We won’t hold our breath waiting for that to happen, though, will we?

Hey, I feel for Friedman, because once upon a time I was in the media. I know the demands and the stress levels. So I get it. The thing is, some have gone to ridiculous extremes in rallying ’round their crestfallen and contrite colleague.

A Dave Shoalts column in the Globe and Mail provides an example of the sugar coating.

Twenty-two minutes after that horrendous miscue, in which he confused gold-medal winner Michael Phelps for his fellow American swimmer Ryan Lochte for the entire race, Friedman went back to the CBC microphone and delivered a solid play-by-play call of Penny Oleksiak’s historic gold-medal win for Canada.”

Excuse me? Solid play-by-play? Friedman mistakenly referred to Oleksiak as Emily Overholt. But Shoalts added yet more sweetness, submitting the gaffe was a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Spare me.

Whatever became of telling it like it is in sports? Friedman screwed up. Royally. Not once but twice. And the fact he immediately delivered a mea culpa on air and on Twitter doesn’t erase that reality. Fact is, he had no choice but to apologize during the broadcast. I mean, he had the wrong guy winning the race, for cripes sake.

Some look at the kid-gloves handling of the Friedman Flub as a ripe example of us being a kinder, gentler, more polite people. Road apples! Imagine the reaction had this been an American broadcaster bungling the call of a race featuring two Canadian swimmers. We’d freak out. It would be Harold Reynolds revisited.

Billl Buckner's d'oh moment.
Billl Buckner’s d’oh moment.

Look, Elliotte Friedman has been a solid reporter for more than two decades and oft has served as the voice of reason when natterbugs Glenn Healy and P.J. Stock were speaking no known language on Hockey Night in Canada.

Does his Olympics gaffe undo a lifetime of quality work? No. But this might stick to him like infamy has stuck to Bill Buckner. Few remember that Buckner had 2,715 base hits and batted .300 or better seven times during his lengthy Major League Baseball career. For Buckner, it always comes back to a baseball dribbling through his legs in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Hopefully, Friedman will be more fortunate than Buckner and his gaffe won’t become his Mary’s Little Lamb. Whatever the case, the next time one of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism has the urge to cut an athlete a new butthole, I hope he/she remembers how they cut Friedman large slack.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

Michael Sam: There are no gay voices in Canadian sports journalism (print division) to tell the story about a gay football player

And, now, a word about Michael Sam from all the gay sports writers at major daily newspapers in Canada…

Oh. Wait. There are no gay sports writers at the major dailies in Canada.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

At least, there are none that I know of.

So, everything that you have read, or will read, about Michael Sam potentially performing in the Canadian Football League comes from the perspective of white heterosexual males, or, in much smaller numbers, white heterosexual females.

Some of them will care that Sam is gay, only because it gives them a fresh angle to scribble about once the large lads commence to grabbing grass and growling at the Montreal Alouettes training camp this month and next. He’ll make for juicy copy. Others will care because of the social significance of an openly gay man participating in the most macho of professional team sports. Still others will care because they are homophobic (if you believe there aren’t homophobes among the flowers of print jock journalists, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Winnipeg that I’d like to sell you).

Nary a word, however, will be written by a man or woman who actually understands what it’s like to be gay.

I maintain that one need not be gay to write about gay issues, any more than one need be an accomplished actor to opine about the merits of George Clooney’s latest work, or a priest to discuss the pros and cons of the 10 commandments.

It helps, though.

I mean, only a gay person can write the Sam story with an appropriate portion of passion. Only a gay person can relate to the paralyzing fear and anxiety of being outed, or coming out, to friends, family and co-workers. Only a gay person knows the sting of rejection and discrimination based soley on a preference of bedmates. Only a gay person can relate to the catcalls and hate language born of homophobia.

How does one get to the meat of an issue if she or he cannot possibly understand the issue?

I often write about LGBT matters not merely because they are important to me, but because they are me. I live it. Every day. I know what Michael Sam has gone through. What he is going through. What he will go through. It’s all on a different scale and in a different arena, that’s all.

The point is, I can write it from a personal perspective. Nobody in Canada’s mostly white, mostly old-boys club of heterosexual sports scribes can do that vis-a-vis Sam.

Is that important? Absolutely, because it speaks to credibility.

Why do you think we see so many ex-jocks propped up as talking heads on the various panels on televised hockey, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, etc.? Let go of the notion that some of them (hello P.J. Stock, Glenn Healy, Nick Kypreos, Glen Suitor, Milt Stegall, etc.) can be terribly annoying. They’re there because they’ve been there, done that.

Doug Brown, ex of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, pens a piece in the Winnipeg Free Press not because he’s a gifted wordsmith. In general, the former defensive lineman’s weekly column is an exercise in how many big words he can cram into his alloted space. On occasion, however, he puts major points on the scoreboard because he takes us inside the locker room and into the players’ heads, something only a gridiron gladiator who spent considerable time in the trenches can do.

In the case of Sam, who signed a two-year contract with the Als on Friday, I suspect Brown’s next offering will do that very thing.

Assuming Sam survives the final cut and is with the Larks for a portion, or the entirety, of the 2015 CFL season, the “gay” angle will be beaten to death. Like it or not. And it’s my guess that sports scribes across the nation will offer a favorable slant on the one-time Missouri Tiger defensive end’s personal story.

Unfortunately, their copy will be devoid of passion, insight and first-hand knowledge. In other words, the mountain of Sam stuff you read will be missing everything that writing should be about.

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