Let’s talk about sexism and homophobia in kids hockey…the 21st century is calling, men…NASCAR ain’t just whistling Dixie…the Dream Gappers playing nice…on the in-isolation book shelf…why would any woman want to date George Costanza?…and other things on my mind

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…

That’s Delbert Wagner on the drums with the Jimmy King Quartet.

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.

Wilma Rudolph

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.

Megan Rapinoe

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.

Yogi reads Yogi.

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.

Jayna Hefford

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.

The Costanzas

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.

Let’s talk about Canadian jock journalism and its diversity deficiency

The soft, societal underbelly of Canadian jock journalism is being exposed.

Again.

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.

Kareem

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:

Michael Grange

“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.”

Ron MacLean

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.

Auston Matthews

“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.

Johnny Manziel

“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.

Michael Sam

“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.

Donnovan Bennett

Bennett authored a thought-provoking essay on the current racist unrest in the U.S., and he closed with this:

“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.