Gay athletes need allies, too

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.

Christion Jones

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.

Tom Shipton and John Epping.

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.

Let’s talk about panhandling on Parliament Hill…a new CFL might look like the (really) old CFL…the PWHPA pity party…a tip of the bonnet to Melissa Martin…the week in jock journalism…dead weight and dead horses…and other things on my mind

Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime?

How about 300 million of them? Do I hear 1,500,000,000?

Commish Randy

Apparently Randy Ambrosie doesn’t think that’s too much of an ask, because he’s panhandling on Parliament Hill these days, hoping that Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger is a fan of three-downs football and has a spare $30 million to $150 million stashed in his couch at Rideau Cottage.

If not…well, that’s the part of the big beg that Ambrosie has yet to spell out, but it suggests the end could be nigh for the Canadian Football League. Final score: COVID-19, CFL-0.

And, no, now that you’ve asked, I don’t think that’s being alarmist or extremist.

Look, I realize the CFL already has had more sticks of Acme dynamite blow up in its face than Wile E. Coyote, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a different kind of beast. The sports world will be harder to put together than a broken egg, and our quirky game requires a special kind of fix.

Rouge Football, you see, isn’t doable without fannies in the pews, even if the Argonauts and the dismissive citizenry in the Republic of Tranna do their best to prove otherwise. It can’t work. Not in The ROT, not in Good Ol’ Hometown, not on the Left Flank, where the locals won’t even come in from the rain to watch the Lions.

Thus, if turnstiles aren’t turning, it’s folly to discuss a Coles Notes version of a 2020 CFL crusade commencing on the Labor Day weekend.

PM Trudeau the Younger

Which means, yes, short of Trudeau the Younger morphing into PM Pigskin and tossing $30M into Commish Randy’s begging cap immediately (and another $120M if this season is a no-go), the CFL as we know it is likely a done deal.

“What would happen if that $30 million assistance was denied?” TSN’s Dave Naylor asked Randy the Panhandler the other day.

“I’m not indulging in the question what happens if it doesn’t work because I believe we’re going to find a way to make it work,” came the answer.

No surprise that Commish Randy would decline to engage in doomsday talk. He’s one of those dudes who’ll tell you his watch can’t possibly be broken because it shows the correct time twice a day. He’s never seen a half-empty stadium. Not even BMO Field in The ROT. Always half full. He knows what an empty piggy bank looks like, though, and he recognizes that saving the CFL will take more than a GoFundMe page.

And that’s a very grim reckoning for many of my vintage.

I remember when the CFL was the big dog in town, because we didn’t have National Hockey League outfits to call our own out in the colonies. But we had Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Bud Grant and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Saskatchewan had the Little General, George, Gluey Huey and the Roughriders. Calgary had Eagle Day, Earl the Earthquake, Ham Hands and the Stampeders. Edmonton had Spaghetti Legs, the China Clipper, Johnny Bright and the Eskimos. B.C. had Peanut Butter Joe, Willie the Wisp, Nub and the Lions.

So a Canada without Rouge Football? Sorry, that’s not my Canada.

It would be like a pub without pints. A church without prayer. The McKenzie Brothers without brown pops, toques, earmuffs and a “beauty day, eh.”

But that’s my take, owing to the fact I was weaned on the game when single-bar face masks were still in vogue, and east was east and west was west and never the twain did meet until the Grey Grail was up for grabs.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Others, however, won’t be swayed by notions of nostalgia and Canadiana culture. They don’t want their tax dollars used to pay Mike Reilly’s and Bo Levi Mitchells’ $700,000 salaries, and certainly not Commish Randy’s reported annual stipend of half a million loonies. That’s an impossible sell when many thousands among the rabble are forced to feed at the public trough due to COVID-19, and going-out-of-business signs are popping up like dandelions.

I’ve heard the CFL described as a mom-and-pop operation and, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is. It’s dwarfed by the goliath that is the National Football League, and robust broadcasting contracts allow the other main players (National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer) to re-enter the fray sans customers. At least temporarily.

Not so Rouge Football.

Pundits suggest Commish Randy’s beg is a Hail Mary pass, and I’m inclined to agree. But, hey, Trudeau the Younger is a good Catholic boy, so he probably owns a rosary and might have an “in” when it comes to answered prayers.

If not, I fear there’s a very real possibility the CFL will run out of downs.

Bo Levi Mitchell

I don’t want to pay Bo Levi Mitchell’s wage anymore than the next person but, for the record, I have no problem with the CFL panhandling on Parliament Hill. I’d do the same thing. That doesn’t make it the right thing, but it doesn’t make it wrong, either.

The hardest part of Commish Randy’s sales pitch? Convincing the feds that people hither and yon actually give a damn about Rouge Football. He can wax poetic about the beauty of the three-downs game, how it’s a significant and historic thread in the country’s fabric, but he can’t sugar coat the head counts in our three largest markets—the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, Vancouver. I’ve seen more people at a neighborhood flea market than the Argos attract to BMO Field. The Lions are a rumor in B.C. Montreal showed a pulse late last season, but it was faint. So never mind the odious notion of bailing out millionaire and billionaire owners, how does Commish Randy sell the feds on a product that most of the rabble is meh about?

No matter how this all shakes down, I’m convinced we’ll see someone ride a horse into a big-city hotel lobby on the final Sunday in November once again. But not this year. A post-pandemic CFL won’t look the same, at least not initially. I see reduced rosters, more Canadians and fewer imports on game-day rosters, wage shrinkage (on and off the field), and two leagues under the CFL banner: The Western Football League and the Eastern Football Union. No more interlocking play. Just West v. West/East v. East until the Grey Cup game. You know, like it was in the 1950s and into the ’60s. And road trips on the bus (except to B.C.) to lower costs. That’s what the tea leaves are telling me, so remember where you read it first. Or not.

Liz Knox

What a surprise—the CFL asks for money from the feds and we hear squawking from other athletes, notably Liz Knox, one of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association mouthpieces. “We’re asking for peanuts compared to a $150-million ask,” she bleated, recalling the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last spring. “When the CWHL was folding, we were talking in the hundreds of thousands to get us in the clear so the league didn’t have to fold. We’re talking two or three CFL salaries. That would (have) made the difference of us literally surviving or not. Women’s sport is often seen as a charity, but that’s not the narrative that we’re hearing about the CFL and their situation right now.” Well, actually, that’s exactly what many among the rabble are calling the CFL these days—a charity case. Liz might want to try a different narrative.

Why is it that members of the PWHPA seem to be caught in a never-ending pity party, constantly griping about the sorry lot in life that they’ve created for themselves and demanding what they “deserve,” yet we never hear similar grumbling from the National Women’s Hockey League? NWHL leaders simply go about their business, adding an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, conducting a player draft, and prepping for the 2020 crusade. At last report, 26 women are already on board for the NWHL’s sixth season, and none of them are bitching about “deserving” a living wage. That’s what they’re building toward—a better tomorrow for Ponytail Puck—and I’d say they’re going about it the right way.

Melissa Martin

In the winter of 2015, I was having a discussion with friend/former colleague Judy Owen about sports scribes at Winnipeg’s two dailies, and I directed her attention to a young writer still trying to find her way in the rag trade. “I really like Melissa Martin’s stuff,” I told Jude. “She doesn’t cover things the same old, same old way. She has a different style, and I like different. She’s the best pure writer they have at the Freep.” Jude didn’t disagree, but she seemed genuinely surprised, if not mildly amused, that I harbored such high regard for Melissa. Well, fast forward to spring 2020: Melissa won her second National Newspaper Award the other night, as top columnist in the country. Like I was saying five years ago, she’s the best they’ve got at the Drab Slab. Still. Too bad she only makes cameo appearances in the toy department.

Kate Beirness

The week in jock journalism…

Really nice read from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on Ralph Wild, a 101-year-old who’s been root, root, rooting for the Blue Bombers since Buddy Tinsley almost drowned during the Mud Bowl at Varsity Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. If you’re scoring at home, that was in 1950, so Ralph has seen some football…Shrinkage alert: The Winnipeg Sun sports section was reduced to just four pages three days last week. And, get this: They managed to fill those pages mostly with local copy. Imagine that. Running local copy by local scribes instead of all the usual flapdoodle from the Republic of Tranna. What a concept…Mind you, it was back to normal for today’s edition, with a Toronto-centric piece on the sports front and more on the inside…Made a point of watching the Her Mark show on TSN, but I’m afraid it totally missed the mark. The guest list included Christine Sinclair, Tessa Virtue, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kia Nurse, Natalie Spooner and Hayley Wickenheiser, and host Kate Beirness said, “I hope the stories they share will be as uplifting to viewers as they have been to me.” Excuse me? What stories? It was a series of public service announcements. So let’s just call it an opportunity lost for female athletes…Why does TSN, or anyone for that matter, think Will Ferrell is funny? He isn’t. Ferrell pranked the Seattle Seahawks on a Zoom gathering the other day, expressing his “love” for quarterback Russell Wilson and saying “let’s make a baby.” Beirness described the bit as “fantastic.” No. It was totally lame, just like Ferrell’s gig in the TSN curling booth…Sad news out of Calgary: Longtime broadcaster Russ Peake died at age 80. You’d have to look long and hard to find a nicer man than Russ.

If you have a spare 50 minutes in your day (and who doesn’t?), grab a beer or a glass of vino and check out Road to the Grey Cup, a documentary on the Bombers’ journey to their three-downs title last November. It’s the handiwork of Rheanne Marcoux (creative director), Riley Marra (producer, editor, videographer), Jeremy Derochers and Sam Calvert (videographers) and it’s boffo stuff.

Hafthor Bjornsson

There was considerable ballyhoo on Saturday when an extremely large Icelandic lad named Hafthor Bjornsson established a world record for dead-lifting 1,104 pounds. What’s the big deal? The Cleveland Browns have been carrying that much dead weight since the 1960s.

There’s also been much natter about the incomparable Secretariat winning NBC’s virtual running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Big Red out-galloped a field that included 12 other Triple Crown champions, including 1919 winner Sir Barton, who finished last by about 15 lengths. Talk about flogging a dead horse.

The talented Murat Ates of The Athletic has scanned the Winnipeg Jets roster and determined that there are five untouchables: Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. That’s right, he’ll trade away Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor or Puck Finn, but not Neal Pionk, whose only a top-pairing defenceman by default. I admire Murat’s way with words, but I’m not hiring him as GM of my hockey team.

And, finally, if the last month and a half has seemed more like an entire year, and if you can’t tell one day from the next, you’ve got an idea what life is like for a lot of seniors. Isolation can be very numbing, physically and mentally.

Let’s talk about no respect for fitba…girl power on TSN’s World Cup coverage…Kaylyn Kyle blowing the whistle on refs…hair of the dog…Rafa and Big Red…and go Raptors

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you don’t like reading about soccer, you’d be wise to move to another blog right about now…

The women’s World Cup is comfortably underway in France, and I sometimes wonder why we in North America have been so slow on the uptake in embracing the beautiful game known around the globe as football but soccer here at home.

True, fitba can be slow, tedious and boring. And, of course, there are the play-actors and their near-death experiences, a dodgy bit of business that is shame-worthy but never Oscar-worthy.

Neymar

Perhaps it’s the theatrics of the soccer elite—almost exclusive to the men’s side of the pitch—that keeps us at arm’s length. I mean, watching Neymar and other faux thespians flopping and twitching and gasping for their last breath, like so many trout out of water, provides comic relief but it’s also a total turnoff. If I want to see bad acting, I can turn on Mama’s Family any night on MeTV.

But, hey, even with fake injury time added to each half of a soccer match, it’s over in less than two hours.

Cripes, man, the halftime show at the Super Bowl lasts longer than that, especially if Janet Jackson has to put her clothes back on. And yet the National Football League and its Super Bowl is a colossus, even when halftime entertainers aren’t flashing flesh.

The NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League are John, Paul, George and Ringo. Major League Soccer is George Martin or Brian Epstein or Billy Preston. You know, the so-called Fifth Beatle. Or worse—Yoko Ono.

Many myopic mainstream jock journalists are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge MLS as a major-league sport.

Steve Simmons in the Republic of Tranna, for example, recently posted this item to his Twitter feed:

Toronto big league championships in my lifetime (with apologies to Argos, Rock and TFC)
62 Leafs
63 Leafs
64 Leafs (have no memory of 62-63-64)
67 Leafs
92 Blue Jays
93 Blue Jays.

Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS title fails to register on the Steve-O-Meter.

Yet MLS qualifies on most measuring sticks as “big league.” Million-dollar player salaries? Check. Global reach? Check. Multi-million-dollar national TV contract? Check. Franchises worth mega-millions? Check. Healthy attendance? Check.

Atlanta United, in fact, has a better average head count (52,000-plus) than every team in Major League Baseball. Toronto FC outdraws the Blue Jays. Seattle Sounders outdraw the Mariners. Cripes, man, as of June 2, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League had better attendance than nine MLB outfits. See for yourself:

I see a lot of “big league” head counts in there.

Meanwhile, here are a few other points of interest about MLS:

Atlanta United fans

* Forbes valued four franchises at more than $300 million last year (Atlanta United $330M, L.A. Galaxy $320M; Seattle Sounders $310M; LAFC $305M) and Toronto FC at $290M. Again, that spells “big league” to me.
* In 2018, 53 MLS players collected $1,000,000 or more at the pay window, while both Zoltan Stieber of DC United and Andreu Fontas of Sporting Kansas City came in at one dollar less. If those aren’t “big league” wages, Pele was a punk rocker.
* Among all global leagues, only Poland’s First Division has had a faster growth spurt in the past five years, and MLS average attendance between 2013 and 2018 was eighth in the world.

Atlanta packs ’em in.

* Atlanta United puts more people in the pews than Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, among many others, while Seattle Sounders have a larger per-game following than outfits like Chelsea and AC Milan.

Is MLS the premier fitba operation on the planet? Of course not. But it doesn’t have to be on par with the English Premier League, Serie A Italy, La Liga or the Bundesliga to make it a member in good standing of the Big Five—and not the Fifth Beatle—in North America.

No surprise, really, that Simmons would pooh-pooh the MLS as a hamlet-sized dot on our sports landscape. Here’s what he had to say about fitba on the Toronto Mike’d podcast during Toronto FC’s championship run: “I’m almost embarrassed to be at the soccer games, because my knowledge of the game and my interest in the game is so limited. I don’t know the ABCs. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you all the positions. I don’t know how many players are on the field. Honestly, I have no connection to this game at all. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t play it, I never watched it, I didn’t care about it.” That’s an astonishing confession from a sports columnist with a nation-wide platform. Let’s hope it means he’ll leave the writing on the women’s World Cup to scribes who actually know how many players are on the pitch.

If you tune in to World Cup coverage on TSN, you’ll see something as rare as a Monday morning without a Donald Trump tweet—an all-female natterbug panel. Instead of simply looking all gussied up and pretty, they’re letting Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson analyze teams, break down plays and—oh…my…gawd—deliver opinion. You know, like they actually know what they’re talking about. Imagine that. Women with functioning brains on sports TV. What a concept.

Kaylyn Kyle

I really enjoyed the lively and spirited banter between Rustad, Kyle and Matheson at halftime of the England-Scotland skirmish. Kyle and Rustad disagreed sharply on what should and shouldn’t be a hand ball penalty, and host Kate Beirness knew enough to zip her lips and let the two former Canadian national team members have at it. Kyle was, to say the least, animated and agitated after the Video Assistant Referee awarded England a penalty kick due to an unintentional hand ball by the Scots. Kyle was emphatic: The game referee and VAR room should ignore one of the most fundamental rules of the game and let the women play on. Which, of course, is total nonsense. Do you know what we’d have if officials stopped calling games by the rule book? The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fashion note: The aforementioned Kyle has the most magnificent head of hair on TV. I know several drag queens who would give their first-born to have that mane.

Speaking of hair, what are the chances that Brett Hull is looking for some hair of the dog this morning? If Hull wasn’t five sheets to the wind on Sunday night in St. Loo, he was off his meds because he looked and sounded totally wasted prior to puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between the St. Loo Blues and Boston Bruins. I’m guessing his head is exploding right about now.

Someone hurled a can of beer onto the ice surface late in the Game 6 skirmish. I’d point to Hull as the most likely suspect, except he didn’t appear to be in the mood to let a good can of beer go to waste.

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

I never thought I’d see dominance in sports like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Big Red romped to horse racing’s Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in a world-record time that stands unchallenged to this day, and watching film of that gallop still gives me a shiver and has me reaching for the Kleenex.

Rafa Nadal

Even after the passage of so much time, it seems so unreal. Like a fairytale about a wonder horse that us old folks like to tell our grandkids. But it happened, and so did a different kind of thoroughbred—Rafael Nadal. If anything comes close to Secretariat at the Belmont, it’s Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris. In winning his 12th French Open title and 18th tennis Grand Slam on Sunday, Rafa is running neck-and-neck with Big Red on my personal scorecard of belief-challenging accomplishments. He’s 93-2 in France. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. The King of Clay has lost twice—in 15 years! Against the absolute best players on the planet. That’s insane.

Number of different women winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 9. Naomi Osaka has been the only repeat champion. Number of men not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 0.

Kawhi Leonard

Fun tweet from Gord Stellick of Sportsnet: “Taking attendance first day of JK at Toronto schools in 2024: Kawhi Smith, Kawhi Jones, Kawhi Murphy, Kawhi Watson…”

And, finally, it’s my understanding that they’ll be playing a rather significant basketball game tonight in the Republic of Tranna. Like the majority of Canadians, I won’t be watching, but I hope Kawhi Leonard and the Jurassics get the job done against the Golden State Juggernaut. I love it whenever we beat the Americans at our own game.

50 years after Stonewall, lesbian athletes make strides while gay men remain stuck at ground zero

The past does not tell us where we have been, it tells us where we are.

So where are LGBT athletes today as Pride Month 2019 kicks off, half a century after the Stonewall Riots in Gotham’s Greenwich Village?

The answer, I suppose, depends on which scorecard you use.

Certainly there has been considerable advancement in the inclusion file, both on and off the playing fields of North America and, indeed, in global frolics like the Olympic Games.

Here are some of the notations you’ll find on that particular scorecard:

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss.

* Lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss are part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group.
* Out lesbian Laura Ricketts is co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.
* Golden State Warriors out gay president and chief operating officer Rick Welts was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
* Out lesbian Caroline Ouillette is assistant coach with Canada’s national women’s hockey team (she’s married to former Team U.S.A. captain Julie Chu and they have a daughter together).
* Out lesbians Jayna Hefford and Angela James have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
* 56 LGBT athletes competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
* 15 LGBT athletes competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
* 16 out lesbians were on rosters at the 2015 women’s World Cup of soccer.

Abby Wambach

* The leading goal-scorer in the history of women’s international soccer, Abby Wambach, is an out lesbian.
* 7 players in the 2018 Women’s National Basketball Association all-star game were out lesbians.
* Both the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League have featured transgender players—Harrison Browne and Jessica Platt—and numerous out lesbians.
* U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe became the first out lesbian to be featured in the
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
* Rapinoe and hoops star Sue Bird became the first LGBT couple to be featured in
ESPN The Magazine body issue.

Katie Sowers

* Out lesbian Katie Sowers is an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.

That acceptance is terrific, for the LGBT collective and society as a whole.

Unfortunately, there’s a second scorecard:

* Number of out gay men in the National Hockey League:             0
* Number of out gay men in the National Football League:            0
* Number of out gay men in the National Basketball Association: 0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Baseball:                     0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Soccer:                        0

Cite another segment of society in which the bottom-line number in 2019 is the same as the bottom-line number in 1969. I can’t think of one.

Thus, the motion of life moves everything forward with the exception of the cultural phenomenon that is professional male team sports, an unbudging, frat-boy enterprise still stuck in the mud fifty years after all hell broke loose in and outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.

Are there gay men among the approximately 4,300 players on current NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS rosters? Here’s an easier question: Does Donald Trump tell fibs?

Gay male athletes have always existed. It’s just that 99.999999 per cent of them remained hidden in a closet, earnestly avoiding the most taboo of talking points until the final whistle had sounded on careers spent in fear of being outed as lesser-thans.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan.

Women and men with framed diplomas that indicate intellectual loft have given ponder to the curious case of the closeted male jock, and the eggheads advance numerous theories in an effort to explain the refusal to identify as gay. But, really, it isn’t a Cadbury chocolate bar mystery. It can be cataloged under the ‘fear’ file. It’s the fear of loss—loss of family/friends; loss of career; loss of income; loss of credibility; loss of status.

No male athlete wishes to be known by friend, foe or fan as a lesser-than. A Nancy boy, if you will. So he plays on, keeping his choice of romantic interests on the hush-hush.

Lesbian athletes, on the other hand, are far ahead on the social curve. They are less inclined to hide from themselves or anyone else. Elena Delle Donne and Sue Bird are not thought of as lesser-thans. Ditto Abby Wambach or Megan Rapinoe. Billie Jean King is greatly admired. The same could be said for Martina Navratilova until she recently went off on transgender athletes. Caroline Ouillette and Julie Chu proudly post pics of their daughter on Instagram. Former hockey stars Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan do the same with their wedding photos.

When Canada’s gold medal-winning goaltender Charline Labonté came out in 2014, she provided insight to the culture of the national women’s hockey club.

“Just like everywhere else our team had gays and straights, just like we had brunettes and redheads,” she wrote in an article for the LGBT website Outsports. “Everyone on my team has known I’m gay since I can remember and I never felt degraded for it. On the contrary, my sport and my team are the two environments where I feel most comfortable. The subject of homosexuality was never taboo with us. We talk and laugh about it like everything else. I feel privileged to live and be myself in an environment like this because I know that just a few years ago this topic was never part of the conversations in the locker room.”

Lesbians in sports has become a meh issue, and it’s only when a zealot like tennis legend Margaret Court turns the air toxic with illogical, wingnut rantings about same-sex marriage destroying Easter and Christmas that people give it any consideration.

Will men ever catch up to the women? Certainly not in my lifetime.

It is a peculiar business, indeed, when the San Francisco 49ers will happily hire a lesbian to tutor pass-catchers, yet there are no gay men in the NFL to catch passes.

About bringing your Eh game…no QB controversy with Winnipeg Blue Bombers…F-bombs on TSN…QB carnage in the CFL…more blah, blah, blah about Johnny Rotten…the real CFL power rankings…shinny and museums…hockey is not for everyone…putting the bite on Luis Suarez…and carpool karaoke with Sir Paul

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Happy Canada day, kids. Great country. Best country. Land of maple syrup, peameal bacon, the McKenzie Brothers, the good, ol’ hockey game and the rouge. Wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Whatever you choose to do today, bring your eh game.

The suggestion that there might be a quarterback controversy on the boil in Winnipeg is, well, silly. Also totally asinine.

It’s the sort of thing a bored jock journalist might dream up on a slow news day, giving so many lumps on so many bar stools something to bark about when too much of the brown pop is flowing in their local watering hole.

So don’t run off with the notion that Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea will experience a moment of sheer madness once Matt Nichols is given the okie-dokie from medics and he’s freed from the repair shop. As sure as Donald Trump will tweet about “13 Angry Democrats,” Coach Mikey will insert Nichols behind centre Matthias Goossen, at the same time reducing Chris Streveler’s responsibilities to staring at tablets on the sideline.

O’Shea shall do this for two basic reasons: 1) He likes his job and would prefer to keep it; 2) Nichols gives Winnipeg FC its best chance to win, ergo O’Shea keeps the job he likes.

Matt Nichols

None of that is to suggest Streveler has been inept as Nichols’ stand-in. He’s done boffo business, a sketchy effort Friday night at Timbits Field in Hamilton notwithstanding. Raw like road kill, the greenhorn out of South Dakota finally looked the part of rookie in a 31-17 loss to the Tiger-Cats, but let’s keep perspective here: When a wonky leg felled Nichols during training exercises, what was expected of Streveler as the Canadian Football League’s first true freshman starting QB since Anthony Calvillo in 1994? Not much. The rabble hoped he’d win a game. Two if the pointy ball took a few favorable bounces. Well, he’s performed admirably enough to be 2-1 rather than 1-2 in three starts, but a Charmin-soft defensive dozen has betrayed Streveler and the Bombers, who sit at the bottom of a West Division that surely shall produce four playoff teams for the third successive season.

Here’s my take on Streveler: He’s provided ample evidence to support a belief that the Bombers have found their future starter and, in the present, he’s a most capable QB in a pinch.

But be certain, this never was about auditioning for Nichols’ job.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is a jock journalist with too much time on his hands, or a lump on a bar stool who’s been overserved.

Matt Dunigan

TSN’s “live mic” broadcast of the Bombers-Tabbies skirmish, with head coaches and quarterbacks wired for sound, was brought to you by the letter F, as in F-bombs. Mind you, I’m surprised there were so few of them. I heard just six, maybe seven F-bombs. Profanity is “part of the game,” advised the ever-enthusiastic Matt Dunigan, the one member of TSN’s panel of natterbugs who clearly wishes he was still on the football field getting his bell rung and cussin’ about it. Matty’s right, of course. Football players cuss. They sometimes couple their F-bombs with a reference to another player’s mother. It’s crude and raw. You know, the same kind of language you hear in most schoolyards.

Ricky Ray

This is never good: We’re only three weeks into the 2018 CFL crusade and already four starting QBs are on the wonk. Nichols, of course, couldn’t answer the opening bell for the Bombers, Zach Collaros of the Saskatchewan Roughriders is on the six-game injury list, Drew Willy couldn’t finish what he started for the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday night, and the fabulous Ricky Ray is probably lost to the Tranna Argonauts and the CFL forever. Watching Ray being carted off BMO Field last weekend was disturbing, and it reminded me of Chris Walby, perhaps the greatest of all Blue Bombers. That’s how big Bluto’s career ended, on a Gator cart. Such a sad and cruel way to go out for such grand performers.

Can TSN do us a favor and ditch the split screen feature, whereby we’re shown a replay on the left side and live ant-sized action on the right? Not all of us have a 70-inch flatscreen that allow us to count Johnny Manziel’s nose hairs, and I don’t think I should require the Hubble Telescope to watch a football game.

Speaking of Manziel (isn’t TSN always talking about him?), finally someone in mainstream media has called out the broadcaster for its shameless pandering to Johnny Rotten. That would be Mike Ganter of Postmedia Tranna, who, in his CFL Blitz package, writes about “the TSN-pushed agenda to make (Manziel) a starter in this league regardless of the stunning numbers put up by Jeremiah Masoli.” Last week on the The Johnny Manziel Network, the boys (Michael Landsberg, Dave Naylor, Mark Roe and Carlo Colaiacovo) discussed a possible trade of Johnny Rotten to the Argonauts, while Naylor and Davis Sanchez discussed a Manziel trade to either the Argos or Roughriders. Then, in the chin-wag preceding the Bombers-Ticats joust, gab guys Dunigan, Milt Stegall and Jock Climie spent more time talking about Johnny Rotten than Chris Streveler. I swear, if Manziel actually steps foot on the field and takes a snap, someone’s head at TSN is going to explode.

Duron Carter

So let’s see if I’ve got this straight, the Tiger-Cats womped the Edmonton Eskimos 38-21 in Week 2, but Scott Cullen’s TSN power rankings had the Esks rated second in the CFL and the Tabbies No. 5. Go figure. Meanwhile, at cfl.ca, the Esks were listed at No. 2 and the Tabbies No. 3, and somehow the B.C. Lions, who had won their only game, were ranked lower than the Tranna Argonauts, who are 0-2 and don’t have a quarterback. Does any of that make sense? To anyone? I didn’t think so. Thus, I give you the first weekly River City Renegade power rankings:

1. Calgary: Same old, same old.
2. Hamilton: Won two of three against tough West Division opponents.
3. Edmonton: Back on track.
4. Ottawa: A split against tough West Division opponents.
5. Winnipeg: Defensive deficiency.
6. B.C.: Didn’t look sharp vs. Montreal and Wally Buono’s swan song took a big hit vs. Eskimos.
7. Montreal: Thought they’d go 0-for-2018.
8. Saskatchewan: Gotta get Duron Carter back on offence.
9. Toronto: No quarterback, no hope.

Kim Clackson

If rumors are true, Dougie Hamilton is the first National Hockey League player to be traded for a museum to be named later. Hard to believe that the Calgary Flames would ship out Hamilton because his head is shaped like an egg. I mean, so the guy would rather spend time in a museum or reading than join the boys for some back-slapping and hoo-rawing at Moxie’s. Last time I looked, being smart wasn’t the new stupid. The Hamilton situation brings to mind Kim Clackson, guard dog for the Winnipeg Jets during their final two World Hockey Association crusades. I don’t recall ever seeing Clacker without a book in his hands on road trips. Can’t say that I remember the subject matter, but he was always reading on team flights. Didn’t seem to bother his teammates or management when Clacker put down the book to chuck knuckles with Dave Semenko.

Caught an episode of Tim & Sid on Sportnets last week, with the boys and guest John Shannon interviewing Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Willie O’Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL. Immediately after the chin wag, they mentioned how “hockey is for everyone.” No. It isn’t. I’ll believe hockey is for everyone the day there’s an openly gay man on one of the 31 NHL rosters. I’ll believe hockey is for everyone the day a woman is standing behind an NHL bench. Major League Baseball has had an openly gay umpire. The National Basketball Association has had an openly gay player, female coaches and female game officials. The National Football League has female coaches and game officials. The Canadian Football League has had an openly gay player and a female general manager. Major League Soccer is the only major men’s team sport in North America that currently features an openly gay player, Collin Martin of Minnesota United FC. So I don’t want to hear about hockey being “for everyone” when the NHL is the least diverse of all major men’s sports leagues.

Giorgio Chiellini and Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez is having a great World Cup. His Uruguay side is into the quarterfinals and he hasn’t bitten any Italians. It helps, of course, that the Italians didn’t qualify for Russia, but it’s comforting to know that soccer’s Count Dracula seems to have curbed his nasty biting habit. Three times the Uruguay striker has been punished for putting the bite on foes, including an incident in the 2014 World Cup, whereby he chomped on Giorgio Chiellini’s left shoulder. “I know biting appalls a lot of people, but it’s relatively harmless,” he wrote in his autobiography, Crossing the Line: My Story. “None of the bites has been like Mike Tyson on Evander Holyfield.” Like, that makes it okay?

Interesting comment from Tranna Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins when asked if pitcher Roberto Osuna would be welcomed back to the fold next month after serving a 75-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy: “Roberto is our closer. We’re running a baseball team and our goal is to win championships. Roberto could potentially be very much a part of that.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how many women Osuna beats the hell out of. As long as he throws a nasty cutter, he’ll be in the Jays bullpen.

Quote of the week was delivered by baseball’s non-steroid home run king, Hank Aaron: “Would I visit the White House? Would I go? I have no reason to go. I’ve been there once or twice. And there’s nobody there I want to see.”

James Corden and Sir Paul McCartney

And, finally, this item has nothing to do with sports, but it’s too cool by far, so I wanted to include it: I’m not a fan of James Corden or his late-night gab show, because he’s always shouting. I am, however, a big Beatles fan and Corden’s Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney was a brilliant and beautiful segment that should be shared. Watch it to the absolute end and enjoy.

Yes, you can play, but you can also expect to hear anti-gay slurs

Superman no more.

The ‘S’ on Kevin Pillar’s chest now stands for Superslur and, although he’s been saying (mostly) the right things since saying the wrong thing, what came down this past week in Atlanta is going to stick to the Toronto Blue Jays centrefielder like scandal to Bill Cosby.

Yes, Pillar is sorry he called Braves hurler Jason Motte a “faggot” for having the bad manners to quick pitch and strike him out. The mea culpa sounded sincere, at least it did once he moved beyond the scripted and standard “This is not who I am” denial and the mind-numbingly illogical and delusional “It’s not a word I ever use. It’s something that is not even part of my vocabulary.”

Kevin Pillar

But an apology, no matter how forthright, won’t make the anti-gay slur go away any more than winning another tournament made the stigma of an insatiable sexual appetite go away for randy Tiger Woods. Let’s face it, Woods is now known as much for his messy marriage and his coven of blonde cocktail waitresses on the side as for his glory on the golf course.

I suppose that isn’t fair, because neither Pillar’s or Woods’s trespass was ground-breaking stuff. Pillar has a potty mouth. Woods screwed around. Many have been there, done that. Yet both are high-profile, professional athletes whom the rabble places on a pedestal, although I sometimes suspect that’s for no reason other than to watch them fall off. Play-for-pay jocks are expected to march to the beat of a more virtuous drum, except that simply isn’t doable. Pillar and Woods are human beings and the human is an inherently flawed species that never fails to fail.

So, as much as Pillar’s mouth could use the kind of soap-scrubbing that mom threatened us kids with whenever we sprinkled our speech with a pinch of four-letter salt, his damnable choice of words is a rude reminder that even Major League Baseball players spit when brushing their teeth. You know, just like the rest of us.

Robbie Rogers

It also speaks to a larger issue, that being openly gay men in the five major North American pro team sports.

Officially there’s one openly gay player, but the active body count is zero. A wonky ankle is keeping defender Robbie Rogers in the repair shop and unavailable to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the entirety of their 2017 Major League Soccer crusade, and any other gays in MLS, MLB, the National Hockey League, National Football League or National Basketball Association remain in hiding.

Is that in part because the word “faggot” remains the go-to slur and the mind-set of the big boys who play little boys’ games? Could be.

I mean, Pillar insists that the gay F-bomb isn’t part of his vocabulary, and perhaps that’s so at the dinner table and in social settings, but video evidence supports the notion that it’s a different matter once he steps into the batter’s box or between the foul lines. Ditto Andrew Shaw who, during a National Hockey League playoff game last spring, labelled a National Hockey League referee a “faggot.”

That’s not the type of guy I am,” Shaw was quick to assure us.

Ryan Getzlaf

Perhaps Shaw and Pillar truly aren’t that “type of guy.” And, hey, maybe Ryan Getzlaf calls all his male friends “cocksuckers,” not just an on-ice official who annoyed him during Game 4 of the Anaheim Ducks-Nashville Predators playoff skirmish.

It was just kind of a comment,” explained Getzlaf.

Apparently, the NHL agrees, because it withdrew $10,000 from his pay envelope but permitted the Ducks captain to play on.

Well, I’ve got news for Getzlaf and the NHL: I can think of no circumstance by which one very angry straight man calling another straight man a “cocksucker” is meant as a compliment. It isn’t “just kind of a comment.” It’s anti-gay.

But that’s the type of culture Getzlaf, Shaw and Pillar work and play in. Men’s professional team sports is misogynistic and homophobic on a ghastly level, and snuggling up to the You Can Play Project has done nothing to temper that distasteful reality. If the NHL’s relationship with You Can Play was anything more than window dressing, Getzlaf would have been given at least one game off to contemplate his wicked words.

What we heard from Getzlaf and Pillar in the past few days, and Shaw last spring, helps explain why Robbie Rogers is the only gay man in major professional team sports who isn’t hiding in a closet.

And it’s a shame he doesn’t have any company on the outside. I mean, come on, man. This is 2017, isn’t it?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

Toronto doesn’t stink when the Blue Jays are beating Uncle Sam at his own game

I’m a Prairie girl, born and raised, and I don’t hate Toronto.

There. I said it. I don’t hate Toronto.

I know, that’s positively blasphemous. I mean, it’s the sworn duty of every plow jockey’s daughter and/or son to look upon the Republic of Tranna with absolute disdain and associate the big city on the shores of Lake Ontario with all that is pungent. Indeed, we are taught this while barely off our mother’s breast. Mom, upon wiping our butt after the little jar of Gerber’s prune goop had kicked in and soiled our diaper, would recoil and gasp, “Oh, my, this smells just like Toronto.”

So, just like Prairie people long have known that New York is big but Saskatchewan has a burg that is Biggar, we’ve always known that Toronto stinks.

What I’ve never been able to figure out is this: Why is Toronto the subject of such scorn from the rest of Canada?

Oh, I know. It’s big. So what? Something or someone always has to be the biggest. Why not Toronto? Then there’s that whole Centre of the Universe thing, whereby those of us who reside in the colonies are made to feel inferior. Sorry, but that’s not of Toronto’s doing. That’s of our doing. It’s not like Toronto is going, “Na, na, na, na, na…I’m big and you’re not.” It is my experience, having worked and lived there on three different occasions and having visited numerous times, that very few Torontonians actually think that way. Apparently, the fact that we think they think that way is enough for us to dislike and distrust them.

If anything, we should be grateful to Toronto for providing us with wonderful sources of humor. The Maple Leafs. Rob Ford. Calling in the army to shovel snow. It’s all guffaw-worthy. And who doesn’t like a good giggle? So what’s not to like, right?

And now Toronto has been kind enough to share with us its Blue Jays.

The Great White North is in a state of baseball enthrall, and we seem to have decided that Muddy York doesn’t stink as much as our mothers led us to believe. We are root, root, rooting for the Toronto Nine in the Major League Baseball playoff tournament. We do so because they have become the home side and, for this, we need not place a clothes pin on the end of our nose.

What is it about this swaggering, bat-flipping Blue Jays outfit that makes you forget that you don’t like Toronto?

Well, for one thing, they aren’t the Maple Leafs. They aren’t the Toronto Argonauts, either. The Argos, of course, are the one sporting operative in the Big Smoke that has actually experienced success this century, most recently in 2012 when the Boatmen won the Grey Cup. Thing is, we only greet their achievements with mild annoyance because nobody in Toronto cares about the Argos, so why should we?

Apparently, Toronto also houses a National Basketball Association team, as well as an entry in Major League Soccer. But it’s like, who knew? There have been laughable efforts by marketing misfits and some dude named Drake to create a national identity for the Raptors. As if. That might have worked had they signed Steve Nash back in the day, but, as it is, their fandom is mostly parochial. The rest of the country doesn’t seem hip to the hoopsters.

stanley and world seriesThe Blue Jays, though…they’re a different head of lettuce and I believe I know why they make those among us who hate Toronto forget why they hate Toronto: Since we can’t win the Stanley Cup any more, we’ll happily settle for the consolation prize—the World Series Trophy.

Nothing could possibly climb up American noses more than a Canadian-based outfit besting Uncle Sam at his national pastime, especially if the Toronto Nine were to vanquish, say, those loveable losers from Wrigley Field in the Fall Classic. Everybody loves the Chicago Cubs, right? How can you not embrace a club that has stepped aside to allow other teams to win every World Series title since 1908 (hey, anybody can have a bad century)? Thus, beating the Cubbies in the rounders final would be akin to piddling on the White House lawn while the Obama kids are in frolic.

This is why us hosers have hopped on the Blue Jays bandwagon, like so many circus clowns cramming into a Volkswagen Beetle. The Americans think they’re so smug hijacking our hockey? We’ll take their baseball hostage. And if it’s a Toronto team doing our dirty work, we’re all on point.

Once the dirty deed is done, of course, you can resume regularly scheduled dislike for all things T.O.

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.