Let’s talk about the sexism gene in sports coverage…Sarah Fuller getting her kicks…the Drab Slab and moth balls…bravo Dugie…fabulous Friesen and his Bombers epic…fiftysomething fossils fighting, plus Big Angie and Peanut Butter Joe…our greatest Olympians…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and adios to November and let those sleighbells ring…

I have sometimes wondered if sports editors and scribes consciously ignore female sports, or if it’s simply because they’re wired that way.

You know, like it’s a sexism gene that carries a built-in bias.

I mean, because it’s scientifically accepted that male athletes are bigger, stronger and faster—as are the major pro sports leagues—it seems to me that there’s an automatic reflex to play a guys’ story at the front of the sports section and relegate the women’s article to the back pages, if not spike the thing.

Consider hockey as a prime e.g.

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League was ignored out of business. There was scant game-day, or off-day coverage, in print or on air. Only when the CWHL turned out the lights did mainstream media sit up and take notice. Basically, they attended a total stranger’s funeral and gasped, “Oh, what a shame.”

When the Toronto Six of the National Women’s Hockey League anointed Digit Murphy head coach, it was like a tree falling in the forest. No one there to hear it? Guess it didn’t happen.

When the NWHL outlined its blueprint for a 2021 crusade last week, trumpeting a six-team tournament Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in a Lake Placid, N.Y., fan-free bubble, it was a three-paragraph brief on the last page of a 12-page sports section in the Toronto Sun. I found no mention of it on the Toronto Star website. That, even though there’s a franchise in the Republic of Tranna.

When was the last time we read anything about the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and its Dream Gap Tour?

Let’s face it, unless it’s Canada v. U.S.A., Ponytail Puck is an afterthought in mainstream media. Why is that? Is it because the decision-makers know the finest female players in the world strain mightily to beat teenage boys at the Midget AAA or prep school level? And since they don’t cover Midget AAA or prep school level shinny, the women don’t warrant coverage either? Or is it the sexism gene?

Whatever the case, if Canadian newspapers aren’t prepared to write about the best female shinny players on the planet, what hope is there for other sports?

Oh, sure, female Olympic athletes are granted their due every two years, but none of the boys on the beat cover rhythmic gymnastics or synchronized swimming by choice. They hold their noses and do so because it’s a small, inconvenient price to pay for an all-expenses-paid trip to Greece or Tokyo or London or Rio.

Olympic Games aside, it’s almost as if a female athlete or women’s event must include a circus side-show element to attract serious attention.

Sarah Fuller and her one and only kick.

We’ve seen plenty of the novelty acts, like the Kendall Coyne Schofield skedaddle and the 3-on-3 game during National Hockey League all-star hijinks, and Phil Esposito using Manon Rheaume as a publicity stunt in goal. And, of course, most recently we watched Sarah Fuller become the first female to participate in an NCAA Power 5 football game on Saturday.

It was as if Sarah had discovered a fool-proof vaccine for COVID-19, the way folks carried on, but she didn’t actually do anything other than breathe, unless one considers a 30-yard pooch kickoff and walking off the field without touching a foe a remarkable athletic accomplishment. But, hey, there were 21 male football players on the field and one female soccer player, so her presence certainly warranted ink and air time, and Sarah received more of each than any female footy player in a non-World Cup or Olympic year. Eat your heart out, Megan Rapinoe.

But, sans the carnival-barker component, mainstream media doesn’t seem interested, and it’s a sticking point they struggle to get past.

Early last month, SE Steve Lyons of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote about “being as equitable as possible” in terms of female/male coverage. So how is he doing since then?

Let’s just say that, to date, he talks a good game.

His Freep published 30 times in November. Copy/pics strictly about female athletes were featured on the front page of the section just five times—curler Kerri Einarson, retired volleyball player Tammy Mahon, WNBA, a pic of Kim Ng (the story was on the inside pages), and an Andrea Katz column. Total stories/briefs devoted to women in 30 days: 13/7.

That’s equitable like an Archie comic is deep reading material.

Over at the Winnipeg Sun, the picture is much more bleak. Females (curlers) found their way to the sports front once—repeat, once—in 29 editions. Total stories/briefs devoted to women: 9/1.

Pick up a daily newspaper—any newspaper—across our vast land and it’s the same.

Andrea Katz

Lyons has taken a step toward correcting the imbalance of sports coverage in the Drab Slab, bringing Katz on board to focus on the distaff side of the playground, and she made her first appearance on Saturday. The actual column failed to tell us anything many of us didn’t already know, but one assumes (hopes) it will become more informative and shine a light on our fabulous female athletes.

Credit to Lyons. It’s a starting point, which is a whole lot more than I can say for the lord and masters at Postmedia.

Here’s a prime example of the sexism gene at play: On Nov. 20, the Drab Slab ran golf stories on Tiger Woods and his son Charlie, the RSM Classic in Georgia and a brief on the Joburg Classic in Johannesburg. Meanwhile, there wasn’t a single word on the LPGA event that featured Canadians Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp. Two days later, there was a full story on each of the men’s tournaments, while the Pelican Women’s Championship was a sports brief.

Initial reaction to Sarah Fuller suiting up to handle kicking chores for Vanderbilt on Saturday: Seriously? Vanderbilt has a football team?

Jason Whitlock

As much as Sarah’s participation in a major men’s college football game was newsworthy and hailed as a significant moment, many on social media dismissed the occasion as Tom-foolery and at least one prominent American jock journo, Jason Whitlock of Outkick the Coverage, gave it a long, hard crapping-on. “I don’t believe she played football,” wrote Whitlock, who’s scribbled for the Kansas City Star, ESPN and Fox Sports, among others. “She scored a point in the culture war. The people who believe the only difference between men and women is in how they choose to identify consider Fuller a poor woman’s Jackie Robinson. She broke big time football’s gender barrier. But did she? Sarah Fuller received a standing ovation for kicking the ball 30 yards or so and high-tailing it to the sidelines to be greeted by the winless head coach using her to save his job. This wasn’t Jackie Robinson 2.0. It was Make A Wish. Treating Sara Fuller like she’s a special-needs kid does not uplift the cause of equality.” Harsh, but not entirely inaccurate.

By the way, if you’re wondering why Vanderbilt recruited Sarah’s right leg rather than someone from the school’s men’s soccer side, there is no men’s soccer side. It was shut down in 2006.

It was a bit of the old, a bit of the new for the Drab Slab last week, with SE Lyons pulling his buddy and former columnist Paul Wiecek out of moth balls and introducing Katz on the same day. Nothing wrong with bringing Wiecek back for a cameo appearance. The guy can write. And he actually managed to scribble an entire essay without taking a cheap shot at Jacob Trouba, so I guess he’s mellowed since walking away from the columnist gig a couple of years ago.

Paul Friesen

Fabulous series from Paul Friesen of the Sun on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to their 2019 Grey Cup win. It was a very readable, insightful, nine-part epic, even if there was no rhyme nor reason to the way the geniuses at Postmedia handled it. I believe they published Part One at the start of the pandemic and delivered the final installment this past Friday. Seriously, it took less time to film all the Rocky and Godfather movies combined. In reality, the Friesen series began on Oct. 9 and concluded on Nov. 27, and we had to guess on which days it would appear. Sometimes it was one day between installments, other times it was eight or nine days. Shabby. But oh so Postmedia.

A huge tip of the bonnet to home boy Don Duguid, one of my favorite people. The former world curling champ and longtime gab guy for the People’s Network has been appointed to the Order of Canada, and I trust that meets with everyone’s approval.

Just wondering, when the Winnipeg Jets brought Dave Lowry on board last week, did they hire their next head coach at the same time?

I saw highlights (if you want to call it that) of Charles Barkley playing golf the other day, and I’m lost to find an accurate description for Sir Charles’ swing. But a milking cow trying to climb a tree comes to mind.

Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson.

Mike Tyson informed news snoops that he smoked a joint or two prior to his fiftysomethings fist-fight v. Roy Jones Jr. on Saturday night. It’s also been reported and confirmed that anyone who actually paid to watch the two boxing fossils fight was also on drugs.

Loved this tweet from Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post on the Tyson-Jones Jr. tiff: “This fight will be scored by using the 10-point rust system.”

Peanut Joe and Big Angie.

I didn’t watch Tyson-Jones Jr., but you’ll never convince me that it was a more entertaining old geezer dust-up than Joe Kapp v. Angelo Mosca, two Canadian Football League legends who’ve never exchanged Christmas cards. If you missed it, Peanut Butter Joe offered Big Angie a flower; Big Angie told him to “stick it up your ass.” Big Angie attempted to cocobonk Peanut Butter Joe with his metal cane; Peanut Butter Joe lashed out with a right fist to the jaw. Down goes Big Angie! Down goes Big Angie! A Grey Cup week classic.

December arrives on the morrow, so I grant permission to one and all to begin playing Christmas tunes.

Clara Hughes

This from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Former lickety-split champion of the track, Donovan Bailey, is “Canada’s greatest modern Olympian.” Really? Let me count the ways Bailey, a two-time gold medalist, falls short:

Clara Hughes: Only Olympian in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games—1 gold, 1 silver, 4 bronze.
Cindy Klassen: Six medals—1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze.
Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford: Five medals—4 gold, 1 silver.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir: Five medals—3 gold, 2 silver.
Charles Hamelin: Five medals— 3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Marc Gagnon: Five medals—3 gold, 2 bronze.
Francois-Louis Tremblay: Five medals—2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Lesley Thompson: Five medals—1 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze.
Caroline Ouillette: Four medals—4 gold.
Jennifer Botterill, Becky Kellar, Meghan Agosta: Four medals—3 gold, 1 silver.
Kathleen Heddle, Marnie McBean: Four medals—3 gold, bronze.
Gaetan Boucher: Four medals—2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Eric Bedard: Four medals—2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Victor Davis: Four medals—1 gold, 3 silver.
Denny Morrison: Four medals—1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Adam van Koeverden: Four medals—1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Penny Oleksiak: Four medals—1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze
Kim St-Pierre, Cherie Piper, Colleen Sostorics, Gillian Apps, Charline Labonte: Three medals—3 gold.
Danielle Goyette: Three medals—2 gold, 1 silver.
Carolyn Waldo: Three medals—2 gold, 1 silver.
Rosie MacLennan: Two medals—2 gold.

Either Simmons doesn’t consider any of the above to be “modern” Olympians, or he can’t count.

Why the Winnipeg Sun continues to run Simmons’ Tranna-centric copy is an ongoing mystery, and it continues to get up my nose. In his most recent alphabet fart, he prattled on about attendance at Blue Jays games, the Maple Leafs payroll, Auston Matthews, Blue Jays play-by-play guy Mike Wilner, the Blue Jays pursuit of free agents, Terence Davis of the Tranna Jurassics, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster contract situations with the Jurassics, the Toronto FC payroll, sports gambling in Ontario, Serge Ibaka leaving the Jurassics, a new ballpark for the Republic of Tranna, and the Argos losing the 1971 Grey Cup game. This is what Postmedia believes people in Good Ol’ Hometown want to read on a Sunday morning? The Winnironto Sun? Spare me.

And, finally, the RCR has topped the 50,000 mark in views for the year, which is my cue to retreat for a spell. I shall return Christmas week and not a day sooner. Unless, of course, stupid happens before Santa touches down. In the meantime, thanks for dropping by.

Lordy, lordy, the Winnipeg Sun is turning 40

The ultimate underdog.

That’s what the Winnipeg Sun was, is and likely always shall be.

The tabloid—pooh-poohed and tsk-tsked by many as a tacky, tawdry, kissing cousin of the National Enquirer—wasn’t supposed to be around much longer than a pork chop on a pit bull’s dinner dish, but here we are, four decades after rising from the ashes of the Winnipeg Tribune, and the Sun presses continue to roll.

Go figure.

***

I wasn’t a day-oner at the Sun, although I must confess there have been many moments of quiet reflection when I wish I had been there on the morning of Nov. 5, 1980, the day the tabloid hit the streets of Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time.

The Sun’s first front page.

By the time I arrived, which is to say the mid-1980s, the Sun had bulked up from a three-days-a-week sheet trying to find its groove to a six-day publication about to truly hit its full stride, which it did later in the decade and through the entirety of the 1990s and onward.

The Winnipeg Free Press was, of course, the neighborhood bully. Still is.

But, although recognizing that we were the underdogs against a daily that had pushed the Tribune to extinction, damned if any of us in the toy department at the Sun would allow it to define us.

From the get-go, whether it be Big Jim Bender on curling, or young Eddie Tait on the Bombers, or Judy Owen having a natter with Manon Rheaume, or Tom Brennan sharing bon mots from the camp of world light heavyweight boxing champion Donny Lalonde, or Ed Willes on the Jets, we refused to let the Drab Slab push us around.

Oh, they got their licks in, to be sure. But so did we, most notably when the Blue Bombers went on the prowl for a head coach in the wake of a 1996 Canadian Football League crusade that found Winnipeg FC sadly lacking.

The Bombers didn’t just lose their West Division semifinal skirmish v. the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton that year, they were Hindenburged. That’s right, scorched. Beyond recognition. Final score: Edmonton 68, Winnipeg 7.

Cal Murphy

It didn’t take long for the Bombers board of directors to sift through the wreckage, and the main casualty was Cal Murphy, a legendary coach whose guiding hand as sideline steward and/or general manager had directed the Bombers to three Grey Cup titles. He was swept away pronto, and the hunt for his successor would become the biggest sports story of the year.

We had young Eddie Tait and Judy Owen on the scent, and a managing editor who was, frankly, a gnat-like irritant.

“You gonna get that story first?” Glenn Cheater, the ME, asked me one day.

“Yes,” I told him. “We’ve got the right people on the job. They’ll get it.”

“You better. I don’t want to read it in the Free Press or hear it on the radio.”

Cheater, a man with a reluctance to smile, was a bothersome buttinski during the process. He expected everything to unfold to his urgent cadence, as if his nagging would magically put the Bombers board into a hurry-up offence simply because he was impatient. He would ask the same thing, and I would tell him the same thing. Every day.

All the while, young Eddie and Judy soldiered on, leaning hard on their contacts, instincts and reporting skills until the day/night of Jan. 6, 1997, when they became 99.9 per cent convinced that off-the-wall, surfer dude Jeff Reinebold would land the head coaching gig.

Judy Owen

OWEN: “(Team president) Lynn Bishop seemed to want someone opposite from Cal Murphy and we considered Reinebold the dark horse in the race. The night of our big scoop, I was working the phones, including talking to Bishop. I got the gut feeling that it was going to be Reinebold by the way he was answering questions, plus I was having trouble reaching Reinebold, who usually returned my calls. There were rumors, though, that he might be skiing. When we were digging into the rumor about Reinebold skiing, Cheater suggested we send a pizza to Reinebold’s house and if it was successfully delivered, we’d know he was still in B.C. And he said to put anchovies on it. Never understood where that came from.”

TAIT: “At one point (Cheater) came down to our little corner with a brilliant idea. We thought we knew what hotel (Reinebold) was staying at for some reason—maybe this was before we had confirmed he had left for Winnipeg. Cheater said, ‘Reinebold is a vegetarian, right? Why don’t you order a vegetarian pizza and have it delivered to his hotel room with a note to call us?’ I mean, I’m open for any and all ideas to get a story, but…”

There was no pizza order. There was not pizza delivery. Not even in 30 minutes or less.

Young Eddie began cranking out his copy, with contributions from Judy, and we were prepared to go to press declaring Reinebold the new man. But his unknown whereabouts provided a sliver of doubt.

Granny Granger

Granny Granger was working the copy desk that night. He was from the West Coast and harbored a healthy familiarity with flight schedules out of Vancouver, and he informed us that there’d be a few more planes touching down later.

“You guys keep doing what you’re doing,” I told them, “and I’ll go to the airport. I’ll stake it out until the last flight from Vancouver is in.”

I don’t recall precisely how long I loitered at the airport, but I do recall repeatedly moving from one baggage carousel to another. Then I spotted Jeff Reinebold. In the flesh, earrings and all, fresh off Air Canada flight 268. It was just past 11 p.m. He had a phone clamped to his left ear, his eyes darting east, west, north and south. At one point, he attempted to hide behind a pay phone. I immediately called Granny in the newsroom and advised him that I could see the whites of Reinebold’s eyes. Shortly thereafter, club president Bishop and his bride, Lesley, joined Reinebold and made their way toward an exit. I intercepted them, asking the new coach if he had anything to say to the championship-starved Bombers faithful. He flashed a crooked smile, mumbled a few words about looking forward to “the great skiing” in Manitoba, then disappeared into the night.

GRANGER: “That was such a rush, even if I was getting it vicariously through your reporting.”

OWEN: “We all cheered in the newsroom. We knew for sure we had the scoop. I then called Lynn Bishop and when he answered, I screeched something like, ‘We gotcha.’ I think he laughed and remember hearing his wife, Lesley, yell in the background, ‘Way to go Judy,’ or something similar.”

Still, we didn’t know for certain if we’d scooped the Freep on the biggest story of the year. It was quite possible that their man on the beat, the very capable Dave Supleve, also had the goods. Nope.

Jeff Reinebold

OWEN: “Supleve had a story on the front of the sports section that Reinebold was skiing. We celebrated pretty hard.”

GRANGER: “We went to Picasso’s afterward to celebrate and we were all pretty happy. But we really got giddy after Mr. Golf (Darron Hargreaves) went by the Freep building and picked up a copy of their early edition and Supleve basically dismissed Reinebold as a candidate and put forth one or two others likely to get the job. That’s when the gathering turned from being a self-congratulatory pat on the back into a hubristic celebration. Not only did we have a scoop, but the other guy was waaaaaaay off base! We had killed the big bad bunch on Mountain on the biggest sports story of the year! And even CJOB didn’t have the scoop! Although I played a minor role, that night is a big highlight for me.”

The Bombers introduced a Harley-riding Reinebold as the head coach the following day, and a glum Supleve was standing at the doorway when I entered the room.

“How long did you wait at the airport?” he asked.

I felt bad for him. I truly did. We all know what it feels like to get beat on a big story, and Supes is a good guy. There would be no gloating from me. Just deep, delicious satisfaction that the little, underdog paper had whupped the neighborhood bully.

***

Later that day, I retreated to the newsroom and found Glenn Cheater.

“I told you we’d get the story,” I said, full of impish cheek. “Maybe next time you’ll let our people do their job without getting in their face every five minutes.”

He smiled.

I went home to write my column on Reinebold. Once finished, I ordered a pizza and told them to hold the anchovies.

***

I spent 13 of my 30 years in the rag trade at the Winnipeg Sun, and that was my most memorable day/night. I was happiest for Judy, who latched onto the task and refused to let go. But she was just one of the truly wonderful people and terrific journalists with whom I worked at the tabloid. Topping my list of faves would be Dave Komosky, one of the funniest men I know and a friend for close to 50 years, dating back to our formative days at the Tribune. Like myself, Davey Boy did two tours of duty as sports editor and was a boffo layout person. He could make the pages sing. So, too, could Homer Connors, a lovely lad. There were so many others that I admired, respected and genuinely liked: Tom Brennan, young Eddie, Judy Owen, Abby St. Rose, Pat Watts Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Jim Ketcheson, John Kendle, Bob Holliday, Paul Friesen, Granny Granger, John Danakas, Brian Smiley, Jon Thordarson, Denise Duguay, Shaun Best, Mark Stevens, Big Jim Bender, Mr. Golf, Marten Falcon, Barry Horeczy, Bill Davidson, and the lovely songstress Rhonda Hart. It’s a lengthy roll call, too many to mention.

***

It wasn’t all fun and games at the Sun, but sometimes it was exactly that—fun and games. A couple of the boys—I believe it was Davey and young Eddie—screwed a mini basketball hoop to a wall in our corner of the newsroom and they’d shoot hoops during downtime, while waiting for phone calls to come in. My gig was tossing coins (quarters) against a wall. I took on all comers, but mostly young Eddie. I believe he still owes me $37.25. Same with John Danakas. He’d try his luck every now and then, but it was a fool’s bet. I’m not sure how much he owes me, but I know I’ll never see it. No problem. John is one of the really good guys.

***

One of my favorite Sun stories goes back to the first of my two runs as sports editor. It’s a yarn I’ve told a few times, but it’s worth repeating.

Young Eddie Tait

Young Eddie Tait was an aw-shucks, freshly scrubbed greenhorn when I dispatched him to North Dakota for a weekend gig, covering either high school or college hockey. It was his first road trip. Ever. He was geeked up and I don’t recall giving him specific directives, other than to get the story, enjoy himself and return to us safely.

“And keep your receipts,” I emphasized. “You’ll need them for your expense report.”

So I’m sitting at the desk in the closet-sized cubbyhole that passed for my office on the second floor of the Sun building when young Eddie returned from the fray.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Great,” he answered, still geeked up from his maiden journey.

“Nice. Very nice. You did a great job. We’ll have to get you on the road again. When you’ve got time, fill out your expense form and make sure you include your receipts.”

He left and, scant seconds later, young Eddie was back in my bunker.

“Here,” he said, handing me the lid from a pizza box.

“What’s this?” I asked, staring at a rumpled piece of cardboard coated with tomato sauce stains.

“That’s what I ate.”

“That’s it? That’s all you ate for the entire weekend? One pizza?”

“No, but…”

“How much did it cost?”

“Ten bucks.”

“You spent $10 for the entire weekend? Just $10?”

“No, but…”

I have no idea what else young Eddie shoved down his pie hole that weekend, but I suspect a few bags of chips and Big Gulps were on the menu. He likely splurged on two or three packs of bubblegum, too.

***

Although I served in management on three occasions, I was never big on management. They always seemed to be getting in our way, or at least trying to.

I liked Paul Robson as a publisher, because ol’ Mad Dog was a jock who understood jocks. But John Cochrane, a nice fellow and veteran newsman who moved from CJOB to the big office in the Sun building, baffled me.

Serge Savard

For example, when Montreal Canadiens president Ronald Corey got the axe out and whacked both general manager Serge Savard and head coach Jacques Demers, that bloodletting was our sports front story. Homer Connors and I put our grey matter together, him designing the page with a large picture of Savard and me providing the all-caps headline: SAVARDIAN SACK-O-RAMA. It was boffo stuff.

The next day Cochrane wandered down to the toy department for a fireside chat.

“Tell me something,” he began, speaking in a non-confrontational tone. “Why did you run a photo of Savard on the front page instead of Ronald Corey?”

“Because Savard and Demers were the story. Savard is a multi-Stanley Cup winner with the Canadiens, both as a player and a GM,” I replied calmly. “Savard is a Habs legend. Nobody cares about Ronald Corey.”

Ronald Corey

“But the Globe and Mail ran a photo of Corey, not Savard. Don’t you think that was the right thing to do?”

He handed me a copy of the Globe, which featured a pic of Corey sitting in front of a bank of microphones and looking very much like a hangman.

“No, I don’t think they made the right call,” I said, still quite calm. “We were right, they were wrong, and I’d do the same thing again. We don’t really concern ourselves with the pictures the Globe runs.”

He arched his eyebrows, turned and walked away. That was our first and final fireside chat.

***

I’m saddened by what’s become of the Sun sports section.

I know the boys on the beat—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck—fight the good fight, but Postmedia has handcuffed them with a distant, centralized sports desk that force feeds them copy from hither and yon, too much of it focusing on athletes/teams based in the Republic of Tranna.

Local amateur sports coverage has become next to non-existent, and it’s never a good thing when a newspaper turns its back on its constituents.

I don’t think it’s as cheeky, sassy, brassy and irreverent as it once was, but the Sun’s existence makes Winnipeg the only true two-paper town west of the ROT, and that is a good thing.

So happy 40th to my old battalion on Thursday.

Yanic Duplessis and the final frontier of mainstream sports—hockey and the gay male player

There are three stages to the coming-out process for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

To wit:

Discovering yourself is the interesting part, accepting yourself is the hard part, revealing yourself is the frightening part that goes bump in the night.

Yanic Duplessis has arrived at Stage 3.

Young Yanic came out publicly earlier this month and, no, it didn’t qualify as news with an uppercase N because no one is talking about him as a hockey prodigy. He’s still a kid, just 17, and he’s trying to find his way in life and on the ice, where he might one day suit up with Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and possibly beyond.

That’s a big if.

Les Voltigeurs selected the product of Saint-Antoine, N.B., in the ninth round of the Q’s entry draft in 2019, but he was not among the 34 participants in training exercises that began last month. He also declined an invitation to join Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Junior Hockey League for their pre-season frolic. He’s chosen to stick close to home and play high school hockey.

That isn’t the preferred path to a professional career.

Yanic Duplessis

Still, Yanic’s coming out caused something of a stir because homosexuality is a taboo topic in male hockey. Except, of course, when anti-gay slurs are used as weaponry.

“It should be a non-event, and some day it will be a non-event, but it’s not a non-event now,” Brian Burke said of Duplessis from his Hockey Night in Canada lectern the other night.

Burke is correct.

A teenage hockey player’s sexuality shouldn’t be news, front or back page. But it grabs the attention of the CBC and HNIC because the National Hockey League has never known an openly gay player. Active or retired. Nor have any of its affiliated minor leagues and its main breeding ground, the Canadian Hockey League. There have been more confirmed sightings of Sasquatch than the gay male hockey player. At least one woman, Manon Rheaume, has appeared in an NHL game (preseason), but never an openly gay man. There are female scouts and coaches. But gay guys? They need not apply.

Many wonder why Yanic Duplessis is news. So he’s gay, they say. Why make a fuss out of his sexuality? Nobody cares, right?

Oh, but they do care.

Consider:

  • There were three anti-gay incidents in Airdrie, Alta., this summer, including a rainbow crosswalk that was tarred and feathered.

  • Would-be Conservative party leadership candidate Richard Décarie believes being gay is “a choice,” and marriage should be exclusive to men and women.

  • Tennessee governor Bill Lee recently signed into law an anti-gay adoption bill. Nine other states have similar laws.

  • A student at the University of Louisville entered an LGBT studies course and distributed anti-gay pamphlets.

  • Last month an employee of a Catholic fringe group in Detroit ordered a cake from the lesbian-owned Good Cakes and Bakes and requested that this message be written on the icing: “Homosexual acts are gravely evil.”

  • LGBT hate crimes in England and Wales went from 5,807 in 2014-15 to 13,530 in 2018-19.

  • According to a 2017 report, 60 per cent of LGBT students across the U.S. feel unsafe at school due to sexual orientation and 40 per cent feel unsafe due to gender.

Then there was the recent raising of a Pride flag outside city hall in Minot, N.D., the very heartland of the U.S.A. Mayor Shaun Sipma and council invited the citizenry to share their thoughts on the matter. Here are some of their natterings:

“Today it’s LGBQ. What’s next? BLM? Antifa? White supremacy? You opened up a can of worms Mr. Mayor, and I pray that lunacy does not prevail on the streets of our fine city due to a poor decision brought to us by you. I’m not here to judge. Judgement belongs to a higher power than all of us here.”

“We can pull down the 10 Commandments out of our court yards, out of our schools, we can slap God in the face, mock God. His word says he will not be mocked, just so you know, you ain’t getting away with it, and then raise up a flag praising something that God’s word speaks against. Now I’m gonna tell you a warning, I’m gonna warn you, that’s why I’m here…not about physical violence…I’m here to warn you of God’s judgement. God will…not…let…this…go.”

“The American flag represents the hearts of Americans, and the LGBT flag represents the genitals of certain Americans. Now, I’ve always thought the genitals were kind of a sacred thing, in the sense that, for one, what you do with them is your business and not mine. In terms of the numbers game here, there’s probably a larger Star Wars fan base here than there is LGBT community, and where’s the Star Wars flag being raised? Or Vikings fans? Since we’re next door to Minnesota, let’s raise a Vikings flag. As long as we’re on that page, how about a heterosexual flag and a Confederate flag and the list goes on and on. You opened a can of worms, and do you want all those worms?”

“You can’t even look at the small little things that can turn into a bombshell. I already see our guns coming. It’s coming next. Our freedoms are being taken away. I’ve never been so pissed off in my entire life and so disappointed in our mayor, ’cause you’re bringing war to the city of Minot.”

“I’ve got relatives that were ex-homosexuals, I got friends that are homosexuals. I love ’em all, but here’s the choice: We gotta make a choice for life and not for death.”

“I was raised under the 10 Commandments, and that’s also a law, it’s the law of God. I hope you have the nerve to back up our police department when this city starts seeing the kind of garbage that’s been going on around the country, when people start coming in rioting and tearing things down because of the door you’ve opened.”

“That flag is called an abomination to God. We love God and must stand for truth. When the righteous rule, the people rejoice. When the wicked rule, the people mourn.”

“(The Pride flag) identifies Satan.”

“If that letter P (pedophile) is added to LGBTQ a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, are you still gonna fly that flag?”

Lunacy. Rioting and looting. Worms. Loss of freedoms. Guns. War. Death. Satan. Pedophilia. All that hostility and holier-than-thou condemnation (and there was much, much more) simply because a flag was raised to recognize support for the gay community. Remind me to cancel that weekend trip to Minot.

Homophobia isn’t going to disappear any time soon, and certainly not during what remains of my lifetime. Gays are still too often considered lesser-thans, and men’s hockey represents the final frontier in mainstream sports, even as it trumpets itself as a game that “is for everyone.”

If hockey truly was “for everyone,” Yanic Duplessis coming out wouldn’t even be a blip on the news radar screen.

I don’t know if there’s a God but, if so, I like to think she or he is looking down on young Yanic with favor. Those things that go bump in the night can be mean and nasty and frightening for any 17-year-old kid who’s come out, let alone a hockey player, and they/he need all the positive reinforcement and acceptance they can get.

I know how toxic a hockey changing room can be, so godspeed to him.

Victoria HarbourCats keeping the Claire Eccles girl-vs-boys story on the down low; gets first start on Sunday

At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.

I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.

Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)

Claire Eccles

So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!

Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.

Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.

If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.

That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.

Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.

We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.

I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.

Brian McRae

By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)

It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.

I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”

And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?

She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”

In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.

 

About sports and social issues…women in the Hockey Hall of Fame…sad days in America…that left-wing kook Babs…and other things on my mind

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

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

I have often wondered why more sports scribes don’t tackle societal issues, yet, when they do, I wonder why they bothered.

Consider Michael Grange of Sportsnet, as an e.g.

Grange penned a piece in the wake of last week’s United States presidential election that sends Donald Trump to the White House, and it included this comment: “Sports have generally been perceived as being ahead of the general population on many social issues. While not always elegantly, the major U.S. sports leagues have pushed ahead on inclusivity and tolerance.”

I assume Grange wrote that with a straight face, which is ironic because it’s so laughable.

I mean, hands up anyone who actually believes that major professional sports has been “ahead” of the curve in areas such as domestic violence, gay rights, gender equality, drug abuse, drunk driving, etc. Hmmm, I don’t see any hands. No surprise.

Our major professional sports leagues, all of which are for and about men, have been a leader on these issues like Lady Gaga is a middle linebacker.

Let’s use sexual orientation as an example. Openly gay men can be found in every segment of society, from our military to our music, from our law courts to our classrooms, from our newspapers and our TV networks to our amateur playing fields and arenas. Yet how many openly gay men play in the National Hockey League? The National Football League? The National Basketball Association? Major League Baseball? Zero.

Julia Lemigova and tennis great Martina Navratilova on their wedding day.
Julia Lemigova and tennis great Martina Navratilova on their wedding day.

Meantime, there are out lesbians performing in the Women’s NBA—Elena Delle Donne, Janel McCarville, Brittney Griner, Seimone Augustus, etc. Professional women’s tennis has featured many out lesbians, including legendary players such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, as well as Grand Slam champions Amelie Mauresmo and Hana Mandlikova. And that’s not to forget transgender pioneer Renee Richards. The Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour included openly gay Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan, Karrie Webb, Jane Geddes, Rosie Jones, etc. Canada’s national women’s hockey team has included lesbians Angela James, Sarah Vaillancourt, Charline Labonte and Jayna Hefford. The rosters in women’s soccer, here and abroad, are pockmarked with open lesbians.

Major men’s professional sports leagues and peripheral affiliates like tennis and golf are, in fact, decades behind society and women’s pro and amateur sports in the acceptance of gays. I doubt they will catch up in my lifetime. So much for inclusivity.

Tolerance? Yes, the NFL exercises tolerance, but in an ass-backwards manner. That is, it tolerates the use of a racist nickname for one of its member teams, the Washington Redskins. MLB tolerates the use of Chief Wahoo, a red-skinned, clownish, crazed-looking Indian as a logo for one of its member teams, Cleveland.

Grange failed to provide examples of how sports has been “ahead of the general population on many social issues,” which leads me to assume he was lazy or couldn’t think of any. And his use of the word “tolerance” shows a lack of understanding of marginalized groups. My gay friends don’t seek tolerance, they seek acceptance.

On the matter of minorities, Damien Cox has used his Toronto Star soapbox to deliver a lament about the lack of female presence in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a wellborn thought, to be sure, but Cox misses the mark when he implies it was a stretch for this year’s selection committee to induct Sergei Makarov ahead of women like Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Manon Rheaume. The committee “showed some genuine creativity in bending over backwards to honour men over women, dusting off the portfolios of former goaltender Rogatien Vachon and one-time Calgary Flames winger Sergei Makarov,” is how Cox put it. Nonsense. Makarov is a two-time Olympic champion, an eight-time world champion, a two-time world junior champion, and he was named to the International Ice Hockey Federation centennial all-star team, along with Wayne Gretzky, Valeri Kharlamov, Borje Salming, Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak. Campbell-Pascall had a commendable international career, but that was largley in a two-country competition. As for Rheaume, she was Phil Esposito’s public relations sideshow in Tampa. Yes, that experiment certainly raised the profile of women’s hockey, but that was of Espo’s doing mostly.

Cox also points out that 28 men and two women have been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the past six years. “So much for even a semblance of equality,” he writes. Cox just doesn’t get it. It isn’t about gender equality or a female quota. It’s about performance and contribution. And, given the female game’s relative newness on a global scale and its overall lack of competitive depth, the pool of possibility is quite shallow for the women. Certainly someone like Fran Rider qualifies for the Hockey Hall of Fame for her contribution to the women’s game. She’ll get in. But not before Teemu Selanne, and it won’t be because he’s a he and she’s a she.

At least one sports writer believes Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election is sadder than the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
At least one sports writer believes Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election was a more mournful day than Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

From the department of “Does He Actually Think Before He Writes?” I give you anti-Trumpster Steve Simmons of Postmedia. On the night our neighbors to the south elected Donald Trump as their 45th president, the Toronto Sun sports scribe tweeted this gem: “The saddest night in American history.” Sigh. Let’s play that Sesame Street game: Pearl Harbor. JFK. 9/11. Katrina. Challenger. Kent State. Trump elected president…which one of these doesn’t belong?

Speaking of speaking without thinking, Hockey Night in Canada blowhard Don Cherry also used his Twitter account to weigh in on the presidential election: “The left wing kook entertainers and the left wing weirdo’s (sic) in the media in the U.S. have said if Trump wins the presidency they will move to Canada. Please, we have enough of these type here now.” Yes, by all means Grapes, let’s keep “kook entertainers” like Barbra Streisand out of Canada. She might do something radical. Like teach Justin Bieber how to sing, act and behave properly in mixed company.

Why are so many Canadians feeling misguidedly smug about the American election? Wasn’t it so long ago when they voted a man many consider to be a xenophobe, a racist, a protectionist, a bigot, a misogynist and a homophobe as the seventh greatest Canadian in history? Yup. That man is Don Cherry.

Yes, now that you mention it, this is an interesting world in which we live. I mean, unvarnished, unscripted, misogynist “locker room talk” gets Billy Bush fired from a TV show and it gets Donald Trump a room in the White House. Go figure.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.