Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you might want to socially distance yourself from this…
There are times when it’s difficult to know where to begin, but experience has taught me that the beginning is a good place to start.
So, in the beginning…
I initially noticed the hue of skin at age five, perhaps six, when the family had gathered for dinner one night on Melbourne Avenue in Winnipeg. There, at one corner of the table nearest my mom, sat Delbert Wagner, local jazz musician. I stared, studying him hard, like I would a freshly opened pack of Topps baseball cards.
“Is something wrong?” my mother asked, observing my fixation with our guest and perhaps thinking there was something about Delbert’s table manners that I didn’t appreciate.
“He’s a Black man,” I said, pointing. “He’s not the same color as us.”
The three adults in attendance tittered, and I made no conscious decision to accept or reject Delbert’s blackness because I was unaware that skin tone might be a matter for disagreement.
Similarly, when treated to a Saturday night out at Haynes Chicken Shack on Lulu Street, I would notice the mixture of black and white faces and think nothing of it, except to acknowledge that there were more black faces than I was accustomed to seeing. In the main, my consideration went to the musicians, who were wonderful, and it was cool when one of the owners/performers, Percy and Zena Haynes (Delbert’s step-father and mother), would work the room and join us at our table for a brief time. I likened it to a visit from Nat King Cole or Ella.
Those were my first inter-racial inter-actions, and I’m happy to report that they leaned heavily toward extremely pleasurable.
The sporting and/ or entertainment heroes of my youth, meanwhile, were an interesting collection: The elegant Wilma Rudolph, a Black woman, was the athlete I most admired; Sandy Koufax, a Jewish man, was my favorite baseball player; Floyd Patterson, a Black Catholic, was my fave boxer until Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, a Muslim; my favorite singers were Barbra Streisand, a Jew, and Frank Sinatra, a mobster; my favorite actor was Sophia Loren, an Italian.
It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t like any or all of them simply because of skin hue, choice of temple, circle of friends, or place of birth.
So you’ll have to excuse me if I fail to comprehend why anyone would stoop to the verbal and/or literal boot-stomping of Black people. I didn’t understand it in the 1950s and ’60s, when fire hoses and German Shepherd dogs were among the tools used to subdue peaceful marchers, and I don’t get it now.
I give ponder to this matter because of the great group howl that has dominated the conversation pit ever since a rogue cop executed George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis-St. Paul in late May.
Sports organizations and athletes who’ve never used their voices (hello, National Hockey League players) now raise them in a new-born awareness of racial inequity. Their chorus has invited praise. But also skepticism. That is, some wonder if there’s universal sincerity in the squawk against racism, or is the high, angered pitch a product of too many athletes with an inordinate amount of free time on their hands?
The hope, of course, is that it’s meaningful natter destined to bear fruit, but the fear is that it’ll disappear like summer wages.
In the meantime, allow me to squeeze an alternative thought into the main holler about racism and direct your attention to the real scourge of boys’ and men’s sports, particularly hockey—sexism/misogyny and homophobia.
The Greater Toronto Hockey League was bullied into releasing some interesting data the other day, numbers that break down misconduct penalties assessed in the past three seasons. In 2019-20, gender/sexism-related infractions numbered 172. Racism? Five. Yup, 172-5. Do the math. That’s 34 times as many.
I’d like to tell you I’m surprised, but I’m not. The go-to slurs, on-ice and in hockey changing rooms, are sexist or anti-gay. It’s an ugly segment of the culture, older than the back of Aurele Joliat’s head. Most disturbing is that it still holds grip at today’s grassroots level, where kids continue to recite a lesson learned from fathers, uncles and older brothers—women are lesser-thans.
Ditto gays. Homophobia is so embedded in hockey that there’s never been an openly gay player in the NHL. Not ever. In more than 100 years. There have been 60-plus Black players, but zero gays have felt comfortable enough to come out. Before or after their tour of duty.
The GTHL numbers tell us that sexism/gender and homophobia are far greater worry points than racism, and I’d suggest you’d find similar results anywhere in Canada.
And here’s a troubling notion: Those kids are our leaders of tomorrow.
At first blush, the GTHL figures don’t seem so disturbing, not when you consider we’re talking about 40,000 kids and 14,000 games per season. But then you contemplate a sound bite from GTHL executive director Scott Oakman: “I don’t think it’s a measure of the real life experiences players have in our league. We’ve heard, over the last week or so, lived experiences of players that were undetected by officials.” So what do we do, multiply the incidents by 10? By 100? Do I hear 1,000? It’s scary stuff.
I should point out that the women/gays-as-lesser-thans is strictly a male sports thing. Women’s pro hockey and Olympic rosters have featured lesbian and transgender players. Women’s National Basketball Association rosters include numerous lesbians, some of whom are married. Tennis, golf…many gay women. And, of course, there’s soccer and it’s Women’s World Cup where, according to Yankee Doodle Damsel lesbian Megan Rapinoe, “You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before.” So when will male sports organizations and athletes join the 21st century?
When I called up the Sportsnet website early Saturday morning, there were 10 items on racism. TSN had five on its main page. The Athletic had five. Be interesting to note the numbers a month from now.
Wow, that was some kind of big news from the good ol’ boys in NASCAR—no one is allowed to fly or display the Confederate flag on race day anymore. Most fans actually took the news in stride, but rioting broke out when they were told they also had to put their teeth in.
Excuse me? Did I just stereotype U.S. Southerners? My apologies. I was actually talking about Saskatchewan Roughriders fans.
It looks like scribes who follow the National Basketball Association might be required to live in quarantine at Disney World for 3½ months. No big deal. Most of them are too big for the rides anyway.
I tried watching some of the Charles Schwab Challenge from the Colonial in Fort Worth on Saturday, but it wasn’t working for me. I prefer spectator sports.
So, the NHL’s disgraced and outcast misogynist Brendan Leipsic has apparently found work in Russia. Finally, something the rest of us saw coming before the Houston Astros.
Here’s what’s on my in-isolation book shelf this week…
It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Lady with Three Chins Sings: The Collected Sayings of Yogi Berra (Politically Correct Edition).
Gone with the Blowhard: How Humpty Harold Ballard Huffed and Puffed and Turned the Maple Leafs from Champs to Chumps.
Left Turns & Whistling Dixie: The Illustrated History of NASCAR.
My Pants were On Fire and Your Nose was Growing: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa Finally Tell the Truth About Their Juiced-Up Home Run Race of 1998.
Hell, Yes, There’s Crying in Baseball: What Every Cleveland Indians Fan Needs to Know.
What’s this? Could it be that there’s an awakening in the world of women’s hockey? Appears to be so. Whereas members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association once took delight in trash talking the National Women’s Hockey League and it’s “beer league” product, the Dream Gappers are suddenly playing nice “What we forget about along the way is any opportunity in women’s sport right now is a good one,” says Kristen Richards, who opted to align with the PWHPA rather than join the NWHL. “Why are we women forced to say that we only deserve one league after all of this?” And here’s Jayna Hefford, main mouthpiece for the Dream Gappers: “When you look at men’s hockey, everybody knows the best players play in the NHL. It doesn’t seem confusing on the men’s side that there’s multiple professional leagues. To put it in laymen’s terms, there’s McDonald’s and there’s Burger King. They do the exact same thing. Are they pressured to be one company?” Could be that it’s just window dressing and the Dream Gappers are still as catty as ever, but I prefer to think they’ve grown some.
Here’s something only a scribe from the Republic of Tranna would write, re the Tranna Jurassics winning the NBA title a year ago: “That life-altering feeling may never go away, even now as we struggle through some of the largest challenges of our lives,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tells us. Say what? “Life-altering?” Good grief. COVID-19 is “life-altering.” The other thing is a basketball game. Get a grip, man.
Simmons also had this to say in his weekly alphabet fart that appears in many Postmedia papers: “We need to do more in this country to make sports accessible and available and cool enough for young women to participate.” Right. That coming from a guy who once said, “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” He also called women’s hockey at the Olympic Games “a charade.” When the discussion is female sports, it’s best if Simmons just sits it out.
And, finally, I’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld lately, and I must say that those four main characters are quite unpleasant people. George Costanza, in particular, is among the smarmiest, most annoying people on TV, yet despite that and his lack of physical attractiveness, most of his girlfriends are babes. I don’t know about you, but most women I know wouldn’t date George Costanza on a dare, especially if it meant spending any time with his parents.