The River City Renegade


3 Comments

About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

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

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

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.


Leave a comment

Mysogyny in hockey: Boys dropping C-bombs is as old as the game itself

(Reader advisory: This essay contains coarse language that some might find offensive.)

Only one man has called me a cunt.

I ask that you trust me when I tell you that I did not say, nor did I do, anything that should have positioned me on the receiving end of such a vile, disgusting epithet. Suffice to say, I was working as a cover girl at a popular nightclub and this male patron was of the misguided notion that his stuff didn’t stink. He believed himself to be exempt from paying our $5 cover charge. I thought otherwise and told him so. Politely.

“You’re such a cunt,” he said as he stepped through the entrance doors.

“Excuse me?” I responded, in full recoil.

He stopped, turned back and took two steps toward me.

“I said,” he repeated, “you’re such a cunt.”

So there you have it. Two C-bombs in less than a dozen seconds.

I was not impressed. Nor was management. He was escorted from the building by a rather large lad with much muscle power.

Now, it’s my understanding that the use of the word “cunt” is not on the A-list of insults in other parts of our world. It is, after all, just a word. We do not, however, live in “other parts” of the world. Here at home, “cunt” carries radioactivity. It is toxic and hostile in the extreme. It is deep, intense and has unmatched shock value. It is sooooo degrading.

It is with this in mind that I ponder Greg Betzold and Jake Marchment, two young men who have achieved considerable notoriety for launching C-bombs. Because both are performers in the Ontario Hockey League, our great game itself is under assault for its culture of mysogyny and entitlement. This saddens me.

It also saddens me when a male athlete says something stupid then follows with a forced mea culpa in an attempt to convince us that what he said isn’t who he is.

A case in point would be the aforementioned Betzold.

The Peterborough Petes forward goes on the dating app Tinder and calls a woman a “dumb stupid cunt.” Not only that, he posits that she has a post-university future in “taking dick for a living.” So, she’s also a whore-in-waiting.

What does this tell us? Well, it tells me that Betzold is not the type of fellow I want my daughters dating. But let’s not leap to any assumptions. Calling a young woman a “dumb stupid cunt” and a whore isn’t really who Greg Betzold is. A mysogynist? Nope. Not Greg Betzold. We know this because he has posted an apology on Twitter assuring us that his comments “do not reflect my true values or views.”

Well, yes they do, Greg. What we say is who we are.

I have never met Betzold. Probably never will. I doubt, however, that this was the first time he’s dropped a C-bomb on a girl. Ditto Marchment, who, in a nasty Tinder exchange with a lass professing she had better things to do than spread her legs for the Belleville Bulls captain, branded the woman an “ugly cunt.”

I roamed countless hockey changing rooms, both at the Junior and professional level, during 30 years in jock journalism dating back to the late 1960s. They are, if nothing else, testosterone-fuelled, alpha, frat-boy man caves, where the C-bomb would rank a close second or third to “fag” or “mother fucker” as the slur du jour. They are vain, vulgar dens. Trust me. This is how hockey players talk in chamber. Thus, the coarse language used by Betzold and Marchment is not fresh fruit. It’s just that the majority who occupy these chambers aren’t so thick that they use hockey-speak on social forums such as Tinder or Twitter.

Basically, Betzold and Marchment, a Los Angeles Kings chattel, have brought the masses inside the changing room. Those unaware that such a culture of mysogyny and entitlement existed are now up to speed.

Not surprisingly, the deep-thinkers in the OHL’s ivory tower are unamused, which is why they’ve told both Betzold and Marchment to go away for the next 15 games, presumably to gaze at their navels and contemplate the reaction if someone were to label either of their mothers a “dumb, stupid, ugly cunt.”

I’m not prepared to cut either Betzold or Marchment an inch of slack. Can’t go there. What I can do, however, is perhaps provide a pinch of perspective.

The theatre that is junior hockey mostly plays out in the nooks and crannies of the country. Junior hockey is Penticton and Pembroke and Portage la Prairie and Prince Albert. The players, mostly 16-19 years of age, have been spirited from the shelter of home and are now big fish in small ponds. They are fussed and fawned over. They are rock stars in small communities. It must be emphasized that they’re also horny, teenage boys for whom getting laid is as simple as spreading peanut butter on a piece of toast. I mean, go to any rink where the Junior game is played and you’re guaranteed to find teenage girls prepared to lift their skirts so they can tell friends that they’ve bagged themselves a hockey player.

That doesn’t make it acceptable to speak of, or treat, women like trash, but galloping hormones and the players’ pack mentality refuse to recognize societal standards.

Some, of course, handle the entitlement with greater grace than others, and I suppose it’s fair to suggest that Betzold and Marchment have some work to do in this area. But they are a product of their environment. Not their home environment, because I doubt very much that they learned to call women “dumb, stupid, ugly cunts” while gathered around the dinner table with mom, dad and little sister. Hockey has made them this way.

The OHL has been applauded for acting swiftly and forcefully in the Betzold-Marchment case. A 15-game suspension is, to be certain, a harsh piece of penance to deliver, but I can’t help but take a cynical, if not dim, view of the sentence. Is the punishment designed to grow the players as people or simply to prevent their sexist, degrading comments from surfacing on social media? I hope it’s the former but I fear it’s the latter.

It’s sad that nothing has changed since I rode the iron lung with a Major Junior hockey outfit through Western Canada during my cub reporter days in the early 1970s, and I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done to facilitate the expungement of mysogyny in junior hockey.

Here’s a place to start, though, boys: Never, ever call a woman a “cunt.” Not unless you have one of your own. That would be entitlement.

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