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Ol’ Maggie Court’s crazy ramblings a reminder that the LGBT collective still has plenty of work to do

Margaret Court says tennis “is full of lesbians.” As if that’s a bad thing.

patti dawn swansson

Moreover, ol’ Maggie informs us that there were a couple of devil lesbians on the professional tennis circuit back in her day and, get this, they would take young players to parties. Imagine that. Young women partying. With lesbians. The horrors.

Ol’ Maggie has been saying a whole lot of oddball things lately and, if we are to believe the preacher lady from the Land of Oz, civilization is caught in the grip of a global plot orchestrated by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender collective. Those pesky gays are stealing the minds of our children, don’t you know?

“That’s what Hitler did, that’s what communism did—got the mind of children,” she advises us. “And it’s a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get the minds of the children.”

Hmmm. Kind of reminds me of what the Roman Catholic Church tried to do to me when I was a sprig.

The nuns, when not whacking us on the knuckles with a yardstick, would regale us with far-out tales of fantasy gardens, poisonous fruit, hell fires, voodoo antics like turning the rib of a man into a woman and, best of all, talking snakes in a magical tree. Their stories were better than anything we watched on The Wonderful World of Disney. But apparently Margaret Court believes all the Bible-based, brainwashing blarney that my receptive mind was force-fed, and it’s quite clear that the great Australian tennis champion is convinced that gay and (especially) transgender people are the spawn of Satan.

“That’s all the devil,” she says of transgender kids.

Ol’ Maggie Court

Poor, ol’ Maggie. There’s just no escaping conniving gay men and (especially) lesbians. We’re always shoving ourselves in her face, so to speak. Why, it’s gotten so bad that she can’t even travel hither and yon on Qantas anymore because the airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, is a gay man who, not surprisingly, promotes same-sex marriage, which is, in the world according to Maggie, “alternative, unhealthy, unnatural.” The right to wed is “not theirs to take.”

“I believe marriage as a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible,” she harrumphs.

Well, it’s about your Bible, Maggie: One person’s truth is another’s fiction.

The prune-faced preacher lady has been battered fore and aft for her Bible-thumping bleatings, which included a disapproving and extremely tacky tsk-tsking of Aussie tennis pro Casey Dellacqua and her partner Amanda Judd following the birth of the lesbian couple’s second child, a joyous event that Court greeted with “sadness” because the newborn has two mamas and zero papas.

I’d rather not join the Maggie-bashing chorus, though, because I think she’s unwittingly done the gay community a small favor.

The hell, you say. How can that be so?

Well, to be clear, I find her drawing a parallel between the LGBT collective and a mass murderer, Adolph Hitler, repugnant. It is not only offensive in the extreme, it shows she clearly has lost both the plot and the argument. She appears to be totally off her nut. But…I also think ol’ Maggie has provided us with a reminder, albeit appalling—at the top of Pride Month, no less—that we still have work to do. The fight for acceptance and equality continues. It has not been won. We must keep society’s feet to the fire.

I suppose we really shouldn’t care what comes out of this nutter’s mouth, but Court is a legendary sportswoman. No one has matched her two dozen tennis Grand Slam singles titles. One of the playing venues at the Australian Open in Melbourne is named in her honor (for now). And she is a pastor (the argument could be made that she’s more of a cult leader given that she created her own church, the Victory Life Centre in Perth). Thus, her voice carries some degree of heft. If not, the pushback from gay, transgender and, indeed, straight people against her homo/transphobic tripe wouldn’t be so robust.

I’ll just say this about that: Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, but so is the freedom to shut the hell up. Ol’ Maggie might want to give that a try.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m stepping out to party with some lesbian tennis players.


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Ridding the NHL of anti-gay slurs isn’t about political correctness, it’s about common decency

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patti dawn swansson

Now that the dust has settled (it has settled, hasn’t it?) and Andrew Shaw no longer is suffering from amnesia, what have we learned?

Try this:

a) The National Hockey League has officially crawled into bed with the You Can Play Project.

b) Mainstream jock journalists are afraid of the word “faggot.”

In the matter of point a), the NHL really had no choice but to deliver Shaw a stinging slap on his wrist, which we can be certain is not a “limp wrist” because, as we all know, there are no “limp wrists” among the practitioners of the manly art of hockey, otherwise the players’ vocabulary, on and off the ice, would not include anti-gay slurs like “faggot.”

Then, again, perhaps it would.

Were there an openly gay performer in the NHL, little doubt foes would draw attention to his “limp wrists” and use sexual orientation in an adolescent gambit to wrestle him off his game.

Whatever, there was little, if any, allowance for wiggle room in the Shaw situation. During a Stanley Cup skirmish featuring his Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues this week, Shaw called a game official a “fucking faggot” and it wasn’t meant as a compliment and it no longer will pass muster. Not when the NHL likes to trumpet the fact that it is in bed with the You Can Play Project, a group advocating the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in sports at all levels.

Trouble is, until this incident, the NHL and You Can Play weren’t actually in bed together, all their warm-and-fuzzy, co-op public service announcements notwithstanding. The same bedroom, yes, but they were more like a couple in a 1950s or ’60s TV sitcom—sleeping in separate beds.

So now, the NHL has actually walked the walk.

It’s not for me to say if the punishment fits the crime. I’m guessing, however, that reality bites: Address one’s foe or a game official as a “faggot” and it earns you a day off (one assumes said hiatus would be sans salary during the regular season), you’re $5,000 out of pocket, and you also are mandated to spend some quality time with those who specialize in the counsel of the less-sensitive among us. One would think that penance ought to attract the workers’ attention, but who knows for certain?

What I do know is this: Contrary to one school of thought, this is not about political correctness. It isn’t about democrats, republicans, liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, Christians, atheists, bleeding hearts or whatever venom Donald Trump is spewing these days. It’s about common decency. Nothing more, nothing less.

You simply do not target and slay a specific segment of society with hate language, and the standard, all-too-convenient “heat of the moment” defence doesn’t wash. Decent folks don’t talk that way.

I have no idea if the word “faggot” is part of Andrew Shaw’s every-day vocabulary, but I choose to think not and that he is genuinely contrite, and I believed him when he said he would “never use that word again, that’s for sure.”

Again, it speaks to decency.

Meanwhile, it’s about point b) and the media. If I read one article/opinion piece about the anti-gay slur Shaw delivered, I read three dozen. Probably more, actually. And in all but three, the word “faggot” was not included. I read that Shaw called one or more on-ice officials a “f—–g f—-t” and I read more than one piece that repeatedly referred to “that word” without advising readers what “that word” was.

But I ask, why leave it for readers to fill in the blanks or guess? Spell it out: F-a-g-g-o-t. Why shy away from it? That’s what Shaw called an official, that’s what should be reported. Writing the word doesn’t make it worse. It makes it real.

Also real is the weight the word carries and the damage it can inflict. Just so we’re clear—and this is for the edification of those who still don’t get it—it is a degrading, demeaning, hurtful and insulting term that leads to serious bouts of self-doubt, with gusts up to depression and suicidal ideation. I have heard it used by men in the LGBT collective as a playful term of endearment, but rarely so outside the gay community. It is an indignity saturated in contempt.

Perhaps now that the NHL has actually gotten into bed with the You Can Play Project, there will be a reshaping of a long-held, anti-gay culture. We can hope, can’t we?


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It’s up to a gay player to decide when he’s ready to come out, not anyone else

So, you play in the National Hockey League. You’re gay. Your teammates know it. Now you’re ready to come out publicly.

patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

When is the right time? What is the right way?

Each of us in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender collective operates on our own terms in coming out. On our own timetable. Family, friends and colleagues might have their suspicions about you; a confidante might even attempt to lure you out of the closet with calming assurances that they and others will stand by your side; but it’s still your call. It has to be.

The fear of rejection, of hostility, of abuse is a potent adversary (yes, even in 2015) and it’s that much more profound for a public figure living in a macho world. It might not even be those fears keeping a gay NHL player in the closet. It might be the media circus, which surely would pitch its big top at his doorstep.

So, when and how do you do it?

Well, if I were a gay NHL player, I would muffle the loud noise by coming out deep in the summer. Late July, perhaps. There would be one session—just one—with news scavengers, conducted in concert with my team and the league. By the time the boys assembled for training exercises in the fall, the roar would be a whisper.

But my way wouldn’t necessarily work for another.

“It’s tough,” Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project, recently told Pierre LeBrun of TSN/ESPN. “I wish there was a magic bullet that I could fire and make the (NHL) players in question ready. But it’s such a delicate situation. It’s so much based on the person’s life experience and what he wants.”

Exactly.

As we creep toward the end of another year, there are no openly gay players in any of the four major North American professional sports leagues.

The openly gay male jock remains a mysterious, mystical, almost mythical creature. He is the rarest of our sporting species. We have caught glimpses of him. Fleeting glimpses, much like Sasquatch and Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.

jason collins timeJason Collins signed as a spare part with the Brooklyn Nets, playing 22 games at the tail end of the 2013-14 National Basketball Association season. That represented the lunar landing for gay male athletes. Indeed, Collins was featured on the cover of Time magazine in May of 2014, cited among the 100 most influential people in the world. He was looked upon as a game-changer.

Not to discredit Collins, because it would be impossible to measure his sway on our sporting youth, but his influence in the sphere that includes the NBA, the NHL, the National Football League and Major League Baseball has been without significance.

Only Michael Sam has stepped forward, initially in the training camp of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, then on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice roster and, finally, in an ill-fated attempt to fit in with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, where he surfaced in one game, playing a dozen downs at defensive end and recording zeroes across the statistical board.

Both Collins and Sam arrived and disappeared faster than summer wages.

Why? Because they were gay? Not necessarily. Collins was playing the back nine of his NBA career when he joined the Nets. He was spent. Sam’s skill set was found wanting, whether it be three- or four-down football, and he appeared to be the victim of ill-gotten advice from handlers/hangers-on.

Still, they were there. On the lunar surface. So where are the others?

Surely the argument that a team cannot be successful with a gay man in the mix is a horse-and-buggy notion, one forever debunked last year by Robbie Rogers and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Not only did they perform in harmony, they ran to the Major League Soccer title. What’s that you say? Nobody cares about soccer? Well, okay, MLS is looked upon as the fifth Beatle, but the evidence that a team can win with an openly gay player is undeniable.

Thus, it would seem to me that there remains just one reason why there are zero out gay men in the Big Four of North American team sports—the gay man himself. We know he exists, so where is he?

“Look,” says Burke, whose You Can Play Project is determined to make all playing surfaces, changing rooms and public pews safe for LGBT athletes, “we denied it for several years because we didn’t want to feel pressure, we didn’t want to kick off a witch hunt, we didn’t want people trying to guess who was who. But, yes, our organization has spoken with gay players in the National Hockey League, gay staff members, gay media members.”

Alas, as he says, there is no magic bullet. The gay player will let us know he’s ready to come out when he’s ready to let us know. Not a moment sooner. Just as it should be.


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You’re never going to have unanimity on the gay issue in the NHL or anywhere else

Brian Burke is disappointed.

patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

This, of course, is not uncommon. Burke’s smile is often turned upside-down. After all, he once generally managed the Toronto Maple Leafs, a tragic, ghastly hockey outfit that has perfected the art of disappointing its ownership, management, coaches and a fan base whose reach stretches far beyond parochial boundaries.

Not once since the spring of 1967 have les Leafs participated in a Stanley Cup parade, a stretch of annual faceplants that, while not equal in numbers to the Chicago Cubs’ century-plus death march, feels very Cub-ian. Burke can only be held personally responsible for a handful of the Leafs’ springtime melts, but some things tend to cling, and not even fleeing the Republic of Tranna and hiding out in Saudi Alberta can shake off the residue of ruin a man experiences in the Centre of the Shinny Universe.

It isn’t les Leafs who are up Burke’s nose these days, though. It’s a hockey player. A homophobic hockey player.

At least we assume him to be homophobic, because when USA TODAY unsealed the findings of a survey it conducted during a National Hockey League/NHL Players Association media meet-and-greet earlier this month in Toronto, one of 35 skaters turned thumbs down to the notion of welcoming an openly gay teammate into the lair. Guy’s gotta be a gay-hater, right?

“I’m disappointed by the one player,” said Burke, now Grand Poobah of all things Calgary Flames.

Well, sure he’s disappointed. Burke, after all, is among the founding fathers of the You Can Play Project, one of the leading entities in the crusade for inclusiveness in sports, professional and amateur. And already I have heard yelps of “Name him and shame him!” from the rabble. But let there be no witch hunt here. No McCarthyism, whereby we feret out the scoundrel who clings tightly to the notion that gay is wrong, gay is weak, gay is the devil’s own handiwork.

Let’s face it, this is life, which never has been, nor shall it ever be, one-size-fits-all. The crouching tiger of bigotry/racism/misogyny is always at the door.

P.K. Subban, for example, is to be admired universally and unanimously for his commitment to funnel $10 million to charity over the next seven years, yet I harbor no doubt that there are those walking among us who see not the Montreal Canadiens defenceman’s generosity but, rather, only the hue of his skin. To them, he’s just an uppity black man who shouldn’t be making that kind of money.

So finding one rogue hockey player in a group of 35? Not at all alarming.

Seriously, if you were to ask 35 anonymous NHL players if they believe women are nothing more than sex objects to be used for their pleasure, you’re apt to find at least one thick enough to give you an enthusiastic “Hell ya!”

Same thing with Europeans. Still. I mean, xenophobia ran rampant during the 1970s, first when those dreaded Ivans and Igors from Mother Russia tried to steal our game during the ’72 Summit Series, then when a tidal wave of Europeans washed ashore to take jobs from good Canadian boys mid-decade. I would venture to submit that there are still those who would prefer not to sit beside a Russian in the changing room. Some might not be too fond of Swedes. But the xenophobe ranks, I would suggest, have thinned considerably over time.

Ditto the homophobes. I doubt very much that USA TODAY would have received a whopping 97.1 per cent approval rate on its gay question 30-40 years ago. Oh, hell, they probably wouldn’t have gotten it 10 years ago.

So, this is a good-news story, and the fact that at least one player confesses to discomfort with a gay teammate is also positive, in a bass-ackwards way. If, for example, there had been 35-of-35 unanimity, the fallout would have been not only sharp cynicism but flat-out disbelief. Like, tell me Don Cherry is defecting to Moscow and I might buy it. But 100 per cent of NHL players being okay with a gay teammate? Sorry, no sale. That reeks of galloping political correctness.

As it is, we have been given a subtle reminder that educating is yet to be done, and the question now becomes: Is this survey, with its small sample size, enough to convince a gay player to come out?

If nothing else, it is encouraging and I, for one, don’t need to know the identity of the solitary homophobe who took part in the USA TODAY survey. I just assume he plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, because they always disappoint.


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To the Canadian sports writer who says Michael Sam is “faking it,” come out, come out whoever you are!

I have known, and I know, a lot of sports writers.

patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

Some of them have galloping egos and, in general terms, their skin is thinner than the margin for error in a Gallup poll. But that’s really the worst I can say about them. In the grand scheme of things, they’re good people. Fun people. Good-time Charlies and Charlenes with quick wits and wry, also self-deprecating, senses of humor that sometimes serve to camouflage the stresses borne of the high demands of their craft.

That’s why it pains me to discover that one among them has completely lost the plot vis-a-vis Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to participate in a Canadian Football League match.

According to a weekend tweet from Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project that advocates inclusiveness in sports, he received an email from one of the “prominent” flowers of sports journalism in the True North suggesting Sam’s stated claim of walking out on the Montreal Alouettes due to mental health issues is a bogus bit of business.

“Media coverage of Michael Sam shows just how far society havs (sic) to go not only on LGBT issues but on mental health issues,” Burke tweeted.

“Received one email from a prominent Canadian sports reporter who accused Mike of faking it. Despicable. Pathetic. Revolting.”

Amen to that, brother.

And let’s add arrogant, ignorant, callous, contemptible and extremely mean-spirited to the roll call. It doesn’t even come close to passing the smell test of acceptability.

Unless the reporter in question is gay, he (I assume it’s a he since there are so few prominent sports scribes on the distaff side of press row) cannot even begin to know what manner of monsters prey on Sam’s mind. And if he is gay, he’s closeted, because I know of zero openly homosexual men writing sports in Canada.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no lesbians in significant roles at any of the major daily sports sheets in the country, either. Mainstream jock journalism, as I have written on more than one occasion, is white, straight and largely male. An old boys’ club, if you will.

I’m not certain of the blogosphere. I might be it. I know I’m the sole transgender girl scribbling sports in the Great White North and it’s possible that I’m flying solo as a lesbian, as well.

That, however, doesn’t unlock the door to Sam’s mind for me. Do I have an idea what he’s gone through and what he’s going through? You bet. I’ve been there and done that, not on as grand a scale as the now-departed Alouettes rush end, but for the longest time I was bleeding badly.

People have often asked me why I walked away from mainstream sports media after 30 years, at just 48 years of age. Simple. Same as Sam—mental health issues that I wasn’t prepared to share with anyone, not even my closest friends.

There were reasons why I seldom ran with the pack during road trips. The boys and (very few) girls would gather and have a howling good time at one watering hole or another (usually more than one, actually), but I really couldn’t handle the egos. I didn’t want to listen to more of their self-indulgent war stories and conquests, as humorous as many of them were. I didn’t feel as if I was part of the tribe. I was different. Thus, I would seek a quiet blues or jazz joint and deal with my demons in solitude.

It was such a lonely, confining place to be. At one point toward the end of my career, I experienced a massive meltdown in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom and departed in a flood of tears. I wasn’t seen, nor scarcely heard from, for three weeks. When I returned, I knew it was over. It was when, not if, I made my escape from the business.

And not a single person had a clue that I was crippled by gender identity conflict. Nobody.

So shame on the writer who says Michael Sam is faking it. He doesn’t know squat. He should out himself, but I doubt he has that kind of courage.


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Michael Sam: There’s nothing funny about mental health issues

It’s easy to poke fun at Michael Sam. To mock, malign and ridicule him. To laugh at him. Especially now that he’s been reduced to a footnote in football lore.

patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

I would guess, however, that 99 per cent of the people having sport with Sam, with their sophomoric jokes and their frat boy humor about his sexual orientation, are heterosexual men with a large L stamped on their foreheads.

Because they are not wrapped in the skin of a gay person, they cannot possibly begin to understand this man’s torment, nor will they attempt to understand. Why try to get a sense of Sam’s truth when it’s so much more fun getting all those cheap yuks from the stooges sitting at the bar at the gay boy’s expense, right?

It truly is a shame that we’re comfortably into the 21st century yet it still isn’t easy being gay or an LGBT ally. A teenage girl, Shira Banki, and five others were stabbed at a Pride march in Jerusalem in late July. Shira died of her wounds three days later. Leaders of a Louisiana chapter of the Ku Klux Klan have been distributing fliers that advocate violence against gays.

“Stop AIDS: Support Gay Bashing,” read the fliers signed by the Loyal White Knights of the KKK. “Homosexual men and their sexual acts are disgusting and inhuman.”

Call the assailant in Jerusalem and the KKK a bunch of crazies, if you like, but they are a reality. A reality like Mike Huckabee, Republican presidential candidate and a Baptist minister who describes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage as “judicial tyranny,” and who once compared homosexuality to pedophilia and referred to gay relations as the “ick factor.”

Read the comment threads on articles about Michael Sam and you’ll realize that many, many Mike Huckabees walk among us. And now that Sam has bugged out on the Montreal Alouettes, for the second and surely final time, they are in full taunt. Only this time it isn’t soley about his sexuality. No, they’ve slithered to a much lower level, making his mental well-being a laughing point.

Sam, in stepping away from the Canadian Football League outfit last week, cited concerns over his mental health. He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t have to.

Of course there would be a toll to pay for becoming the first openly gay man to play professional football. From the moment Sam outed himself following his senior season with the Missouri Tigers and prior to the 2014 NFL draft, many in the gay collective, including myself, hoped he would bear up beneath the weight of not only intense public and media scrutiny, but also the galloping homophobia that exists in the sport’s culture.

Football locker rooms are gnarly places full of large, gnarly men programmed to inflict pain. The meek and weak need not apply and, in many a mind’s eye, gay equals weak.

No doubt, for some, Sam’s retreat from the game reinforces that stereotyping. But there remains too many unanswered questions for it to be that simple. Walking away a week after finally playing a game makes little sense. Unless the hints of hostility in the Als’ changing room were more fact than fiction.

It’s a fool’s business to presume to know the atmosphere within the Alouettes inner sanctum, but when longtime beat writer Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette tells us that Sam had become a distraction (hello, Tony Dungy) and the air was thick with the pungent smell of resentment toward him due to what teammates perceived to be preferential treatment, I believe him. Perhaps that was the issue that tipped the cow and Sam decided he needed to bug out.

Whatever the case, as much as many of us had hoped for it, we aren’t going to have a happily-ever-after ending to the football portion of Sam’s story. That really isn’t important, though. His mental health is. And that’s no laughing matter.