The bashing of Leah Hextall and other females in jock journalism is tiresome

People began talking about Leah Hextall on Monday night.

They’re still talking about her today.

And they’ll be talking about her the next time she puts on a head set to describe the goings-on in a National Hockey League skirmish.

Why is that? Because she’s a she.

Leah’s critics, who seem to have multiplied this week like fish and loaves in a Bible story, are numerous and loud, and many among them couch their comments by pretending it isn’t about gender when they pull an arrow out of the quiver and sling it in her direction.

Some samples from Twitter:

“Nothing to do with her sex, but…”

Leah Hextall

“Nothing to do with the fact she’s female, but…”

“I’m all for gender equality when and where possible, but…”

“No man would get away with that PBP calibre in Junior A let alone NHL on national TV. It’s not cuz she’s a woman, she’s just not good at it.”

Yet it’s precisely because Leah Hextall is female that her play-by-play call on the Pittsburgh Penguins-Winnipeg Jets joust Monday on Sportsnet evoked an avalanche of gender-based naysaying, and it’s also the reason many have rallied behind her.

More samples:

“Thanks for bringing a female voice to NHL play-by-play.”

“Hope we soon will be able to hear more female voices doing play-by-play!”

“Sports need more women in media to encourage and inspire young girls to pick up the mic!”

So, you see, when so many comment about gender, it’s about gender.

If not, neither side of the discussion would be talking about the influence chromosomes have on one’s ability/inability to describe a hockey game. We wouldn’t read or hear the words “female” or “sex” or “girls” or “this lady” or (exaggerated eye roll) “really pretty.” It would be about performance. Period. Just like it is for Chris Cuthbert and Dave Randorf and Harnarayan Singh and Gord Miller and Dennis Beyak, not to mention the guys riding shotgun for them in the Blah-Blah-Blah Box.

Alas, what’s sauce for the goose isn’t necessarily sauce for the gander.

Don Cherry in his Boxo suit.

Male broadcasters are, of course, also dissected like a frog in a high school biology class, but it’s never about the XY chromosome and not often about appearance, unless the guy shows up on camera wearing a clown outfit (hello, Don Cherry) or looking like he’s been riding the rails with Box Car Willie and hasn’t dragged a brush through his hair in six months (hello, Elliotte Friedman). Fat, thin, tall, short, frumpy and unkempt or straight off the pages of GQ, it’s not an issue with the boys. And it’s assumed they know what they’re talking about until they say something stupid to convince us otherwise.

Not so fortunate are the women, who bear a different kind of cross.

It’s assumed they don’t know what they’re talking about before they begin flapping their lips, which better be painted, and all those lumps on bar stools and in man caves suffer severe ear bleeds at the first sound of a female voice word-painting their macho sport. Doesn’t matter if she’s spot-on with her play-by-play call. It just isn’t “right.”

There are exceptions, to be sure.

Cheryl Bernard, for example, works men’s curling on TSN and there’s nary a squawk about her female voice, her delivery, or her knowledge of Pebble People and the game. It shouldn’t matter, but it probably helps male viewers that the camera likes Cheryl and her cover-girl looks a whole lot, and that she sits between two guys, Vic Rauter and Russ Howard, who aren’t exactly GQ cover material.

Cheryl Bernard

Meanwhile, viewers have grown accustomed to, and are comfortable with, the sound of Dottie Pepper’s voice on PGA tournament coverage, and if the great Judy Rankin were to work next year’s Masters at Augusta, nary a discouraging word would be heard. The same applies to Mary Cirillo, who talks men’s tennis as well as anyone and won’t take a step back from John McEnroe in the Blurt Booth.

In the main, though, the women are seen as brazen interlopers busting into the frat house, and a more typical experience would be that of Suzyn Waldman, who went from the life of a singer/dancer on Broadway to the Bronx and the New York Yankees broadcast booth in the 1980s.

“I went through years of terrible things,” she once said. “I had people spit at me. I got used condoms in the mail. I had my own police force at the Yankee Stadium in 1989 for a solid year because I was getting death threats. I did Broadway for years. There’s nothing worse than that except this.”

Suzyn Waldman

Female broadcasters are still receiving used Trojans in the mail, only they now arrive in the form of disgusting, toxic commentary on social media, most notably Twitter, where mean tweets include the B-word and the C-word and are cruel enough to make men fidget uncomfortably in shame and women weep. So don’t try to tell me it isn’t about gender.

I’m sure Leah Hextall knows all about this. She must, because she’s a she. Every woman in jock journalism—hell, every female who’s had the (apparent) bad manners to bust down the door to an ol’ boys club—knows it’s part of the gig, and many have moved on to other pursuits because of it. It’s so very tiresome.

I just hope the paddywhacking Leah has taken this week won’t make her one of the casualties.

Don’t believe what they say about Winnipeg, Nate Schmidt…it’s (mostly) lies

Top o’ the morning to you, Nate Schmidt.

Have you been out back chopping wood and contemplating life today? I don’t have to tell you that’s good for the health and good for the soul.

I used to do something similar back in the day, Nate, when I owned 15 acres just outside St-Pierre-Jolys. I’d give the horses their morning feed, turn them out and then muck out the stalls and/or chop firewood. Very therapeutic. Came to some life-altering decisions while knee-deep in horse manure or whacking a tree with an ax.

So I can kind of relate to your soul-searching in recent days, wondering if leaving the Vancouver Canucks for the Winnipeg Jets was the right thing to do.

They tell me you had strong reservations about changing your postal code from the Great Wet North to the frozen tundra. They say you were as reluctant as a tax cheat heading to an audit. More to the point, like a lot of National Hockey League players, you had Good Ol’ Hometown at, or near, the top of your no-trade list.

Not sure what your hangups were, Nate, but I can assure you that whatever you’ve heard about Winnipeg is lies. All lies.

Except the weather, of course.

It gets cold, Nate. Bitterly cold. Cold enough to freeze the brass monkeys off the Golden Boy. You’re going to need all that firewood you’ve been chopping.

Nate Schmidt

Winnipeg won’t be anything like Vegas or Vancouver, where you could loiter on an outdoor patio in January, sipping a latté and staring at your smart phone, or whatever it is that young millionaires do with their down time. But you already knew that because you’ve spent time in Good Ol’ Hometown with the Washington Capitals, the Golden Knights and the Canucks.

The thing is, Nate, you haven’t seen Pegtown in its best bib and tucker. It isn’t the armpit outriders would have you believe. I can assure you that it’s not 10 months of winter and two months of bad skating.

Why, if you were to come up from your hideaway in the wilds of Minnesota this very weekend, I’d wager you’ll find that most of the snow from last winter is gone. What drifts remain are probably only ankle high now.

It’s true, though, Nate. You’ll be trading in your Shangri-La La Land umbrella for a snow blower, but you figure to make $6 million playing defence for the Winnipeg Jets next autumn, winter and spring, so you can afford to hire a kid from down the street and let him or her do your grunt work.

Just don’t chintz out on their Christmas tip, Nate, because I’m sure you know what it’s like to be on the business end of a shovel. You’re from St. Cloud, which sees plenty of the white stuff.

You’re also just a hoot and holler up the road from Minneapolis-St. Paul, which means you likely root, root, root for the Vikings.

Did you know that one of our favorite adopted sons is the greatest coach in Vikings history, Nate? That’s right. Harry Peter Grant is his name, but everyone in Good Ol’ Hometown knows him as Bud, and some even kiss his ring finger whenever he puts away his fishing pole to grace us with his presence on special occasions.

Bud coached our Winnipeg Blue Bombers to four Grey Cup titles, which is why he’s deity.

Win the Stanley Cup just once, Nate, and the locals might not be inclined to kiss your ring finger but they’ll probably never let you buy a beer again. Ever.

Meantime, I think it’s important that we discuss Winnipeg’s WiFi, Nate. You’ve visited enough to know that it’s just another lie. The WiFi doesn’t really suck, no matter what the San Jose Sharks say. I know this because I’ve used it. My connection never broke down more than two or three times every half hour.

So let me just leave you with this final thought, Nate: Winnipeg isn’t all about a wonky WiFi connection. It’s all about a good block heater.

The Montreal Canadiens and NHL need to know sexual assault isn’t just about rape

Many, if not most, of us said and did and wrote things in the 20th century that would fail to pass the societal sniff test two decades into the 21st century.

Talking and acting like Archie Bunker or George Jefferson just doesn’t cut it today, at least not in mixed company and certainly not if you’re a sports figure or organization with influence and power and a platform.

Don Cherry can tell us all about that.

Don Cherry

Grapes’ Hockey Night in Canada gig was like an All In the Family spinoff series, except it wasn’t nearly as funny and Archie Bunker didn’t wear clothing that looked like Edith’s table cloth. Still, Coach’s Corner survived close to 40 years of misogyny, xenophobia, gay-mocking voices, sexism, leftist-bashing, etc. before it finally came crashing down at the back end of 2019, when Cherry scolded “you people” (immigrants) for enjoying our “milk and honey” but refusing to purchase and wear poppies for Remembrance Day.

The careers of others, like broadcasters Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roanick, have died on a similar hill, only their undoing leaned more toward boys-will-be-boys banter. You know, cringeworthy spewings that would earn giggles in the frat house but not at the family dinner table or on national TV.

Fringe NHLer Brendan Leipsic, meanwhile, was still earning his chops when he participated in a group chat featuring degrading comments and pics of misogyny, body shaming and other unpleasantness. The Washington Capitols promptly parted company with Leipsic and, not long after, he booked passage to Russia, presumably in close proximity to the Siberian border.

All of which brings us to the Montreal Canadiens.

If the Habs and, by extension, the NHL were unaware of a different-thinking, less-tolerant society that tends to not look the other way when women, minorities or the marginalized are skewered and/or shamed, they were brought up to speed on the weekend.

The outrage that followed the selection of Logan Mailloux in the entry draft has been as fierce, fevered and unyielding as it is justified.

Mailloux, you see, went full cad-mode last winter while with SK Lejon in Sweden’s Division III. He hooked up with a young lady who obliged him in oral sex, and there’s no crime in a hot-blooded, late-teenage lad letting the wolf lose. It is, however, a firm no-no to secretly take pics and share them, also the women’s identity, without her knowledge and consent.

Swedish authorities tend to harrumph and frown when that happens, so they charged Mailloux with defamation and offensive photography, then fined him the equivalent of $1,650US.

Les Canadiens, on the other hand, apparently considered the crime a party gag gone wrong.

Thus general manager Marc Bergevin used his first shoutout (31st overall) at the annual grab bag of teen talent to pluck Mailloux, which went against the grain of his clearly expressed wishes. He had informed all 32 NHL outfits to steer clear. He wanted some buffer time to contemplate his misguided ways and allow his moral compass to catch up to a still-growing body jacked up on testosterone.

The Habs were having none of that. To hell with political correctness.

Well, here’s what the Habs, also the NHL, are missing: The same way domestic violence doesn’t always mean visible bruising, sexual assault isn’t just rape. It isn’t just a body thing.

Sexual assault has layers like an onion. It can be words. It can be stalking. It can be the lecherous looks and lewd suggestive comments from a group of men who make you dash to safety on the other side of the street. It can be an email. And it definitely is the unwanted sharing of sex photos you didn’t know existed. They don’t take a rape kit for that type of sexual assault, but they might send you to a therapist.

If it sounds like I’ve been there and had some of that done to me, it’s only because it’s true.

Not all sex crimes carry the same heft on the surface. What Mailloux did shouldn’t be as punitive as rape, but it should be more punitive than a small fine and a “welcome aboard, kid” from the Montreal Canadiens and NHL. I mean, he didn’t rape her so everything is supposed to be cool? Nice try. They can’t possibly know the impact it’s had on the victim. Anyone reach out to that young lady? What’s she going through today? What’s her hell been like in the past eight months? Do they even give a damn? No. They don’t.

I don’t know where the NHL stands on the sexual assault and domestic violence files. Does anyone?

Slava Voynov beat up his wife in 2014, spent time behind bars, vamoosed to Mother Russia, played in the Olympics, and hasn’t been on an NHL pond since. Austin Watson was instructed to spend 18 games in the corner after roughing up his wife.

And I suppose that’s progress.

Sean Burke

Goaltender Sean Burke, for example, laid hands on his wife, Leslie, while with the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. She had bruising to the face and neck and he spent 21½ hours in the brig. Yet he didn’t miss a beat. No suspension.

“I’m not going to sit the guy out because I’m trying to make a public relations move,” then-head coach Paul Maurice told news snoops. “We are talking about human beings here. Yes he’s an athlete and yes he’s a public figure, but there are two human beings involved in a difficult situation and they are trying to work through that. There is not a lot of denial going on. They are trying to work through it. What they need is support from everyone—their family, the family on the ice and their new family in North Carolina.”

Imagine that, refusing to sit a wife-beater because it might be viewed as a PR stunt. Incredible.

How about sitting him because it’s the right thing to do?

At any rate, perhaps we ought not be surprised how les Canadiens handled the Mailloux situation. After all, Burke is now Montreal’s director of goaltending.

Once again, men’s hockey is caught with its pants down and it’s utterly odious

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin

So it’s true what they say: Hockey is for everyone.

And that includes young men like Logan Mailloux, a newly minted member of the Montreal Canadiens fellowship whose baggage includes a sex-related crime.

And it includes the Chicago Blackhawks, whose ownership/management/players spent the past decade covering up a sex crime and verbal gay-bashing for which no individual has been held accountable, let alone punished.

And it includes Auston Matthews who, two years ago, got together with some buddies and thought it would be a swell idea to swill beer and frighten a female security guard on a dark street at 2 o’clock in the morning. When she failed to find any humor in their booze-fueled boorish behavior, the Toronto Maple Leafs centre dropped his trousers to his ankles, bent over and mooned her. Many in mainstream media wrote it off as nothing more heinous than frat-boy hijinks.

Yes, hockey is for everyone.

Except the victims, of course. They are mostly faceless and nameless inconveniences. If their identities are revealed, they’re forgotten in less time than it takes to sharpen a pair of skates.

We know a former Blackhawks player has accused one-time video coach Brad Aldrich of sexual assault, but we only know him as John Doe 1. We know Logan Mailloux took and illegally shared pics of a young Swedish woman giving him oral sex, but she’s a mystery. If anyone remembers the name of Matthews’ victim, move to the head of the class.

But, hey, we don’t need to know anything about Fayola Dozithee and the fallout from L’Affaire Matthews, because young Auston pulled up his pants, delivered a mea culp and he’s become the National Hockey League’s leading goal-scorer. The Rocket Richard Trophy is all that matters. The Blackhawks? Until recently, their dirty, little secret was buried beneath the ballyhoo of three Stanley Cup-winning crusades. That tall, shiny trinket is all that matters.

Logan Mailloux

There was a different twist in the Mailloux case. All his victim desired was a sincere apology (she’s still waiting), but the London Knights defenceman seemed to recognize that he is a cad and informed all 32 NHL outfits to remove his name from consideration in this year’s annual auction of teenage talent.

“Being drafted into the NHL is an honor and a privilege that no one takes lightly,” Mailloux tweeted. “The NHL draft should be one of the most exciting landmark moments in a player’s career, and given the circumstances, I don’t feel I have demonstrated strong enough maturity or character to earn that privilege in the 2021 draft. I know it will take time for society to build back the trust I have lost, and that is why I think it is best that I renounce myself from the 2021 NHL Draft and ask that no one select me this upcoming weekend.”

Well, either les Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin missed the memo or something was lost in the English-to-French translation, because he used his first shoutout (31st overall) on Friday night to pluck Mailloux from the pool of teens. Lack of maturity, character and sexism be damned. As long as the guy can fill a need on the blueline, that’s all that matters, right boys?

“He already started to put it behind him,” Bergevin said in explaining his utterly odious, shocking selection and his failure to accurately read the temperature of the room.

What the Habs GM didn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t tell us is if the victim had “already started” to put it behind her. Whoever she is.

Naturally, Bergevin has been battered fore and aft on social media in the wake of the tone-deaf Mailloux decision, but save some of that tar and a few of those feathers for Habs bankroll Geoff Molson. You don’t make such a radical move without the okie-dokie from the guy sitting in the big desk in the ivory tower.

And that’s not to ignore the London Knights, who will readily and eagerly welcome Mailloux back to the fold, and SK Lejon of the Swedish Division III, who were privy to their defenceman’s trespass yet permitted him to play on.

Hockey, after all, is for everyone, even the creeps.

It’s such a shame, because this should have been a good-news week on the diversity file.

I mean, it was only scant days ago that young Luke Prokop was welcomed warmly as the first openly gay man signed to an NHL contract. The scandal-plagued Blackhawks are giving females in their hockey department prominent face time during this weekend’s entry draft. The new kids on the block, Seattle Kraken, trotted out pro scout Cammi Granato to name one of their selections in the expansion grab bag. And Kevin Weekes, a Black man, has been prominent on ESPN entry/expansion draft coverage.

It appeared that the men’s game was, at long last, following the plot.

Then along came Molson and Bergevin, who were “proud” to recruit a guy guilty of serious wrong-doing, a crime that once again devalued and victimized a woman.

But, hey, that’s men’s hockey. Always caught with its pants down.

Ron MacLean might be milquetoast, but I don’t believe him to be homophobic

About half an hour after I rose from my roost at 2 o’clock on Wednesday morning, I noticed both Ron MacLean and Don Cherry trending on Twitter.

“What is it now?” I thought. “Are Frick and Frack talking about poppies and ‘you people’ again?”

Turns out it wasn’t about poppies, ‘you people’ or Canada’s milk and honey, delicate topics that led to the ouster of Cherry and his living-room-drapes wardrobe from Hockey Night in Canada in November 2019.

This time it was something MacLean said. Something stupid.

Ron MacLean

Now, someone saying something stupid on HNIC is not to be placed in the breaking-fresh-ground file, because there exists a boat load of panelists who natter with studio host MacLean on a near-nightly basis during the Stanley Cup tournament, and any time there are that many squawk boxes sardine-canned together you can bet your thesaurus that tongues will be tripped over.

Cherry once monopolized that market, using his Coach’s Corner bully pulpit and butchered English to pontificate on matters that branched far, far away from the hockey rink and led him into the quicksands of sexism, misogyny, zenophobia, homophobia, pinkoism, etc.

During his almost 40 years as the Lord of Loud on HNIC, Cherry got up more noses than a COVID swab stick.

All the while, MacLean played Tonto to the star of the show’s Lone Ranger, but he wasn’t seen as a faithful companion at the end, when Cherry went off on “you people” who arrive on Canadian shores for “our milk and honey” but refuse to wear poppies in salute of fallen war heroes who are lying in graves in Europe or only made it back home in pine boxes. That was his Waterloo. MacLean, looking every inch the stooge, closed the Cherry rant by muttering, “Love ya for it” with a right thumb up.

Many among the rabble remain convinced that Cherry can tell us what the underside of a bus looks like only because that’s where MacLean left him, if not tossed him, thus he should have been unplugged at the same time.

Accurate or not, the perception of MacLean as a Benedict Arnold is their reality and it grates like nails on a chalkboard as MacLean is permitted to prattle on.

Don Cherry

Unlike his former running mate, MacLean seldom bludgeons the language, often leaning on utterances from historical figures to prop up a point. (I believe it’s also his idea of a subtle boast, letting viewers know he has spent time in a library.) But he’s also a pun meister. He harbors an unhealthy inclination toward spewing groan-worthy puns that often leave viewers wondering what the hell he’s talking about.

And, really, what was Pun Boy prattling on about during the second intermission of Game 4 of a National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night? He mentioned “tarp-off” men testing “positive” for something or other.

“You have a photo of a guy with his tarp off, you’re definitely positive for something,” MacLean said in a kibitzing tone to panelist Kevin Bieksa.

On first blush, that sound bite came off as shockingly homophobic. Was he actually talking about bare-chested men testing positive? Gay men, condoms and AIDS leapt to mind, perhaps because I have HIV+ friends. Great yelps of homophobia rang out on social media, loud and long into the night and the following day after MacLean had issued a quasi-mea culpa/explanation.

“Early in the show, we had a fun moment featuring a photograph of our colleague Anthony Stewart enjoying a rum party,” he tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. “That photo, along with a few others, sat on the shelf of Kevin Bieksa’s set for the remainder of the night. In the second intermission, when Kevin quipped that he was ‘the most positive person on our panel,’ I directed viewers to that photo, using ‘tarp off’ (i.e. shirtless) to specify the picture with the rum bottle, and quipped, ‘You’ll be testing positive for something.’ I meant the rum.”

Sounds wishy-washy, to the point of being fiction.

A tarp-off Bobby Hull.

I mean, really? It was about rum? Sorry. Show someone a pic of a half-naked NHL player and it’s unlikely their eyeballs will focus on the bottle of booze he’s holding. There is, for example, a famous photo of a young, strapping, tarp-off Bobby Hull working on the farm, and the bale of hay on the business end of his pitch fork isn’t the first thing you notice.

I don’t pretend to know Ron MacLean. I met him on a few occasions in the distant past when our paths would intersect while covering NHL events, but we never broke bread or tipped pints together. Like most others, I watched and listened to him on HNIC and saw a man who would rather eat the stew than stir the pot. Over the years, he has become increasingly milquetoast due to a strong need to be liked, and it’s entirely possible that his best-before date has come and gone.

But sometimes what we hear isn’t what was said, and I’m not convinced MacLean’s remark about tarp-off men and testing positive aligns with homophobia. Many in the LGBT(etc.) collective believe it does. I get that. As mentioned, my initial impulse leaned toward heaping scorn on him.

His comment was stupid, total frat-boy banter, even as Jennifer Botterill sat and winced across the studio table from him, and it created a dreadful optic of gays and AIDS.

Upon further review, however, MacLean is just another guy in hockey who’s made a dumb-ass comment, but that doesn’t make him homophobic.

Meghan Duggan the latest ray of sunlight in the dawning of a new day for the NHL

The New Jersey Devils’ freshly minted manager of player development is gay.

Openly gay.

And married.

And the openly gay married couple have a son.

Gillian Apps, Meghan Dugann and baby George.

This appears to be the new National Hockey League, even if certain of the on-ice activity we’ve witnessed in the current Stanley Cup tournament remains rather primitive, whereby a set of hairy knuckles formed into a fist continues to be thought of, also used, as a tool with merit.

The aforementioned Devils failed to qualify as participants in the post-season runoff, a spring ritual that will drag us into summer this time around, but although looking in with their noses pressed against the window they have provided us with another clear signal that the NHL has advanced beyond the Stone Age and embraces its place in the 21st century, the sometimes barbaric activity on its frozen ponds notwithstanding.

The Devils did this with the appointment of Meghan Duggan as manager of player development on Wednesday.

Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps.

Meghan certainly brings a glittering array of bona fides to her portfolio: Seven-time world champion, Olympic champion, captain of the U.S. women’s national team, winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s foremost female collegiate player, Canadian Women’s Hockey League champion, college coach, etc.

But it’s in the area of social progress that the New Jersey franchise struck the most-sonorous note.

Duggan, you see, is married to Gillian Apps, a one-time fierce foe with the Canadian national women’s hockey team, and baby made three in February 2020 when the two women welcomed their son, George Apps-Duggan, into the world.

If we know anything at all about the NHL, it’s that openly gay people are more rare than a full set of teeth.

Manon Rheaume

You can count the number of gay players on the fingers of…oh, wait…no gay NHL skater has ever come out, past or present. There have been more confirmed sightings of Sasquatch. Hell, a woman has participated in a game, and never mind that it was the carnival barker in Phil Esposito that arranged for Manon Rheaume to occupy the blue paint for Tampa Bay Lightning in a 1992 exhibition exercise.

She might have been Espo’s idea of Sideshow Bobbi, but the reality is more women have appeared in an NHL game than openly gay men.

Yet as much as the pungency of homophobia continues to linger at the upper crust of men’s hockey like the inside of bowling shoes, a fresh breeze of diversity is drifting through the front offices of numerous franchises.

Duggan joins an organization that already includes Kate Madigan as executive director of hockey management/operations, and the expansion Seattle Kraken recruited American legend Cammi Granato as a pro scout in September 2019. The Chicago Blackhawks brought Kendall Coyne Schofield on board as a player development coach last November, and the Toronto Maple Leafs bumped Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser up the food chain this week, promoting her to the position of senior director of player development. Her first order of business as boss lady was to bring former teammate Danielle Goyette into the fold. Like Granato, both Doc Wick and Goyette are ring-bearing members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Leah Hextall.

Meanwhile, in the blurt box, female voices are being heard at an increasing volume. ESPN plans to put Leah Hextall behind a play-by-play mic on its NHL coverage next season, and she joins a widening chorus that includes Kate Scott, AJ Mleczko, Jennifer Botterill, Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Cheryl Pounder.

But it’s perhaps the Duggan hiring that carries the greatest resonance, because her sexual orientation makes it barrier-breaking and serves as a point of progress for those of us in the LGBT(etc.) collective.

“It’s a huge part of my life and who I am, and it’s incredibly important to me to represent a variety of different communities,” Meghan told Matt Larkin of The Hockey News. “It’s certainly a responsibility, but it’s a privilege at the same time. In regards to being a woman, being a working mom, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, representation matters. For a lot of my life, I have been doing inclusion work, trying to make hockey more inclusive and diverse and to bring a variety of different personalities and backgrounds into the fold. For the Devils to welcome me into the fold, it shows that’s important to them as well. That speaks volumes to the culture aspect of the Devils and what they value.”

Yes, a new day has dawned in the NHL, even if some on the ice continue to bare their hairy knuckles and balk at joining the rest of us in the 21st century.

Holy estrogen, Batman! Look what the Maple Leafs and ESPN have done to hockey’s old boys’ club

There aren’t many things that make a member of the male species pucker up quite like the sound of a medic snapping on a rubber glove for a prostate exam, but I can think of at least three:

  1. Being asked to hold his wife’s/girlfriend’s purse in the middle of a crowded mall.
  2. Being asked to make a pit stop at the local 7-Eleven on the way home to pick up a box of Tampons.
  3. Women in men’s hockey.

The first two make dudes fidget and squirm like mom just found the porn collection, and the third…well, let’s just say there’s a constituency that still travels to and fro in horse and buggy and grapples with the notion of women earning the right to vote.

Doc Wick

We were reminded of this on Monday when the Toronto Maple Leafs forgot that the National Hockey League is an old boys’ club and had the (apparent) bad manners to nudge Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser up the food chain, anointing her senior director of player development.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Hayley’s first order of business was to boost the Leafs’ estrogen level even higher by bringing her former Canadian national women’s team linemate and fellow Hockey Hall of Famer, Danielle Goyette, on board as director of player development, proving Doc Wick already has a good handle on how hockey’s buddy system works.

“If it’s good with Hayley, it’s good with me,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe told news snoops.

What in the name of Gloria Steinem can possibly be next? Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Jennifer Botterill joining Keefe behind the bench?

Naturally, once word of the Leafs’ appointments worked its way along the grapevine, the oinkers rushed to their keyboards like there’d been a “Sooey!” call, and they unleashed a tsunami of sexist tripe. Some examples:

Next hockey night in Canada will be Hayley, Danielle, Cassie and Jennifer. It will be like watching The View.

Laugh’s org. pulling another Nancy.”

Diversity must be the flavour of the week.”

She’ll be the next leafs GM after Dubas.”

So that would make it two female GMs in succession for the Leafs. Such a progressive, woke organization they are.”

Token appointments.”

Alas, the oinkers’ day worsened.

The New York Post reported that ESPN had recruited Leah Hextall to work the play-by-play mic for X number of games during the 2021-22 NHL crusade and, like Doc Wick and Goyette, Leah is not a penis person, so the Worldwide Leader In Sports has some nerve adding a high-pitched, shrill voice to its stable of hockey squawkers.

Leah Hextall

“Horrible and utterly repulsive,” wrote one reader in The Athletic. “Cannot stand how women have to constantly inject themselves in men’s sports because of a deep gender inferiority complex. Don’t care her background, she has never played NHL hockey (obviously) so she possesses absolutely no direct first-hand knowledge of hockey on that level much less playoff hockey. Whoever approved her to work on hockey games is a piece of garbage.”

Someone else expressed a fear that a female play-by-play hockey voice would steer ESPN into the deepest and darkest of rabbit holes, whereby they’d hire a transgender broadcaster.

Oh, the humanity.

I’m quite uncertain where it’s written that a pair of testicles is a requirement for talking hockey. Or football and basketball, for that matter.

Cheryl with Vic and Russ.

I mean, where’s the hue and cry when Dottie Pepper gives us her thoughts during a PGA tournament? And what about Cheryl Bernard and, before her, Linda Moore in natter with Vic Rauter and Russ Howard/Moosie Turnbull during an elite men’s curling match. Oh, wait. It’s only curling, and if you don’t drive by a wheat field and grain silo on your way to work you probably don’t give a damn.

It’s only a female voice in the blurt box of the he-man sports that seems to put men’s boxers in a bunch, even as Jennifer Botterill serves as living, breathing proof that a female is capable of stringing together three or more intelligent sentences on shinny, something that puts her a notch or two above Anthony Stewart and other penis people on Hockey Night in Canada.

The thing is, as far as I know Jennifer has yet to mention feminine hygiene products during her intermission gig, and I doubt that’ll be a talking point for Leah Hextall, either.

So at ease, boys. It might feel like the Leafs and ESPN have given you a good, swift kick to the gonads, but this shall pass.

In the meantime, just remember that real men aren’t afraid to hold a purse in public and, if you know what’s good for you, you won’t forget to pick up the Tampons on the way home.

San Jose has a great big rat and Winnipeg has a Golden Boy with great big balls

So here’s what I’m thinking about three members of the San Jose Sharks bashing good, ol’ Hometown…

First of all, Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun and Tim Heed could have been a tad more creative in dissing Winnipeg. I mean, describing River City as “cold and dark” is so much meh. Same old, same old.

The Golden Boy: Tall, proud and buck naked.

It’s frigid in Winnipeg, you say? Well, duh. So wrap yourself in a parka and trundle to and fro in those subterranean tunnels and above-ground test tubes that connect the downtown corridors. And it gets dark in Winnipeg? Ya, like, after the freaking sun sets, dudes. A setting Sol is not peculiar to Pegtown. At last report, River City was still part of the Solar System, so, ya, they have to deal with that pesky dark-of-night thing.

Second, if you hang your hat in El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe, you might want to trigger the filter between your brain and tongue before opening your gob.

Technology aside, what’s San Jose really known for?

Well, news outlet FiveThirtyEight named it “the most forgettable major American city.” Economist and migration blogger Lyman Stone ranked it as the “weirdest city in America” in 2016. On WalletHub’s listing of the most fun cities in the U.S., it comes in at a distant 95th, behind notable good-times spots like Akron, Lincoln, Omaha, Grand Rapids and Des Moines.

Little wonder the mayor of all 1,042,094 people, Sam Liccardo, says, We’re not big on bluster.”

Apparently, Mayor Sam and other civic leaders have been trying to come up with a fresh slogan for San Jose. Hmmm. The city has this quirky law which prohibits animals from publically fornicating if within 1,500 feet of a church, school or pub. Might make for a catchy slogan—San Jose: We never screw the dog.

A better question would be: How do those horny critters know if they’re inside the 1,500-foot, no-humping zone? Do they post doggy signs?

Whatever, San Jose is not without its selling points.

Reportedly, more than half the adults in the self-proclaimed Capital of the Silicon Valley have a college education. I assume the other half voted for Donald Trump.

Joey Chestnut

And, hey, San Jose has celebrities. Like Joey Chestnut.

Nobody on this planet eats more hot dogs in less time than Chestnut, the renowned face-stuffer who’s been known to scarf as many as 72 Nathan’s tube steaks in 10 minutes. What city wouldn’t be proud of a world-class glutton?

I’d say Chestnut’s achievement is admirable, except I’d be more impressed if he could gobble down 72 Salisbury House cheese nips in 10 minutes.

San Jose also has notable landmarks. Like the world’s largest rat. That would be a 30-foot Chuck E. Cheese. The thing is, they keep the rodent caged. And indoors. Wimps.

By way of comparison, Winnipeg has the Golden Boy—all 17.2 feet and 3,640 pounds of him—and he stands outside (even when it’s dark), proudly atop the Manitoba Legislative Building with his bare balls hanging out. Try that in minus-40 weather.

Winnipeg can even match San Jose school dropout for school dropout. They have Stevie Nicks, who left San Jose State University and eventually found fame with Fleetwood Mac. But I’ll call their Stevie Nicks and raise them a Neil Young, the Kelvin High dropout who joined Buffalo Springfield, then Crosby, Stills & Nash.

But, listen, I’m not hear to trash San Jose, even though trash talking the other guy’s town is as old as a Bob Hope joke. Happens every day. And Winnipeggers definitely do it, too.

Think about it, when was the last time you heard anyone in River City say something warm and fuzzy about Regina? As if. I recall a former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach, Professor Mike Kelly, describing the good folks of the Saskatchewan capital as the “toothless, green, watermelon-helmet-wearing people from the crotch of Canada.” And Ol’ Lefty, Bombers place-kicker Troy Westwood, called the flatlanders “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.”

Others in Pegtown have used different parts of the human anatomy to describe Regina, and each of those body parts leaks and emits foul odors.

So there’s that.

Chuck E. Cheese

Legendary jock journalist Jim Murray, meanwhile, seldom squandered an opportunity to have sport with his many ports of call as columnist with the Los Angeles Times.

On Cincinnati: “They still haven’t finished the freeway…it’s Kentucky’s turn to use the cement mixer.”

On Baltimore: “The weather is like the team. Gray. Colorless. Drab. The climate would have to improve to be classified as merely lousy. It really doesn’t rain, it just kind of leaks. You get a picture of Baltimore as a guy just standing on a corner with no place to go and rain dropping off his hat. Baltimore’s a great place if you’re a crab.”

On Minneapolis-St. Paul: “They don’t like each other and from what I could see, I didn’t blame either of them.”

On San Francisco: “It is so civilized, it would starve to death if it didn’t get a salad or the right wine. It fancies itself Camelot, but comes off more like Cleveland. Its legacy to the world is quiche.”

Thus, when Hertl, Braun and Heed went off on Winnipeg, describing it as “dark and cold” and, at the same time, suggesting it was a horse-and-buggy burg that had yet to be introduced to the world of hashtags and tweets (“I don’t know if they have WiFi there yet.”), they weren’t exactly breaking fresh (frozen) ground. People have been taking frost-bitten cheap shots at good, ol’ Hometown since the first Red River cart blew a tire (what other reason could there have been for stopping and settling there?).

Remember old friend Ilya Bryzgalov? The former National Hockey League goaltender wasn’t afraid of anything in this entire world. Except “Bear in forest.” And living in Pegtown.

You don’t want to go to Winnipeg, right?” he once advised news snoops. “Not many people live there. Not many Russian people there. Plus it’s cold. There’s no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It’s going to be tough life for your family.”

Bryzgalov made me laugh. Hertl, Braun and Heed not so much.

If you’re going to trash talk, boys, come up with some fresh material.

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?

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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