Let’s talk about Ivan Provorov’s ol’ time religion and a God-awful lesson to learn

Now that the thunder-clap clatter has eased to a murmur, what are the lessons learned from L’Affaire Rainbow?

Well, we learned that the Philadelphia Flyers stand by their Russian Orthodox employees, because rearguard Ivan Provorov received not so much as a mild tsk-tsk for skipping out on a pregame warmup last Tuesday night.

While his playmates adorned themselves in rainbow-colored garments and wrapped the blades of their hockey sticks in rainbow-colored tape to signal support for the LGBT(etc.) community on Pride Night, Provorov remained in the Flyers changing room, alone in his gay-is-sin thoughts as his playmates participated in the 15-minute frolic.

Provorov later cited his old-time religion as the reason for his refusal to play Mr. Dressup, telling news snoops: “I respect everybody, I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Oddly enough (but probably not surprising), the Russian Orthodox rearguard refused to elaborate on his choice of religion over rainbow, perhaps because further discussion might have been a bit dodgy, if not prickly. News snoops might have asked Provorov about Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’, a man who believes a) his buddy Vlad (The Bad) Putin is a “miracle of God,” b) the Russian invasion of Ukraine is necessary to prevent an eastern-advancing scourge of gay Pride parades, and c) same-sex marriage is “a sin” and similar to “apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws.” Apparently, those are talking points Provorov would rather avoid.

Whatever, his true-to-religion soundbite was sufficient for Philly head coach, John Tortorella (“Provy did nothing wrong”), the organization (“The Flyers will continue to be strong advocates for inclusivity”) and the National Hockey League (“Players are free to decide which initiatives to support”). In other words, nothing to see here, kids.

So that’s another lesson learned: If an NHL player wishes to opt out of a team theme night (Pride, Military, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous, etc.), he need only dust off religious dogma to avoid the sin bin, and we have to assume that’s all-inclusive, meaning it’s an easy out available not only to Russian Orthodox but also Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. (I suppose an atheist would have to come up with a different angle, but I don’t know.)

L’Affaire Rainbow also reminded us that news snoops are quick to rally and kick up a mighty fuss, yet they’re just as lickety-split in finding a new toy to chew on.

I mean, opinionists hither and yon spent three days in full and loud yowl, most of them pooh-poohing Provorov and suggesting an appropriate level of punishment, like deportation to the bosom of Mother Russia or listening to Barry Manilow music 24/7. I swear, we haven’t heard the jock journo machine rage like this since two of its heroes, Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, pledged unwavering devotion to Donald Trump.

Yet, today, mention of Provorov’s work clothing is scant and has been pushed to the back pages of sports sections and the back half of news programs.

But here’s what the scribes and talking heads are ignoring: How many Ivan Provorovs are in the NHL? One per team? Two? Five? Surely he isn’t a lone wolf.

The jock journos decline to pursue the issue for one basic reason: They aren’t gay. Thus they can’t relate and don’t care. They’ve delivered a good and proper bawling out to Provorov, positioning themselves as LGBT(etc.) allies, so they harbor no compulsion for a deep dive into the matter.

Similarly, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants no portion of any anti-gay discussion, unless it provides him an opportunity to apply a coating of sugar.

“When you look at all of our players and the commitments that they’ve made to social causes and to making our game welcoming and inclusive, let’s focus on the 700 that embrace it and not one or two that may have some issues for their own personal reasons,” he told news snoops the other day.

Sure, Gary, and let’s focus on all the banks Bonnie and Clyde didn’t rob.

Perhaps some reminders would be appropriate right about now…

  • In January 2014, TSN ran a three-part documentary, RE/ORIENTATION, which attempted to pry the lid off the issue of gays in hockey.

“We struggled to get participation from players,” said series host Aaron Ward, a former NHL defenceman and TSN talking head. “Over a nine-month period, we reached out to 12 different National Hockey League teams. (We) could not get co-operation. It was a struggle to get guys to sit down and be comfortable and honest in front of a camera. Obviously, it’s easy to sit down and read words for a PSA, but it’s another thing to sit down and be honest and in-depth and be clear about how we feel about this process and this issue. It’s almost a barometer of where we are today.”

Nine months. Twelve teams. That’s more than 200 players. And only three—Andrew Ference, Ben Scrivens and Dustin Brown—agreed to a formal, on-the-record natter. None of the three are in the NHL today.

  • Last month, Hockey Canada revealed results of a study into incidents of on-ice discrimination across all levels and age groups during the 2021-22 season. There were 512 penalties called, 61 per cent involving sexual orientation or gender. Males accounted for 99 per cent of the fouls.

Some of those male shinny scofflaws might grow up to perform in the NHL, which, with its shoulder shrug in L’Affaire Rainbow, has given players the official okey-dokey to go rogue and show the LGBT(etc.) collective, or any marginalized group of their choice, the cold shoulder. They can be just like Ivan Provorov. All they need do is flash a rosary or spew the Lord’s Prayer, then wait out the brief media storm.

What a God-awful lesson to learn.

Don’t tell transgender kids where they don’t belong, tell them to be the best they can become

A number of years ago, I was in a local watering hole, a gathering place for the LGBT(etc.) community, and I was informed by one of the late-afternoon regulars that I had no business sitting at the bar.

“This is where the boys sit,” he said. “You should respect that.”

It didn’t matter that I was the cleaning lady at this particular haunt, spending anywhere from three to six hours (depending on carnage left behind from the previous night’s hijinks) each morning applying spit and polish to the facility, including the very bar and stools that accommodated my antagonist’s and his sourpuss friends’ fat asses.

Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox

It only mattered to him (and some, but not all, of the others) that I wasn’t a gay man and must be put in my place. Or, to be more accurate, reminded where I didn’t belong.

“I’ll sit wherever I like,” I responded. “I’ll sit on your face if I feel like it.”

It was one of many unpleasant exchanges I experienced at that bar and, over time, it became quite apparent that a number of “the boys” preferred that I didn’t share their oxygen.

Another e.g.: I was the sole soul in the bar one day when one of the grumpy pants walked in and, after gazing upon the emptiness, strolled my way and stopped at my post.

“Tell me something,” I asked after some awkward banter, “you’d prefer it if this was an all-male gay bar, wouldn’t you? You don’t really want me in here, do you?”

“Honestly, that’s true,” he replied.

“And if there was a gay man in here you wouldn’t even be talking to me, right?”

“That’s also true.”

I didn’t belong.

I bring this to your attention because it’s open season on transgender kids, specifically girls, in many parts of the United States, Utah lawmakers being the latest group to tell trans youth that there’s no room for them in the playground.

Check that. There’s actually plenty of room. The trans females just aren’t welcome. They don’t belong.

Actually, that should be singular, as in female. Of the 75,000 kids involved in high school sports in Utah, a grand total of one is a transgender student athlete taking part in female sports. One. Out of 75,000.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Governor Spencer J. Cox laid it out for all to read in an enlightened letter explaining why he attempted to veto the push by Utah lawmakers who would outlaw transgender female athletes. The Guv didn’t get his way, with legislators vetoing his veto on Friday, and the ban on transgender female athletes is to become law on July 1, but I ask myself this: What is it that has the backers of HB11 so frightened?

They say it’s necessary legislation to protect female sports from a scorched-earth destiny, as if Utah’s one student in 75,000 is bound to multiply like Biblical fish and loaves of bread at a gathering of Jesus’ followers. But, in reality, they’re flailing at an enemy that has not yet presented itself. It’s like that asteroid we keep hearing about, how it’s bee-lining toward Earth and will one day wipe out the human race upon impact. Except that asteroid never arrives.

Certainly transgender female athletes have grown in volume and some, like collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas and a handful of others at below-elite levels, have experienced success, yet you wouldn’t say they’re plentiful and there’s scant evidence to indicate they soon shall arrive in numbers that would fill Pasadena’s Rose Bowl to overflowing. There’s little to no danger of female sports disappearing like Maya civilization, regardless how loudly the naysayers squawk.

So, what these lawmakers are actually doing with all their bombast is telling kids—or in Utah’s case, one kid—that they don’t belong. They don’t fit in. They are pariahs.

And that’s a helluvan ugly thing to say to a kid. Such a shame.

I mean, if it’s hurtful and gutting for transgender adults to be ostracized, what impact does it have on fragile minds still in the early, exploratory stages of life? It can be ruinous. Deadly even, as Gov. Cox indicated by citing suicide and suicide ideation rates among transgender youth.

No doubt the decision-makers in Utah and other jurisdictions in the U.S. believe they’re doing what’s right for female sports, but, again, there’s no evidence to support the notion that the distaff portion of the playground is in danger of extinction.

This needs to be about the kids and their growth, not adults with a religious or political agenda putting up road blocks and trying to shove them into the bleak and shadowy fringes of society.

I can confirm that’s a very scary place to be, at any age, which is why I literally weep for the kids in America who won’t be allowed to play.

The screamers scream while scientists/medics try to find the proper fit for transgender athletes

First of all, being transgender doesn’t make one an all-knowing sage capable of solving the planet’s most-pressing problems, or even those on the back burner.

Second, I’m not a scientist/doctor, so finding a fit for transgender female athletes is above my pay grade.

And, finally, if the world is about to implode, most likely it will be on account of evil Vladimir Putin doing something irrational, not whatever Lia Thomas does or does not accomplish in a swimming pool.

Lia Thomas

Yet we continue to hear and read apocalyptic bombast, the latest suggestion of end times found in the scribblings of Dan Wootton, an opinionist with The Daily Mail in London and a man who believes in getting right to the point. His lede on a recent column:

“This weekend the world finally woke up and realized politically correct monsters who don’t give a damn about anything other than advancing a hard left ideology are perilously close to wiping out women’s sport for good. The incongruous image of University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas—the first transgender athlete to win the NCAA title in the women’s 500-yard freestyle—towering over the biologically female runner-up while being booed by the Atlanta crowd sums up the total madness of our times.”

Wootton later tossed in a reference to the “woke mob” and called for an “uprising” before female sports is reduced to a frolic for “sub-par biological males.”

Oh my. “Monsters” and “madness.” A “mob” and an “uprising.” Little wonder state politicos in Florida don’t want school teachers telling the kiddies about sexual orientation and gender identity. They’re just protecting the urchins from all those gay bogeymen/bogeywomen, don’t you know.

All because Lia Thomas won a college swim race.

But here’s where Wootton truly went off the rails: He consulted one person to prop up his end-days argument—Caitlyn Jenner.

Women and men who wear lab coats and squint into microscopes and hang medical diplomas on their office walls wrestle with the notion of fairness in sports, vis-a-vis transgender female athletes, and various governing bodies follow the scientists’ findings. Or they ignore the experts and make up their own rules, depending on the mood du jour and Caster Semenya’s testosterone levels.

Caster is not transgender. She’s a natural-born woman, except some in the athletics world weren’t (and probably still aren’t) convinced, thus they had squints put the South African runner under a microscope and ultimately decided that they would permit her to toe the line in some races but sit and watch others.

So if the decision-makers don’t know where a natural-born woman fits in, who’s qualified to make the call on transgender athletes?

Wootton believes it’s Jenner. He just “had to” have a natter with the world-renowned trans diva, as if a pair of store-bought boobs somehow transformed her into a savant with unparalleled insight.

“I think to be honest with you they’ve got to change the rules. We need a fair playing field. And right now, if we allow this, it’s not a fair playing field,” Jenner told Wootton. “I am firmly behind protecting women’s sports. We cannot have biological boys competing against women.”

Well, okay, except not so long ago Jenner was singing from a different sheet in the songbook.

“I think every trans person, if they’re into athletics, should have an opportunity to compete and to improve themselves,” she told Outsports in 2020. “I think sports is such a great way to learn a lot about yourself. And yeah, I want to, hopefully they’ll have the opportunity in the future to do whatever they can do. I’m all for it. I’m all for it.”

So let’s be clear on something: Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t open her cake hole without first sticking up a finger to determine which direction the wind is blowing. What Kitty Cait tells an LGBT(etc.) website isn’t what she tells Fox News, not to mention the rabble when seeking the governor’s office in California. She is an entitled transgender woman with a multi-million-dollar bankroll and whose home base is a Malibu mansion. Last time I checked, she is not a scientist/doctor, nor has she played one on any of her dopey reality TV shows. Her lived transgender experience has been a clownish ruse.

Yet this is who Wootton sought for insight, perhaps because she might be the only transgender person he has on speed dial. But it’s like hiring Tiger Woods to teach driving lessons.

Both Wootton and Jenner are entitled to their opinions, of course, and you can agree with them if you like. But to put it in terms of monsters and madness and mobs and uprisings? A bit much, don’t you think? I mean, Vladimir Putin is a monster. His Russian army is a mob. The transgender people I know aren’t trying to hurt anyone.

And let’s remember one thing about Thomas and the recent NCAA swim meet: She competed in two other races, the 200- and 100-freestyles. She finished fifth in one and last in the other.

Some speculate that she tanked, but there’s been no evidence to support that theory.

Just as there’s no evidence that the end days for female sports is nigh due to an imagined tsunami of biologically born male bogeymen-turned-bogeywomen.

Numerous people imagined, and said, the same when Renee Richards stepped on-court at the Orange Lawn Tennis Club in New Jersey, and advanced to the semifinals of her first professional tournament in 1976. Yet here we are today, almost half a century later, and there’s been no sign of a second transgender player on the women’s tour.

Richards reached as high as world No. 20. Perhaps one day Thomas will be an Olympian. I suppose that depends on who’s making, breaking or ignoring the rules.

In the meantime, screamers will scream and pretend to have the answers that not even the experts have.

Diversity: Sports sections of daily newspapers still stuck in the 20th century

It happens every time a story with social significance spills into the playground, as was the case last week with Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders outing himself.

Sports scribes seized the moment, like West Coast grizzlies at the annual salmon run, and they went on a feeding frenzy, feverishly tapping opinion pieces favorable to Nassib, the first openly gay man to be included on an active National Football League roster. But their essays, although well-intentioned, were chock-full of assumptive generalities and shy on first-person perspective.

The wordsmiths wrote on auto pilot, as if following a template.

Nassib is brave. Check. Nassib is courageous. Check. Nassib is an inspiration. Check. Bravo for Nassib. Check.

It’s all meant as high praise, yet, in reality, it’s the piling on of platitudes.

And there’s a reason for that: They don’t know any better.

I mean, the rarest of species in major North American professional team sports is the openly gay male. There have been more confirmed sightings of Elvis, Sasquatch and Amelia Earhart. There is one at present, Carl Nassib. There’s never been more than one at any given time.

But the second rarest species is the openly gay sports scribe (newspaper division), male or female.

LZ Granderson

A handful exist in the United States—LZ Granderson of the Los Angeles Times most notable among them, and transgender female Christina Kahrl is the freshly minted sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle—but I don’t know of any LGBT(etc.) writers working at dailies on the northern side of the vast, still-blockaded border.

I spent 30 years in the rag trade, shutting down in 1999, and any gay person scribbling sports during my time was coal miner deep into the closet.

So, if we do the math, there’s not been an out gay jock journo at a major daily in Canada in more than half a century. Perhaps not ever.

Even as we hear more female voices and see more Blacks and people of color on our TV sports networks, the toy departments in the rag trade remain stuck in the muck of the 20th century, like an old jalopy spinning its wheels in a ditch.

When I took my leave from the business in ’99, both dailies in Winnipeg had a female scribbling sports. Today there are zero. There were no out gays then, there are no out gays now. There were no Blacks or people of color, there are zero today.

It’s much the same across the oft-frozen tundra. Sports sections at daily newspapers don’t do diversity.

Thus, when Carl Nassib comes out or Black athletes rise in protest of social injustice or another woman is beaten up/sexually assaulted, the scribes are at a disadvantage. Because they aren’t gay, Black or female, they’re incapable of drilling to the numb of the matter.

I mean, the very notion of straight men explaining what Nassib’s coming out means to the LGBT(etc.) collective and/or society is the highest level of absurd. It’s like having Tiger Woods for a driving instructor.

Therefore they traffic in platitudes, which comes across as trendy, if not patronizing.

Christina Kahrl

When Nassib said he “agonized” for 15 years—more than half his time on this planet—before coming out, those of us in the LGBT(etc.) collective got it. Fully. It’s why some of us, including myself, were moved to tears. We’ve felt the searing pain of the suffocating inner strife. We’ve lived the fear of losing/being denied employment or lodgings. We’ve lived the fear of losing friends and family. We’ve lived the fear of bullying and worse. We know what it’s like to be told conversion therapy will “cure” us. We know what it’s like to hear the Vatican refuse to bless our marriages because gay sex is a “sin.” We know the humility of being scorned and refused service. All that based solely on our preference in life/sexual partners and/or gender identity.

So, yes, we know Carl Nassib’s story because it’s our story. And we can tell it.

Sadly, sports editors across the land are not inclined toward giving diverse voices a share of their platform. They’re quite comfortable allowing straight, white, mostly male scribes to opine with an outlier perspective on stories that can only be told with LGBT, Black, or female insight earned through lived experience.

The irony, of course, is that numerous sports editors and scribes are quick to condemn the lack of diversity in, say, the National Hockey League and NASCAR, or at Augusta National Golf Club—and they’ll shame others for failing to promptly rise in protest against social and racist injustice—yet they don’t see a very white, very straight, very male business in their own mirror.

Sorry, but you can’t be part of the solution unless you recognize yourself as part of the problem.

We should care about Carl Nassib because he might have saved a life

Carl Nassib

Carl Nassib is gay and many among the rabble say they don’t care.

We know this because they rushed to their keyboards on Monday and used various social media platforms to confirm they don’t care, which would indicate that they do, in fact, care.

I mean, if you truly don’t give a tinker’s damn that the National Football League has its first active openly gay player, you don’t become a keyboard warrior and insert your two cents worth of opinion into a discussion you claim to have no interest in.

Question is: Why should anyone care?

We are, after all, into the third decade of the 21st century and you’d think by now a gay man coming out would be your basic dog-bites-man story. Which is to say, no story at all.

Except that isn’t the way it shakes down, even in the year 2021.

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe

In female sports—professional/amateur, team/individual—gay athletes are as commonplace as fresh bread in a bake shop. They have won WNBA championships, they have won tennis Grand Slam tournaments, they have harvested Olympic medals of three different hues. They become power couples (see hoops legend Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe). They get married (see U.S. national footy team members Ali Kreiger and Ashly Harris). They have kids (see hockey stars Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps/Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette).

A female athlete coming out is generally met with a shrug of the shoulders, in part due to the antiquated and misguided assumption that any girl/women who chooses to participate in “manly” sports like hoops and hockey must be lesbian.

Male jocks, on the other hand, operate in a different world. No, check that. They roam a different galaxy.

There have been 15 gay or bisexual players in the NFL, all coming out post-career until Nassib dropped his bombshell via Instagram. Glenn Burke was out to everyone in Major League Baseball in the 1970s, but it was hush-hush beyond the ballpark. The National Basketball Association has featured one active openly gay player, Jason Collins, while others came out post-career. Major League Soccer has had two out players, while the National Hockey League has never known an openly gay player, past or present.

That’s it. Approximately two dozen gays in North America’s top five men’s pro sports leagues. All-time.

But, again, why should anyone care?

Well, try this: It’s quite possible (probable?) that Carl Nassib saved a life when he came out on Monday.

There’s an LGBT(etc.) kid out there who was feeling abandoned and alone, a kid on the edge, a kid convinced he/she couldn’t take another dose of the bullying and mental torment that so many gay youth experience and endure. He/she wasn’t simply prepared to quit sports, suicide seemed like an option with merit.

Then along comes Nassib, a stud of a man—6-feet-7, 275 pounds—and a defensive lineman with the Las Vegas Raiders, after previous tours of duty with the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Suddenly the light of hope radiates.

Too dramatic for you? Not really. I was that kid in the 1950s and ’60s.

That kid today has a name, we just don’t know it yet. But we might hear from him/her one day when he/she becomes a doctor, a lawyer, a political leader, a college prof or a sports writer and they point to Nassib’s bold decision as the reason they didn’t surrender to those who hate.

And, be sure, Nassib’s coming out wasn’t as simple a task as folding laundry. It never is.

The Raiders DE said he “agonized” over this decision for 15 years, and anyone in the LGBT(etc.) collective will nod knowingly, because it tends to be a lengthy struggle, one that can gnaw at you for years, like a dog on a chew toy. It plants the seeds of alienation, abandonment, rejection and self-loathing, all filed under ‘F’ for fear.

Thus, for Nassib to come out while active in the Goliath of macho men’s team sports, that’s ballsy.

Make no mistake, Nassib isn’t anyone’s idea of an NFL Pro Bowler. He’s listed third on the Raiders depth chart at right DE. But he can still serve as a Pied Piper to those who remain in the closet, even if he isn’t interested in becoming the feature attraction in a media circus.

Unlike Michael Sam after he’d been drafted by the St. Louis Rams, Nassib doesn’t seem inclined toward an appearance on Dancing with the Stars or being dogged by Oprah’s cameras.

“I’m a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I’m really not doing this for attention,” he said. “I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are not necessary, but until then I am gonna do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting that’s compassionate.”

Sometimes it only takes one, and hopefully Carl Nassib is the right one for men’s pro sports.

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.

Memo to politicos: There’s nothing to fear, let the girls play

I don’t expect you to understand me or the reasons that brought me to where I am today.

Hell, I didn’t understand it for most of my 70 years.

Head doctors wrestle with it and other people with medical degrees of a different stripe aren’t certain what to make of it, either.

But here’s something you should understand: There’s nothing to fear.

I’m not a threat to your way of life, your religion, your job, your children, your family pet, your home or the company you keep. I won’t let my pooch poop on your lawn without scooping up the leavings in a doggy bag, I won’t park in your handicap spot, and I won’t crank up my music so loud that you can’t sleep at night, whether I’m playing Sinatra, Streisand or Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

I don’t know any transgender individual who thinks differently, the possible exception being Caitlyn Jenner, who’s actually more of a menace to the trans community than the general population.

In return, I ask just one thing: Don’t exclude me.

Me: Before and after.

Don’t tell me I can’t live in your apartment building. Don’t tell me I can’t be your co-worker. Don’t tell me I can’t kneel in your temple. Don’t tell me I can’t break bread and drink in your local watering hole. Don’t tell me I can’t shop at your market. Don’t tell me I can’t join your slo-pitch team.

In short, don’t tell me I don’t belong.

Yet this is what’s happening today, most notably in the United States, where numerous politicos of a sharp conservative tilt have mounted a crusade to prevent transgender females from sharing the playing fields of the nation with cisgender girls and women.

The anti-transgender constituency talks like there exists a sizable squadron of very large, very hairy, ape-ish men just waiting to dab on a little lipstick and mascara, convinced that’s the surest route to the top step of an Olympic Games medal podium, whereupon they can look down on their cisgender opponents, vanquished and lying in tattered ruins at the side of the track.

“It’s unfair,” goes their rallying cry.

Except there’s no evidence to support any notion that a male-to-female transition has ever made someone a superior athlete.

Let me tell you something about a male-to-female transition.

When I started taking hormones, the top of my head was five feet, 6.5 inches above the ground. Today it’s 1.5 inches closer to the ground. I was 138 pounds at the outset and soon dropped to 129, just one serving of chicken and dumplings heavier than my playing weight at age 18.

I was in my fifties and worked as a cleaner at a nightclub at the time, and had no difficulty with the heavy grunt work, easily hauling hefty bags of garbage up two flights of stairs to the dumpster and casually swishing a sopping-wet mop across the sticky, syrupy floors. In short order, however, I often couldn’t pull the garbage bags out of the bins, let alone lug them upstairs, and that chore became part of the barman’s duties. The wet mop, meanwhile, soon felt like it was attached to an ATM machine.

Trust me when I tell you hormones and the dramatic drop in testosterone levels are an energy and strength-siphoning bit of business.

For example, I was skilled enough to play in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League at age 18. Yet had I transitioned then, there was scant chance I would have been physically capable of competing with testosterone-fueled boys/young men aged 16 to 20. Actually, forget scant chance. Based on my transition experience, it simply would not have been doable, except perhaps in my mind.

The alternative, of course, would have been to join a female league, except they were non-existent back then. They exist today.

Jessica Platt

Jessica Platt was permitted to suit up with the Toronto Furies of the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and her on-ice impact was negligible, with just two goals and three points in 49 games. Unfairness wasn’t an issue. There was nothing to fear.

Is it possible for a transgender female to come along and dominate her sport? Absolutely. Just as tall females dominate, just as big-boned females dominate, just as females with above-normal testosterone readings (see: Semenya, Caster) dominate, just as females with big feet and wide wing spans dominate. It’s never been one-size-fits-all on the playground, and never will be.

That applies to life.

Being transgender shouldn’t disqualify any girl/woman or boy/man from her/his pursuits, nor should it cloud anyone’s judgement and become a roadblock.

Again, leaning into my lived experience to provide an e.g., when I was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Writers & Sportscasters Roll of Honour the group’s president, Ted Wyman, informed me that my gender “wasn’t an issue. It never came up in our discussion.” They let me know that my body of work indicated that I belonged, and I applauded them for that. Still do.

And isn’t that something we all seek? Acceptance and belonging?

So let the girls belong and play.

Yanic Duplessis is the rarest of species—the gay male hockey player

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

To wit:

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

Yanic Duplessis has arrived at Stage 3.

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

That’s a big if.

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

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

Yanic Duplessis

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

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

Burke is correct.

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

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

Oh, but they do care.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“(The Pride flag) identifies Satan.”

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

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

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

If hockey truly was “for everyone,” Yanic Duplessis coming out wouldn’t be noteworthy.

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

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

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