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.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have become a country song and we don’t have to eat our Brussels sprouts anymore

So I’m flipping through the pages of the Toronto Star this morning, and I come across a short essay by Richie Assaly, who, like so many in the Republic of Tranna, feels like he’s living a country song.

Except his dog didn’t die and mama wasn’t run over by a damned ol’ train the day she got out of prison.

No, the long face and world of hurt is the product of another Toronto Maple Leafs’ pratfall, an annual spring ritual observed from one flank of the tundra to the other and points north.

You’d think the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna would be used to it by now, but this latest Leafs loss—to the dreaded Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their Stanley Cup skirmish on Monday night—seems to have brought with it a different and deeper level of grieving.

“A monumental collapse. A tragedy on ice. Rock bottom,” went the Assaly lament. “There’s a distinct chance that the last day of May in 2021 will find its way into the history books as one of the lowest points in Toronto sports history.”

Personally, I think Humpty Harold Ballard asking his coach, Roger Neilson, to wear a paper bag on his head behind the bench ranks lowest on the lame-o-meter, but I guess Assaly uses a different measuring stick.

At any rate, it’s official. The Maple Leafs have become a country song. Three chords and the truth about kicking a tin can up the road for 54 years.

Assaly didn’t stop there, though.

It isn’t just the Leafs’ latest face plant that’s got up his nose. It’s us. You know, those of us who live in The Colonies.

“As a dark cloud of misery descended upon Leaf Nation, hockey fans outside of the GTA were taking part in a joyous display of pettiness—a schadenfreude soirée,” he wrote.

Oh my. Pettiness? Naw. Going “na, na, na, na, na” would be petty.

But we don’t do petty. Oh, sure, some of us snicker behind our hands, the way kids bust a gut when the schoolyard bully falls in a mud puddle, while others cackle in glee with gusts up to rude laughter.

The thing is, that’s part of our DNA.

Humpty Harold Ballard

Assaly doesn’t understand that most of us who work and play in The Colonies need the Leafs to cough up a giant hairball every year for comic relief, otherwise we’d have nothing to do but watch curling ice melt or, in my case on the Wet Coast, watch the rain fall.

Would he deny us our giddiness?

Besides, when you drill to the nub of the matter, it’s not so much the Leafs that we poke fun at. The issue is the ram-it-down-our-throats, 24/7 hype from TSN/Sportsnet, who believe the National Hockey League in Canada consists of the Leafs and six red-headed, freckle-faced step-children they acknowledge only when Auston Matthews isn’t grooming his cheesy upper lip whiskers.

After the Leafs stubbed their toes on Monday night, one of the talking heads on TSN, Glenn Schiiler, informed the nation that, with Matthews and Mitch Marner taking their leave, all the “best players” had been removed from the Stanley Cup tournament, as if the rosters of les Canadiens, the Winnipeg Jets and the six U.S. outfits still chasing the shinny grail are stocked with a bunch of beer-leaguers who still need mom and dad to tie their skate laces.

The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, is supposed to be a national newspaper, but its sports columnist, Cathal Kelly, has written three essays on the Leafs losing in the past week and zero on the Montreal Canadiens, who play on while the Leafs play golf.

It’s one thing for the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun to place their focus on the Leafs and declare them “Kings of the North” before the puck is dropped on the annual spring runoff, but the sports columnist at our national sheet? Wrong.

Richie Assaly and others in The ROT need to know this is why we get giddy when the Leafs soil the sheets every spring.

It’s not that we hate the Leafs. Heck, many among us in The Colonies root, root, root for them and attend games adorned in blue-and-white Leafs livery, with the names Matthews and Marner stitched on the back.

But it’s like Brussels sprouts for most of us. Our parents repeatedly told us “they’re good for you,” except we didn’t want to hear it anymore. We just wanted those little green things to disappear.

Same thing with the Leafs.

They’re gone now, so once the talking heads and our national sports columnist have gone through a suitable mourning period and remove the black armbands, we won’t be fed Brussels sprouts anymore. At least not until autumn, when we’ll be reminded once again that Matthews and Marner are the best thing since Canadian bacon, even as they forever fail to bring home the bacon.

In the meantime, the brown paper bag is once again the official gear of Maple Leafs fans/media, who are singing that same old hurtin’ song, only with a fresh twist.

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.

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.

Hockey isn’t homophobic because it’s a “white” game

I don’t know how many African-American players there are in the National Hockey League.

But I do know there are no openly gay players.

I don’t know how many white players there are in the National Basketball Association.

But I do know there are no openly gay players.

I don’t know how many Native American players there are in the National Football League.

But I do know there are no openly gay players.

I don’t know how many Asian players there are in Major League Baseball.

But I do know there are no openly gay players.

So, you tell me, if players of all skin hues perform in these organizations yet there are no openly gay players, is professional team sports racist or is it homophobic?

I mean, let’s say you’re an African-American kid. You aspire to one day play defence for the Montreal Canadiens and win the Norris Trophy as the elite of the NHL’s elite rearguards. You know it’s possible because P.K. Subban is living, breathing proof that it has happened. But if you’re an Afro-American, openly gay kid, forget it, son. An Afro-American gay kid must remain in the closet if he wishes to one day play defence for Les Glorieux.

Is that racist or homophobic?

To provide another example, the head coach of the Buffalo Sabes is a First Nations man, Ted Nolan. Thus, a First Nations kid can aspire to one day becoming a bench boss in the NHL. But a gay First Nations kid? Do not even think about it, son, unless you remain closeted.

Is that racist or homophobic?

The NHL, you see, preaches all-inclusiveness and, more to the point, practises it in terms of skin hue at the playing level, yet for an openly gay man hockey is like the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem—no room at the inn.

Is this because hockey is a “white” game and does white = racist = homophobe?

The NHL has had the “racist” label stitched to its brand in part because hockey is as white as a saint’s soul. To hear some folks, you’d swear that the NHL is the Ku Klux Klan on ice. And there’s no escaping the reality that the ice is white, the boards are white, the ivory towers are white, the large majority of players are white, the talking heads on TV panels are 99.9 per cent white and most of the faces you see in the pews are white. Only the puck and a minority of players are black.

Yet the NHL is no whiter on the ice than the NBA is black on the hardwood. And it is white for the most basic of reasons: It is played, in the main, in northern countries where snow lays on the ground six months of the year and where the citizenry is mostly white.

Ask yourself this, though: Who in hockey’s “white” establishment is practising racism? White owners hire white general managers who hire white coaches (Ted Nolan being the exception) and white, African-American, First Nations, Asian, European, Nordic, Scandinavian players are signed to multi-million-dollar contracts that should establish financial security for a lifetime.

The top-salaried performer with the NHL outfit I follow most closely, the Winnipeg Jets, is Evander Kane, a black man, at $6 million. Dustin Byfuglien, another black man, is third in line at the pay window, drawing a stipend of $5.75M this season. If both remain with the Jets in 2015-16, each will have $6M tucked into his pay envelop, meaning two Afroletes are the club’s top wage-earners.

If that’s racism, bring it on!

Certainly there is racism in hockey. To suggest otherwise would be folly, also naive. But it’s subtle and we are well distanced from the days when Conn Smythe informed Herb Carnegie he would never play a game in the NHL unless he could devise a method of morphing into a white man.

I’m sorry, but if it’s unveiled racism you’re looking for in hockey, I’ll have to direct your attention away from front offices/ice level and toward the stands. Nobody in hockey’s establishment takes to Twitter to drop N-bombs on Joel Ward or P.K. Subban when they score goals to beat the Boston Bruins. Fans do it. Fans fling bananas at black players (see: Simmonds, Wayne; Weekes, Kevin). Fans do this because they are people. People are flawed. People are racist and bigoted and homophobic. As I have often said, the human race would be a wonderful concept if not for the people.

Hockey is no more racist than most other segments of society, nor other team sports. In hockey, skin hue does not equal weak or inferior. Sexual orientation, however, does.

Hockey isn’t homophobic because it is white. It is homophobic because it is an enterprise comprised of 100 per cent heterosexual males who have carefully cultivated a culture of homophobia by brainwashing players into believing gay = weak = inferior.

That’s why there are zero role models in the NHL for our gay youth.

Patti Dawn Swansson
Patti Dawn Swansson

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being.

Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and doesn’t know when to quit.

She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and becoming the first person from the LGBT community to be inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

Coal or Goal: The naughty and nice get their gifts from Hockey Santa

happy ho, ho, ho

Okay, Hockey Santa, time to do your thing. You know the drill. Make your list, check it twice, tell us who’s been naughty, nice and flat-out nasty this year on Planet Puckhead.

What will it be, one lump of coal or two in those Christmas stockings?

COAL: A whole bin of the black stuff to Jonas Siegel for his Phil Kessel hissy-fit. Siegel, a gab guy with TSN 1050 in the Republic of Tranna, sought some pearls of wisdom after Kessel and his Toronto Maple Leaf mates had conspired to drop a 6-2 decision to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Kessel, not one of hockey’s great orators, told Siegel to “Get away from me.” What ensued was a hissy-fit of epic loft, with Siegel promising to rat out the moody Maple Leaf the next time he acts like a jerk. And the next time and the next time and the next time after that. Oh, boo freaking who.

GOAL: Drew Doughty was Canada’s best performer in their gold-medal crusade at the Winter Olympics in the Republic of Vlad the Bad Putin. He was the Los Angeles Kings‘ best performer during their successful romp to another Stanley Cup. He was the best player in the world on the two largest shinny stages.

COAL: I wonder if Don Cherry would like some cheese with his whine. I mean, okay, the tall foreheads at Rogers Media have given the star of Curmudgeon’s Corner less time to skewer Russian and Swedish hockey players, but his weekly “I’ve gotta hurry! I’ve gotta hurry! Why do I gotta hurry?” mantra on Hockey Night in Canada is lame.

GOAL: Paul Maurice. Can you say silk purse out of a sow’s ear, kids? The Winnipeg Jetshead coach has turned tap water into Molson Canadian. In the end, it might prove to be just so much smoke and mirrors, but when you skate into the Toddlin’ Town and break open a big, ol’ 5-1 can of whup ass on the Blackhawks, it isn’t hockey hocus pocus. It’s legit.

COAL: James Neal became the first National Hockey League player to be fined for diving. Which means he’s a repeat offender. C’mon, man! This is what you want to be remembered for? Swan Lake?

GOAL: Canada’s 3-2 overtime victory over Uncle Sam’s girls at the Vlad the Bad Olympics was the signature hockey moment of those Winter Games. I know, I know, the Canadian men played flawless hockey in their gold-medal final, but our girls’ win dripped with drama. Down 0-2 less than 3 1/2 minutes from time, Marie-Philip Poulin pulled them even in the final minute then won it just over eight minutes into extra time. It was breathtaking.

COAL: Slava Voynov was suspended by the NHL for domestic violence. Men don’t hit women, you cad.

GOAL: To NHL commish Gary Bettman, for telling Voynov to get lost.

COAL: QMI Agency led us to believe that Sidney Crosby had been a guest of gendarmes in our nation’s capital. Oh, yes. The Ottawa Sun ran a story saying the Pittsburgh Penguins captain had been hauled off to the hoosegow for finger printing and mug shots based on a driving-related violation in early September. Bad scoop. Sid the Kid was in Vail, Colo. QMI dropped the story and said it “regrets the error.” But not before reporting that Crosby had hired Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka as legal counsel.

GOAL: Claude Giroux did, in fact, spend a night in an Ottawa jail. For being a serial groper. The object of his affection was a male cop’s butt. Reports indicated thePhiladelphia Flyers captain put the grab on said cop’s caboose not once, not twice, but thrice on Canada Day. Holy fireworks, Batman! It was also reported (probably by QMI) that alcohol might have been involved. Ya think? When freed on his own recognicance, Giroux advised us that “Stuff like that is going to happen in the world.” But only when alcohol might be involved.

COAL: Speaking of crimes, Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff signed Chris Thorburn to a three-year contract, at $1.2 million per. That’s an awful lot of coin for a fourth-line winger who gets about 30 seconds in ice time per night. Apparently, the Winnipeg Jets GM likes what Thorbs contributes in the dressing room. We are left to speculate what he does in the dressing room to earn his $1.2 million.

GOAL: Jean Beliveau left a legacy of class, grace and elegance seldom seen in professional sports. He was at once royalty and common man. You might have hated lesCanadiens, but everybody genuflected in the direction of les Gros Bill, their legendary captain.

COAL: The Next One, Connor McDavid, broke a bone in his hand while attempting to bounce his bare knuckles off an opponent’s noggin. Keep the mitts on, kid. We want to watch you play hockey, not fight.

GOAL: Shannon Szabados, our gold-medal girl goalie, racked up a big W for the Columbus Cottonmouths in November, becoming the first female to post a win in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

COAL: Jack Johnson’s parents drove the Columbus Blue Jackets blueliner into bankruptcy. Not sure he’ll be inviting mom and pop over for Christmas turkey.

GOAL: Bob McKenzie is good. Very good. I can’t imagine TSN’s hockey coverage without him.

COAL: Sam Bennett failed to perform a single pull-up at the pre-draft scouting combine last summer. C’mon, man. I know 64-year-old grandmothers who can do at least one pull-up. Actually, I’m one of those 64-year-old grandmothers. Turns out theCalgary Flames were unconcerned that Bennett is incapable of pulling up his flimsy frame, though. They drafted him fourth overall, instead of a grandmother like me.

GOAL: Tip your hat to Bryan Little. The Jets front-line centre scored three times in a 6-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, ending an epic drought for the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise. It had been 287 games and almost four full years between hat tricks for someone named Eric Boulton and Little, one of the NHL’s truly underrated performers.

COAL: Glenn Healy and P.J. Stock. Just because.

GOAL: The Habs retired Guy Lapoint’s jersey No. 5, putting him up in the rafters with his blueline bros Serge Savard and Larry Robinson. Nice touch.

COAL: Milan Lucic, also known as Darth Bruin, threatened to “kill” Dale Weise of the Montreal Canadiens when the two met in the handshake line following their playoff series last spring. When last seen, Weise was still very much alive, but that probably won’t prevent QMI Agency from reporting a Habs homicide if there’s a really slow news day during the Christmas break.

GOAL: Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames is proving there’s plenty or room for small men in a big man’s game.

COAL: Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe and every other member of the good, ol’ boys club who have ruined the once-proud Edmonton Oilers. Seriously. How many No. 1 overall draft choices does it take to finish higher than 29th or 30th in a 30-team league? How many top-10 picks? If these guys were in charge of Microsoft, we’d all still be using typewriters and sending our mail by pigeon or Pony Express.

GOAL: Buffalo Sabres young gun Zemgus Girgensons, the NHL’s 74th-leading goal scorer and 135th point collector, tops fan balloting for next month’s all-star game with 1,291,186 votes. Who knew that many people in Latvia and Buffalo had access to the Internet?

COAL: Media types who get all huffy and puffy whenever a fan hurls a team sweater (hello, Maple Leafs) on to the ice. Okay, I agree, tossing anything to the ice is hazardous. But why is this considered to be a particularly bad-mannered method of expressing displeasure? Why does the media care? It’s a protest. That’s what people do when they are displeased. They protest.

GOAL AND COAL: Dustin Byfuglien was a bust at forward for the Winnipeg Jets, but now that he’s been moved back to the blueline he’s doing boffo business. What does this tell me? It tells me he was dogging it as a winger. That he was pouting.

Hockey: The final homosexual holdout in North American sports

So, here’s the gay scorecard for the five major professional team sports in North America:

  • The National Basketball Association has had its first openly gay player, Jason Collins, who performed briefly as an openly gay man with the Brooklyn Nets and the sky didn’t fall.
  • The National Football League has had its first openly gay player, although Michael Sam never progressed beyond the Dallas Cowboys practice roster and apparently is now part of a witness protection program (there are suggestions he is likely to resurface next summer with Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League).
  • Major League Baseball has an openly gay umpire, crew chief Dale Scott, who called balls and strikes for 29 seasons as a closeted gay man before calling himself “out” this week.
  • Major League Soccer has an openly gay player, defender Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy, who won the league title on Sunday.
  • The National Hockey League has…oh, don’t be silly, silly. Everbody knows there are no gay men in hockey. Not in the NHL. Not in the American Hockey League. Not in the Canadian Hockey League. Not in the ECHL. Not anywhere. Not ever, ever, ever.

Not only has there never been an openly gay man in any pro hockey league on this side of the big pond, not a single man has come out as homosexual post-career. Former NBA, NFL and MLB players have outed themselves once the final buzzer sounded. But none from the NHL or any other shinny outfit.

This, of course, is a logic-defying bit of business. Ever since the hockey puck replaced the road apple…all those years…all those leagues…all those thousands of players…and we’re supposed to believe not one of them was/is gay? You’d have a better chance convincing me that it would be a swell idea for my daughter to date Jian Ghomeshi.

Let’s place some perspective on this.

In the entire history of organized professional hockey on this continent, there has never been an openly homosexual man on any team roster. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Diddly squat. Yet, there have been at least four women in pro hockey—Manon Rheaume, Erin Whitten, Danielle Dube and Shannon Szabados, who currently tends goal for Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

To repeat: Women 4, gay men 0. For all time.

Consider that reality. Chew on it. Digest it. For the longest time, the notion that females could compete on equal footing with men in hockey was absurd. It still is, for that matter, if we’re discussing the NHL level. And probably the AHL. Yet history records that four females have played pro hockey in North America…and zero gay men.

To suggest there has never been a gay man in the NHL is to say all female hockey players are lesbians. It simply isn’t so. We all know, of course, that there have been (are) gays in the NHL and lower leagues. We just haven’t identified them yet. Or, to be more accurate, they haven’t identified themselves to us.

So why is hockey the final homosexual holdout?

One school of thought has it that hockey players won’t come out because they are a different breed. That they are team-first people. That they prefer not to attract attention to themselves. Oh, please. Gay hockey players don’t remain closeted due to inherent altruism. They remain in hiding out of a fear borne of the game’s macho culture.

It’s one thing for the NHL to lock arms with the You Can Play Project and for players to lend voice to public service announcements proclaiming their readiness to accept a gay teammate. Manny Malhotra and Jason Garrison can participate in the Vancouver Pride Parade, and Brian Burke can do the same in Toronto. Montreal Canadiens’ bankroll, Geoff Molson, can declare his organization to be a safe haven for gay players and those in the LGBT collective who support the Habs. All this is encouraging.

But…until the day arrives when the word “fag” and crude suggestives such as “suck my dick” are no longer the slurs du jour in hockey, you aren’t going to see an out player.

Let me put it this way: When Habs owner Molson stated last month that “Everyone and everybody is welcome in the Montreal Canadiens organization,” he was telling a gay kid who dreams of one day wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge linen of Les Glorieux that he has a soft spot to land. Bravo for Geoff Molson.

Unfortunately, Molson doesn’t spend up to 10 months of the year sitting in the Canadiens’ changing room. The players perhaps wouldn’t feel as accommodating.

Admittedly, I haven’t sniffed the pungent aroma of an NHL boudoir for many years, but I believe Aaron Ward, through his three-segment documentary ReOrientation on TSN earlier this year, provided us with a clear indication where NHL players position themselves on the gay issue.

“Outside of the involvement with Andrew Ference,” said Ward, a former NHL defenceman and now a TSN talking head, “we struggled to get participation from players. 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 chin-wag.

How do you effect change without dialogue? You don’t. The beat goes on and the NHL continues to lag behind the rest of the sports world, even as it promotes itself as a leader in the gay arena.

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