On Gordie Howe

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It didn’t hit me that Gordie Howe was gone until the first intermission of Sunday night’s Stanley Cup Final game in San Jose, Calif., when SAP Arena, the NHL, the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins honored his life.

Howe’s monumental legacy may never be matched – maybe only by Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, or maybe Sidney Crosby. And it’s difficult to put into words exactly what his legacy truly is, when you’ve never witnessed it in its prime.

But I got a glimpse of the greatness of Gordie Howe in March, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, when I was assigned to cover the Detroit Red Wings’ birthday tribute to the NHL Hall of Famer.

What struck me was how everyone simply stopped to watch Howe get ushered through the corridor of Joe Louis Arena on a golf cart. It was like a royal procession. Even players from the Buffalo Sabres stopped kicking a soccer ball or hopped off an exercise bike to stand at attention for one of the NHL’s giants.

Howe, however, was frail. The look in his eyes was distant. Even surrounded by his family, he needed help walking through the doors and hallways at Joe Louis. When he was shown on the big screen inside Joe Louis Arena, his son Mark held up his hand, as a means for Howe to acknowledge the crowd.

Tears streamed down peoples’ faces when 18,000 people sang “Happy Birthday” with Karen Newman, the Detroit Red Wings’ anthem singer. The crowd roared. The Red Wings presented Howe with a gorgeous birthday cake for his 88th birthday.

Yet there was something off-center about it. It wasn’t a joyous occasion.

As I watched Howe that night, I felt his greatness, but I also felt pity. A titan of the sport was in the twilight of his life.

While everyone gave him the berth of respect, one that comes with being an idol, a legend, a transcendent superstar, did he have any real idea where he was or what he was doing that night? Or, would all the love and the good vibes in the building would somehow sustain him for a little bit longer?

I drove back to Toledo that night with an empty feeling. Glad I finally got to be in the presence of the great Gordie Howe, but wondering where the vitality was, where the joy was that was in so many photos and videos and what I had been told by people, the memories of the times they watched or met Howe. Rach, I told myself. Let’s be real here. He’s 88 years old, he suffered a stroke, he has dementia. He may not have a lot of time left.  

Gordie Howe died on Friday, June 10. In the fall of 2014, my editors told me to begin writing an obituary for him, after he had suffered a stroke.

That obituary sat for 19 months in my file, and while you think you may never have to use it, when you dust off that file and begin line-editing it and updating it for timeliness and plugging in all the information … you just wonder if you fulfill the respect it deserves, and if it will attempt to do it any sort of justice to a person’s rich life.

 

On Kevin Stevens

So I’m sad today. The Boston Globe reported this morning that former NHLer Kevin Stevens is being held on federal drug charges and will be arraigned Tuesday in Massachusetts.  He’s charged along with another man with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone, and is in federal detention.

Kevin Stevens was one of the players on the Pittsburgh Penguins whom I grew up watching. He was the gregarious Bostonian who probably threw the best parties of anyone on your block or in your college dorm, or the guy who lived next door to you and always offered you a beer after a hot afternoon of mowing the lawn and kept you laughing into the night … and a super-talented hockey player – a two-time Stanley Cup winner, a U.S. Olympian, an NHL All-Star. kevinstevens

I’m not sad because of Kevin Stevens’ legal troubles – I’m sad after considering what brought it to this point, that Kevin Stevens probably could never get control of himself. I’m sad because I will never forget his arrest in 2000 for soliciting a prostitute and possessing drug paraphernalia – crack cocaine was found on the scene.

I’m sad because I will never forget when I met him in 2009 while covering the American Hockey League, I remember him as engaging and super-funny, and I appreciated that whenever he saw me, he took the time to talk to me. But I also remember thinking, “don’t kid yourself, this guy has a lot of problems.”

And I think back to the moment it all likely changed for Kevin Stevens, when he was injured in the 1993 playoffs – when his head hit the ice after a check on New York Islander Rich Pilon, and when he came up, half of his face was caved in. He needed major reconstructive surgery, had five metal plates put in his face and had bone fragments removed.

I put that injury to Stevens up there in gruesomeness – and potential psychological after-effects – with the injury Clint Malarchuk sustained in 1989, when his neck was sliced open by a skate blade.

Clint Malarchuk admits he never got the psychological help he needed – likely to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. And with that in mind, it begs a question: Did Kevin Stevens ever get the help he needed after that injury, or did he take the “I’ll be fine” attitude?

Or, in that era of the NHL, the early 1990s, was the help even there?

Earlier this year, CTV’s Rick Westhead did a great, insightful, saddening piece on the long-term effects of concussions on retired NHL players – in particular, Mike Peluso.

From the CTV piece:

Did team doctors put the financial interests of their employers ahead of the health concerns of players? And did NHL executives put their collective heads in the sand when it came to learning more about the dangers of repeated head trauma, and about possible rule changes that might have better protected players, even if it meant popular tough guys were sidelined longer between fights?

Watching it made me consider the era of the NHL that I grew up watching, a 10-year span that began in 1988, and what players went through – and how they were (or weren’t) helped afterwards. They were almost chattel, commodities that could be bought and traded and dumped.

And because so many of them loved the game, or needed to pay bills, they kept going.

And now, we’re starting to see the long-term effects these injuries had on the players. More importantly, on the people these players had to be once they stepped off the ice for good. It’s hard to say for certain whether or not Kevin Stevens’ latest legal issue is a result of that, but it’s not hard to wonder if it contributed to it.

I hope Kevin Stevens gets the help he needs.

Now, everybody’s watching the Chicago Blackhawks

Updated: Give Andrew Shaw credit for taking ownership of what was an ugly situation:

***

“I’m so glad the Chicago Blackhawks are a tolerant organization…”

Said no one, ever.

After Tuesday night, that divide only deepens. It’s now been proven that the Blackhawks espouse misogyny (Garret Ross), sexual deviance (Patrick Kane) and now, homophobia.

The whole English-speaking world saw what Andrew Shaw said in the late moments of Chicago’s 4-3 loss to St. Louis in a Western Conference quarterfinal series.

I’m not going to repeat it, but Google it yourself (or click here) and make up your own mind as to whether or not he used a homophobic slur.

Shaw said he didn’t remember what he said.

That’s an overused defense. I usually say that when I’m lying.

In an ideal world … Andrew Shaw could go against the grain of his organization. In an ideal world, he makes a public apology, admits what he says was wrong and insensitive, and inappropriate, ‎and vows to educate himself on societal issues facing the LGBT community.

But wait, this is the Blackhawks. That probably won’t happen.

This is an organization that employs Patrick Kane.

And – it might just be a case of awful timing – an organization that gave away aprons the same week it was announced Ross, a minor-league player in Chicago’s farm system,  was being charged with revenge porn, a charge later dropped on a technicality.

Bad timing, bad connotation.

It’s fair to ask, is the Blackhawks management doing anything to educate its players and employees about societal issues?

On a macro level in sports … is anyone doing anything in any organization?

***

Watching Andrew Shaw yell whatever it was he did (and we have a pretty good idea of what he said), made me think of a similar talk I had a few years ago with a college hockey player, who now plays professionally. It came in light of another incident in which a professional athlete used a homophobic slur.

“Do you ever say that on the ice?” I asked him.

He sighed. “Sometimes, yeah.”

“Do you ever think about what you say?”

Some things, he said – almost in a defensive, yet resigned tone – come in the heat of the game.

I wasn’t going to take that for an answer.

“Well, think about it next time.” Then, I laughed, and offered him some vulgar advice. “It’s okay to say someone’s a ‘f#%&er’ … but it’s not okay to say what that guy said last night.”

We laughed – I think he was a little surprised that, being a woman, I said such a dark word. I was comfortable with cussing around him, but I hope I helped Will think a little differently after that conversation.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if I did.

***

Let’s be real: it’s 2016, but sports are not a kind, welcoming or tolerant environment, despite the advances that have been made for inclusion. This, many still believe, is a man’s domain.

Want to see a gender gap? Want to see a hostile realm? Turn on or buy a ticket to a major-league sporting event, and count the number of women you see and find out what their role is in the game.

It might make me a hypocrite that I give my money to professional sports teams, or that I cover sports for a living, but that’s also something we as a society have to do – hold the people we cover and financially support to a certain standard.

And we’re discussing a realm in which people attempt to justify what some people believe is inherent and acceptable in sports – such as homophobic/misogynistic/racist/sexist/deviant behavior – by saying, “Oh, it’s just part of the culture.”

No, it’s not acceptable.

Do you discriminate or lampoon others in everyday life because of their race? Because of their gender? Because of their ethnic background?

It shouldn’t be done in a confined space such as an ice rink or a football field, either. Because, as Andrew Shaw and the Blackhawks are finding out, all of us are watching.

 

Another day …

… another instance of blatant sexism in sports journalism. This time, it’s at Ohio University.

http://www.thepostathens.com/news/woub-leadership-women-treated-as-sexual-objects-by-male-sports/article_1d0240e2-ebbd-11e5-9173-cbfd49b30426.html

From the Ohio University student paper:

The report says their complaints were centered around:
– A culture where men in leadership promoted the women they believed were most attractive.
– Excluding women from FaceOff.
– Rating women based on attractiveness and “bangability.”
– A group text among only male student sports employees to discuss women as “sexual objects.”
– “Foul, vile and egregious” sexual talk that women found so uncomfortable they chose to avoid the newsroom or “not to participate in sports journalism.”

There’s always been the pervading question of, “Why don’t we see more women in sports journalism?” Can you blame the women for wanting to get out if their male peers don’t see them as equals, and instead as objects to be graded and/or degraded? I just talked to a reporter not too long ago who left her outlet because she said it was one of the most hostile environments she ever worked in. And she’s barely a year out of college.

And women wonder how these attitudes are cultivated, as well.

Look at your newsroom: Are there women in authority roles? Sports editor, managing editor, lead football or men’s basketball writer. How do you treat them? How are they treated professionally and personally? What kind of boundaries do you have with them?

This instance comes down to respect – teaching people professional respect and personal boundaries. And that someone’s “hotness” shouldn’t be the prism through which they’re judged, hired or promoted.

This reminds me of an instance in high school, when my male classmates passed around a list where they voted who the hottest girls in our English class were. I wasn’t on the list – and I’m sort of glad I wasn’t.

I have this argument all the time with male coworkers – in fact, I told a male coworker, “you were pissed that I wasn’t a hot 26-year-old.”

Unfortunately, that’s still the measuring stick. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by a male colleague in a press box who has asked me, “who was that girl you were just talking to? She’s cute/fine/hot.”

Me: “Get to know her as a person and as a reporter, okay?”

 

Well, how does she get her information?

Jessica Moran confirmed Friday that she resigned from her position as a sideline reporter with Comcast SportsNet New England … on the heels of questions that surrounded her relationship with Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell.

And while she didn’t confirm or deny that she was involved with the manager of the team she covered … her departure and the questions that surround it brought to light something we see quite a bit.

Jessica, you did the noble thing by falling on your sword. But it’s not indicative of female sports reporters as a whole.

Let’s be real: women in sports journalism aren’t in this business to land a husband from the men whom they cover. Though it’s happened. And it won’t stop. And it’s something that’s frowned upon – dating one of the people whom you cover – because it’s seen as a conflict of interest. It’s perceived as getting an unfair advantage – and holding a bias towards a person.

A (male) coworker told me, “well, it’s a little more accepted with broadcasters.” So that makes them different from other journalists? Some would argue that argue that they’re personalities – not reporters

But they started out as reporters – many of them – trying to gather the same information that their male and female counterparts needed to get. That I needed to get. And giving the impression of sleeping with one of the people whom they cover? That’s not an ethical way of getting information.

I’ve worked in markets where it’s happened, though not on my beat. I saw a television personality leave town – and continue her relationship with someone who was on her beat. And that’s well and good, but if that had been my beat and she worked next to me, I wouldn’t have had it.

Because then there would be that question: Well, how does she get her information?

It’s not a fun thing to deal with, on a macro or a micro level.

 

 

 

Sit down and shut up!

To the man in the stands at the high school girls basketball game I covered tonight: You had no right to shout out loud to a referee that a player “outweighs her by 50 pounds!”

People wonder where the cultural attitude of body shaming and “perfect figure” ideals come from – from what I had to listen to tonight, it starts in the home. Or in the community. These are high school girls, for God’s sake! On top of everything else a teenager has to deal with, listening to an adult comment on her weight is not one of them.

Gloria Steinem said it best when she asked me – in front of an audience of 3,000 people – about being a sports reporter. Then, she said to me, “That is so wonderful. Sports are fantastic for girls. They teach us that women’s bodies are instruments, not objects.”

That teenage girl you made that foul comment about? She is not an object. She is a basketball player, and that court is her sanctuary, her arena. You had no reason to single her out because she’s playing a sport she’s good at, one she grew up with, one that likely defines a big part of who she is.

And I hope to God that she didn’t hear you.

Hell, I’d hate to hear what you have to say about the women in your office. In your community. Or, worse, in your family.

Oh, yeah, and that ref you yelled at isn’t going to change his mind.

Now what’s that Tour de France thing?

I love riding my bike. Really, I do.

So as I pushed my pedals through an unusually humid day, something occured to me – the Tour de France is coming up.

There was a time when each summer, I would wake up in the morning and turn on the Outdoor Life Network to watch the coverage of the race that wound through the French countryside and mountains. My ideal trip to Europe included a stop in Paris for the final state of the race, to cheer on the winner along the Champs-Elysees.

But this year, the TdF doesn’t bring the same excitement as it did in the past. It’s more of a sadness.  Because the scepter of dishonesty hangs over competitive cycling.

Cycling has become this decade’s answer to boxing – a sport that was once heralded because of its grueling days, the international attention it received and, of course, the challenges that a man (simply referred to as “Lance”) overcame to win the Tour year after year – surviving cancer, his tumultuous personal life, the constant hounding of and constant battles with the media … and doping allegations which later were true. That became a watershed moment for the downfall of the sport. To an American cycling fan, nothing became more maddening than watching Lance confess and attempt to save face (for a price and a cost) to Oprah Winfrey.

Now, the word “cycling” can’t be mentioned without “corruption.”

I’m not going to watch the Tour de France. Instead, I’ll go out for a 20-mile spin around town. At least I know I won’t cheat at it.