Bullies in the pulpit - Macleans.ca

Bullies in the pulpit

Why does sports radio sustain bigotry in the locker room?


In the event of total nuclear war, cockroaches would rule the world — and sportscasters would still be making excuses for homophobia.

Imagine that a country, on some other continent, just passed a law to prohibit foreign black couples from adopting its children. Imagine that the same law banned foreign couples of any race from adopting children if their home country allowed black people to get married. Imagine that, in the country in question, police regularly detained activists who advocated for equal rights for black people, and the national government had recently made it a crime to spread “black propaganda,” or anything that preached even basic tolerance for black citizens.

Now, imagine that a radio broadcaster in Canada went on the air to excuse such state-sanctioned racism as a legitimate, if regrettable, difference in “culture.” Imagine that he argued repeatedly that it would be inappropriate for Canada to condemn official race-based discrimination in other countries, and that we should have no qualms about sending our athletes to compete in an Olympic Games where black athletes would not even be allowed to hold hands in the Olympic Village.

How long do you think he would keep his job? More to the point, how many minutes do you think would elapse before his radio station’s advertisers started calling and demanding that he be fired?

If you change “black” to “gay” and “racism” to “homophobia,” then what you see above is an accurate depiction of Russia in 2013, on the eve of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. And yet, after TSN Montreal’s Ted Bird said (and blogged) on Tuesday morning that, in Russia, LGBT rights are “still a moral issue, and it’s no one’s place to impose their moral standards on someone else’s culture,” and that, as a consequence, “calls to boycott all things Russian … because Bill can’t hold Bob’s hand at the Olympic Village in Sochi are as dubious as they are impractical,” his job never once seemed to be even remotely in question.

Why? Why do we tolerate statements by sportscasters about the persecution of LGBT people in faraway places that we would instantly condemn if they were about any other group? How has sports radio survived as one of the last safe spaces for those who make excuses for homophobes?

First, follow the money. Controversy sells. An on-air personality’s views may be reprehensible, but so long as they attract listeners, station management and advertisers rarely, if ever, object. But there should be limits. Those who occupy the broadcast booth’s bully pulpit — and those who pay for them to stay there — know full well that their opinions shape their listeners’. They also know that among their listeners are athletes, particularly young ones, who parrot what they hear on the radio in the locker room. If Ted Bird says that homophobia is “a moral issue” and a defensible part of “someone else’s culture,” then why should a midget hockey player say anything different?

Because the player beside him on the bench could be struggling with his sexual identity. Because, in a country that brands itself as a defender of human rights, bigotry anywhere can never be minimized as a difference in “culture.” Because if Ted Bird had been so cavalier about the rights of Russian Jews, or blacks, or just about anyone else, all of us would be writing letters.

After NBA player Jason Collins came out of the closet in April, David Pratt, a sportscaster with CKNW in Vancouver, took to the airwaves to suggest that a gay athlete’s sexual orientation would be a “distraction,” and a detriment to his team. “All you have to do is take a look at Chris Culliver from the 49ers before the Super Bowl just a few months ago saying that he personally would not welcome a gay member to his team,” Pratt said on April 30. “From a general manager’s point of view, if you don’t have to go and bring that distraction into your room, do you do it?”

But Pratt, Bird and their ilk are the symptom, not the syndrome. Homophobia survives in sports like bacteria in a Petri dish because of the culture that enables it — the sportscasters who defend it and the ones who stay silent when they do, the station owners and managers who seem to care less about the consequences of their content than about their bottom line, and the advertisers who keep on footing the bill. And this isn’t “someone else’s culture,” either. It’s ours.

Homophobia’s defenders have a right to their opinions, and to express them how they wish, but the rest of us are just as entitled to demand that their patrons stop paying them to do so. We should hold advertisers and station owners accountable for what they’re sponsoring.

Neither Ted Bird nor David Pratt will be around forever, and we can only hope that the next generation of sportscasters will end the culture of misplaced tolerance that continues to sustain bigotry in the locker room. But we should hasten that change with a simple demand: Sportcasters who make excuses for homophobes should be out of advertisers — and a job.

Adam Goldenberg is a Kirby Simon Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and a contributor to CBC News: The National. Follow him at www.twitter.com/adamgoldenberg.

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Bullies in the pulpit

  1. So if a sportscaster makes a statement that boycotting Russian Olympics is useless and that Russian culture is nowhere near as advanced as ours on this subject, that makes him homophobic? Kind of a stretch no? His point was not that the Russians are right to be homophobic. His point was that it is arrogant to impose our values on everyone and that the act of boycott is useless in changing anything.
    To make the leap to homophobic is , at best, disingenuous and, at worst, an backhanded slap at freedom of speech. But I guess saying that makes me homophobic too, right?

    • The other irony is how this only applies to white countries. No one boycotted World Cup in South Africa in spite of laws against homosexuality. No one boycotted the Olympics in China. No one boycotts the Muslim World.

      • FYI there are no laws against homosexuality in South Africa. Gay marriage is legal there.

      • Homosexuality is legal in China and South Africa. No one said anything about gays not being allowed to participate in the 2010 World Cup or 2008 Olympics. Also, there were no Olympics in the Muslim world, at least in the 21st century.

        I’m assuming you’re just one of those white guys that likes to victimize himself and uses immigrants and members of other races as a scapegoat for all his problems.

    • FYI, there are no laws against homosexuality in South Africa. Gay marriage is legal there.

  2. Once again, a product of our so-called elite schools is telling us how to think. He and his ilk want us to buy into their groupthink that validates their little titles like ‘fellow’. They did not respond with questions when they confronted Mr. Bird, they responded with hate and venom, treating him like a bad case of the clap. I read the blog in question. Do I agree with it, no but I could have a calm discussion about it instead of tearing off my shirt and heaping my disdain on the person. HOW DARE YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY,YOU ARE NOT IVY LEAGUE EDUCATED.

    And another nice bit of elitism displayed by this so-called intellectual: tarring everyone who enjoys sports as clueless morons that cannot form their opinion. On behalf of intelligent people that enjoy sports, thank you for the insult.

    This PC,passive aggressive, everyone gets a medal, everyone agrees, everyone be happy and think like your betters tell you how to completely explains the state of the world today. So keep on being impressed by ‘fellows’ that tell you what is right or wrong and walk like the lemmings you are right off the cliff.

    If he would have said the same thing about francophones, it would not have even registered on your radar. But gays, hey, there is an audience for defending that, here comes Superfellow to save the day.

    Ignatieff’s speechwriter huh? That sums it up pretty much right there:Arrogance, condescension, holier than thou but utterly clueless about the world we live in.

    • What on earth was that?

  3. Mr. goldenberg has made an incorrect judgement that Ted Birds position was intolerance of LGBT people, when in fact Ted Birds blog clearly points out the intolerance of Russian culture, and our athletes inability to alter Russian culture via boycott. Mr goldenberg should apologize for this deplorable and misleading public record.

  4. I’m amazed at the number of people coming down on the writer because of where he went to University. Really? Being a Yale student automatically makes him elitist? C’mon. Let’s try a little harder. Jump on him for what he actually wrote, not on where he attended his first kegger.

    • The number of people who mentioned where he went to school is…let’s see…carry the 5…hmm…ONE.

      • Easy there Irv. Should have been more precise in my statement. Plenty of folks commenting on social media.

    • I don’t think anyone is saying the fact that he went to university makes him elitist. I think what they are saying is that his elitist attitude makes him elitist, the university education is simply a prerequisite of elitism.

  5. In 1936 many nations considered boycotting the Berlin Games but ultimately chose not to.
    In 1980 and 1984 many countries did boycott the Games.
    So the real question is: is the threat of a boycott or an actual boycott effective.

    Given the current political climate in Russia, I think a boycott would be completely useless. Putin doesn’t care what the West thinks. A boycott would just allow more east European athletes to win.

  6. Respectfully, Sir: I believe that you missed the point. I find it somewhat hypocritical for groups that fought so hard to dispel stereotypes to label others with dissenting views. Is it not possible to show Russia by example instead of by threat?

  7. Wow, Adam, where to start? How about your blog’s Title &Sub-title:

    “Bullies in the pulpit. Why does sports radio sustain bigotry in the locker room”.

    A pretty broad statement to make after having a minor internet kerfuffle the day before with someone I assume you never met face to face, but seem to have a difficulty discerning between satire and serious issues – especially as someone who likes to broadcast all over the web his “Yale Fellow” credentials.

    Bigotry? Those are pretty strong words on the internet where you feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof, Adam. You know that Ted’s a bigot, do you?

    I listen to Ted Bird and I don’t always agree with him. But associating what he wrote with bigotry is a huge emotional leap from the context of his blog entry to a back and forth on Twitter to deciding to get revenge by putting a screed under the widely read MacLean’s banner.

    Let’s get the actual facts out there, shall we, Adam.

    Ted wrote: “On the scale of human rights abuses, it (gay rights) doesn’t compare to Chinese-occupied Tibet, yet the 2008 Beijing Games were boycott-free”

    Would you not agree that if you had to compare and rank country’s abuses of human rights violations in order 1,2,3,4 that Nazi Germany, Rwanda’s tribal massacre in the early 1990’s, China’s complete lack of civil rights ranks a little higher on the list than gay rights in Russia?

    That was his point and you seemed to have completely missed it. Is Russia starting to exhibit frightening Cold-War era policies and being led by a former Cold-War KGB official? No doubt about it. But it’s nice to see you focus on the bigger fish in this worldwide issue like Ted Bird instead of Putin or Mugabe.

    Quote: “the western boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow had no discernible effect on the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and only served to provoke Eastern Bloc countries to snub the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.”

    I agree with Ted here that Canada going as a strong Gay-Friendly nation and getting on TV in Russia and promoting Gay-friendly ideals as an Olympic participant would send a much larger message than an empty boycott. No one sees or hears you boycotting on Russian TV.

    Quote: “gay rights have evolved into a political issue in North America, but in many parts of the world it’s still a moral issue, and it’s no one’s place to impose their moral standards on someone else’s culture”

    What seems to have put you on your sanctimonious high horse here is that you feel the “bigoted” Ted Bird’s morals are the focus here. Apparently even as you wave around your Yale degree, you missed the point again, Adam.

    Our country’s and our continent’s morals were pretty much exactly the SAME AS RUSSIA’S until 40 years ago, my friend. Homosexuality was considered a crime, a disorder, a disease.

    I didn’t see you writing about our shameful policies back then, but I suppose you weren’t born yet, right?

    So you had no idea how long it takes to change a culture’s moral values, do you Adam?

    All countries do not progress at the same speed. Russia on this count is falling backwards and that is obvious to you and me. And if you have the options of boycotting silently or going to the Olympics and changing a few minds, which would you do, Adam? That’s how you apply your moral standards – one person at a time. And it takes time. That is what Ted said. Hitting them over the head with a full force “You are wrong” feels like an affront. One at a time, Adam.

    Quote: “In the meantime, calls to boycott all things Russian from vodka to nesting dolls to Olympic Games because Bill can’t hold Bob’s hand at the Olympic Village in Sochi are as dubious as they are impractical.”

    You can get pissy if you want, Adam and take every line as an affront, but Ted is also a humour writer, a host of comedy events AND also won more journalism awards for his serious articles than you have. And here you get a little taste of both. Bill and Bob holding hands is a sarcastic comparison to world human rights violations that need more attention. But you grabbed onto it and decided it was a personally-directed bigoted comment.

    Your Twitter comment to Ted of “Next time you read a newspaper, try starting from the front” is clever, but you felt the need to leave that sarcastic insult out of your piece here.
    Ted is a very educated person guy. Probably read more historical texts than your entire graduating class combined. He just doesn’t go around bragging about his Yale credentials at the end of everything he writes.

    • He may not brag about his Yale credentials, but he sure talks about all of his awards which isn’t all that different. Nothing wrong with either is what I’m saying. I’m not anti-Bird on this one (although I think he could have handled the situation a bit better), but ragging on this guy because he went to Yale is pretty lame.

  8. Russia will imprison any Christian who tells a gay child that they are loved by God and should be treated equally. A Christian who stands up for gay people will be arrested and imprisoned and fined. Jesus commanded “love one another”, and “do unto others as you’d have done unto you.” Russia has criminalized Jesus’ commandments. The outrage against Russia is justifiable. The law is also an act of genocide against gay people. Russian politicians are no more above being executed for genocide than any other politician on the planet. The only “moral” issue is the atrocities being committed by Russian and other politicians around the globe when they violate the human rights of millions of people.

    • Please…stay in Iowa.

  9. I’ve never heard of Ted Bird or David Pratt. It is a bit of a stretch to extrapolate the views of all (or most) sportscasters from these 2 individuals.
    I spent the entire day listening to sports radio in the car yesterday. One of the key topics of discussion was what to do about Russia’s homophobic laws and Sochi. Although different sportscasters had different views on the appropriate response, every single one of them stated clearly and repetedly that the situation in Russia was intolerable.

  10. M. Bird point was that it’s not to the athletes to sacrifice what they’ve been working for all their lives to make a statement if they don’t wish to. To expect that from them is unfair…It’s easy for you to say M. Goldenberg…what are you going to sacrifice to make your point across?

  11. After reading his blog it’s possible that the sportscaster’s comments were merely foolish rather than homophobic. BUT they’re passive-aggressive arguments that have been used to attack rights and legitimize attacks on minorities in the past (“doesn’t a man have a right to his opinion to denigrate others, yukkity yuk”), that if he gets called out on it he kinda deserves it.

  12. Then there is the reverse bullying where a gay couple are going to sue the Church of England to force them to marry gays. Now normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this if the gay couple in question said something along the lines of “my faith is deep and somehow not having a religious ceremony makes me and my spouse feel not complete.”, I could accept that. That’s not what we are getting though. The message is “It upsets me because I want it so much – a big lavish ceremony, the whole works, I just don’t think it is going to happen straight away. As much as people are saying this is a good thing I am still not getting what I want.” I don’t care if that’s what you want. This is a religion. If you aren’t part of that religion, you have no right to a religious ceremony. Period.

    • You left out the crucial piece of information. It’s a taxpayer-funded state-run church – not an independent nonprofit. It is taking funds from people and then excluding them.

      • But it is still a faith, not a venue. I’m sure these people didn’t sit down and decide because it is the established church, they have a right to get married in it. I get angry at straight people who pull this stunt.

        • No, that’s irrelevant. Anything that’s state sanctioned cannot have discriminatory laws, as a portion of its revenue comes from the very people it’s discriminating against.

          • A faith by its very nature is discriminatory. I can’t walk into a Catholic Church and receive communion. A woman can’t sit with the men in a mosque or an orthodox synagogue.

          • You most certainly can receive communion. Many Catholics go to different churches depending on their schedule and many other factors. They don’t necessarily go to only one church. There are also priests who are visiting and don’t know the congregation. It’s not like a union, religion doesn’t make you carry cards YET…..lol I have taken holy communion and I’m not Catholic.

          • Then it shouldn’t be funded by the state. Simple as that.

      • Who funds this church is a totally separate issue. It is still a church which represents the point of view of a particular faith.

        If you have a problem with the fact that the Church of England is a taxpayer-funded church (not state-run btw), then I agree with you, but it is a different issue altogether.

  13. Jamie some good points there.I agree, a stretch. It’s sad though to blame this on a culture, when in fact the culture at some level, even if on the “down low”, supports homosexuals. This is not cultural, this is about the abuse of power. The homophobe is the leader of Russia. Is he responding to the needs of the people? Hardly. Par for the course of Russia, no?

  14. If you try to instill your opinion by putting pressure on employers, advertisers etc.., then it is you who is being a bully that is trying to sway peoples opinions. And maybe your advertisers are the ones who should be concerned.

  15. Yep. We are trying to impose our culture and values on the Arab world. How’s that working out for ya ? We are trying to impose our values and culture on the Russian nation and they have every right to be angry , no matter how wrong we think these antigay laws are. Work from within to bring enlightenment. Boycotts almost never work, they only strengthen the resolve of those being boycotted.

    And for God’s sake, not everyone that has a different opinion that you is a homophobe. Put that card back in the deck.

  16. I don’t disagree with the spirit of this post, because Ted Bird’s position is indefensible as one of cultural differences. But do you really think so little of athletes and radio listeners’ intelligence? Simply hearing Bird’s opinion on the matter won’t magically transform non-homophobes into people opposed to gay rights, and there are certainly many opposing views out there, like yours.

  17. Adam Goldenberg. Professional homosexual.

  18. Russia doesnt have gay marriage so their intolerant homophobes? Get over it Adam. Marriage is not a basic human right. Want maybe–but not a right. You seem more intolerant then the people and country your speaking of in your article.

    • So marriage is a privilege that only heterosexuals receive? No one’s saying it’s a human right, but being against it automatically makes you a bigot.

      Marriage isn’t “holy matrimony”, it’s a legal bond that confers numerous financial and social benefits to the parties involved.

      • If the definition if marriage in your land is determined by the state, denying the state-defined status on the basis of the definition is perfectly justifiable. If you disagree you must advocate to change your government. Fair enough.

        If the definition of marriage is determined for you by the religion you follow, you must either somehow change the religion (usually not legitimately possible – Allah is unlikely to change much), scrifice your support of that religion, or accept that your views on the subject will inevitably be in conflict with your religious beliefs. Or I suppose you could also change your views on homosexuality.

        I find the whole topic very interesting because the arguments of the Russians in favour of their anti-gay propaganda policies are extremely similar to the arguments of the French in forbidding Muslim clothing in secular schools. The viewpoint always boils down to the base assumptions. And all viewpoints are a form of bigotry in the sense that if my viewpoint is right no other viewpoint can be right. This includes pro-gay viewpoints as well.

  19. To be against practice of the “act” of homosexuality is not to be a homophobe. I’m against homsexual sex on moral grounds. That doesn’t mean I either hate or are afraid of homsexuals/lesbians or feel they should be discriminated against as in Russia or Muslim states. It just means I think they are morally wrong. The term “homophobe” is just an ad hominem, peurile, and hateful attack on most of us who do not hate homosexuals/lesbians and is overused by those who are intolerant of opposing vews on the matter. You know, hate the sin, but not the sinner.

    • Curious as to what these moral grounds are. Also, what do you consider to be the “act” of homosexuality. Is it engaging in sexual relations? Holding hands in public? Or just merely being same-sex attracted?

      • Hi, Murray. To answer your two questions, those of the same sex using each other’s body for sexual gratification was my term for “the act of homosexuality” which is morally wrong. i.e. not conforming to a standard of proper conduct.

        • Thanks for the response, Ken. However I am wondering why “the act of homosexuality” as you described it is morally wrong? What is your definition of “conforming to a standard of proper conduct”?

          • Murray, my definition of “conforming to a standard of proper conduct” is having sex within the confines of marriage with a member of the opposite sex. Thanks for asking.

    • Replying to you from another thread.
      I’m reading “C.F Martin and his guitars 1796-1873 by Philip F. Gura right now. Fantastic book. I have a Martin acoustic kit that I bought in a factory tour. A Dreadnought that I have to put together.
      My main bass is a modified Fender Jazz Fretless. No lines or markers. I listen to everything and jazz is a great form of music that can go many places. Nice collection. Need to get me a Tele again.

    • Please stop talking

      • Why, was it something I said?

    • I just don’t see how others sexual preference is any of your or anybody else’s business . Homo sexual have been around since the beginning of man

      • So has murder, but that doesn’t make it right. Besides, your missing the point. It ‘s my opinion which I have a right too, just as you have. It doesn’t mean we go around stoning those who are homosexual/lesbians. We don’t hang or stone those who commit adultery or cheat on their spouses even though it’s wrong I’m sure you would agree. It’s an opinion.

        • Murder is a crime and it’s a sin in the commandments . I don’t see homosexuality as a crime or a sin . I have my opinion on real women . they are nosey and invasive

          • So you see, we all have an opinion on something. Thanks for proving my point.

          • Of course you have a right and I would fight for you to keep that right

          • And I you. You see we can agree on something.

  20. this article is heterophobic. did it ever occur to the author that people are entitled to their principles?

    • Principles is that’s whats passing for principles these days

  21. Conservative values surfaced from the sewers in Canada

    • and yet socialist values are still there….

      • socialist values is what makes Canada great. It certainly makes libertarians life easier

        • So you are saying Canada’s values are in the sewer? Typical socialist.

          • your are a typical Calgarian confused and insulting all at the same time / I really pity you

          • “your are”? You mean “you are”? And yet you choose to live in Calgary? You are quite the donkey.

          • Learn how to spell!

  22. Does Macleans know they’re publishing stuff by a man described by many as a creepy Twitter stalker who mocks dead Christians?