Before coming out to Whistler, I was immersed in civic election coverage for my previous employer in Winnipeg.
I was tasked with covering the ward of Elmwood-East Kildonan, where former Winnipeg Jets captain Thomas Steen was mounting a re-election campaign.
Steen's tenure on council was challenging and his campaign wasn't helped by being charged with assault after an incident at a local eatery in May. He spent a night in jail in July after receiving another assault charge. He registered for re-election the week after.
At one debate on the campaign trail, his legal issues didn't come up from the other three candidates or from audience members. When the moderator, local CBC reporter Caroline Barghout, decided to broach the subject, the response was disturbing. Audience members booed Barghout and told her to "leave it alone," including some who didn't otherwise seem to support the incumbent.
Steen said he couldn't go into much detail because matters were still before the courts, but pledged he wouldn't have run if he thought the charges would be a problem.
Steen was defeated by nearly 2,700 votes.
But the opposition to questioning Steen on the issue was baffling. He'd have to step down if convicted, and I didn't get the sense he'd cover the cost of a byelection out of the goodness of his heart.
Politicians are being taken to task for such indiscretions as adultery, so it makes sense to give them similar treatment for allegedly assaulting another human being, no? It's an innocent-until-proven-guilty system, but the potential fallout of guilt should be considered.
I was reminded of the encounter, oddly enough, when my favourite baseball team made a deal to bring back fan favourite outfielder Torii Hunter, who spent a decade with the Minnesota Twins.
While with the Detroit Tigers in 2012, Hunter told the Los Angeles Times that having a gay teammate would be "difficult and uncomfortable." Though he said his comments were ultimately taken out of context, in October, Hunter recorded a radio advertisement in support of successful Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, citing the Republican's opposition to gay marriage as one reason for his support. (Meanwhile, same sex marriage has been legal in Minnesota for a year.)
Hunter's contract with Detroit expired at the end of the 2014 season, and a handful of teams expressed interest in his services, even at the age of 39.
Hunter agreed to a one-year, $10.5-million contract earlier this month — an astronomical total, but still a drop-off from the two-year, $26-millon pact he'd previously enjoyed with Detroit. (It's still a steep overpay, but I digress.)
St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Mike Bernardino, who has never covered Hunter on a day-to-day basis, thought it worthwhile to ask whether he thought his views had any affect on his negotiations. Twins management said a major reason for the signing was for Hunter to provide guidance for a group of young players, but that might be difficult to do that should one of his Twins teammates this year be a closeted gay man, and even more so should that man decide to come out. It's fair to ask if some of these concerns came up during negotiations that ended with Hunter taking a pay cut.
After topics like his age and declining play had been covered in a press conference, Bernardino asked Hunter about his views on Dec. 3 (the reporter said in a statement later in the day the team was not granting one-on-one interviews). Hunter replied elusively, spouting a couple generalities before admitting: "It's something I don't like to talk about." When Bernardino pressed, Hunter turned to the other members of the assembled media and laughed before calling the reporter a "prick" four times.
Ballplayers don't bear the weight of the public trust in the same way politicians do, but are, rightly or wrongly, held up as role models. But how far into a player's personal views should reporters dig? In a Nov. 25 column in The Nation, leftist sports columnist Dave Zirin called on sportswriters to ask white athletes for a response to a grand jury deciding not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the August death of unarmed black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Zirin observed black superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Serena Williams had all made public statements condemning the decision. He noted Bryant's Los Angeles Laker teammate Steve Nash, who is white, joined the chorus, but argued white athletes aren't looked to for social commentary in the same way those of colour are. "The bar is 'Be white, play hard, and the world is yours,'" Zirin wrote.
Calling on well-known white athletes, he later added: "(T)his is the culture that has made you famous. If you want its blessings, then share its burdens and call for justice for Michael Brown. Either black lives matter or they don't. In other words, either the lives of your teammates matter or they don't."
With even clearer evidence in other police-involved killings in the cases of Eric Garner in New York and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, it's becoming harder to disagree with Zirin — "stick to sports" contingent be damned.
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