You know why the BC Lions didn’t make it to the Grey Cup this year? Because they ducked an opportunity to support gay athletes and break new ground in the Canadian Football League (CFL).
Okay, maybe not. Maybe our defending champions lost the Western final Nov 18 because the Calgary Stampeders thoroughly outplayed them and wanted it more.
But I’d rather believe in karma.
And karma would call the cowardly Lions on their “polite refusal” to participate in a gay-friendly message that could have benefited so many.
When Xtra first approached the Lions for an interview in September, San Francisco’s National Football League (NFL) team had just released a groundbreaking gay-friendly message in a sport known for its macho locker-room culture.
“Two weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers made history in the NFL when they created the first It Gets Better video to support gay youth,” I wrote to Lions communications director Jamie Cartmell.
“Will the BC Lions pave the way for the CFL? I look forward to the opportunity to find out,” I said, requesting interviews with quarterback Travis Lulay, receiver Geroy Simon and coach Mike Benevides.
Cartmell didn’t delay.
“Thank you for your email,” he replied the very next morning. “With two home games in the next 10 days the guys are really tight for time and given the importance of the issue you are addressing, I’d like to have some time to not only discuss it internally before committing to your request, but also ensure we’re putting the right people in front of this message. I will be in touch later on in September.”
Great, I thought, totally encouraged. Sounds like the Lions are going to step up just as the Canucks stepped up earlier this year, when Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin supported the Burke family’s You Can Play campaign and Manny Malhotra later walked in the Pride parade to thunderous applause.
It was not to be.
September ended. October began. Not a word from Cartmell.
I tried again.
“It’s exciting to see the Lions leading the league as the Grey Cup playoffs approach,” I wrote to Cartmell on Oct 18. “I am still eager to showcase our defending champions as the pioneers they can be, leading the CFL towards a more inclusive atmosphere, welcoming to all, including gay players.”
“Are the Lions ready to make CFL history, as the 49ers did for the NFL, and take a stance against homophobia?” I asked.
Finally, five days later:
“After some internal discussions we’ve decided to politely decline your request,” Cartmell replied. “The BC Lions undertake a great number [of] charitable and socially-conscious endeavors and we believe at this time that lending our voice to more and more causes will erode the overall effectiveness of doing so.”
Really? Welcoming gay players will erode your other “socially-conscious endeavors?”
Cartmell noted that the Lions already work with BC’s Ending Violence Association to protest violence against women and “run school programs that touch on important messaging such as positive life choices, environmental awareness, literacy and bullying.”
All worthwhile endeavours, no question. But how would they be undermined by a gay-friendly gesture?
Unless the Lions are afraid of offending part of their fan base? Or members of their reputedly old-school upper management team?
It takes courage to break new ground, particularly in traditionally unfriendly sectors of society. Unlike a growing number of professional teams — including the Lions’ would-be Grey Cup competitors, the Toronto Argos who, on the eve of their Eastern final told Xtra they would welcome gay players — the Lions clearly lack the courage to lead.
Better luck next year, boys.