Ben Johnson: The King of Scapegoats

The public’s recent kangaroo court ruling on Ray Rice reminds me of one of the greatest scapegoats in memory: Ben Johnson. Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsFor years, Mr. Johnson was seen as Canada’s great hope in Track and Field. He was watched by millions as he trained for the 100 meter dash, sprinting, flexing and smiling day in and day out. He went on to set a world record in the event. Canada had the world’s fastest man.

He arrived at the 1988 Seoul Olympics with a country’s hopes on his back and won the gold medal – annihilating the competition, including hated rival Carl Lewis, and setting another world record. Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsHe was immediately coronated by the country, as much a Canadian sporting king as Paul Henderson or Terry Fox. Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsAnd then…Mr. Johnson tested positive for steroids. Suddenly there was no medal, no record and no coronation. Mr. Johnson was transformed – in less than 9.8 seconds – into an immigrant Canada never should have allowed in. He was branded a traitor. Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsIn due course, the critical eyes turned to the doctors and coaches. However the spotlight lost focus when it came to the real problem, on why Mr. Johnson was on a mission to win at all costs. Whose idea was all that? The coaches? The Canadian Track and Field Association? The media? The public? Ben Johnson: The King of ScapegoatsAs odd as it seems to me, even today, 25 years later, Mr. Johnson is considered with a collective shame. Even now. As guilty as Ben Johnson was, as guilty as Mr. Rice may be, the real crime committed here is not by these individuals, but by a society that craves blood, the crime of reveling in a public execution.

Ben Johnson: The King of Scapegoats

Pink Tights and Empty Net Goals

In years gone by, I had a sports column for a now-defunct weekly in Toronto, Metropolis. The following is an abridged version of my article, Pink Tights and Empty Net Goals, published on April 12, 1990:

The beer ads say it all, the same old glorified fantasy of breasts and buns, another ode to the faceless jiggles of procreative dolls. Pink Tights and Empty Net GoalsWomen have never been accepted as equals in sports. In spite of the occasional accolade in tennis or track, they cannot shake the stereotype of cheerleader/parade queen, always the voluptuous muse proudly displaying her pearly whites and profound cleavage. Pink Tights and Empty Net GoalsSports Illustrated’s bathing suit issue has become an institution, Cheryl Tiegs and Kathy Ireland well-rounded icons, while films like The Laker Girls and The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are common viewing. This is what some might call soft-core pornography, the portrayal of women as objects, as vessels to be judged by their flesh, rather than their ability, character and intelligence.

It’s not as if sports is anything but entertainment, a time to turn off the real world, but despite what marketers might think, that doesn’t mean that minds have to dissolve and comprehension be whittled to a twig of barbaric need. To have women constantly reduced to physical parts, demeaned into a position of sexual subservience at every commercial break and sideline shot, is to maintain the pathetic consciousness of master and slave, owned and owner. Pink Tights and Empty Net GoalsMen seem to have no need of female athletic heroes – unless synchronized swimmers can be dug up to substitute for a ‘disgraced’ demi-god (Ben Johnson) – no desire to cheer for “her” achievement when we can have “his”; “her” achievement is always second-best. Examples are inexhaustible: Grand Slam tennis always feature the Women’s Final first, the opening act to the Men’s; coverage of Women’s World Hockey Championships gave as much space to the color of uniforms as to the quality of play. Pink Tights and Empty Net GoalsEven in something as low profile as The Toronto Star’s “Stars of the Week” – a weekly feature on the sporting achievements of the city’s kids – it is a rarity to find even one girl in the lot. It’s as if women aren’t capable of anything physical except sex, as if they can’t run, jump and strive as well. A look to the sports pages in tabloids confirms this, where between the stories and statistics are the advertisements for strip clubs and phone sex. Pink Tights and Empty Net Goals

Male domination seeks to portray women as a toy, a thing that looks great when wet, that acts as fodder for the mendacious, a perambulator for the lazy. Sport doesn’t need it, nor even insinuate it; sport is about the triumph of the body, not its exploitation.

Perhaps there has been a change in the last 20 years, in soccer but that’s about it. The ads and sideline shots are the same as always, and now we have beach volleyball in the Olympics, a much more popular event in the women’s division. I wonder why. Pink Tights and Empty Net Goals