When sensitivity becomes over-sensitive

That’s about where my patience as a hockey fan would become strained too

I don’t consider myself to be in any way a racist. Nor do I see a boogeyman or a secret agenda behind many of the scenarios that occur in everyday life in Canada.

There have been two particular incidents of what I would classify as “over-zealous political correctness” in the last week or two that both startled me a bit with the serious level of debate they stirred up – in one of the two cases I was a bit disappointed with the final action taken.

Sports-related and about colour, both seemed to create a great dealt of angst, anger or anxiety among far too many people.

First was the unexpected vehemence of the peculiar protest again the name adopted by Winnipeg Jets hockey fans for their demonstrations of support for their team in NHL playoffs – the celebrated Winnipeg Whiteout which is simply a hockey tradition that dates back to 1987 when fans of the original Jets franchise were asked to wear white clothing to home playoff games, creating a very intimidating effect and atmosphere.

It has now developed into one of Canada’s largest outside street party celebrations – with something similar taking place outside the Saddledome in Calgary for Flames fans and the Maple Leafs arena as Toronto “original six” team tries to extend its playoff run.

The second event was a similar run at the long-celebrated name, the Redmen, for Montreal’s McGill University sports teams. The University made a quick decision and has announced it will change the name of its men’s varsity sports teams after Indigenous students, faculty and staff said the name is discriminatory.

I find this a shame, not necessary and maybe somewhat hasty, although the name apparently has rankled some people for some time.

Suzanne Fortier, the principal and vice-chancellor of McGill, told students that same week the decision was made, saying it was based on new principles of commemoration and renaming that the university established in December 2018.

She said that ‘Redmen’ is widely acknowledged as an offensive term for Indigenous peoples, as evidenced by major English dictionaries, — adding “the derogatory meaning does not reflect the beliefs of generations of McGill athletes,” but that “we cannot ignore this contemporary understanding. Intention, however benign, does not negate prejudicial effect,” she said.

“Inclusion and respect are at the core of our university’s principles and values,” Fortier said. A steering committee is to be set up to come up with a new name for the teams through consultation.

Seems to me that’s not needed. Here’s a suggestion: how about an adjustment to ‘Redshirts’ – close enough to retain the meaning of the name in use since the 1920s; quick and easy and women’s teams can use the same name. But, it’s likely too easy for the university community, when they could put their debating team on it.

Back in Winnipeg, fans responded angrily en masse that over-sensitivity is really going overboard, and that too many people are afraid to say anything.

But Alexa Potashnik, the founder of Black Space Winnipeg, a non-profit organization that lobbies for safe spaces for Winnipeg’s black community, started the current fuss on the group’s Facebook page, with a posting, just prior to the start of Stanley Cup playoffs, suggesting the name of the playoff party be changed.

In it, she posted an image and the caption: “Have a look at these photos from past Jets pandemonium/fan appreciation. The four men wearing all white Jets outfits with pointed hoodies … remind you of anything?”

Sorry, but that’s about where my patience as a hockey fan would become strained too – in Winnipeg, the Whiteout started back in 1987 as Jets fans’ responded to the Calgary Flames’ Sea of Red during the playoffs.

That was at a time when the Jets home colours were white, not blue as they now are, but the tradition has stuck. Potashnik says she understands the white colour meaning – “but it’s the culture that we’re talking about,” complaining about the wording of a headline that called for turning Winnipeg’s downtown white again as playoffs returned. I wish I could be more sympathetic – would anyone say a wartime blackout was discriminatory? Hardly – and for me these issues always seem to quickly get blown out of all sensible proportion and tend to drag on from year to year.

It really is a bit of a tradition – and it’s by no means an annual one, for obvious reasons – no playoff, no problem.

For some it’s a gray area – but I don’t want to go there either – and I don’t was some argumentative seniors questioning my choice of words – and there’s no shortage of those either.

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