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Will momentum of watershed year for athlete activism carry into 2021?

An athlete with a megaphone, fist raised in furious protest. Teammates kneeling, heads bowed, linked arm-in-arm. Political slogans — “Vote Warnock” — across the chest of warmup shirts. A pair of shoes on a chair, customized with powerful Black Lives Matter images.

Some of the most enduring sports images from 2020 weren’t buzzer-beaters or goal celebrations. They came in the moments away from the game.

History will determine whether 2020 was a watershed year for athlete activism. And whether the momentum will continue in 2021 is still to be written.

Russell Reimer believes the momentum could continue. The founder and CEO of Manifesto Sport Management expects protests at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

“There’s going to be a John Carlos moment in Tokyo 2021,” Reimer said.

Carlos and Tommie Smith, American sprinters, raised black-gloved fists on the 1968 Olympic medal podium, an image revisited in recent months as racial injustice protests raged across the U.S. and abroad.

How would Reimer feel if the Tokyo protester was one of the athletes he represents?

“Incredibly proud. Incredibly proud,” he said. “Here’s the situation, I think one courageous athlete is going to change the entire Olympic movement.”

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux looks back on 2020:

Athletes around the world raised a collective voice in an unprecedented show of power. 5:03

Athlete activism will be a hot-button topic heading into the Tokyo Games. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees — a major power broker in the Olympic arena — made a bold move last month, announcing they won’t punish athletes for peaceful protests in Tokyo.

WNBA instrumental in Senate race

Canada has taken a softer stance. The majority of Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes recently surveyed don’t support protests on the field of play, including the podium or opening and closing ceremonies. The COC athletes commission, which was so instrumental in postponing the Olympics amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sent seven recommendations to the IOC on protests, including establishing neutral spaces for that purpose.

“The athlete voice I think is gaining incredible momentum and we’re about to find out if the IOC is going to be like the NBA and listen to its athletes, to be an athlete-led and driven organization, or if it’s going to cling to what I think is an anachronistic rule that belongs in the past, and should have been contemplated and buried shortly after Mexico in 1968,” said Reimer, whose management company represents athletes such as figure skater Tessa Virtue, Toronto Blue Jays infielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner.

The NBA and WNBA led the way in activism this past summer. The WNBA has been instrumental in a tight Georgia Senate race, supporting Reverend Raphael Warnock after Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler scoffed at the league’s human rights messaging.

The race went to a runoff, and Georgians headed to the polls Tuesday. Loeffler’s own Atlanta Dream team made one final push for Warnock on Monday, posting a video message on social media.

“There are moments that make or break us. There are moments that challenge us. And there are moments that make history,” players said in the video. “And this moment chose us.”


Doc Rivers, centre, then head coach of the L.A. Clippers, gave a heart-felt plea for social justice in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Getty Images)

Canadian Jamal Murray’s shoes were a striking image last summer, left on a chair during a Zoom media availability for two minutes in the NBA bubble. They bore the images of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, two high-profile victims in police killings of Black people.

“I just wanted it to resonate with you guys,” the Denver Nuggets guard told reporters. “How long was that [his sneakers on the chair]? Two minutes? One of the persons on my shoes had a knee on their neck for eight.”

WATCH | Athlete activism tops 2020 headlines:

It’s the final episode of Bring It In for 2020, and Morgan Campbell is joined by Dave Zirin, and Meghan McPeak to discuss the biggest sports moments of the year. 21:18

Athletes made their voices heard. Will Canadian sponsors have their backs?

A storyline leading into the Tokyo Games, scheduled to open in just under 200 days, will be whether or not corporate Canada will support social justice messages.

‘Companies have had to pick a side of history’

“When you have times of such contrast, you can’t sit on the fence, you’ve got to pick a side,” said Indiana Fever forward Natalie Achonwa, a Toronto native. “That’s where companies have had to decide what side of history we’re going to sit on. And in how they’ve reacted, or not reacted, or what they’ve said or haven’t said, is how I choose or who I choose to partner with as well.”

Achonwa said Glossier’s “Body Heroes of the WNBA” campaign was an example of one company that got it right. The campaign highlighted WNBA players’ lives, routines and perspectives on beauty.

Nike launched a sombre “Don’t Do It” campaign, words on a black screen that began with “For once, don’t do it. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.”

“I’m afraid there hasn’t really been a lot to be encouraged by in respect to brands in Canada investing in consumer-facing campaigns linking to Black athletes and the fight against systemic racism,” said Brian Levine, founder and president of Envision Sports & Entertainment, a Toronto-based company.

Reimer said what’s required is a “courageous brand.

“The challenge that we have typically in Canada is that we don’t have really bold brand partners here that will do that work.”


Ademola Lookman of Fulham takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to his team’s Premier League match in October. (Getty Images)

Achonwa, who won the WNBA’s Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award last season, said the work goes beyond talking the talk. It’s great, she said, that individuals and companies posted black squares on their social media profiles in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“But what did you do with that? What more work have you done?” she said. “I love to hear a group say, ‘Black lives matter to us.’ Well, what does your organizational structure look like? How many people on your board are people of colour? Are you putting your money where your mouth is? Are you walking the walk? It’s great to talk to talk, but are you backing it up?”

Wes Hall took a week off as a mental health break after Floyd was killed on May 25. Hall is a Bay Street power broker but also a Black man living in the posh Toronto neighbourhood of Rosedale.

Companies paying lip service to BLM movement?

“Living in [Rosedale], one example that stuck with me was jogging through the neighborhood, and I saw a white woman fall in front of me, and I hesitated to help her because white neighbours would see a black man with a white woman, might call the police and white police officer shows up, the next thing you know I’m in handcuffs.”

So Hall and other prominent Canadian business leaders formed the BlackNorth Initiative.

“[We thought] let’s put our business minds together, and come up with a solution to deal with systemic racism,” Hall said.

Hall also feels a lot of companies are paying lip service to the BLM movement. He used an example of the NBA.

“Over 70 per cent of the league is Black, but three per cent of the coaches are Black,” Hall said. ” So, there is a lot of talk out there about, ‘Oh we do agree with Black Lives Matter, and we’re supportive, but their actions are completely contrary to those statements. And we see that in corporate Canada as well.

“That’s why we’re hoping the Black North Initiative, it’s not just a blip in the radar, we’re now holding companies accountable for statements that they make, and making sure that they follow through with those statements. Because it’s easy to do it in the moment. But a year from now, what’s your vision?”

The NBA season, a couple of weeks old, looks different than the Walt Disney bubble. There’s no “Black Lives Matter” painted across the floor. Players aren’t kneeling for the anthem.

Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said it’s important athletes keep up the work on their own.

“It may not say it on the court or it may not say it on the back of the jerseys, but it resonates when you’re doing things in your communities, to uplift your communities and to uplift other people. So that’s a big thing … make it matter.”

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CBC | Sports News

Activist, champion: Naomi Osaka named AP Female Athlete of Year

With tennis, like so much of the world, shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Naomi Osaka found herself with time to read and think.

And while she won the U.S. Open for her third Grand Slam title, she also stood out for speaking out about racial injustice and police brutality.

As noteworthy in 2020 for her activism away from the tennis court as her success on it, Osaka was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Year in results revealed Sunday after a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers.

 WATCH | CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux on the year that was:

Athletes around the world raised a collective voice in an unprecedented show of power. 5:03

“It was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others. It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people,” Osaka wrote in an email interview. “And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake [to name just a few] in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.”

Osaka collected 18 of 35 first-place votes and a total of 71 points.

WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart was next with nine first-place votes and 60 points, followed by Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt soccer player who kicked for the school’s football team, with one first-place vote and 24 points.

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CBC | Sports News

Jamal Murray was great, but he’s not the Canadian athlete of the year

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The person responsible for the Lou Marsh tie has revealed himself

Credit to Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post for admitting he’s the 1 in the 18-18-1 vote that resulted in Alphonso Davies and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif splitting the Canadian Athlete of the Year award. But his argument isn’t great.

Vanstone voted for Jamal Murray, who had a magical but relatively brief scoring run in the NBA playoffs. In a column and a series of tweets explaining his pick, Vanstone seemed most enamoured by Murray’s pair of 50-point games in the first round, pointing out that Kobe Bryant scored 50 only once in the playoffs and such luminaries as Steph Curry, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dr. J never did it.

That’s impressive, and Murray’s hot streak was one of the best performances by a Canadian athlete this year. But it lasted only a month, it didn’t lift his Denver Nuggets to a championship or even to the Finals, and outside of that stretch he didn’t really do anything special this year.

The Lou Marsh is open to interpretation, but none of the roads lead to Murray. If you think the award should go simply to the Canadian who performed the best on the field/court/rink/etc. during the calendar year, that’s Davies. He was one of the best players in two of soccer’s most competitive arenas, winning the Bundesliga rookie-of-the-season award and playing a key role in Bayern Munich’s domestic-Champions League double. When Bayern won the latter, Davies became the first Canadian men’s national-team player ever to capture soccer’s most prestigious club title. Along the way, he earned worldwide acclaim as perhaps the brightest rising star in his sport.

If you believe an athlete’s off-field efforts should count right alongside their athletic accomplishments, Duvernay-Tardif is a fine pick. He was an important cog in the historically great Kansas City offence that won the Super Bowl before turning his attention to treating long-term-care residents during the first wave of the pandemic. He put himself on the front lines of the fight that defined this year.

Murray? He’s terrific. His playoff run was spectacular and he could be headed for more great things very soon — both in the NBA and maybe for the national team in the Olympics. But he’s not the Canadian athlete of the year.


Alphonso Davies and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif were better picks for the Lou Marsh this year. (Getty Images/File)

Quickly…

The Canadian junior hockey team cut 16-year-old phenom Shane Wright. Like Connor McDavid before him, Wright was granted “exceptional player” status that allowed him to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old. He showed he belonged (and then some), leading Kingston in both goals (39) and points (66) in 58 games last season. McDavid was the same age as an OHL rookie and had 25 goals and 66 points in 63 games. But McDavid played in the world juniors during his second OHL season and Wright will not. He was among seven players released from camp today. Read more about the Canadian team’s preparations for the tournament here.

Kawhi Leonard’s wingman is staying put. At the behest of Kawhi, the Los Angeles Clippers traded a boatload of draft picks and players (including promising Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) to Oklahoma City for Paul George in the summer of 2019. It was the right move for the Clips because it sealed Leonard’s decision to leave Toronto and sign with them — turning L.A. into an instant title contender. But the team flamed out in the second round of the playoffs, and there had to be some anxiety about both stars being able to opt out of their contracts this coming summer. Imagine giving up all that stuff for only two years of George and Kawhi — and maybe coming away with no titles. But the Clippers locked up George today with a four-year extension that doesn’t allow him to opt out until the summer of 2024. Now onto the more important work: convincing Kawhi to follow suit.

The last golf major of the year is underway. Postponed from early June, the U.S. Women’s Open finally teed off today in Houston. Two Canadians are playing. World No. 6 Brooke Henderson was even through seven holes and tied for 25th place at our publish time. 99th-ranked Alena Sharp was one shot behind her through four. See an updated leaderboard here.

And finally…

Remember when Ross Rebagliati’s Olympic gold medal almost went up in smoke?

Twenty-two years ago, snowboarding was still trying to reach mainstream status in the button-down world of the Olympics. So when the sport made its debut at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, you could just picture the Grinchiest gatekeepers looking down from their perch (and up from their Cognac) to ask, “Who are these punks? And what are they doing to our pristine ski slopes?”

So, of course, the most stereotypical thing imaginable happened. After winning the first-ever Olympic snowboard gold medal with a blazing second run in the men’s giant slalom, Canada’s Ross Rebagliati tested positive for weed.

For a bit, it looked like Rebagliati would become a winter version of Ben Johnson and be stripped of his gold. He was even hauled into a Japanese police station for questioning. But it turned out marijuana wasn’t on the Olympics’ list of banned substances. So Rebagliati kept the medal and became an overnight celebrity, including an appearance next to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.

Rebagliati, who still insists the positive test was triggered by second-hand smoke, never appeared in the Olympics again. But he’s parlayed his 15 minutes into a business venture in the age of legalized cannabis. His name is on a line of cannabis-related products and dispensaries in B.C. called — ready? — Ross’ Gold.

Read more about Rebagliati’s highs and lows in Nagano in his own words, and those of some other key figures involved, in the latest edition of CBC Sports’ oral history series.

Tomorrow on CBC Sports

World Cup skeleton: Due to the pandemic, the Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton team decided not to send any athletes to Europe for the first few events of the season. But Elisabeth Maier is currently living in Austria with her husband (a bobsleigh pilot from that country) and their young son, so she’ll compete in Friday’s women’s race in Innsbruck. Watch it live at 8:15 a.m. ET here. And read more about Maier and the challenges athletes face in returning from pregnancy and childbirth in this story by CBC Sports’ Jacqueline Doorey.

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For Ness Murby, coming out as a trans athlete is about helping others — all while making Paralympic history

Unshackled from societal constructs and speaking with the joy and clarity of someone who understands fully the freedom that exists within self actualization, Canadian Paralympian Ness Murby begins sharing his story.

“I’m blind. I use a guide dog. I’m also genderqueer. Transmasculine. And my pronouns are he and him,” Murby told CBC Sports from his home in Vancouver. 

Then he laughs, a little nervously but also with relief. 

It’s taken 35 years to get this point — not without dark, lonely and searching moments, somewhat all but a distant memory now as Murby basks in this newfound ecstasy of being able to openly and publicly speak about his journey. 

He credits his grandparents, specifically his grandmother Shirley Dawn Murby, for igniting a spark within him at a very young age that for more than two decades was ruminating in his head and heart.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” she asked me when I was six years old,” Murby said. 

“And without pause I said a husband and a father. You couldn’t have done it better in Hollywood. That actually happened. It’s surreal.”

Murby is happily married to his wife Eva Fejes, who is responsible for getting him to Canada in the first place. The two met years ago in Japan and immediately fell in love. Fejes is a Canadian citizen and the two eventually settled in Vancouver. 

“I’m in awe of how she’s defined her life. I will say it is an honour to be married to her. I love her so dearly,” he said. 


Murby uses a guide dog for competition. (Submitted by Ness Murby.)

Born and raised in Australia

Murby was born and raised in Australia with limited eyesight and is today blind. He competes in the F11 category in discus, that includes athletes who “have a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception.”

He’s competed for his native country of Australia, Japan and Canada at a number of international events, including the most recent at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, traversing the world not only in pursuit of the podium in a myriad of sports but has also been unrelenting in his search to love and accept himself — the two are inextricably linked. 

“I had the embers of self-concept burning within me my entire life. My grandparents taught me I was enough just being me,” Murby said. 

“I’ve always known who I am but being congruent with that knowing and understanding that knowing has been the journey.”


Murby competes in the F11 category in discus, that includes athletes who “have a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception.” (Submitted by Ness Murby)

Destination complete. In a recent interview on the podcast Five Rings to Rule them All, Murby came out publicly as trans for the first time, speaking about the importance of this moment and wanting to be intentional about meeting it. 

“I wanted to be sure that I was able to represent where I’m at with conscious words. Words matter. This being the first time to speak openly about my gender identity in any setting,” he said. 

Despite potentially becoming the first trans athlete to compete at the Paralympics or Olympics, this was never about publicity or drawing attention to Murby — he makes that very clear. 

“It’s my experience that Para athletes don’t get attention. This was entirely about doing this openly and recognizing that it might help someone else,” he said. 

“Not doing this publicly means it’s less likely to be universally observed.”

Or talked about. And Murby wants people to ask questions, get uncomfortable and challenge their own limiting beliefs.

Murby speaks about all of this with the perspective of someone who has spent many waking hours and sleepless nights contemplating the cost of living incongruently and how that shows up in life and sport. 

“There’s never going to be a right time. And there’s never going to be a too late time. Being present and mindful in the moment. It is about who you are right here, right now. Nothing that’s gone before that changes the integrity of who you want to be,” Murby said. 

“I understand that living in limbo and incongruence can really be damaging.”

Weight of the feeling

It has been damaging for Murby, the weight of feeling like he wasn’t living authentically pressing down on him at every turn. But deep down there’s always been a desire to break through that — that time has finally arrived. 

And now as Murby sets his sights on competing in Tokyo in discus at next summer’s Paralympics for Canada, he wants his story to serve an important tale about what it means to not only create space for oneself but also to create space for those around us to show up fully. 

“This has shown me that it does feel better to be open, to be out, to be me. I look forward to competing unquestionably as me, because it will be the very first time. This is the very first time for me where the trade off won’t be my self concept. And that’s huge,” he said. 


Murby understands the universality of his struggle and is imploring people to see the humanity that exists within everyone. (Submitted by Ness Murby)

And while this is just one person’s story about acceptance, resilience and growth, Murby understands the universality of his struggle and is imploring people to see the humanity that exists within everyone. 

“Just because we can’t imagine doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I am just one person but I am not the only person. It’s imperative we don’t assume anyone else’s experience but that we do invite it to the table. There’s enough space for all of us,” he said. 

“Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Allyship is active and it has to be intentional. Assuming it exists as a matter of course, doesn’t make it so. It necessitates our conscious consideration. We need to take on the accountability and carve out spaces for each other, especially when coming from a place of privilege.”

Murby exemplifies the intersectionality between sport and disability, social constructs and breaking through them — and has been unrelenting in first looking at himself critically in determining how to move forward and then also inviting those around him to do the same.

“Our present orthodoxy doesn’t nurture our self concept as being the utmost importance and doesn’t respect the gravity of that. A really important message is that without our personal concept, we cannot self actualize,” he said.

Above all, Murby stresses that none of this is easy and that it requires immense bravery. 

He says he’s been lucky because at the core of who he’s always been, there’ve been embers of self-concept burning within him. 

“I urge everyone to ask the question when we are speaking and when we act, for what purpose and what cost?” Murby said. 

“That should be at the fundamental core.”

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Pride in a pandemic: Athlete panel discusses weight of being LGBTQ+ in modern sports

This particular weekend in Toronto is normally filled with rainbow flags and thousands of people taking to the streets in celebration of Pride.

Corporations fill their windows with messages of support. Politicians promise change for a better future. And professional sports teams change their logos on social media accounts to rainbow-coloured backdrops, enthusiastically proclaiming inclusion no matter one’s sexual orientation.

The activism, at least for a few days, is hard to miss. But this year’s celebrations are different. People aren’t able to gather in a way they have in the past.

It’s Pride Month in the midst of a pandemic, in the backdrop of weeks and weeks of social unrest in Canada and the United States calling for the end of systemic racism and police brutality after the killing of George Floyd.

Oppressed groups and their allies are coming together in an unparalleled way in the quiet of all those cancelled events.

“If you think you’re going to talk about Pride and LGBTQ people and you didn’t think you were going to talk about racism, classism, sexism, all these isms, then you really have to interrogate what you think Pride is about,” Wade Davis said.

WATCH | CBC Sports panel details challenges of being LGBTQ+ in sports today:

CBC Sports panellists Devin Heroux, Erin McLeod, Wade Davis and Anastasia Bucsis explain why this year’s Pride demands tough conversations about the intersectionality of class, sex, race and ability. 54:01

Davis is an openly gay, Black, former NFL player living in the United States. He bravely shared his coming out story in 2012 after he retired from football.

Davis, alongside Canadian women’s soccer national team keeper Erin McLeod, as well as former Olympic speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, took part in a special CBC Sports Pride panel. The group took a critical look at not only what it means to be LGBTQ+ in sports today, but inventory of all oppressed groups.

Davis says protests in the U.S. and Canada, alongside Pride, shows the intersectionality and commonality between all social injustices.

“If you’re not thinking it’s about all of those identities and how they come together, then my question would be are you really an ally for Pride folks or are you an ally for one type of Pride person who you have in your mind?,” Davis asks.

The importance of this moment in the midst of this pandemic as people turn inward and have tough conversations around racism and homophobia can’t be overstated, Bucsis says.


Canada’s Anastasia Bucsis competes in the women’s 500m speed-skating long track at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Bucsis says despite any success she was enjoying in her career, she couldn’t truly be happy until being honest about who she is. (David Hecker/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think Pride 2020 is going to be one of the most important Prides in our 51 years since Stonewall because it is so uncomfortable and we are having these tough conversations,” she said.

“We’re uncomfortable with ourselves. We’re not having parades and going to patios. We’re looking at what we can do to be better.”

There are no distractions and there is nowhere to turn from these pressing issues. McLeod, who came out publicly in 2014, echoes what Bucsis says about the importance of this year’s Pride.

“I actually think it might be the most important year we’ve had in my life,” she said. “A lot of sports aren’t happening. Things are put on pause. It’s a good time to look at systems.”

What is the cost of hiding one’s identity in sport?

Davis, McLeod and Bucsis spoke candidly about their journey through sports, sharing some of their painful experiences and how they finally came to a place of showing up fully.

The cost of hiding one’s sexual orientation in sport and in life is painful. Bucsis came out publicly prior to the 2014 Olympics in direct response to Russia’s controversial laws around homosexuality. It was a turbulent, but necessary, progression in her athletic career and life.

“I just got to a point where I was having success in my career, but I was unhappy because I was not living the life I was meant to live,” Bucsis said. “I thought, if I win an Olympic gold medal, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where I ended up because I was hating myself.”

That hate is something Davis knows all too well. For years in NFL locker rooms he put on what he calls his “mask of masculinity,” hiding who he was and protecting his secret of being gay.


Former NFL player Wade Davis, who is openly gay, talks to a reporter prior to the 2013 Chicago Gay Pride Parade. Davis came out publicly in 2012, nine years after retiring from pro football. (Scott Eisen/The Associated Press)

“The cost was loss of self. The loss of the opportunity to get to question who I was and who I wanted to be,” he said.

“If I showed who I was, my level of safety would be less and less.”

McLeod, who grew up in Alberta, can recall vividly how tormented she was in her early years of sports because she wasn’t like the other girls – and that was a scary, lonely place.

“When I was five years old, I was so pissed because I wanted to be a boy. I looked up to Wayne Gretzky. All my sports heroes were guys,” McLeod said.

Amplifying the athlete voice

All three athletes share similar experiences about how silenced they felt by the systems of sport and those who hold power within sport.

But Bucsis, Davis and McLeod all agree that’s changing and that the athlete’s voice in pushing for equality – in not only athletics, but all systems of society – is going to be paramount.

“What I’ve been thinking about is how do I use my power, my social and economic capital, to make sure I’m supporting people who are really pushing the conversation and risking their lives and freedom – to not just change the U.S., but the entire world,” Davis said.

Davis says at the root of homophobia and racism and all forms of suppression is sexism.

“Sexism demands that if you’re a man playing a sport, you must be heterosexual. You cannot be gay,” he said.

“We really have to speak to the power of sexism and how it impacts men’s and women’s sport. The reason I humbly believe the root of homophobia is sexism is because if a man shows up anything close to a woman [in performance] then you’re deemed gay.”

WATCH | Tewksbury, Thormeyer share experience as LGBTQ+ athletes:

One came out in 1998 as a retired athlete, the other in 2020 before an Olympics. The swimmers connect over their respective experiences. 7:35

McLeod says there is a double standard when it comes to being lesbian in women’s sports and being gay in men’s sports.

“I remember so many of my straight teammates saying, ‘I am never going to find someone because everyone thinks I’m gay because I’m on a women’s sports team,'” McLeod said.

“The pressure couldn’t be more different. For me, I have no understanding what it’s like on the men’s side because on the women’s side it’s so different. It’s almost like you assume everyone is gay on the women’s side until you’re proven otherwise.”


Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod salutes the crowd after a FIFA Women’s World Cup match in 2015. McLeod believes this is a vital year in the battle for social justice, saying the sports shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic allows for time to review various flawed systems. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

While that may be the case, Bucsis says there are still many pressures facing women in sport.

“In some respects it is easier for women to come out,” she said.

“But is it easy for a female figure skater? No. That would be a nightmare. We’re programmed to put people in boxes. Sport is a place where we police each other.”

How to be an ally

More than anything, McLeod, Davis and Bucsis want to help create an atmosphere where people feel they can have tough conversations. For people wanting to be allies, however, it can be difficult to know where to start.

“The number one job of an ally is to first interrogate yourself. So before you become interested in becoming an ally for a Black person, you have to interrogate what it means to be white. Before you want to be an ally for LGBT people, what does it mean to be heterosexual?,” Davis said.

“I am disinterested in people advocating for me before they’ve actually asked hard questions of themselves.”

WATCH | Black athletes use their voice to invoke change:

CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin reports on Black athletes finding their voice amid the rising racial tension. 1:45

McLeod knows it’s sometimes difficult to begin a conversation around race and sexual orientation, but that it all comes down to the approach.

“I think there’s so much power in saying ‘I don’t know’ and being vulnerable,” she said.

“So much of this comes down to ignorance and not knowing. You can never be in someone else’s shoes, but we can do our best to understand.”

And it’s in that understanding Bucsis says barriers between people begin to break down.

“Of course there’s a difference between ignorance and arrogance and being bigoted and racist, but if you’re truly wanting to be an ally, do a little bit of research. We all have Google,” Bucsis said.

“Come to it with an open heart. If someone comes to me and is struggling to have that conversation, if they have an open heart, I want to take them on that journey with me.”

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Athlete moms are still fighting for funding

Human rights ruling

Distance runner Hilary Stellingwerff competed for Canada in the 1,500 metres at the 2012 London Olympics. Two years later, at 34, she had a son and continued to receive her funding, as one of six “senior injury” cases listed by Athletics Canada. But in June 2015, after resuming training, she got injured and lost her funding.

“I felt that this was a human rights issue that my male counterparts weren’t going to be dealing with the same situation,” she said. “Any female would have to choose from injury or pregnancy – and, of course, you don’t choose to get injured. I thought this is discriminatory against women because it isn’t the same case for males.”  Stellingwerf believes there need to be changes at Sport Canada to secure women’s rights. She took her case to arbitration.

In the 2016 final ruling, arbitrator Carol Roberts wrote: “The AAP [Sport Canada’s Athlete Assistance Program] policy of preventing female athletes who have been pregnant from subsequently obtaining a medical card is discriminatory.” Although Stellingwerf won her dispute, her carding did not resume immediately because Athletics Canada was not convinced she could compete at the Olympic level following her pregnancy. But Stellingwerff made the Olympic standard, and got her funding reinstated in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Eight months after giving birth, Stellingwerf ran a career personal best in a five-kilometre road event.

Following the ruling, Caroline Sharp, communications manager at Athletics Canada, said the organization stopped using the term “injury card,” replacing it with “health card,” which encompasses more than just physical injuries, and updated provision 8.14.5 of its policy: “Athletes may be nominated for Health Card status due to pregnancy more than once.”

The language matters, because it can obscure even the best-intended policies.  Aside from pregnancy, any number of  health carding cases may not involve injury: mental health, and personal matters among them.  By the same token “retirement” is now called “transition” because it’s a better descriptor for young athletes whose competitive careers are ending.

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Player’s Own Voice podcast: Anxious times with athlete representative Diana Matheson

Anastasia Bucsis, podcast host and two-time Olympic speed skater, is not one to sit idle, even during circumstances such as this. So, as we continue to gather conversations for the upcoming season three of Player’s Own Voice, we are also testing our ability to work remotely and responsibly.

With the whiplash changes in Tokyo 2020 Olympic news,  POV podcast  turns to Diana Matheson, soccer star and Canadian athlete representive. The veteran team leader discusses how her friends, teammates and professional sports colleagues are coping.

Matheson herself is fresh off a  two week quarantine — the result of a National Team trip to a tournament in France. She’s seeing a mixture of reactions, athlete by athlete,  to the decision to postpone the 2020 Olympics. She sees pride and immediate relief that Canada led the charge to postpone the Tokyo Games … but that feeling is slowly giving way to more complex questions and reactions, and Matheson brings some of those to the fore.

It’s a quick check in, a snapshot of hectic recent days.  Player’s Own Voice will be back to regular weekly episodes in a few weeks.

Like the CBC Sports’ Player’s Own Voice essay series, POV podcast lets athletes speak to Canadians about issues from a personal perspective. 

To listen to Diana Matheson, or any guests from previous seasons, subscribe for free on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Tune In or wherever you get your other podcasts.

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Mikael Kingsbury wins top male athlete of the year honours

Mikael Kingsbury is truly a dominant force.

Kingsbury has nine wins in 11 World Cup starts the past two years. And the native of Deux Montagnes, Que., whose career average surpasses one victory for every two events (63 wins in 114 starts), shows no signs of slowing down.

In February, Kingsbury won the moguls and dual moguls at the 2019 freestyle world championship — a goal that was close to his heart after a disappointing performance two years earlier in Spain.

“I think that was the highlight of my 2019 season, to win the back-to-back at the world championships the year after the Olympics, and just hold all the titles right now,” he said.

After capturing an eighth consecutive Crystal Globe as season champion, Kingsbury is also a repeat winner of the Lionel Conacher Award, given annually to Canada’s top male athlete.

Kingsbury received 15 of 71 votes (21.1 per cent) in a Canadian Press survey of sports editors, reporters and broadcasters in newsrooms across the country.

Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Soroka, who finished runner-up in National League rookie of the year voting after compiling a 13-4 record with a 2.68 ERA, finished second with 10 votes. Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard and sprinter Andre De Grasse followed with nine votes each.

Tennis player Denis Shapovalov, Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid, St. Louis Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly and Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris each got six votes. Tennis player Felix Auger-Aliassime (3 votes) and Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (1 vote) also made the list.

Tennis player Bianca Andreescu was named female athlete of the year Thursday. The team of the year will be announced Saturday.

Kingsbury said it was “super special” to regain top form in Utah after a disappointing performance in 2017.

“I didn’t have the world championships I wanted in Spain, and in the 2019 season the world championships were in Deer Valley, and this is kind of where my dream started in mogul skiing,” he said.

“When I watched my first Olympics on TV, it was in Deer Valley on that course.”

WATCH | Kingsbury takes gold in 100th World Cup start:

Canadian Mikael Kingsbury won the moguls’ season opener in Finland with a score of 90.8. 1:17

Voters recognized his accomplishments.

“He continues to dominate his sport as nobody has before,” wrote Sylvain St-Laurent, head of sports for Le Droit d’Ottawa, to explain his vote for Kingsbury.

“I don’t think it’s wrong to say he’s the best freestyle skier in the world and he can even be considered the best of all time, given his accomplishments,” wrote Anthony Bruno of Global News.

Another legend of the sport said Kingsbury’s mental strength makes him so dominant.

“His passion for the sport, above all,” said retired skier Jean-Luc Brassard, who won gold in moguls at the 1994 Olympics. “He’s also someone who has an insatiable pleasure to compete, not to mention his exemplary diligence in training.”

“He also has an incredible capacity for anticipation. And since he also practised acrobatic jumps at the start of his career, he has a wealth of experience. He’s ahead of his time since he’s mastered jumps that aren’t even authorized in competition yet. “

Michel Hamelin, the moguls team trainer who has known Kingsbury since he was 10 years old, noted Kingsbury’s ability to adapt to different circumstances.

“In moguls, it’s difficult because the courses change constantly,” he said. “So, to win competition after competition the way Mick does, I find that exceptional.”

Hamelin said the secret to Kingsbury’s longevity at the top of the sport also reflects his undiminished love of taking on challenges.

“Like a kid who has fun with toys, Mick does that with his sport,” Hamelin said.

While he has fun in competition, the 27-year-old takes nothing for granted.

“I love watching videos of my sport. I have videos of all the World Cups since 2002, and I know the descents of all the winners,” he said.

Kingsbury thrives on big stage

Kingsbury also appears to be immune to pressure.

“I love competition. You see a lot of skiers training, but its a different story on course because of the stress and the pressure to do well,” Kingsbury said. “Me, I’m fueled by pressure, by competition.

“In the summer, what I miss the most is not skiing, it’s being in the starting gate, the last to go, having all the spotlights on me and having the feeling that I can stand out.”

Kingsbury appears to take pleasure in having a target on his back.

“We still have a few little things he hasn’t tried yet in competition, whether it’s jumps with grabs, a little higher amplitudes, with one more spin,” Hamelin said. “We should be going in that direction this year.”

Kingsbury, for his part, says he still has goals to reach.

“In World Cups, it’s far from a perfect record,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m going to win every race, but continuing to take risks, to ski to the best of my abilities and stay consistent,” he said.

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Tennis star Andreescu named Canada’s top athlete

Sports·Video

Bianca Andreescu is the 2019 recipient of the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year.

Bianca Andreescu is the 2019 recipient of the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year. 3:13

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Winnipeg athlete warns others about metal-on-metal hip implants after suffering life-changing reaction

A Winnipeg athlete's hip surgery was supposed to transform his life, but led instead to a nightmare of pain and illness that hasn't let up. The problems with metal-on-metal hip implants have prompted calls from Canada's orthopedic surgeons for mandatory participation from all provinces in a national joint replacement registry.

Neil McRitchie, 62, suffered rare adverse reactions — metallosis and systemic effects of cobalt and chromium poisoning — from the corrosion of his metal-on-metal hip devices, which are made up of a metal ball and cup. The complication was flagged by countries with mandatory joint registries several years before Mcritchie had his removed.

"I'm pretty beat up. I've had five hip surgeries now. It's a little bit of a hit to your force field shields," said McRitchie.

"I feel exhausted. That's how I feel. I feel that I need a beach to lay on for a year. That's how I feel. I feel like I've been through a lot."

McRitchie is a kung fu instructor and chiropractor in Winnipeg, but now he is too fatigued to teach and too weak to perform the physical effort required for his job.

He suffers other problems: disruptions to his vision and hearing, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, mood and mobility issues — all related to metallosis and metal poisoning, something he'd never even heard of back in 2006 when the arthritis in his hip brought him to his surgeon.

McRitchie was the ideal candidate for what was then touted as a solution for active people: hip resurfacing, which covered the head of his femur with a metal finish.

But it left one leg longer than the other, which caused him pain and problems in his right hip as well.

So in 2008, he agreed to what he said his surgeon suggested, the "newest model of hip": an all-metal Birmingham system with a large metal head that would give him "a lot of stability and tremendous range of motion," an offer the fitness buff couldn't refuse.

A metal-on-mental hip implant, like the ones McRitchie had replaced. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Today, after several litigations against manufacturers, 13 product recalls in Canada and complications causing revisions in thousands of patients, metal-on-metal implants only account for about one per cent of hip surgeries done in Canada, according to Health Canada, which is also conducting its own review of the devices.

At first, McRitchie's new hips lived up to their hype; for several years, he felt great and could move again.

"Things slowly started to go wrong," he said. "It was very low-level stuff and it started to creep up. Over time it ramped up and ramped up and ramped up, and I never could really figure out why I was having these problems."

Warning, recalls

He started to get sharp migrating pain throughout his legs that no one could explain. He suffered excruciating bouts of insomnia and was constantly exhausted. He lost his appetite and about 30 pounds.

Unbeknownst to McRitchie, Health Canada issued a warning about metal-on-metal hips in 2012 — about five years before his symptoms began — highlighting the very problems he was experiencing.

As the metal ball and socket of the implants move against each other, they can release metal ions, which can accumulate in soft tissues or in the blood.

The resurfacing system McRitchie got in 2006 was recalled from the market in 2009. The Birmingham acetabular cups and femoral heads he'd had implanted in 2008 were recalled in 2015 due to a high revision rate, years before they'd be removed from McRitchie's body.  

He continued to lose weight, mystifying his general practitioner, who suspected he might have cancer.

McCritchie is a kung fu instructor and chiropractor in Winnipeg, but now he is too fatigued to teach and too weak to perform the physical effort required for his job. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"He said, 'Look, you're super healthy.' 'Then why can't I sleep? Why can't I eat?' Nobody could give me an answer to these things."

It wasn't until the pain became localized in his hip that McRitchie went back to his surgeon in 2017. By this time, he also had other unexplained symptoms: depression, tinnitus, vision disturbances, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, even his voice had inexplicably changed.

Blood tests came back with high levels of cobalt and chromium.

So, McRitchie said, the surgeon replaced the left metal hip implant with one that had a ceramic head and polyethylene socket.

"I just went through nine miles of bad road. I mean, I just had months of sleep deprivation, massive pain, like ridiculous amounts of pain, where I just couldn't take it. So much pain, it didn't make sense to me," he said.

"And as a chiropractor, I'd be thinking mechanically: how can this kind of pain be possible? But it's because it has nothing to do with mechanics. It's got to do with toxicity. Metal that's affecting the body and affecting the nerves."

The pain returned with a vengeance in his right hip several months after surgery on his left.

"[Five] months ago, I started to go through the entire process again. Everything started to ramp up again," said McRitchie.

He went back to his surgeon, who immediately knew McRitchie was having a reaction to cobalt and chromium. This past summer, he had the second device replaced too.

Highlights need for better data

Although hip surgery is generally successful and helps millions of people a year, surgeons — like Canadian Arthroplasty Society president Dr. Michael Dunbar and Dr. Eric Bohm — say the complications from metal-on-metal hips highlight the need for better data collection in Canada.

The complications of metal-on-metal implants were first flagged by the United Kingdom and Australia in 2010, both of which have robust joint registries with mandatory data collection.

Dunbar said while the quality of Canada's registry lagged behind the U.K. and Australia 10 years ago, we're rapidly catching up — in large part because of the problems with metal-on-metal hips.

"It crystallized the argument, made it that much more clear, that we should be doing it too," he said.

In 2012, British Columbia and Ontario mandated participation in the Canadian Joint Replacement Registry, housed by CIHI. Manitoba mandated it in 2013. It's also now mandatory in Nova Scotia.

'A bit embarrassing for Canada'

Bohm, who co-chairs the national joint replacement registry, started a separate registry in Manitoba for hip and knee surgeries in 2004, which also tracks patient-reported satisfaction with their surgery a year later.

Of the roughly 110,000 joint replacement surgeries performed in Canada each year, about 70 per cent are reported to the national registry, he said, a number he'd like to see jump to more than 90 per cent in order to have dependable data. The information is already gathered by hospitals, he said, and it's just a matter of provincial support for implementing data collection methods and protocols.

"It boggles my mind that we're doing this very high-volume medical procedure that costs a lot of money and not properly tracking the outcomes of what we're doing," Bohm said.

Most hip replacement surgeries in North America don't use metal-on-metal implants. Manitoba stopped doing them in 2012. (iStock)

"I also think it's a bit embarrassing for Canada that we didn't have a national mandatory registry for so many years, and I'm hoping that these kinds of things really spur the provinces into making it mandatory."

Class-action lawsuits

McRitchie is involved in one of several class-action lawsuits against manufacturers of metal-on-metal hip devices. Smith & Nephew, which made the Birmingham hip resurfacing (BHR) system he had implanted in 2006, is named as the defendant. Guardian Law Group received certification for the class action in 2016.

Both McRitchie's Smith & Nephew implants from 2006 and his 2008 replacement devices are among 13 metal-on-metal devices that have been recalled in Canada in the past 10 years.

"Smith & Nephew is always sorry to learn of a patient that has experienced difficulties following surgery and we take any complaint about our products very seriously. These would be investigated thoroughly by our in-house vigilance and medical teams and, wherever appropriate, reported to national regulatory authorities," wrote a spokesperson for Smith & Nephew, adding that they could not comment directly on a patient's health status.

"The [Birmingham hip resurfacing] device performs better overall than any other metal-on-metal hip resurfacing device," wrote the spokesperson.

"We are confident that the BHR is a safe and effective product for use in appropriate patients and circumstances," the statement read.

'They're still being done'

An orthopedic surgeon in Alaska — who had metal-on-metal hip implants and developed metallosis and cobaltism — believes no amount of metal in a hip implant is safe.

"The bottom line is, they're still being done. The more critical problem is there were about a million done in North America. And it's the exceptional patient that knows what type of hip they have," said Dr. Stephen Tower, who also stars in the Netflix series The Bleeding Edge about problems with the medical device industry.

Health Canada has recommended yearly followup with patients that have had metal-on-metal hips, and "closer followup" for those with elevated metal levels.

People with a new type of hip replacement that they thought was better now worry about the implants' increased failure rate, CBC's Pauline Dakin reports. 2:22

McRitchie says his surgeon is partially responsible for not giving him ample warning of possible complications, even after his devices were recalled.

But mostly, he blames the companies who made them.

"I think, at the very top of the food chain I hold the manufacturers of these appliances and the regulating bodies that OK'ed them, that's who I'd firmly place my blame on as to who caused this to happen to me," said McRitchie.

Patients learned of recalls through lawsuits

Lawyer Doug Lennox, who has been involved in class-action lawsuits against manufacturers of metal-on-metal devices by Zimmer, Dupuy, Biomet, Smith & Nephew and Stryker — one of which has been settled — calls the metal-on-metal hip an "industry-wide failure."

"One of the things the class actions has accomplished was to notify patients of recalled devices, something which the regulatory system should have done, but didn't," said Lennox. He said in three of the class actions, his firm got court orders that required the hospitals to call and notify all patients who received the metal-on-metal implant from that manufacturer.

"I can't tell you the number of clients I've talked to, who, upon hearing of the class action, understood why they were in such pain," he said.

According to a spokesperson for the WRHA, the Manitoba registry would have identified any patient whose implant was recalled, and that patient would have been contacted. McRitchie denies he was ever informed.

"The fact that you're living with this toxin in your body actually makes me wonder why the people that had this aren't told that they had this. Because there's a lot of people out there, I'm sure, that had these hips — and they're not warned," he said.

Health Canada is currently undertaking a review of all scientific and clinical information about metal-containing hip implants, according to a spokesperson, an action triggered by information in scientific publications.

It will make the results of its review public, and may issue more communication about the devices "if appropriate," the spokesperson said.

In the past 18 years, Health Canada has received 829 incident reports related to metal-on-metal implants.

At left, a metal-on-metal hip implant. At right, the more-common metal-on-plastic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Metal ion issues were part of 20 of those incident reports, according to Health Canada.

While metal-on-metal surgeries were performed on close to 50 per cent of patients in the U.K. and about 30 per cent of patients in the United States, according to Dunbar, the numbers in Canada were "likely closer to five per cent," in large part because of Canada's public health-care system.

"By being conservative and evidence-based, patients in Canada had less exposure to metal-on-metal bearings," said Dunbar.

But that doesn't minimize the impact on those who suffered or are suffering a reaction.

'Something's happening to my brain'

McRitchie may no longer have the metal-on-metal implants in his body, but he says he's still suffering. Recent bloodwork showed elevated levels of chromium and cobalt in his blood a month after his right hip implant was revised in September.

He still has trouble sleeping, he is moody, fatigued, experiences "raging tinnitus," problems with his vision, shortness of breath and heart palpitations.

He used to speak fluent Mandarin, but has noticed a marked decline in his ability to converse with his partner.

"Something's happening to my brain," he said. "I'm forgetful."

He knows he's at risk for more serious complications, like cardiomyopathy and renal failure, but is on a one-year wait list for an echocardiogram to test heart function.

"The things that worry me are the things that are proven through science already," he said.

The FDA warning for metal-on-metal hip implants lists cardiomyopathy, skin rash, auditory and visual disturbance, psychological status changes and renal impact among other possible side effects from cobalt.

'I think it's unethical': McRitchie

"It's a known entity, it's known to be toxic," said Tower. "No one doubts that cobalt is toxic. The controversy is, you know, what are the thresholds for safe exposure? And what I think we're learning from the study of my own patients, is for some patients, there is no threshold for safe exposure, if you're dealing with probably 10 per cent of patients that react in an immune fashion."

McRitchie's speaking out about his experience to warn others of the risks that were never shared with him by his doctors, he said.

"That to me is unconscionable. I'll use the word. I think it's unethical. That people who are in harm's way are not told where they're standing," he said.  

McRitchie’s speaking out about his experience and health to warn others of the risks that were never shared with him by his doctors, he said. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The one "godsend" of the entire experience is that he's found "his tribe" in an online group called Total Hip Replacement News: a website where hundreds of people who have suffered or are suffering from metal-on-metal issues come together to share their experiences.

The group gave him a deep sense of community, he said, and a sense of duty to speak out about what happened to him.

"You're not alone," he wants others to know. And to anyone expecting hip surgery?

"Become informed. Because no one's informing you."

The problems with metal-on-metal hip implants have prompted calls from Canada's orthopedic surgeons for mandatory participation from all provinces in a national joint replacement registry. 5:19

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