Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's not a black or white town

Kane says he's experienced racism on social media, but not face to face here

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Evander KANE'S protests regarding racism are important and legitimate, but to twist his words and paint a picture of Winnipeg as a backwater where people of colour cannot work and enjoy life is unfair and an ill-conceived notion.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Winnipeg Goldeyes have long employed athletes of colour and they've been able to navigate their way through our city for decades.

"I grew up in South Carolina, so I've heard the worst of the worst when it comes to racism," said Blue Bombers defensive back and black professional athlete Jonathan Hefney, when reached on the phone Thursday.

"Winnipeg isn't Atlanta, Georgia, in terms of culture, but it's a great place to live. I smile at people and everyone smiles back at me. I've never heard anything racial in Winnipeg."

Hefney got into hot water on Twitter two off-seasons ago for questioning some moves made by management.

"People got on me, but none of it was racial," he said.

Kane had a good day Thursday drawing attention to the pitfalls of social media and bigotry in our society. We can't have enough of that kind of activism. So good for Evander.

Winnipeg is like any other city. It has its racists and its idiots, but Kane says no one in Winnipeg has ever approached him with a racial slur.

It all comes via Twitter or on message boards, and the boundaries of those mediums are certainly not restricted to the corners of Charleswood, Transcona, St. Boniface and River Heights. Those slurs can come from anywhere.

Kane made his original comment for an upcoming article when asked if he would face the same type of criticism he currently endures if he were white.

"I think a good portion of it is because I'm black, and I'm not afraid to say that," Kane told The Hockey News. "A lot of people pretend. People try to be politically correct, but you can see through that. But here's the thing, though: I don't feel like a victim and I don't want to be perceived as one. But do I think that's true? Absolutely."

Kane was greeted Thursday by a large media contingent by Winnipeg standards and was asked about his recent comments regarding race.

"In terms of that quote, I'm definitely referring to social media and that sort of stuff," Kane said.

"Nobody has ever, and I don't think anybody will ever come up to my face and say anything negative. It's more so on that (social media). Anybody can go on and have a look for themselves.

"Twitter, anything. I don't have a lot of the social media. I have a Twitter account, but that's pretty much it.

"Just different things that people can hide behind a computer and say what they want."

Blue Bombers legend Milt Stegall says he and other black athletes do feel a culture shock when they first get to Winnipeg.

"I won't say Winnipeg is a bad fit for a black athlete, but I will say a lot of guys, especially when they come up from the South, they experience some culture shock. They're so used to being able to see African-Americans and do certain things," Stegall said. "But when they're in Winnipeg, it's just not the case.

"But you have to come to understand that you're there to do a job and no one is forcing you to be there. You're getting paid to be there, so you adjust. Most guys realize people there love them and they're there to play football. Guys, whether they're in Winnipeg for a day or a year, say they loved it, were glad for the experience."

Stegall played in this city for more than a decade.

"I never faced racism there. There's been racism towards me, but it was on the Internet when I was kidding around and said hockey isn't a sport. My comment got put on YouTube and there were some bad racist comments," he said. "They were on the Internet. Were those people from Winnipeg? I have no idea. Some of those comments were truly shocking."

Kane has been slurred for things such as his haircut, choices in music and his style of dress. He was asked if such attention would be paid to him if he lived in a larger U.S. city such as Chicago, New York or Boston.

"Probably not. They have bigger things to talk about in New York," Kane said with a smile. "(Winnipeg) is a fishbowl and it's part of the job description and part of the territory.

"With the positive attention comes negative, and I try not to pay too much attention to the positive or the negative. I remember my junior coach told me today's news is tomorrow's ass-wipe. So that's the way I look at things."

Evander Kane shouldn't face racism. No one should. Not on Twitter or in person. It's abhorrent and needs to be battled. That's why Kane's story is an important one.

But to hang it on Winnipeg as a city more racist than the next is simply wrong. Not that Winnipeg can't learn or is above introspection.

We should all be willing to look inside ourselves and Kane has done us the favour of providing a reminder.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2013 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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