National Post (Latest Edition)

Leafs brass face backlash for ‘promoting’ homosexual­ity

Team logo, uniform to appear in movie with gay themes

- BY JOE O’CONNOR

Richard Peddie is accustomed to negative feedback. The president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainm­ent is a favourite target for disaffecte­d Leafs fans. And whether he is out on the streets, watching a game at Air Canada Centre or simply at his desk reading e-mail, Peddie seldom escapes from the public’s ire.

But in recent months, a portion of the hockey executive’s electronic correspond­ence with the outside world has strayed from the usual themes of trading Mats Sundin, firing John Ferguson or coaxing Wendel Clark and Darryl Sittler out of retirement.

“I have not been associated with an issue like this before,” Peddie said yesterday. “You see some peoples’ reactions — they are so raw and live — and it’s not completely surprising to see, but it is a little disappoint­ing.”

The hot-button social issue currently buffeting the Maple Leafs boss is homosexual­ity. Peddie and the Maple Leafs were mentioned in a seemingly innocuous press release in late November. The Leafs, with the blessing of the NHL, agreed to allow Canadian filmmaker Paul Brown to feature the team logo and uniform in the comedy Breakfast with Scot.

The movie, which just finished shooting, is about a gay couple: Sam, an ex-Maple Leafs player, and Ed, the team’s lawyer. The initial press release described the pair as a “very straight gay couple … whose lifestyle and relationsh­ip are turned upside down when they become guardians of Scot, a budding queen of an 11-year-old boy.”

Mainstream media, gay rights activists and Toronto captains past and present (Sittler and Sundin) all spoke in favour of the project in the days following the announceme­nt.

But not everybody was comfortabl­e with the movie’s premise.

“A lot of the feedback we are getting is from the States,” Peddie said. His e-mail address ap- pears on the Americans for Truth Web site, an Illinois-based organizati­on dedicated to “exposing and countering the homosexual agenda.”

The site describes Breakfast with Scot as a “work of homosexual propaganda … meant to target the last vestiges of resistance to normalized homosexual­ity among Canadians.”

Peddie’s address is also found on the Canada Family Action Coalition’s (CFAC) page. Headquarte­red in Calgary, CFAC is a not-for-profit organizati­on that opposes gay marriage and serves to promote a “Judeo-Christian worldview of Canadian society.”

CFAC co-founder and executive director Brian Rushfeldt yesterday condemned the Leafs for getting involved in “sex promotion.”

Earlier this week, he told the Los Angeles Times that Breakfast with Scot was “another attempt to normalize homosexual behaviour, and [the producers] assume theMaple Leafs will help the cause.”

We’ve been to Taylor Field and to Winnipeg. No one who loves the CFL is under any allusions about it being a mega-bucks entity. That doesn’t bother us.

What if, after years upon years of cheating on salaries, they installed their new salary management system, and then told fans and media, “Look, we’re tired of trying to buffalo you people year after year. Here’s a Web site where you can find all of the player salaries and the team payrolls. And at the end of the season, when we levy fines on the teams that overspent the cap, we’ ll send out a press release documentin­g the infraction­s.”

Well, after a PR man came out late last week and ensured that the league would not be doing anything of the sort, Michael Copeland, the chief operating officer, told reporters in Montreal this week: “There will be some transparen­cy at the end of the year. The extent and the nature remain to be seen.”

For years, CFL teams have cut side deals, under-reported salaries and been completely untrustwor­thy when it comes to payroll. They have admitted publicly that all eight teams overspent what had been a guideline for a salary cap in recent years, and this year they came up with a Salary Management System. There will be no more cheating under this new system, they announce. Still, they are not going to give the system any transparen­cy.

That translates to a league that has lied about salaries since forever looking you in the eye and saying, “We’re honest now. But you’ ll have to trust us on that.”

“I’d rather it just be totally transparen­t,” Eskimos CEO Rick LeLacheur told The Edmonton Journal. “I don’t think we should have anything to hide. The players are making reasonable money. They’re making nothing close to the NHL, NFL or NBA. But in terms of making a living, they’re making a pretty good salary. So I don’t think they should be embarrasse­d.”

The CFL Players’ Associatio­n should only be embarrasse­d if they refuse to demand that salaries be disclosed. Right now, the union is leaning towards keeping salary figures quiet — and if you can believe this, the Eskimos are one of the leading proponents on behalf of salary disclosure — but you have to wonder why anyone at CFLPA central would balk.

Salary disclosure made rich, rich men out of players in several other North American pro sports. The NHLPA lists salaries right next to each player’s name on its Web site. Baseball players figured it out in the ’70s. It might not make CFL players rich, but historical­ly salary disclosure creates salary escalation. What could the union possibly have to lose?

It is time for change in the CFL. Even the Eskimos are coming clean.

“Historical­ly, the Eskimos have not been as open and transparen­t on disclosing financial statements as we are now,” LeLacheur admitted. “We’re disclosing an audited financial statement now that’s signed by Pricewater­houseCoope­rs.”

They might truly be doing it above-board. But until we see the numbers for ourselves, the CFL deserves only as much trust as it has earned.

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