This is a column by Morgan Campbell writing opinions for CBC Sports. For more information on CBC’s area of ââopinion, Please look at … FAQ.
By Wednesday afternoon we will have chosen Canada’s best athletes for 2021, with the Lou Marsh Trophy going to the winner.
One of the leading contenders is Andre De Grasse, who set a national record with 200-meter gold at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and finished the games with bronze medals in the 100-meter and 4×100 relays.
Or the trophy could go to Damian Warner, who won his first Olympic decathlon gold medal in Tokyo. He opened this competition with 10.12 seconds over 100 m, the fastest run ever in the Olympic decathlon, and finished with 4:31 over 1500 m, an endurance performance that should be impossible for someone at Warner’s raw speed. It’s like a Chevrolet, with the speed of a Corvette and the fuel consumption of a Volt.
If you’re wondering how Marsh, longtime sports editor of the Toronto Star, would react to the trophy of his name ending up in the hands of a black man, this is a fair question. In addition to his jobs as a journalist and general-purpose referee – hockey, boxing and Wrestling – Marsh had littered his copy with racist comments in the past. Some of this at the time was ordinary early 20th century bigotry that didn’t sound offensive to contemporary ears in a city less diverse than it is today.
CLOCK | De Grasse wins historical gold in the men’s 200m in Tokyo 2020:
But marshes Anti-Semitism in Late Career is harder to rationalize for modern audiences. He referred to boxer Sammy Luftsping as an “aggressive Jew boy” and refused to acknowledge the deadly threat Nazi Germany posed in the mid-1930s when the rest of the world chose to side.
When Canadian sports journalists started voting on the award, the title of which Marsh was honored, his track record in the race didn’t matter. But it does now. Over the past year, a growing chorus of voices has called for the trophy we are giving to Canada’s top athletes to be renamed.
Not because I want to drive a nail into what Aaron Rodgers might call Marsh.Break off the culture coffinâOr think he deserves to be written from history. Marsh was a formidable presence on Toronto’s sports scene. This reality cannot and does not have to be changed. He will always have a place in textbooks and archives and on Boxrec where you can examine his entire career of two decades as a boxing referee.
But the trophy needs a new name due to the progress. Not passively, but hard-won by successive generations of civil rights activists and ordinary citizens who have worked to make Canada the multicultural country we currently live in. As a sports community, we can live up to this ideal by naming the trophy after someone whose heritage better aligns with the values ââwe value as a nation.
I say this because I know how difficult it is to go across different eras to compare types and levels of racism.
CLOCK | Warner offers an event-by-event breakdown of its decathlon gold:
Marsh once described as legendary Long distance runner Tom Longboat as “smiling like a raccoon in a watermelon patch.” This particular slander, one of many that Marsh has made against Longboat in the course of the runner’s career, is equally offensive and efficient. By using an old-fashioned anti-black trope to insult an indigenous runner, Marsh hits his target and causes collateral damage.
But he wrote those words in 1909. Thirteen years before this article was published, a ragtime piece called All coons look the same to me, was one of the most popular songs in America. Six years later The birth of a nation, which represented the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed the terrorist group as heroes, crowded movie theaters on both sides of the border.
With this in mind, Marsh’s racist comments on Longboat have been less egregious than the mainstream to contemporary readers. If you wanted to extend the benefit of the doubt to Marsh, you could read his words in the context of the blatant racism in the everyday media and describe him as the product of his time.
One could also point to his work as a boxing referee where he couldn’t ignore the color line of the sport. Toronto-based heavyweight Larry Gains held the Commonwealth title and the World Championship of Colored, but was never able to fight for the mainstream world title due to a gentlemen’s agreement that kept these fights completely white. Between 1926 and 1929, Marsh directed 10 of Gains’ battles, against both black and white opponents. Gains won all 10, suggesting Marsh and the judges treated him fairly.
The wrong side of the story
But it’s harder to categorize Marsh’s anti-Semitism as a simple product of its time. In the run-up to the 1936 Olympic Games, he criticized Canadian athletes who, because they were unsure about helping Nazi Germany wash its public image, were considering boycotting the Berlin Games. He also played down the inhuman treatment of Jewish citizens by the Nazi regime and dismissed it as an “internal German matter”.
Even then, people knew who the villains were in this scenario. European and North American powers chose their sides in the run-up to World War II. Of all the groups that could have used an ally in the North American press, the Nazis were not. Most people got it back then as if they understand now.
CLOCK | Davies’ dazzling solo performance brings Canada past Panama:
So if academics like Janice Forsyth, professor at Western University, and experienced sports broadcasters like Mark Hebscher and Gord Miller, say the trophy needs a new name, they don’t just talk. They recognize the need for rebranding that is more aligned with current values.
Hebscher suggests calling it the Terry Fox Trophy. If you ask me to collect names, I’ll sign with Fox and also offer Longboat, a trailblazer who deserves better press, or Barbara Ann Scott, the first woman to win the trophy.
Sometimes it is more important to update traditions than to honor them unchanged. The Cleveland MLB team did it. They have put down their racist caricature of a logo and when the game resumes they will step onto the field as guards.
Decades before my brief career benching in college football, my school, Northwestern, and our rival in Illinois played for the Sweet Sioux Trophy – a carved wooden figure of a Native American. Quickly the trophy was downsized to a tomahawk that we won in the two years I patrolled the sidelines.
By 2009, both schools agreed that the racist images of the tomahawk were offensive and out of date. so they replaced it with the Land of Lincoln Trophy in the shape of the stovepipe hats worn by Honest Abe. That year Illinois won the award with a 47-14 victory. My wife Still partying as I take the loss But also in ours shared house, nobody misses either of the two iterations of the Sweet Sioux. The transition was inevitable. Either you like it or you learn to do it.
So practice saying “Terry Fox Trophy” or something like that. Say it until it sounds good and you won’t miss out on Lou Marsh after all.