Woe, Canada: How Gil LeBreton Pissed Off an Entire Country
Gil LeBreton's Feb. 28 column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was 1,235 words. Not a one of them was "Nazi" or "Hitler" or "effyouhosers."
Why then did seemingly the entire country of Canada show up with fire and pitchforks, demanding an apology if not a lynching of LeBreton for his clever - albeit controversial - analogy comparing the superfluous spirit and unbridled jingoism of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Games to Berlin 1936? Because the whole world has grown over-sensitive, wholly oblivious to common sense yet simultaneously in detailed tune with the smallest speck of political incorrectness.
Honestly, I'm offended that we're so easily offended.
In short, Gil's column said Canada didn't exactly welcome the world. The Olympic spirit was somehow lost amidst all the maple leafs. Fair enough. Having covered 15 Olympics, he oughta know.
By all accounts the Vancouver Games were a disaster (dead luger, no snow, Opening Ceremonies malfunctions, etc.). So when Canadians partied in the streets and called theirs the greatest Olympics ever, LeBreton took - that's right - offense. I read his column the Sunday it came out. Insightful, I thought. My takeaway was that Canada's hockey triumph and chauvinistic propaganda diluted a supposedly world event. No biggie, but I got his point.
Others didn't see it the same.
The lesson here isn't that you can't ever never ever write the word "Berlin" in a column. It's how powerful the mobilization of social networking can be.
Oh sure Deadspin took its swings at Gil and the Canadian press manufactured him into an easy target, but a Facebook page demanding LeBreton's head on a frozen platter has more than 2,000 members. Gil has received 200 personal emails, three death threats and penned an apology.
"I wished I wouldn't have used the analogy," Gil told me last night. "But my big mistake was being naive enough to think people wouldn't read more into it that was intended and come away being offended."
Grudgingly, border fences are being mended. LeBreton has personally responded to every hate email. He says 50 or so have accepted his apology and one guy even invited him to a hockey game next time he's in Toronto. Canadian-born (oops) Star-Telegram publisher Gary Wortel offered a public apology. Some in the Canadian media are even ready to let the faux controversy die.
I've known Gil for 25 years. Worked with him at the Atlanta Games in 1996. He doesn't think Canadians are Nazis, or else he would've written it.
I get what he was saying: It's not that the principles of the maple leaf and the swastika were maliciously connected, just their overwhelming prevalence. Pro-Canada '10 was just as fervent as pro-Germany '36. Does the analogy open a sliver of a crack in the door? Sure. But, still, it's an irrational stretch to reason that LeBreton was connecting the goals of Sidney Crosby of Adolf Hitler.
"It's distasteful that anyone even thinks for a second that I might actually feel that way about Canadians," Gil says. "But I've had my say. Now they're having theirs."
In the end the galvanized, thin-skinned social networkers may be winning. The incident will likely birth two things at the Star-Telegram:
1. LeBreton will never again compare anything to Germany.
2. Tighter editing.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.