“Pavelmania: The Fuss Over the Russian Rocket”

May 1, 1992

Three articles about Vancouver Canuck Pavel Bure drew commentary from Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada, the Globe and Mail, the Village Voice, and LA Weekly. The first three articles that follow are by Daniel Gawthrop. The final three are the responses.

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Sex Sells, like a Rocket

Saturday Review
MIXED MEDIA

Sex sells, like a Rocket
 
By DANIEL GAWTHROP

Published in the Vancouver Sun on March 28, 1992

In the macho environment of pro sport, ice hockey is still considered “family entertainment.” Despite the game’s frequent violence, the National Hockey League continues to encourage an old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes image consistent with traditional values and orthodox masculinity.

Given this prevailing wisdom, it’s interesting to observe the snowballing media profile of Pavel Bure, the Vancouver Canucks’ “Russian Rocket” rookie sensation.

Bure, who celebrates his 21st birthday on Tuesday, has inspired more excitement in five months than any player in the Canucks’ history. Symbolic of the team’s most successful season, the “Russian Rhapsody on ice” has been photographed more often, in more situations, than any other Vancouver athlete in so short a period.

Whether signing autographs, relaxing at home, serving pasta at a Canucks benefit — where his apron sold for more than $500 — or posing for a fashion photo in Western Living magazine, Bure has been captured on film at every available opportunity. In the process, the rookie has become an instant media sex symbol.

Obviously, much of the initial hype was related to Bure’s commendable talent as an athlete, his impressive statistics and the mystique of his arrival in North America amid legal entanglements and contract negotiations. The press would be ill advised to ignore a player who — as Canucks media relations director Steve Tambellini puts it — “does moves in a National Hockey League game that some players would be afraid to try in a summer hockey league.”

In fact, Tambellini wouldn’t be exaggerating to compare Bure to a classical dancer or a world-class figure skater, pirouetting around opposing defensemen with a Victor Potrenko-like flourish.

But talent is not the only reason the Russian Rocket is getting so much attention. Bure, for those who don’t read newspapers, watch television or go to Canucks games, also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous.

Bear with me on this: I realize that good-looking athletes aren’t exactly news. The Canucks, for their part, have always been generous in their promotion of captain Trevor Linden — his wholesome, boyish charm has been exposed on the team yearbook, in bus shelter posters and in advertisements all around the city.

But Pavel Bure’s androgynous, fawn-like features are unique in the macho, rough-and-tumble world of NHL hockey. Indeed, from his first game last Nov. 5, much of the media’s coverage of Bure has focused on his smouldering sex appeal and exotic European image.

Bure’s debut against the Winnipeg Jets is a case in point. When the rookie first stepped on the ice, color commentator Tom Larscheid’s gushing appraisal of his physical attributes was so lengthy the folks at radio CKNW virtually had to call for a commercial. A few days later, Province reporter Tom Hawthorn’s introduction to the Russian Rocket (“soft-spoken and polite… Bure … has the cherubic good looks of a teen heartthrob”) could have been reprinted in Tiger Beat magazine.

Hawthorn’s article began by describing a Canucks practice in which the exuberant youth “squirted a stream of icy water on to the steaming neck of teammate Trevor Linden.” Later he informs as that “Pascha” — Bure’s Russian nickname — “is moving into a West End apartment, although his new wife … a U.S. citizen, will not join him here.”

In the text of a radio spot for Marine Plymouth Chrysler, Bure’s recital of routine ad copy — in his smooth, silky Russian accent — is followed by a suave announcer who comments on the hockey player’s progress in the English language: “Hey, you catch on fast, Pascha …”

In the January issue of Western Living, Bure is featured on the fashion page in a world-weary, James Dean-like slouch. Peering invitingly at the camera, he displays what writer Shelley Youngblut considers the same “Little Boy Lost good looks” as the original rebel-without-a- cause.

What are these writers and broadcasters responding to? Don’t other hockey players have lips like rose petals, bedroom eyes and fashionably coiffed hair? It doesn’t appear so: Pavel Bure, unlike most of his NHL comrades, would not look out of place in one of those athlete/actor/model Calvin Klein ads.

Is this merely an accident? Or have the media contributed to the Russian Rocket’s new career in fashion? Judging from Shelley Youngblut’s response, Bure’s a natural.

“He would make a great model, because of the way he was trained as an athlete,” she told me recently. “In the Soviet Union, when the coach says, ‘go to bed now, get up now, eat now, drink now’ … they do it — they don’t think. So when our photographer, Jane Weitzel, says, ‘raise your eyebrow this high,’ he did it perfectly.”

Like most “superstar” athletes, Bure also has impeccable timing.

“We chose him serendipitously,” added Youngblut. “We needed somebody who looked like James Dean and he was making all the headlines because he’s been signed and there was a certain whimsy in using Pavel Bure the Russian to mimic the most American of sex symbols.”

What’s interesting about Youngblut’s comment is that it reveals a possible paradigm shift in media perception of the male jack — particularly the hockey player: not only is Bure presented as appealingly un-macho, but he’s willing to be objectified for that very purpose.

“It was a cute fashion shoot,” Youngblut continues, “because our stylist, Brad Gough, was trying to get Pavel to loosen up. He kept saying, ‘You’re sexy — be sexy!’ and Pavel would go, ‘Okay,’ and he’d say, ‘Be a superstar!’ and Pavel would go, ‘Okay.’ Those were the words he responded to — ‘sexy’ and ‘superstar.’”

Does any of this bother Pavel Bure? Not at all, if a recent chat following practice is any indication. “It’s not hard for me,” said the amiable young Russian, in that soft, silky accent. “Some people need my photograph, so it’s not hard for me.”

Nor is it hard for the Canucks, who have done little to discourage their young star’s androgynous hunk image. The more celebrity players the better, says the team’s media rep.

“Pavel’s Flash and Trevor’s The Rock,” smiles Tambellini, referring to captain Linden’s solid image as teem leader.

“There’s a flair about Pavel that’s special. It’s that flash, the way he does things that’s exciting to watch….There’s so much talk about him because of what he does on the ice, plus the fact that he’s a young guy, a good-looking guy. Also, he’s not a cocky person. So he’s kind of refreshing.”

In the Canucks’ brave new world of winning hockey, Bure’s “flair” and “flash” are clearly an ideal marketing combination.

 

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Daniel Gawthrop: Desperately Seeking Pavel

Published in Xtra! West, November 5, 1993

Dear Pavel:

You don’t know me, but we’ve met before: toward the end of your rookie season, two years ago, when I stopped you for a few moments after a practice at the Pacific Coliseum. You were freshly showered, wearing faded blue jeans and a taut-fitting white T- shirt, your hair combed back in wet curls. Dazzled by your beauty, I stammered through a couple of banal questions about your sex symbol status with the Canucks.

Because you were still learning Basic English, you weren’t quite sure what I was getting at. But the Canucks media department sure did: in a Saturday Review article published in the Vancouver Sun just before your twenty-first birthday, I described your “androgynous, fawn-like features” including “lips like rose petals, bedroom eyes and fashionably coifed hair.” In fact, I told Sun readers I thought you were “drop-dead gorgeous.” Then I sent you a birthday card with a Daniel Collins photo of myself—dressed in hockey gear, in a completely campy pose—followed by an invitation to my going away party before I flew to England. But you never responded. Maybe you didn’t get the invitation.

Perhaps a media flack in the Canucks’ front office thought they had compiled enough evidence to disqualify me from ever talking to you again. But that would be a shame, Pavel, because I had a great story idea: I was going to write this wonderfully post-modern, George Plimpton-meets-Roland Barthes kind of essay describing what happens when a highly-talented, 21-year-old, presumably straight athlete in top condition meets an out-of-shape, slightly jaded 29-year-old intellectual fag for a series of rigorous workouts.

It would have made you seem really hip and ironic. Me? I’d come off pretty sexy as a result. Imagine, Pavel: our sessions of swimming, power skating and weightlifting would have been followed by refreshments at a west end health food bar where I’d introduce you to all my friends, who of course would instantly adore you (thus guaranteeing the Canucks a brand new market). You would especially like my friend Alan, who has all kinds of neat books on the Russian monarchy—a subject that apparently turns you on.

In any case, my efforts to book an interview were completely ignored by the Canucks’ p.r. department, once I had sent them a copy of my first article about you. Despite two separate faxes, a letter, and four or five phone calls, it took about two months before media relations director Steve Tambellini finally left an awkward message on my machine telling me it wasn’t “possible” to do the interview. This was rather strange, Pavel, since I had never been treated this way in five years as a working journalist: despite having written for the London Financial Times, the Economist, the Vancouver Sun and Georgia Straight, I was somehow not good enough for the Canucks.

Meanwhile, Mark Leiren-Young and Lisa Fitterman had no trouble getting interviews. Now, I’ve got nothing against Mark Leiren-Young. He’s a prolific playwright, a competent satirist and a more than able reporter (although he was wrong about your birthday—it’s March 31, not May). But words cannot describe my jealousy when I saw his second article about you in less than a year, for TV Week magazine. It seemed the ink had barely dried on that playoff feature last spring before—voila! Another Mark Leiren-Young interview with the Russian Rocket, this time in the October 16 issue.

The same goes for Lisa Fitterman. Fitterman, an upwardly mobile, Reporter-With-Attitude with the Vancouver Sun, gushed her way through a front-page feature on you last spring, leaving no doubt that she relished every moment of your encounter. But why should she be allowed to have her beefcake and eat it, and I’m not? Ms. Fitterman is no more knowledgeable about hockey than I am, and her metaphors are no more poetic “His lips are like ‘rose petals’,” I corrected her, at a Vancouver Sun party one night, “not strawberries.” (Ms. Fitterman was unimpressed. “I think,” she pronounced huffily, “that Pavel’s into women.”)

But what makes my desire to interview you any different than Ms. Fitterman’s? What makes me such a threat, when the whole world knows you can bench press 200 pounds 14 times? I only weigh 160. So please, Pavel, tell Canucks management than an injustice is being done—that you don’t believe anyone should be denied an interview just because they’re a fag.

After all, if this were New York, you’d be far more in demand as a sex symbol than you are here. If you played for the Rangers, you’d be expected to pose for Details and Vanity Fair—not stammer your way through Plymouth Chrysler ads on AM radio. If this were The Big Apple, you’d be courted by the likes of Bruce Weber and Calvin Klein; you’d be surrounded by ‘fabulous’ men, and you’d have little recourse except to enjoy it, one way or another.

But the Canucks, in their effort to market their product as old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes entertainment, have positioned you in this cocoon of conformity instead of being honoured that a homo journalist would pay attention to one of their players.
So c’mon, Pavel—whattya’ say we do an art gallery tour…and then go for cappucinos?

FOREVER YOURS,

DG  =========================================================================================================================

 

Hockey not just the domain of macho

Op-Ed: Voices

Hockey not just domain of macho

Published in the Vancouver Sun on Friday, June 3, 1994

ONLY DAYS AFTER Trevor Linden finally skates his first victory lap with the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden — seven games appears to be a reasonable prediction — Vancouver Sun reporter Kevin Griffin and I will be part of another Vancouver hockey team trying to win a championship just a few miles away on Coney Island.

That’s right: The Abe Stark Arena, located on a strip of land once known as America’s biggest family playground, is the site of the ice hockey tournament for Unity ’94 Gay Games IV and Cultural Festival, June 18-25.

It will be especially satisfying to arrive in the Big Apple so soon after the Canucks. After hosting Gay Games III in 1990 and passing on the torch to New York City, who could have guessed that Team Vancouver’s arrival in Manhattan four years later would come on the heels of the Canucks’ first Cup final appearance in 12 years?

Truly, I can think of no better a storybook finish than for the Rangers to succumb to Kirk McLean’s goaltending heroics, thus continuing their own Cup drought for a 55th year.

The Canucks must win the Stanley Cup — my own queer reality demands it.

It’s true that I probably have very little in common with the guys who were revving their engines on Robson Street in celebration of the Canucks’ triumph over the Leafs. And my own lifestyle and social milieu doesn’t exactly fit the Canuck’s marketing profile of the average fan. But gosh darn it: I’m just as Canadian as anyone on Hockey Night in Canada, and nothing I’ve ever worn in drag could possibly equal the sheer campiness of Don Cherry’s wardrobe.

So, for the sake of inclusion—the hallmark of Gay Games philosophy—I’d like to suggest that Pat Quinn and I are on a similar road together: We are both determined to establish Vancouver’s hockey supremacy over the big boys back East.

Both our objectives are honorable: Mr. Quinn’s is to show the world that a young team with good chemistry and great goaltending can beat the best team money can buy; mine is to show the world that hockey doesn’t always have to be the domain of macho straight men, and that the greatest qualities of our national sport—skating, passing, playmaking finesse—can be demonstrated without having to intimidate one’s opponent.

So, first the Canucks take Manhattan; then gays and lesbians take the UN. (The June 26 march on the United Nations commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, an event in New York City that sparked the modern gay and lesbian liberation movement.)

Perhaps one day the Canucks will cheer us on as much as people like Griffin and me have cheered them on for most of their existence.

Mr. Quinn, I’ve heard, appreciates the loyalty of his fans. Every last one of them.

 

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All Vancouver Coming Out to Support Bure

HOCKEY FANS / A Vancouver gay activist is urging the Canucks to market star forward Pavel Bure in all communities

All Vancouver coming out to support Bure
 
BY MIRO CERNETIG
GLOBE AND MAIL
June 4, 1994
British Columbia Bureau Vancouver

IT isn’t just the teeny boppers who are swooning over Pavel Bure, the top goal scorer in the National Hockey League. The Russian Rocket has become something of a cult figure in Vancouver’s West End, where gay hockey fans are watching the Canucks’ run at the Stanley Cup.

“He has a Rudolph Valentino mystique,” says Daniel Gawthrop, a local author and gay activist. “Pavel has a huge following in Vancouver’s gay community. … He has an androgynous look.”

It may not be the sort of mom-and-apple-pie fandom that appeals to Don Cherry or the NHL board of governors, but Gawthrop has been on a one-man mission of sorts to remind the Vancouver Canucks that a large part of their following on the West Coast comes from Vancouver’s gay community, one of the largest in North America. He says the Canucks are too fixated on a marketing approach stressing that big-league hockey appeals to heterosexuals from the suburbs, the guys and gals who populate the beer commercials aired during games.

That this is the image professional hockey — and most players — project needs no explaining to most fans. When Ottawa Senators star Alexandre Daigle decided to dress up last October in a female nurse’s uniform, complete with white stockings, to pose for a hockey card picture, many in the NHL were shocked. Ottawa general manager Randy Sexton quickly issued a statement vowing: “That will never happen again.”

A contributor to XTRA West, a local gay newspaper, Gawthrop has used his column to criticize the Canucks — and the NHL — for holding too narrow a view of who hockey fans are. In one dispatch, titled “Desperately Seeking Pavel,” he wrote an open letter to Bure, attempting to go over the head of the Canucks’ head office, which had failed to come through on his repeated requests for an interview with the star.

“… please, Pavel, tell Canucks management that an injustice is being done — that you don’t believe anyone should be denied an interview because they’re a fag.”

It is Gawthrop’s supposition that the Canucks are doing a disservice to Bure by not knowing how to cash in on the full spectrum of his appeal, which ranges beyond the traditional image of the typical Canadian sports jock. (It should be noted, though, that the Canucks aren’t doing too badly, with Bure met by throngs of teen-age girls at every public appearance.)

“This isn’t even a gay thing,” explains Gawthrop. “It’s this idea of Vancouver trying to be a world-class city but having this small-town marketing view of how to sell Bure. They don’t know what they’ve got.”

In a November column, before a Canucks game against the New York Rangers, Gawthrop says that in The Big Apple a star like Bure would be giving interviews to hip magazines as a matter of course and would be courted about by other famous celebrities.

“After all, if this were New York, you’d be far more in demand as a sex symbol than you are here. If you played for the Rangers, you’d be expected to pose for Details and Vanity Fair — not stammer your way through Plymouth Chrysler ads on AM radio. … So c’mon, Pavel — whattya’ say we do an art gallery tour and then go for cappucinos?”

The Canuck head office did not return phone calls to discuss the breadth of Bure’s support among Vancouver fans. One office employee said she knew nothing of Bure’s following in the gay community, but added that the team always thought the Russian looked more like Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin than Valentino.

But while the Canucks may not be in the know, Gawthrop’s message that NHL hockey — and Bure — appeals to more than straight fans is starting to get attention.
Following up on a recent article he wrote for The Vancouver Sun, Gawthrop was again in the newspaper yesterday, using a guest column to bend the stereotypes of the typical NHL fan further. He tells readers that gay men in Vancouver will soon be traveling to New York, as well, to play hockey in the Unity ’94 Gay Games, keeping up Vancouver’s hockey image in the East.

“It’s true that I probably have very little in common with guys who were revving their engines on Robson Street in celebration of the Canucks’ triumph over the Leafs. And my own lifestyle and social milieu doesn’t exactly fit the Canucks’ marketing profile of the average fan.

“But gosh darn it: I’m just as Canadian as anyone on Hockey Night in Canada, and nothing I’ve ever worn in drag could possibly equal the sheer campiness of Don Cherry’s wardrobe.”

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Pavel Gazing

Jockbeat
The Village Voice
New York

PAVEL-GAZING

YES, WE KNOW, hockey season is over, but we’re still scratching our heads over what amounts to an avalanche of press coverage this summer about Vancouver Canuck Pavel Bure and his putative legions of gay fans. Analyses of gays (and the gay gaze) in sport are of course old hat here at the Voice, but running across incidental mentions of Bure’s thpecial fan base in places like the Daily News is still blowing our minds two months after the fact. Only a year ago, any kind of passing mention of homosexuality in the sports pages bordered on the inconceivable.

It all started last November when Daniel Gawthrop wrote a story for Xtra West, a Vancouver queer rag, on his unsuccessful efforts to secure an interview with the Russian heartthrob. Before that story ran, Gawthrop had briefly met Bure after a game and later wrote an article in the Vancouver Sun extolling Bure’s “androgynous, fawn-like features … lips like rose petals, bedroom eyes and fashionably coiffed hair.” Now the self-described “out-of-shape, slightly jaded 29-year-old intellectual fag” wanted to meet Bure “for a series of rigorous workouts.”

Gawthrop was pilloried in letters to Xtra West: “So much for fostering
understanding and compassion toward gays….You just scared away an entire
major-league hockey team.” (Jockbeat reckons it would be a hot Saturday night indeed were an entire hockey team to line up for a “rigorous workout” with an “intellectual fag.”) The Globe and Mail, “Canada’s national newspaper,” covered the whole topic, quoting Gawthrop as saying, “I’m just as Canadian as anyone on Hockey Night in Canada, and nothing I’ve ever worn in drag could possibly equal the sheer campiness of Don Cherry’s wardrobe.”

Cherry—a kind of Canadian Howard Cosell run at double speed and known for slagging entire nations (like Sweden) and ruining sensitive TV cameras with his loud plaid jackets and high white collars—was open to the whole idea of gay fans, going so far as to read some of Gawthrop’s remarks about him on the air (with co-host Ron McLean translating for him here and there; e.g., “’Campiness’ is sort of ‘tacky cool’”). This elicited a letter from a Vancouver gay hockey team thanking Cherry for recognizing gay hockey, which Cherry good-naturedly read on the air too.

During the Stanley Cup final, the Daily News’s Filip Bondy placed “criticism … for ignoring interview requests from the local gay newspaper” on a list of Bure’s problems, alongside high-sticking. L.A. Weekly interviewed Gawthrop as part of its Gay Games coverage. By the time NHL VP Brian Burke had shrugged off a question about marketing Bure to gay fans by saying, “I’m just a hockey guy,” we at Jockbeat were beginning to feel a bit light-headed from all the attention. But it’s not over yet: Gawthrop superexclusively tells Jockbeat that “the exposure has left the impression that I’m obsessed about all this, and I really haven’t thought about Pavel at all since I wrote that story in Xtra West last November.” Still, he’s planning to pull one last string to secure an interview with the Androgyne on Skates. Hey, we’d buy the video.

 

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Rocket in Whose Pocket?

Rocket in Whose Pocket?
By Paul Feinberg
LA WEEKLY #35,
JUNE 17-JUNE 23,1994

No, Daniel Gawthrop is not going to take the Vancouver Canucks to court. But the Canadian journalist/author would still like permission to interview Canuck superstar Pavel Bure. The Canucks, Gawthrop claims, are denying him access to Bure because Gawthrop is gay.

Two years ago, Gawthrop did have a brief meeting with Bure. He then wrote a Vancouver Sun commentary which discussed how the “drop-dead gorgeous” Bure was being marketed — not just as a gifted player, but as a sex symbol as well. The electrifying “Russian Rocket” is blessed with the androgynous, Euro-trash looks of a top male model, contrasting sharply with the hardy, no-teeth style of many hockey players. Fans, among them the many Canuck faithful in Vancouver’s sizable gay community, were instantly drawn to Bure.

Gawthrop’s interest in writing about Bure is rooted in his love of hockey. (The 30-year-old writer-cum-left-winger will represent Vancouver in ice hockey at Gay Games IV in New York, where, ironically, Bure and the Canucks are battling the Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals.) And the Canucks’ interest in keeping Gawthrop away from Bure? “I’m absolutely sure it’s because I’m a gay writer writing for that particular paper.”

The paper is XTRA West, a gay-themed, biweekly newspaper which Gawthrop published and edited until last January, when he left to write a biography of Canadian AIDS activist Dr. Peter Jepson-Young. It was in XTRA West that Gawthrop penned last November’s “Desperately Seeking Pavel,” a tongue-in-cheek piece that poked fun at Gawthrop’s own desire to share a cup of coffee and a trip to an art gallery with Bure. According to Gawthrop, the article was also meant to demonstrate how diverse an audience pro hockey has. As he wrote in another Vancouver Sun column, “I’m just as Canadian as anybody on Hockey Night in Canada, and nothing I’ve ever worn in drag could possibly equal the sheer campiness of [Hockey Night commentator] Don Cherry’s wardrobe. [My goal] is to show hockey doesn’t always have to be the domain of macho, straight men, and the greatest qualities of our national sport — skating, passing, playmaking, finesse — can be demonstrated without having to intimidate one’s opponent.”

Gawthrop acknowledges that he cannot prove that the Canucks denied him access because he is gay; he also believes that team officials, not Bure, do not want him to conduct the interview. (Canuck representatives, immersed in preparation for the Stanley Cup finals at press time, were unavailable for comment.) But Gawthrop suspects that homophobia makes the sports community reluctant to permit contact between athletes and gays and lesbians. “The possibility exists — and it’s a very strong one — that one of the reasons why the Canucks are so reluctant to allow gay men in the dressing room [is that] they perceive that gay interest in an athlete suggests sexual orientation on the athlete’s part,” says Gawthrop. “This will create the impression that Pavel is gay, and that’s part of the panicked response.”

 

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