Connect with us

Bruce Dowbiggin

Royal Treatment: Queen Elizabeth II Was A Great Sport


8 minute read

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.

‘Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”— attributed (probably falsely) to The Duke of Wellington

In the moments after the death of Queen Elizabeth II the vipers who hide in the crevices of society emerged with their preposterous howls against her. From the New York Times to the last bitter Fenian they unleashed a catalogue of grievances against the nation and the Imperial legacy of the Queen. One even wished her a “long and excruciatingly painful death”.

Some of the dishonour roll was warranted. Every great empire leaves victims, and the British Empire was no different.  From the Opium Wars to the murderous Raj to the cynical Boer War, the British Empire left broken bodies and dashed dreams behind as it enriched itself. It was not always pretty.

And yes, it’s true, the Queen was fabulously wealthy from the accumulation of centuries of plunder and trade abroad. Her subjects gave her and her family the greatest art, furnishings and castles. And yet…

Unlike the Huns, the Goths or the Vikings, Britain also left behind the institutions of modern society. Law, property, education, science… while ending African slavery across the Empire (later Commonwealth). As today’s frothing republicans and anarchists decried the Queen for her role with the UK and Commonwealth they displayed only their own ignorance of British law and culture in doing so. And miss how it has persevered in the centuries since the 1660 Restoration of Charles II.

For the Queen had no constitutional powers to compel anything or anyone. Accusations that she did not “intervene” for good to prevent all manner of nastiness are sheer twaddle. Her personal military was more like Gilbert & Sullivan than Nelson and Wellington. Parliament could slash her budget in an instant. The power her critics refer to was illusory.

This Queen’s singular talent— unlike some of her predecessors and perhaps her successor— was to never interfere. While she invited prime ministers to the job at 10 Downing Street, it was the people who selected PMs, not her. When she read the speech to the throne it was the words of politicians, not the Windsor family, that she spoke.

Frankly, she often gave the impression she would happier with her horses and corgis than among many of the shabby politicians who slimed into her presence.

Which reminds us of another institution the Empire left behind as it slumped into obsolescence. Kings and queens were often mad about sports like horse racing, sailing or shooting. Shakespeare reports that tennis was the royal rage in the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. It was much the same in other cultures.

But the British Empire created the structure of team sports and leagues that we know today— all sprung from the British passion for sport. From the stem sports of soccer, rugby and cricket come the world’s most popular team sports— FIFA soccer, NFL football, World Cup Rugby, NHL hockey, Australian Rules Football, Canadian Football, Major League Baseball and many more. Only basketball among the world’s most popular sports was a purely North American invention.

Soccer’s Football Association, created in 1863, gradually brought together the English tradition of games played in the exclusive public schools with the emerging power of unions, working-class teams. Even today clubs represent their roots with the tosh clubs like Chelsea and the former midlands factory cities and towns like Newcastle competing against each other.

Their rivalries are captured by standings and playoffs that regiment the competition over the course of a long season. The invention of the FIFA World Cup (like the one this November) is a perfect extension of the beautiful game that emerged from Britain.

The accompanying spirit of fair competition— it’s not cricket goes the expression— underpins all the major sports leagues around the world today. They held that there is no glory without honour. Cool professionalism, not bragging,  defines a champion. This credo was reflected in Wellington’s alleged comment about the playing fields of Eton creating the officer corps that triumphed in 1815’s defeat of Napoleon.

As author John Keegan noted, the French soldiers were inspired by the idea of a people’s Republic. Liberté. Égalité. Fraterinté. They had everything to fight for. The average British soldier risked his life for what? The same class system that held him down? The King? No, Keegan observes that it was the officer corps honed during the decades of Napoleonic wars who so cooly held their troops together under the withering fire of the Emperor’s cannons (the English suffered an approximate 17,000 killed or wounded at Waterloo).

It was a measure of discipline and loyalty to regiments that held the British together at Waterloo until the Prussians arrived and Napoleon finally retreated. While many believe today’s athletes play for $20, 30, 40 million a year, even the richest athletes are still bound by the same loyalties to comrades that allowed 1815 soldiers to not duck a cannon ball lest a comrade behind be hit instead.

So criticize the British Empire if it gets you clicks online. For many, the institutions it left behind surpass the nasty temporal practice of trying to reverse the past. That includes cherishing something as lighthearted as sport as entertainment. The Queen was a great sport. Others would be well advised to follow her example.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster ( A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, , his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book of by . His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best, and is available via


BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

Follow Author

Bruce Dowbiggin

Succession Planning: Justin’s Excellent Chinese Adventure

Published on

Continue Reading

Bruce Dowbiggin

The Formidable Superstar, Jim Brown Never Fit Black Or White Stereotypes

Published on

“M***er fuckers be hanging off him. Eight of ‘em be begging Jim, ‘Please, Jim, would you fall down, please? We’re on TV, my kids are watching’.” Richard Pryor  on NFL players trying to tackle Jim Brown in the 1960s. 

The death at 87 of legendary athlete/ film star/ political activist Jim Brown comes just over three months from the death of hockey icon Bobby Hull. Both were alpha males possessed of adonis figures, the essence of vitality in their time. Brown gave up the NFL to become a film star. He went on to champion causes in the black political movement.

Hull went on to sire a HHoF player Brett Hull and work in the cattle industry. He also traded on his stardom. He is still regarded as one of the five most famous Chicago sports figures of all time, up there with Michael Jordan, Dick Butkus, Gayle Sayers and Ernie Banks.

Neither man was without controversy, however. Brown’s name was frequently associated with domestic violence. According to press reports, “On June 9, 1968, Brown, then 32, was booked on suspicion of assault with intent to commit murder against his girlfriend. The arrest occurred when Brown lived in Los Angeles while working as an actor. The woman, a model, was found semiconscious and moaning on a concrete patio 20 feet below the balcony of Brown’s Hollywood apartment.”

There were other incidents with police involvement, many in fact, but you get the drift. Hull, too, had a nasty legacy of domestic assault stemming from incidents involving his first wife. Neither man spent time in jail for the episodes. Hull made some politically insensitive remarks as well.

But, funny thing. When Hull died the Canadian sports press reports dutifully dredged up all his personal business to rebalance the adulation he received in life. As we reported at the time, some people thought that part of his life defined Hull.

But you had to look very hard into the reports of U.S. sports media on Brown’s death this week to find much about his less-attractive side. The praise for his athletic prowess was effusive. Rightly so. But for the liberal sports press that came of age in the 1960s, it was too much to taint Brown’s political legacy by showing his less-flattering past. So they almost universally gave it a pass. In one interview, Bob Costas, the liberal’s liberal in the press box, skirted the issue to dwell on his boyhood memories of Brown.

Wonder why? Those news sources that dared mention it— the New York Times— were lambasted for sullying his reputation with the facts. “It’s the New York Times vs. ESPN for scumbag of the week” is a sampling of the pushback from the sports world.

While playing at Syracuse, Brown was perhaps the greatest lacrosse player in American history before going on to football fame with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. We can still remember, as Richard Pryor did, the sight of No. 32 dragging defenders along behind him as he set rushing and TD records in a 12-game season— records that are still mostly unassailable. He’s a Top Five NFL player all-time. Colts HOF tight end John Mackey summed up Brown’s style. “He told me, ‘Make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts’.” They did. Vividly.

We can also recall the shocking news that Brown was ditching football in 1966 after nine NFL seasons to star in a Hollywood epic, The Dirty Dozen, with Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes and Donald Sutherland. (He intended to return to the Browns but when they wouldn’t let him miss training camp he retired.)  How would he do? We rushed to see the film. Brown was just fine, dragging his fellow cast members after him like NFL players as he took on the Nazis.

He went on to star in 100 Rifles as Hollywood’s first black action star. Other movies followed. When the glamour of films lost its lustre Brown became an icon for the black political movement. He supported Muhammad Ali in his fight to avoid prison for refusing to serve in Viet Nam. He created camps and schools for black children and was a recurring figure at the seminal moments for black empowerment.

But his philosophy was not today’s Marxist #BLM brand. “We’ve got to get off the emotional stuff and do something that will bring about real change,” he said. “We’ve got to have industries and commercial enterprises and build our own sustaining economic base. Then we can face white folks man-to-man and we can deal.” He was not easily intimidated.

In 2018, Brown and Kanye West met with President Donald Trump to discuss the state of America. Criticized by the black community for the meeting, Brown said, ”we can’t ignore that seat and just call names of the person that’s sitting in it”. Brown called Trump “accessible”, and said that the president was not a racist. The Brown obits in liberal media buried those quotes deep in stories.

Still he scared some folks. Files declassified in 2003 showed that the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and several police departments had monitored Brown and the Black Economic Union, attempting to smear the group as a source of Communist and radical Muslim extremism. Hillary Clinton would have been proud.

Brown himself was into unapologetic self-improvement as he showed when he went to Pryor’s hospital room after the comedian set himself alight while freebasing. While others soft pedalled their advice Brown made it clear that Pryor had to kick drugs, and that he would help him do so. (As thanks, Pryor later screwed Brown in a film deal that would have brought him millions.)

Brown was unrepentant when confronted about his past. “I’m no angel,” he told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in 1970. Regarding the assault allegations, he said, “I’ve never been convicted. I’ve just been harassed. I’ve been hit so much I don’t sting any more… I take it and look my accuser in the eye. I don’t look at my shoes when I talk to anybody. I know what I am. I only have to live with myself.”

That he did. The biggest difference between him and Hull was that the critics of the Golden Jet wanted to get tawdry clicks from his life story. With Brown they wanted him to advertise their Woke selves. That’s a huge and crucial difference in this insane world.

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via

Continue Reading