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‘Free Our Hostages’ sweater too ‘political’ for MLSE as Raptors fans ejected from arena


So, there I was at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night taking in a basketball game between the Toronto Raptors and the New Orleans Pelicans. I still can’t believe that nickname, by the way. Pelicans…?

In any event, the evening was notable for two reasons. First, the Craptors suffered their worst loss of the season, getting slaughtered 139-98. It was ugly.

Speaking of ugliness, the other notable thing about Tuesday’s game was this: I think I witnessed the most disturbing and despicable event to occur in a sporting arena in Hogtown history.

Namely, the security guards for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment reimagined themselves as members of the Gestapo. There’s no other word for it. These thugs went around the arena intimidating and harassing Jewish fans and their allies.

And what was the crime of these fans?

Well, there was no crime. They were wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the phrase, “Free Our Hostages.” That’s it.

They were told to remove the “offensive” apparel or get the hell out of the building. MLSE has a sad history of ejecting fans calling for the release of the hostages that were brutally apprehended in Israel last October 7.

And on this night, when the Jews refused to bend the knee and exit the building, the MLSE Gestapo raised the ante: they began carding Jewish fans! I’m not kidding — just like a soccer referee handing out a yellow or red card to a player who committed a personal foul.

I was given one, too, by the way, for the heinous crime of asking impolite questions. Here’s what the card read, in part: 

… part of the [code of conduct] policy prevents messaging that may be deemed divisive and political in nature or related to a foreign conflict. Your signage and/or clothing is in violation of this policy and you are requested to remove or cover it so that it complies with our venue policy. We are happy to provide you with an article of clothing that may assist you with this request. Failure to comply may result in ejection or a legal Notice of Trespass from the premises.

Can you believe that? MSLE’s Apparel SS officers wanted to eject these fans; they even threatened to charge them with trespassing. Yeah, some trespassers! Do you know the average price of a Raptors ticket? It’s $169! A bottle of water will set you back six bucks. A single can of beer is almost the same price as a 12-pack down at the Beer Store.

When you think of it, being trespassed out this joint would be economically beneficial.

But given that this is NOT a political message, why were the security guards hellbent on having the Free Our Hostages message covered up? Well, the first part of copy on the card states: “MLSE is committed to ensuring our venues are inclusive, welcoming, and a safe space for all.”

Ah, safety. How is a phrase on a shirt a safety issue? Let’s analyze this: maybe Free Our Hostages is triggering for a Hamas supporter. Maybe that Hamas fan will act out violently, be it throwing a punch or a projectile.

What a sick joke.

Here’s the deal, especially if one is Jewish or if one is an ally of the Jewish community: the phrase “never again” is not some temporary marketing slogan that was crafted on Madison Avenue, such as Nike’s “Just do it” or McDonald’s “McLovin’ it.”

Never again means that the horror of the Holocaust, which took the lives of six million Jews, is never going to happen again. Full stop. Period.

Maybe the Holocaust is ancient, forgotten history to the MLSE executive team. Maybe these shysters have bigger fish to fry — like whoring out their sports uniforms to don corporate logos ranging from Sun Life to TikTok to further pad MLSE’s coffers.

But again, “never again” means forever.

Oh, by the way, MLSE, you know those pro-Hamas thugs that you are going to bat for? You really know how to pick winners, don’t you? These people on our city streets — and maybe even within your sacred Scotiabank Arena — are openly chanting for genocide of the Jewish people. I’ve witnessed it several times over. Like, “from the river to the sea.” And “intifada.” And “go back to Poland.”

MLSE, you are on the wrong side of history here. But I think you are too woke or too greedy or too dumb to realize that. Or maybe it’s all of the above.

Now folks, I did reach out to MLSE spokesman Dave Haggith. I presented him with six questions about Scotiabank’s day of infamy last Tuesday.

  • What makes the “Free Our Hostages” a political statement, and not a humanitarian one?
  • MLSE and athletes/performers at the venue regularly participate in political messaging, so why the double standard here?
  • What’s the difference between a fan visiting Madison Square Garden in 1979 wearing the same messaging, but about Americans held hostage by Iranian regime and hostages being held by Hamas terrorists?
  • An MLSE security guard told me if the message was “Free The Hostages” it would be OK. Another man next to me was wearing that shirt, but when asked if that was OK the guard wavered and said he didn’t know. So, what is the policy?
  • That guard gave me a card and threatened that I would be expelled from the arena and potentially charged with trespassing. Am I no longer welcome at Scotiabank Arena for the heinous crime of asking questions?
  • Would MLSE chairman Larry Tannenbaum be available for an on-camera interview?

Mr. Tanenbaum, by the way, is a billionaire who owns a sizeable stake in MLSE. He is Jewish and he is allegedly a big supporter of the state of Israel. But Tanenbaum is nowhere to be found these days. I wonder what he thinks of this little pogrom being conducted against Jewish fans by the MLSE SS.

Why the silence, Larry? Maybe Tanenbaum has done the math. Maybe he has reached the conclusion that is not fiscally… prudent… to stand up for his fellow Jews these days, given demographic shifts?

Hey, folks, there’s a reason why most billionaires remain billionaires for life. And doing the right thing… well, sometimes that’s just not good for the bottom line, is it?

Anyway, I received a one-sentence response to my six queries from Mr. Haggith. Yeah, one sentence. Check it out:

David, for your clarification, the venue code of conduct reads: ‘messaging that is deemed to be political and divisive in nature or related to a foreign conflict will not be permitted in MLSE venues.’

That’s really a nonresponse.

Gee, maybe I need to reach out to John Tory’s former mistress/current MLSE executive? That would be Emily Hillstrom. Maybe this courtesan can answer my questions more effectively than the official spokesthingy.

In any event, I was so pleased to see that the Jews being targeted by the MLSE gestapo refused to budge. And by the way, folks, that’s exactly how you deal with bullies. You fight back.

And so it was that these pathetic security guards resembled the Big Bad Wolf from the Three Little Pigs fable. You know the part when Wolfie yells, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down” — a hollow threat alas, when it comes to an edifice made out of bricks.

Bottom line: why doesn’t MLSE get out of politics completely, instead of selectively embracing woke political causes? Why doesn’t this pro sports conglomerate get back to its prime directive? I.e., winning championships?

In the final analysis, MLSE makes bucketloads of money. The company is a fiscal winner to be sure. But on the basketball court and on the hockey rink and on the football gridiron and on the soccer pitch, they are uber-losers.

And this censorious and woefully-woke corporation is also a huge loser when it comes to the human rights file, interpreting “Free Our Hostages” as being akin to… political hate speech?

Officially, MLSE stands for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Unofficially, I would argue that this initialism now stands for Malodorous Losers Sucking Egregiously.

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