Michigan Gray Wolves radio announcer Blackie Sprowl puts plenty of color in his color commentary. He has earned a rabid following among Michigan fans, but his blatant homerism and his penchant for jibes at opposing teams and cities have made him considerably less popular elsewhere.
This week, Sprowl made himself a new group of enemies in the SHL’s newest city. The Wolves hosted the Portland Bluebacks at Cadillac Place on Thursday. and Sprowl shared his impressions of the city in a joking rant that inspired condemnation and calls for an apology.
The remarks occurred between periods, as Sprowl was doing a segment with play-by-play man Philip Shelton. Shelton remarked in passing that the had never visited Portland prior to this year, and this set Sprowl off.
“This was my first time there too,” the color man remarked. “And I have to tell you, landing in that city is like landing on another planet.”
“What do you mean by that?” said Shelton suspiciously, already sensing where it was heading.
“Well, for one thing, just try finding a normal meal there,” said Sprowl. “I went out one night, just trying to get a hamburger. And they give me this slab of tofu between blocks of ramen noodles, with… I don’t know, bean sprouts and kale all over it. Then the next morning, I went out to find a café that served bacon and eggs, and all I could find was avocado toast on sprouted-grain bread and espresso-caffe-mocha-lattiatos, or whatever.”
“There are actually a lot of good restaurants in Portland,” Shelton interjected.
“I think the Bluebacks are gonna starve to death before the season’s over, because there’s no real food in that town,” Sprowl continued. “You can’t keep hockey players fed on tofu and avocado toast.”
“Here we go,” said Shelton. “This is going to be like the Anchorage thing all over again. People will be throwing tofu in the arena. Fans, please don’t do that.”
“Also, there aren’t any normal people living there,” Sprowl went on. “Walk down the street, and everybody’s got nose rings and Birkenstocks and beards. The men and women all have beards. Or maybe it’s just men who look like women.”
“We’re going to hear about this,” warned Shelton. “We’re going to get emails.”
“And the tattoos!” Sprowl exclaimed. “What’s with all the tattoos? When I was growing up, it was just sailors and truckers and carny people who had tattoos. But everyone there has them!”
“’Carny people?’” said Shelton quizzically.
“I don’t think they let you move into Portland unless you have a tattoo. It’s a freak show in the streets. In the café I went to, the waitress was a real pretty girl, except for the art show on her arms. It’s like spray-painting graffiti on the Mona Lisa.”
Shelton at this point began a mock disclaimer: “Mr. Sprowl’s views are solely his own, and do not reflect those of the Michigan Gray Wolves or this station.”
Ignoring Shelton, Sprowl concluded: “Apart from being a city full of freaks who eat hippie rabbit chow, Portland’s not bad. And it’s a way shorter flight than Anchorage, so that’s a plus.”
As Shelton anticipated, Sprowl’s comments drew quick condemnation. Leading the way was Bluebacks owner Jared Carmichael, who stood up for his home city. “Blackie Sprowl’s remarks are full of the lazy, stereotypical thinking that too many Americans have about Portland,” said Carmichael. “Granted, I have a beard, I wear Birkenstocks, and I have tattoos. No nose ring, though, so I’m only three-for-four on his stereotype checklist. We may seem ‘weird’ to Sprowl, but we’re proud of it. I’d take our vibrant, artistic, diverse, beautiful, and weird city any day over the regressive, white-bread, 1950s fantasy world of his imagination.”
Portland coach Harold Engellund took a different tack, but expressed similar sentiments. “I’m sure not about to go get a tattoo or a nose ring myself,” Engellund said. “That’s not my style. And a lot of the young folks around Portland don’t look like me or dress like me. But who cares? And why should the young folks care what Blackie or I think? America’s a free country, and that means the freedom to be different. All this talk about who’s ‘real’ and who’s a ‘freak’ is tearing us apart, and I don’t want to hear it.”
Star Bluebacks RW Vince Mango, meanwhile, took a different tack. Mango, a noted foodie, offered to take Sprowl on a food tour of the city. “If he wants hamburgers or bacon and eggs, I can show him where to find those,” said Mango. “But if he’s up for opening his mind a little, I can show him what an amazing food city this is, and how much exciting stuff there is out there. If he can look beyond the tattoos and the one-liners about avocado toast, I can change his life.”
The Wolves issued a statement that said they were “disappointed in Mr. Sprowl’s remarks” and would consider disciplinary action.