It’s merely speculation to suggest that Earl McRae was the victim of one too many atomic wedgies from jocks during his formative years, but how else can you explain somebody who took pride in calling himself the “Lippy Little Shin Kicker?”
Before he exited this realm at the age of 69 on Saturday, the bespectacled feature writer/columnist with the outlandish sense of humour was renowned for observations over the years that had many of the best-known names in Canadian sports wanting to lay a — how do we put this delicately? — “shin” kicking on him.
McRae will likely be called fearless as a tribute to his contributions over the years, most recently with the Ottawa Sun, but about 25 years ago, he admitted during a candid conversation that he often needed to squeeze his cheeks tightly to avoid personal unpleasantness if confronted by one of his subjects.
To admit that doesn’t take anything away from his legacy. Actually, it’s a tribute to his devotion to his craft that he still wasn’t intimidated enough to stop providing his readers with his magnificent and often controversial insights.
He frequently went over the top, but never did he leave his readers unaffected. As much as he could tick you off, he could just as easily have his readers laughing. The characters he focused on, many who wanted his head, popped off the pages.
McRae wasn’t a golf-exclusive writer, but golf and sports in general still needs Earl McRae in an era when columnists, bloggers, TV and radio types seem more concerned with talkng about themselves instead of the personalities people really want to read about.
Like too many in golf this year, McRae left us too early, but had he stayed, his value would not only be in his magnificent writing, but as a mentor to other writers, whether their focus is golf, sports, news or politics.
Despite the number of awards he’d won, which would inflate the egos of weaker characters, McRae always had time to chat, entertain and advise colleagues, no matter how long they’d been in the business. The personality that came through in his writing was an extension of the real Lippy Little Shin Kicker.
With agents and public relations people often keeping the media at arms length, or whether media outlets will allow such a character as Earl McRae to operate as he did in his day, there will always be interesting, colourful characters in golf and sports that need to be introduced in a compelling way.
Whether McRae was part of an era that is going away in media remains to be seen, but chances are that he influenced somebody much younger along the way.
After all, the Lippy Little Shin Kicker never left anybody emotionless, a fact that is magnified today, following his departure.