F*ucking F*ggot …

Dead Sox

Those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning may recall that, like Josh, I’m a fan of hockey and was delighted when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup last June. The last time they had won the Cup was in 1972 so winning was a big deal, at least for Josh and me; and Nolan even faked it too 🙂

Josh is in mourning today, of course, brooding and angry over still another historic collapse by the Boston Red Sox. He has little to live for at the moment except for what every Red Sox fan ultimately lives for, the annihilation of the Yankees in the playoffs.

So I was looking around to see whether there was some way I could channel his anger in a positive direction when, lo and behold, one of our alert readers sent me a link to an article about Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, a National Hockey League (NHL) player who is accused of calling another player, New York Rangers winger Sean Avery, a “fucking faggot”.

As the story noted, the leadership of the NHL had decided not to take any action against Simmonds. It also added that petitions were circulating online urging the leadership of the NHL to fine Simmonds for using the slur. It seemed like something Josh might want to be all over.

I don’t really know very much about Change.org, which is circulating the petition the e-mail sent me to. It seems to be a for profit corporation that specializes in the sale and provision of list-building services. Later today I received a link to a second petition to the Williamsville School District urging it to put an end to bullying and punish the bullies who celebrated Jamey Rodemayer’s death. The people who initiate these petitions seem to genuinely want to help promote change and it quickly became apparent that other organizations, like The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), were on the case as well.

Unfortunately, it turns out to be a complicated story. On the one hand, Sean Avery is not exactly the kind of hockey player for whom anyone feels the greatest sympathy. In hockey lingo, Avery is an enforcer, someone better known for his fighting skills than his hockey skills. The job of enforcers like Avery is to try to get good players from opposing teams tossed from games for fighting back when he attacks them. Avery’s reputation among his fellow players isn’t exactly a sterling one. He has been known to use a few choice words himself during a game, is considered a dirty player by many, and is hardly a role model when it comes to hockey.

On the other hand, Avery is also one of the few professional athletes to speak out for gay rights. In particular, he recorded a video earlier this year supporting gay marriage equality in New York state. As some of you will recall, it was a long, tough, battle and there were lots of important people trying to prevent the necessary legislation from passing. Avery showed a lot of courage by endorsing the proposal and took heat for doing so, including from some people who are part of the hockey game.

So is Sean Avery a hero or a villain?

What makes the story even more complicated is that Wayne Simmonds, who happens to be black, was on the receiving end of a racial attack in an earlier game, one in which a fan threw a banana peel on to the rink during a shootout attempt by Simmonds. Simmonds still managed to score on his attempt and later downplayed the incident. He has now denied calling Avery a “fucking faggot”. While the video evidence I’ve seen suggests that he did, it’s not really great video, at least on my computer, so I can’t be one hundred percent certain he did use the slur. Like I said, I’m pretty certain he did.

So is Wayne Simmonds a hero or a villain?

It’s hard to sort this all out. I mean, come on, an athlete using an anti-gay slur? The use of such slurs has been common in sports at all levels for as long as anyone can remember. It doesn’t justify their use and hopefully it’s getting better. But it’s not like it’s never happened before. Just last April, for example, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers used the the exact same slur against referee Bennie Adams, who had slapped Kobe with a technical foul during a game.

To me the real difference here is that the leadership of the NBA fined Kobe $100,000 for using that slur and issued a strong statement denouncing it. Indeed, Kobe was not only embarrassed by what he had said, but man enough to apologize.

Sadly, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hasn’t been quite as forthcoming. The NHL didn’t punish Simmonds, claiming that they did not have positive prove that he uttered the slur. Okay, maybe.

What the NHL did do is issue a statement and here is part of what it said: “The National Hockey League holds, and will continue to hold, our players to higher standards with respect to their conduct both on and off the ice. While we recognize that the emotion involved in certain on-ice confrontations may lead to the use of highly charged and sometimes offensive language and commentary, certain lines cannot be crossed.”

“Specifically, we have for many years emphasized to our clubs and players that commentary directed at the race or ethnicity of other participants in the game (or even non-participants), or that is otherwise socially or morally inappropriate or potentially hurtful — including as it may relate to sexual orientation — is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

After reading that statement, I found myself wondering whether “fucking faggot” was socially or morally inappropriate or just potentially hurtful?

Sounds like the NHL is really sorry, doesn’t it? But that’s the NHL for you. They claim to be against fighting in the game, but they can’t ever seem to do anything serious that would stop it because they know a lot of their fans like fighting. They claim to be against bigotry and intolerance. But, as with fighting, they don’t really want to do anything serious to stop it.

So if you want to sign a petition, do so. You can find them easily enough online. And if you’re not into protesting that way, well, you may want to spend your sports dollars somewhere else this year. There are plenty of teams competing for your money. Until the NHL decides to get more serious about the whole thing, they won’t be getting any of mine.

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