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Wayne Simmonds and the lost word

September 27, 2011

UPDATE: The NHL has released an official statement, oddly, from Colin Campbell. They indeed state no disciplinary action will be taken as claims could not be substantiated. Truth is, would any one, any official, player on either team, be the one to come forward and say what happened? We’re still living in a climate where that can’t happen. Fear of acting out of retribution, fear of being seen as soft. Jeez.

A little over a week until the start of the regular season and the NHL is in the throes of the new Shanahan era–one in which every illegal hit or move is presented and deconstructed by head of player safety, Brendan Shanahan. He has laid out heftier than usual suspensions and their associated fines this year, to send a message.

Then you have what happened last night, as Flyer Wayne Simmonds allegedly called Sean Avery a “faggot.” I am going to use the word and not bleep it out, because it’s a specific and unique word. I am no media outlet, and I will use it. Indeed, all last week, after the same Simmonds had a banana tossed on his head during a match in London, Ontario, and the media addressed it while skirting around obvious words and concepts. But back to the separate case at hand–because that’s just as important.

Simply, it is homophobic slur that is ABSOLUTELY inappropriate and its usage should result in a significant penalty.

What’s interesting is that it’s now being reported there will be no discipline. None. At. All. Because they can’t prove he said it–Simmonds doesn’t remember, he claims, no other player will substantiate, and the existing video, so they claim, is insufficient. Anyone over the age of 12 can clearly see he yells the word “faggot” to Avery. Watch the lips of any NHLer during a game and you’ll see them using all manner of “f***” this and “s***” that. It’s a common occurrence. Except the camera caught something far, far worse last night. Sure, Avery is a pain in the neck, but you don’t give into him.

And to think there will be no discipline, not in reading a well-written piece by GLAAD, not in the wake of the death of Brian Burke’s son, who happened to be gay and died in a car accident last year, not with the Blackhawks marching with the Stanley Cup in the Pride parade in Chicago, not with countless NHL-sponsored campaigns about how “Hockey is for Everyone.”

Neglecting to appropriately punish Simmonds flies in the face of all that. It’s not the word that is necessarily offensive to me–it’s a word like any other. But it’s the intent behind and all the surging homophobia and associations with all things negative that are the problem. You just don’t use that word. Call him a dog, call him a doofus, but don’t call him a faggot. Even if you’re not a homophobe. Even if you have gay pals. Doesn’t matter. You don’t do it. I am sure a lot of gay fans like myself aren’t really too bugged out by it. We’ve heard it before–it’s not a big deal, really. But it’s for all those 12 and 13 year-olds out there coming of age who could be gay–they’re the ones who are in danger. They’re the ones who have been committing suicide in huge numbers the last year, prompting Dan Savage’s “It’s Get Better” project. A sense that an institution as important as the NHL doesn’t want them, doesn’t care about them, is as damning as it comes. The NHL needs to take a stand for those kids, those ones who get called it for real, all across America, every single day.

Simmonds should come forward, apologize, and not play the role of the confused innocent. He knows what it is he said, and the onus is on him to be an accountable professional athlete. Hockey is for everyone, gay or straight.

Hockey doesn’t need gay slurs in the game.

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