SBD/September 28, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Issues Statement On Use Of Homophobic Slurs, Indicates It Will Penalize Moving Forward

Simmonds (l) denies using homophobic slur toward Avery during Monday's game
Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke yesterday "welcomed a statement by the NHL against homophobic comments by players, saying it was an important development for the league," according to Mark Zwolinski of the TORONTO STAR. Burke said, "The sport has to move that way, we want the game open to everyone." The NHL earlier yesterday released a statement "regarding homophobic and racist comments made by players during games." The league in the statement "strongly denounced such behaviour by players as unacceptable, saying it will not tolerate any further use of such language." Although the NHL "did not spell out what the repercussions might be for uttering such slurs, it's believed that players will face some manner of on-ice penalty if they are found to have violated that language code." Despite the league's statement, an investigation into Monday's incident between Rangers LW Sean Avery and Flyers RW Wayne Simmonds "found no grounds for a suspension." Avery after Monday's Rangers-Flyers preseason game submitted a complaint to the league indicating that Simmonds "referred to him using a homophobic epithet." The NHL said that since there were "'conflicting accounts' of what took place -- including Simmonds 'expressly' denying using a slur -- and none of the on-ice officials heard any such comments, the league was 'unable at this time to take any disciplinary action.'" But it did "reserve the right to 'revisit the matter' if new evidence were to arise" (TORONTO STAR, 9/28). Simmonds said that he told NHL Dir of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell that he "had not used an epithet." Simmonds: "He asked me if I called him a gay slur, and I said no" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/28).

ALL TOO COMMON: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts noted Burke, the NHL's "most visible advocate for gay rights thinks it is time players are educated about one of the most common insults in hockey." He said, "I do believe with hockey players it's habitual. These terms are acceptable and habitual and that's got to change. It doesn't make them less offensive to our gay fans. We wouldn't tolerate it if he said the n-word; he'd get suspended. There are some other words that are equally hateful and offensive" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/28). Shoalts writes while "racial slurs have been thrown around by NHL players from time to time, it is far more common for homophobic remarks to be heard in heated situations on the ice." Shoalts: "In the last couple of years, many hockey players have said they support gay rights or would support a player who decided to go public with his sexuality. But the fact is, many more, particularly younger players like Simmonds, have a lot to learn" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/28). However, in Toronto, Damien Cox writes some in the NHL "seemed disinclined to make the league patrol what comes out of the mouths of its players." Senators coach Paul MacLean: "That's what parenting is for." Cox: "It may indeed be well over and above the reach of league authorities to legislate and enforce tolerance" unless NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants a "fifth official on the ice to monitor how players are slagging one another" (TORONTO STAR, 9/28).

TO FINE OR NOT TO FINE: ESPN's Michael Wilbon said he was "not for the fining of the use of language on courts, on ice, on fields, because everybody used it all the time.” Wilbon: “It’s a lot more serious problem than fines are going to solve.” But ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said the league should have fined Simmonds because “these are the rules we live under now.” He said the “culture has changed” and it “doesn’t go anymore." Kornheiser: "More things are on television, language is picked up and you have to take a stand” (“PTI,” ESPN, 9/27). Plaschke said the NHL should “make it hurt, and you make it clear that just because you’re the victim of racial intolerance yourself is no reason to use intolerance on someone else.” ESPN's Tony Reali noted Simmonds, who is black, had a banana thrown at him during a game last week and said it "has not been a good preseason for the NHL" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/27).

STEPPING UP
: ESPN CHICAGO's Scott Powers reported Northwestern Univ. has become the "first college athletic department to join the 'It Gets Better Project,' which was designed to provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens." NU contributed to the project "by creating a video to support the organization's mission." The video "includes messages from athletic director Jim Phillips and a number of players and coaches" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 9/27).
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