I’m a bit perturbed by the NHL’s decision not to punish Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds for “allegedly” yelling an anti-gay slur at Rangers forward Sean Avery in a preseason game a few nights ago.
Remember, Avery publicly supported the push to legalize gay marriage in New York a while back, becoming the first pro athlete (of a major North American team sport) to make a PSA about the issue. This guy has cojones of steel to do that in an environment where no active player has EVER come out of the closet, indicating just how taboo homosexuality still is in team sports.
After a league hearing with Simmonds on Tuesday, NHL senior VP Colin Campbell made a statement condemning racist/sexist/homophobic comments, yet said the league did not have enough evidence to punish Simmonds. What do you mean you don’t have enough evidence? One doesn’t even have to be able to read lips to clearly see Simmonds yell “f***ing f****t” in this video (watch it here… http://fitperez.com/2011-09-27-philadelphia-flyer-calls-sean-avery-a-gay-slur#.ToN5lpY090o ).
While you can’t see Avery in the video, since he told the media about the incident right after the game, I think it’s safe to put two and two together on this one. But no, the NHL didn’t do that, instead, turning the situation it into a game of “he said, he said,” with Avery coming out on the losing end.
When it comes to dating, my friend Melissa always says this about men: actions speak louder than words. The same rule must be applied here. Condemning a behavior then refusing to punish it sends a mixed message. We saw the NBA fine Kobe Bryant $100k for directing the other “F” word at a referee last season. Not only that, but Bryant went on a full media blitz apologizing all over the place and the NBA even made public service announcements about the issue.
Here’s what I think the real issue is. Remember when Charlie Villanueva accused Kevin Garnett of calling him a “cancer patient” while trash talking during an NBA game last season? I recall various players and media personalities say that whatever is said on the court between two players should stay there and not be subjected to outside scrutiny; the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” principle. Trash talking is just part of the game, no matter how nasty it gets. But I’m not buying it. If a white player called a black player the “N” word during a game, would that be acceptable because of where it was said? I think not.
This illusion of privacy or a sacred environment while playing a professional sport is just that; an illusion. Games are played in front of thousands of fans, not to mention millions of TV viewers. Close-ups, replays, and microphones are capable of capturing nearly every millisecond of a game on video. What a player does or says on the field is a public display open for interpretation, inspection, criticism and complaint by all those watching, thus team management and leagues must find a way to hold people accountable.
If your inner monologue is reading, “calm down, it’s sports. Politics don’t belong here,” you are fooling yourself. Sports has long been a platform for civil rights and social justice. Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Not long ago, I saw an athlete tweet something to the effect of, do this, or else you’re gay. The second I read it, I texted the athlete, who is a young guy with thousands of followers, and suggested he delete the tweet immediately. A few minutes later, the tweet was gone, and shortly thereafter I got a text message from him saying, you know that’s not how I meant it. He also said that some of his twitter followers had tweeted him saying they were offended and were going to unfollow him. I went on to give him a motherly lecture via text, explaining that if that’s the case, you shouldn’t have said it. Say what you mean, and unless you mean homosexual, leave the word gay alone. He responded saying he understood, and that not only would he not use the world publicly, but he would try his best to eliminate it from his every day vocabulary.
Even though he is just one guy, the transformation has to start somewhere. That’s why the NBA fined Kobe. They started the trend that such language wouldn’t be tolerated on the court, which will hopefully serve as a deterrent and force players into the habit of thinking before speaking. I wish the NHL would’ve done the same.
P.S. Simmonds should just admit what he did, apologize for it and move on. People are willing to forgive those who admit their mistakes, but BSing and refusing to fess up is pretty weak and very disappointing (especially given what happened to him last Thursday in Ontario).