Cam Janssen, YCP's Balancing Act and Grace

Thomas Drance
July 13 2012 09:30AM

On a radio show earlier this week, Cam Janssen got himself into a spot of hot water by saying a whole whack of stupid crap. He made comments that implied that he intends to injure opposing players, and worse, he said that he'd beat the crap out of a fellow player who he knew to be sucking dick. Twitter took umbrage with his bigoted comments, obviously, and bloggers like Ryan Lambert and Bryan Reynolds took Janssen to task with guns blazing this morning.

Today, Patrick Burke - the fearless leader of the You Can Play team - went to bat for the "enforcer," who mentioned his support for YCP in a statement issued through the New Jersey Devils website.

Here is Janssen's statement in full:

"Earlier this week, I participated in an internet-based radio show in which I used some poor judgment which I now regret. The New Jersey Devils were unaware of this interview, which I arranged myself.

I would like to apologize for my poor choice of language. The tone of the interview was very casual and off-color, and I lost focus on what is and is not acceptable and professional. I am deeply sorry to anyone who was offended by my language. Moving forward, I hope to eliminate that type of language from my vocabulary. I would also like to take this chance to express my support for the work the You Can Play project is doing, and for the gay community in general.

I apologize for the embarrassment my comments have caused to the New Jersey Devils management, as well as my teammates."

Janssen's statement rang hollow to my ears, partly because of the violently homophobic nature of his original comment. This wasn't a player slipping up and using "gay" as a synonym with "inferior," which, sadly has become a wide spread colloquialism. Janssen's comment was that if he knew a guy was sucking dick, he would kick his ass.

I can't help it, that's a bit harder for me to get past, and I'd have liked to have seen it addressed in his statement. Something like "my comments were insensitive and over the top because I was playing to an audience. It was stupid. But despite my comments, the fact remains that I'd never physically target an opposing player based on his sexual orientation and would be proud to support and to share a locker room with an openly gay teammate."

That Patrick Burke would take a "forgiving" approach to Janssen's misstep is unsurprising. He's cultivated You Can Play to be an organization with a forgiving posture. They're apolitical, and they are understanding. As Patrick Burke told us last month: "My policy is one of forgiveness because I've been there. For years I was the athlete using homophobic slurs, casually and regularly." 

Beyond the fact that YCP takes a default position of grace, Patrick seems to genuinely believe that, as a strategy for change, speaking softly is the more effective route. As he told us in the same interview we linked to above:

"Expressing, “hey you know, words like that have a negative affect, and mean something” is a lot more effective than, as I said before, getting the torches and going “Hey! Let's get that guy.”

And today Patrick has doubled down. Seeing the negative reaction of many on Twitter to Janssen's statement of apology, Patrick had this to say

Personally, I find the grace angle compelling as a general concept. You Can Play has done enormous good in its short time, and I'm extremely proud of the hockey world for being at the forefront of the movement toward tolerance and equality for LGTB athletes. That said, in the wake of today's statement from Cam Janssen, I'm concerned that You Can Play could become a shield that a still homophobic sport can use to hide behind if one of their own slips up.

Janssen's original comments, the reaction to them, and today's fallout have served to underscore the Wallenda-type balancing act that You Can Play is attempting. A lot of good has been done over the past six months, no doubt about it, but don't kid yourself: the culture of hockey remains largely homophobic and the NHL continues to be one of the professional sports leagues in North America that is reluctant to punish its players for being caught using this sort of language. Hockey fans on the other hand, tend to be well educated and quite liberal. We have no appetite for homophobia in the game, are sensitive to it, and are not inclined to give players a free pass for the sort of comments Janssen made.

Cultural change just doesn't happen over night, and while You Can Play is moving the league in the right direction, every so often the cracks beneath the smooth, tolerant veneer will show. Patrick and You Can Play are right on two counts: the general public needs to be more patient and forgiving on this score, and players need to drop the homophobic crap. YCP can be as right as rain, but that won't change the fact that they're standing on some uncomfortable middle ground, urging tolerance and rationality on both sides.

It's a tough spot to be in, and they won't always please everybody (they didn't please me today). But I'm glad somebody is doing it.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 KleptoKlown
July 13 2012, 11:15AM
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Doesn't matter if it's politics, religious beliefs, sexuality or race...none of it has anything to do with hockey.

Maybe if Cam Janssen focused more on hockey and less on who is sucking who's dick, he'd be a better player and teammate. Professional athletes should know by now that politics, religion, sexuality and race tends to bring out a passionate "I'm right and you're wrong" attitude from the general public. I don't care what side of the fence Janssen or Tim Thomas or any other professional athletes actually sits on, but when they come out and state there personal beliefs, they alienate the people on the other side of the fence.

This is a perfect example of a player putting himself before the team. Drives me crazy that athletes continue to do this.

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#2 anon
July 13 2012, 12:38PM
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"I am deeply sorry to anyone who was offended"

Ugh I kind of loathe this kind of apology because it really minimizes the self-responsibility of it. Sorry you were offended!!! Not sorry I was a jackass.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-apology_apology

"But despite my comments, the fact remains that I'd never physically target an opposing player based on his sexual orientation and would be proud to support and to share a locker room with an openly gay teammate"

This would have been perfect. Nowhere do I see that addressed in his apology. He mentions language three times in one paragraph. But the 'language' isn't really the problem (I don't think people would be as outraged if he said the words 'sucking **** has nothing to do with hockey so idgaf'), it's what he actually said. The fact that he said he'd assault someone if they did? That's what people are taking issue with and I don't see that addressed in the apology.

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#3 BrudnySeaby
July 13 2012, 03:24PM
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His apology is pathetic. Both the original comments and the apology show how he really is and thinks.

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#4 Brian
July 13 2012, 05:24PM
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Some fair points in your article but I'm wondering where your basis is for the statement "Hockey fans on the other hand, tend to be well educated and quite liberal."

Maybe you have a study of some kind to back you up but as a general rule I don't think of many sports fans as being "well educated" when I speaking of them in general terms. Care to back that statement up?

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#5 Summertime
July 13 2012, 10:21PM
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^^ http://blogs.wpri.com/2011/06/06/hockey-fans-richer-smarter-than-mlb-nba-and-nfl-fans/

One of many studies stating hockey fans are the most educated of all fanbases (search the internet).

Great article. You'd think the teams publicist or Cams agent would have proof read the apology before it was released. Sometimes the apology can makes matters worse, instead of better. This is a prime example. It seems '3rd person' like, as if he's not taking any direct responsibility. That's fine, his choice. I'll just add him to the list of caveman hockey players I'd rather not see in the league.

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#6 RexLibris
July 13 2012, 11:05PM
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Seems like Janssen made the typical sports apology (sad that I can even say something like that in this context and speaks to the work YCP has ahead of it). He dodges the actual blame and apologizes that what he said publicly offended. Not that what he said was actually wrong and that he is going to change his opinions or take a serious look at his own belief/value system.

YCP and Patrick Burke took the position they had to. They can't go after Janssen. When they lambaste someone it has to be over something big, not wasting the capital of public sympathy on small fish.

It is the media, both main stream and independent, as well as the voices of fans (ie: Twitter) that need to come down hard on him for this and call him on his pathetic apology. Why is it he speaks of the embarrassment he has brought on the Devils and not about any he has brought on himself?

The league has a product that is quickly becoming more interactive than most other professional sports leagues. That is a double-edged sword for the marketers. How players respond to that "transparency", for lack of a better word, will be up to them.

I have to think that both the NHL and the PA are probably thankful that they have the labour distractions right now as it more or less absolves them of any responsibility to respond or act on this.

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