More Than a Word

Photo Credit: Matt Slocum/AP

Editors Note: Shane (@socialassassin2) is an opinionated Canucks fan, and comedy aficionado. We disagree on most everything about hockey, but I’ve always respected his wit and argumentative style. I’ve invited him to post at CanucksArmy on several occasions because he thinks I’m a huge homer, and I like the idea of airing a dissenting opinion on the blog. This isn’t that dissenting opinion, instead it’s Shane’s personal take on the Simmonds/Avery incident and how the presence of homophobia and gay-slurs in professional sports impacts a gay sports fan.

By: Shane M

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Nobody loves sports more than I do. I’m the sort of emotional fan who lives and dies with my favorite teams. With every horrible throw Tarvaris Jackson makes, a little bit of me dies. When Mason Raymond wrists another weak shot into the goalie’s pads, I consider putting my fist through the TV. When Wally Buono makes another bone-headed decision, I convince myself I’m done with cheering for the Lions. Ok, that all may be a bit over-dramatic but you get the point.

The funny thing is that, though I’m a huge sports fan, I’m also gay. Based on the (admittedly limited) interactions I’ve had with other homosexuals, there aren’t many who share my passion for sports, although I’m sure they do exist…somewhere.

As a kid, I played baseball, basketball and soccer. I knew I was gay before I was a teenager, which was right around the time when I started hearing teammates and opposing players using the word "fag", "faggot", or "homo". I thought nothing of it. Hell, there were the rare times when I used the word. I tried not to think about being gay. Maybe these feelings would go away as I got older.

Of course, those feelings never went away. As I entered my early 20’s, I was still living with my secret, but it was getting increasingly difficult. The secret was a burden I was carrying around, and I had to tell someone.

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My dad made the occasional gay slur. He would see a sports team hugging after celebrating a championship and call them a "bunch of fags". I kinda giggled. I don’t think he had hateful feelings towards gays but it still bothered me. My dad passed away last month. and I never found the courage to tell him, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I loved my dad more than life itself, and it’s difficult living without him.

The first person I "came out too" was my best friend, about 4 years ago. We were on the way home from Seattle, where we’d seen a couple of Mariners games. I cried for a large portion of the ride home, even though I knew my friend would be totally fine with it. He was but that didn’t make it any easier. He said he was surprised, but that it changed nothing. He then went on to make gay jokes at my expense. I laughed, I knew they weren’t coming from a hateful place.

Over the next year, I slowly told more people. Almost everyone was totally cool with it, with the exception of one co-worker who said I should have let people know about "my condition" earlier. You see, we used to get a ride home in the same vehicle from another co-worker and he could’ve caught my gay virus (though it would’ve caused him less suffering than if he’d caught my "Northwest Sports Fan virus").

So that’s my back story, and it’s part of the reason I felt compelled to write this following the incident that occurred on Monday evening between Wayne Simmonds and Sean Avery. If you’re reading this, you likely already know that based on video evidence, and Sean Avery’s comment after the game, Simmonds called Avery a "faggot".

Simmonds said "I don’t recall everything that I did say to him, but he said to me some things I didn’t like and maybe I said some things that he didn’t like. I can’t recall every single word I said." That’s as close to an admission as you’re gonna get.

This the second high-profile example of intolerance this preseason in the NHL. The interesting tidbit is that Simmonds – who allegedly hurled a homophobic epithet at Sean Avery yesterday – was himself the victim of racism last week when a fan in London, Ontario threw a banana in his direction during a penalty shot. I remember feeling for him, the humiliation must have been awful. But Simmonds was gracious, he put on a brave face. With that troubling situation so fresh in everyone’s mind – it made Monday’s incident even more surprising, unfortunate and sad.

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Personally, I’m not a fan of how Sean Avery plays the game. This incident still gets me worked up. It’s ridiculous. As far as Avery the person, I have a great deal of respect for him. This past summer he made a video, along with other New York celebrities, supporting gay marriage in New York. Might not seem like a big deal, until you consider that Sean Avery makes a living playing a physical sport with a particular culture that is full of homophobia. I don’t know if Simmonds had Avery’s stance on gay rights in mind when he called Avery a "faggot," but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Based on tweets from people involved in the game, the word still gets thrown around frequently.

Twitter is such a fascinating information source when controversial issues arise. You’re bombarded by so many different point of views. All the people I follow thought it was inappropriate, but I did hear from a couple tweeters that there was a mindset out there that – because the slur was aimed at the universally disliked Avery – it’s acceptable. That kind of thinking is bizarre and disgusting.

Do I think Simmonds deserves a suspension? To be honest, no. Maybe one game would be fine with me. But I do think he should be fined. The NHL needs to send a message that slurs, whether they’re racist, sexist or homophobic are not tolerated.

Of course, things aren’t going to change over night – they might never totally change. The sports world is full of machoism and testosterone, and the easiest way to put down your opponent verbally is to call them gay, to call them "a faggot." To an athlete – the implication is that your opponent is weak and effeminate, but to the general public, the implication is more offensive.

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If things are going to change – we need more Sean Averys – even if they do combine to play on the same, despicable hockey team. While we can’t expect every athlete to stick their neck out like Avery did – whether they know it or not, it’s pretty safe to assume that all pro-athletes know someone who is gay. So instead of suspending Wayne Simmonds – why not fine him, and ask him to make an "It Gets Better" video. If he declines, well, that says a lot more about him – and it doesn’t say anything good.

One of my dreams is to see a current athlete come out. I do believe we’re getting closer. Believe it, or not, I even suspect that the NHL is the most ready of the major professional leagues for it. People ask things like, "why do gays need to tell people; can’t they just go about their business without letting the world know?" Easy to say, but when there’s a team function, and all the wives are there, and then a player shows up with his boyfriend – tell me that’s not going to be extremely uncomfortable. In my experience, most gay people want those around them to know, but they don’t want it to be all that they’re about.

The word "faggot" will never go away, what’s more important to me, is that people realize why that word is inappropriate and hateful.

Shane is a Mariners, Seahawks and Canucks fan. Follow him on twitter here.

  • Mantastic

    i understand that word is hateful but all insults are hateful in general, it wouldn’t be an insult otherwise. it’s been happening forever, both sexual/racial slurs (actually any slur ingeneral) and bullying, all terrible things in the real world. if the people knew everything they said on the ice, everyone would be offended by something, then where would the line be? it would be non-existent.

  • scottmckenzie

    Homophobia in the NHL has got to stop. People need to be re-educated that homophobic slurs are unacceptable. It’s ridiculous that some people are defending the use of the word because to young people they use the F word to call someone an a****** or sh**head (as if that makes it better). Anyway I did a video about homophobia in the NHL and suggestions to move towards ending it:

    Here’s a really heartbreaking story about a closeted gay hockey playing teenager:

  • scottmckenzie

    1) Political correctness is going way to far here. The oness should be on Avery for taking an on ice incident into the media and making into a big deal. Calling eachother names is what should be expected in the heat of battle. The day when any word or phrase made during a game is used later for disciplinary action is a slippery slope.
    2) We’re not advocating players to make anti gay, racial slurs a regular routine, but what is said/done off the ice is different than what takes place on. Else a player could call the local police and advocate felony charges for assalt and battery/attempted murder every time there is a fight or an “illegal hit”. In other words, this is going too far!!!!

  • scottmckenzie

    Thoughtful. Well written. Courageous. After a year of listening to the self-righteous posturing of Canuck haters and then reading some of the mindless and reprehensible posts on every topic imaginable coming from some of those self-same Canuck fans, I was beginning to lose hope. Your piece and, admittedly, some of the material from the more thoughtful and rational pro-Canuck bloggers has restored my faith that there are decent hockey fans wearing blue and green. You have reminded me that it is great to be a committed Canuck fan but it is far, far more important to be a decent human being. Thank you.

  • scottmckenzie

    Excellent post, Shane! It needed to be said, and you said it well.

    Fauxrumors, would it be okay with you if players starting shouting racial slurs or anti-Jewish slurs across the ice at each other during a hockey game with abandon? Is it okay by you if a fan throws a banana at Simmonds, or for someone to shout racial slurs at him?

    I guess you’ve never faced persecution based on who you are, because if you had, you’d realize the power words have, and how hurtful and damaging they can be.

    Freedom of Speech does not mean you can run into a building and yell FIRE!

  • @FauxRumours Avery was asked a question – and he answered it. The tattle-tale line of argument is preposterous and you should be embarrassed for making it. Cameras caught what Simmonds said, and what he said was intolerant, ignorant crap. I think – as Burke said – Simmonds it more out of habit, than out of malice, but it’s a big problem.

    The NBA charged two players for the same reason. Also the fallacy that “what happens on the ice, stays on the ice” is absurd – it’s never been that way (Chara-Patches, Bert-Moore, The Doan incident) and it never will be.

    • Mantastic

      i don’t know how you can compare what simmonds did to those malicious acts. comparing it to the falacio incident last year is much more comparable.

      there are many incidents where players are asked what the other player has said and many have said nothing to “tattle-tale”

  • Mantastic

    Good post. Just incase you didn’t already know this piece and the site was just mentioned by Paul Chapman on the Team 1040! I live in the UK and about a year ago a Welsh national rugby player came out as being gay.He didn’t receive any negativity from the media it was quite the opposite.

  • Mantastic

    I too share your dream of seeing an NHL player come out. I’m not gay, but someone close to me is, and he’s not out yet. Obviously there are gay players, and hopefully there will be a time soon when they feel comfortable enough to be open about it. They would be great inspirations for Canadian kids, and especially gay Canadians.

    Great piece.