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
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.
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.
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.
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.