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
People unwilling to give Cam a chance to learn from his mistakes are doing no more to support You Can Play than he did in his interview.
— Patrick Burke (@BurkieYCP) July 13, 2012
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.