Sean Avery, Intolerance and the NHL
There are circumstances in sports in which you find yourself doing something you said you would never do. Maybe you’re a Red Sox fan rooting for the Yankees to beat the Rays. Or maybe you’re me, defending Sean Avery.
A couple of nights ago Philadelphia Flyer Wayne Simmonds got into a heated exchange with Avery on the ice and called him - ok, allegedly called him - a fucking faggot.
A lot has been made of this already. Unfortunately, a lot of what’s been made about it is people saying “Let it go” or “It’s just part of the game” or a hundred variations of what ends up to be boys will be boys. And too many people are yelling about Avery being a whiner about it or not being able to take an insult. They want him to let it go. But it shouldn’t be let go. It shouldn’t be swept under the rug or taken as just a part of the game. It’s not just an insult. Simmonds didn’t call Avery a fucking asshole, which would have been fine and mostly true. He called him a slur that is derogatory and demeaning to an entire group of people. That he used the term toward Avery - who is an outspoken gay rights advocate and made a video supporting marriage equality - may lead one to believe that Simmonds’s choice of words were carefully picked.
Earlier this year, the NBA fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 for calling a referee the same thing.
[Commissioner David] Stern strongly condemned Bryant’s use of the slur in a statement.
“While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated,” he said. “Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society.”
The NHL, however, has decided to not do anything about the slur directed at Avery because they claim to not have any real proof of what was said. Regardless, this would be an opportune moment for them to address the issue of insensitivity and intolerance. Given that Simmonds himself was the subject of a racial insult just last week - an incident the NHL predictably mishandled - this would be the perfect time for Gary Bettman to make a blanket statement about acceptable behavior from both players and fans attending games. I’m not asking for the league to come out with some kind of insults guideline, but to let this sit makes it look like they don’t care.
Considering there has been a media spotlight in the past year on the bullying of gay people in light of how many young gay people are committing suicide or at least contemplating it because they feel like society does not accept them or value them as human beings, Bettman has the perfect opportunity here to show that the NHL is on the right side of the line when it comes to, well, behaving like civilized human beings. At the very least, they should condemn the use of derogatory language that demeans an entire class of citizens. At the most, they could fine Simmonds and donate the money to the It Gets Better project.
Don’t let a “boys will be boys” attitude prevail because that is one of the reasons a project like It Gets Better needs to be around in the first place. That the NHL is a public entity with public figures who are heroes to many kids is all the more reason for the league to address the issue and turn it into a way to send a positive message about tolerance.
[image: Bruce Bennet/Getty]