words are all i have

Ridding the NHL of anti-gay slurs isn’t about political correctness, it’s about common decency

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patti dawn swansson

Now that the dust has settled (it has settled, hasn’t it?) and Andrew Shaw no longer is suffering from amnesia, what have we learned?

Try this:

a) The National Hockey League has officially crawled into bed with the You Can Play Project.

b) Mainstream jock journalists are afraid of the word “faggot.”

In the matter of point a), the NHL really had no choice but to deliver Shaw a stinging slap on his wrist, which we can be certain is not a “limp wrist” because, as we all know, there are no “limp wrists” among the practitioners of the manly art of hockey, otherwise the players’ vocabulary, on and off the ice, would not include anti-gay slurs like “faggot.”

Then, again, perhaps it would.

Were there an openly gay performer in the NHL, little doubt foes would draw attention to his “limp wrists” and use sexual orientation in an adolescent gambit to wrestle him off his game.

Whatever, there was little, if any, allowance for wiggle room in the Shaw situation. During a Stanley Cup skirmish featuring his Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues this week, Shaw called a game official a “fucking faggot” and it wasn’t meant as a compliment and it no longer will pass muster. Not when the NHL likes to trumpet the fact that it is in bed with the You Can Play Project, a group advocating the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in sports at all levels.

Trouble is, until this incident, the NHL and You Can Play weren’t actually in bed together, all their warm-and-fuzzy, co-op public service announcements notwithstanding. The same bedroom, yes, but they were more like a couple in a 1950s or ’60s TV sitcom—sleeping in separate beds.

So now, the NHL has actually walked the walk.

It’s not for me to say if the punishment fits the crime. I’m guessing, however, that reality bites: Address one’s foe or a game official as a “faggot” and it earns you a day off (one assumes said hiatus would be sans salary during the regular season), you’re $5,000 out of pocket, and you also are mandated to spend some quality time with those who specialize in the counsel of the less-sensitive among us. One would think that penance ought to attract the workers’ attention, but who knows for certain?

What I do know is this: Contrary to one school of thought, this is not about political correctness. It isn’t about democrats, republicans, liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, Christians, atheists, bleeding hearts or whatever venom Donald Trump is spewing these days. It’s about common decency. Nothing more, nothing less.

You simply do not target and slay a specific segment of society with hate language, and the standard, all-too-convenient “heat of the moment” defence doesn’t wash. Decent folks don’t talk that way.

I have no idea if the word “faggot” is part of Andrew Shaw’s every-day vocabulary, but I choose to think not and that he is genuinely contrite, and I believed him when he said he would “never use that word again, that’s for sure.”

Again, it speaks to decency.

Meanwhile, it’s about point b) and the media. If I read one article/opinion piece about the anti-gay slur Shaw delivered, I read three dozen. Probably more, actually. And in all but three, the word “faggot” was not included. I read that Shaw called one or more on-ice officials a “f—–g f—-t” and I read more than one piece that repeatedly referred to “that word” without advising readers what “that word” was.

But I ask, why leave it for readers to fill in the blanks or guess? Spell it out: F-a-g-g-o-t. Why shy away from it? That’s what Shaw called an official, that’s what should be reported. Writing the word doesn’t make it worse. It makes it real.

Also real is the weight the word carries and the damage it can inflict. Just so we’re clear—and this is for the edification of those who still don’t get it—it is a degrading, demeaning, hurtful and insulting term that leads to serious bouts of self-doubt, with gusts up to depression and suicidal ideation. I have heard it used by men in the LGBT collective as a playful term of endearment, but rarely so outside the gay community. It is an indignity saturated in contempt.

Perhaps now that the NHL has actually gotten into bed with the You Can Play Project, there will be a reshaping of a long-held, anti-gay culture. We can hope, can’t we?

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