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Questions, controversy surround NHL 'slur'
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2011-10-05

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Andrew Sobotka. Photo by Larry Palm


In the heat of action during a National Hockey League (NHL) preseason game Sept. 26, Wayne Simmonds of the host Philadelphia Flyers shouted at Sean Avery of the New York Rangers.

The action was caught on videotape, but Simmonds' words are not audible; however, what he appears to have said is causing quite a commotion.

Many are convinced Simmonds yelled an anti-gay slur at Avery, a strong supporter of gay rights.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the nation's leading LGBT media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, immediately called on the NHL to take action against Simmonds.

Officials at Egale Canada, which is Canada's national LGBT-rights organization, said they are extremely disturbed by the NHL's failure to take action against homophobia within the game.

"There can be no question that Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds hurled a hateful, anti-gay slur during a pre-season game on Monday night, and the NHL must take responsibility and stand with other major league sports in their active and explicit opposition to discrimination based on sexual orientation," said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada.

"Incidents of anti-gay hate echo across all of society, causing lasting harm in the local rink, the classroom, and at home. It's time for one of Canada's favorite pastimes to get with the times and directly address the issue of anti-gay discrimination on and off the ice. There are many LGBT youth and athletes who remain hesitant to live openly, fearful of rejection by their coaches and peers. The NHL has shamefully let them down."

The NHL issued a statement following the incident and the reactions from GLAAD, Egale Canada and others. The NHL said:

"We have looked into the allegations relating to the possible use of a homophobic slur by a Flyers player in the Rangers/Flyers preseason game last night in Philadelphia. Since there are conflicting accounts of what transpired on the ice, we have been unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom.

"Specifically, Flyers player Wayne Simmonds has expressly denied using the homophobic slur he is alleged to have said. Additionally, none of the on-ice officials close to the altercation in question heard any inappropriate slurs uttered by either of the primary antagonists. In light of this, we are unable at this time to take any disciplinary action with respect to last night's events. To the extent we become aware of additional information conclusively establishing that an inappropriate slur was invoked, we are reserving the option to revisit the matter."

Some disagree with the NHL's assessment; they are convinced they can read Simmonds' lips. However, some within the gay community support the NHL's decision.

"It is abundantly clear from video footage that an instance of anti-gay bias occurred," said Mike Thompson, acting president of GLAAD. "League officials should revisit this matter and take action immediately. The NHL is severely out of touch at a time when leagues including (Major League Baseball) MLB and the (National Basketball Association) NBA are taking stands against anti-gay bullying and steps to ensure their sports are welcoming to all players, coaches and fans."

Andrew Sobotka, president of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA), said the NHL needs to take this issue seriously.

"Other major sports leagues are issuing 'It Gets Better' videos, and fining players for using homophobic speech, and adding sexual orientation clauses to their collective bargaining agreements. Where is the NHL on this issue?" Sobotka said. "They say that 'hockey is for everyone,' but, by not taking action on this issue, they are essentially undermining the importance of homophobia in the sporting world. If the NHL doesn't want to address homophobia in their league, then they are going to find themselves in a place where they have been before, disconnected from most of the viewers in this country."

Shawn Albritton, the president of the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA), was asked for comment on the situation—so he watched the YouTube clip numerous times. Albritton is not convinced an anti-gay slur was said.

"Right now, [it] looks like a he-said, he-said thing, which isn't worth a comment officially from me," Albritton said.

Still, GLAAD launched an online action for community members and allies to contact the NHL ( www.glaad.org/tellnhl&. The GLAAD online action says, "hearing a player shout 'f**got' during a game can perpetuate a climate of intolerance that pervades so many schools and universities today."

Simmonds has expressly denied using the homophobic slur he is alleged to have said, according to the NHL statement.

Chuck Jacobson, the founder of the CGHA, also was an on-ice official for several years. He was among the officials working the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago.

Jacobson said it is "highly unlikely" the on-officials did not hear exactly what was said.

"It seems to me that nobody wants to take responsibly in the NHL," Jacobson said. "I think the NHL is still a long way from getting to where they [need] to be with the homophobic issue.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and other advocacy organizations are asking the NHL to revisit the incident.


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