By now, you've all likely either seen or heard about this story. In Monday night's pre-season exhibition game between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, Rangers winger Sean Avery and Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds got into a scuffle. (Pre-season or not, it's still hockey.) As Simmonds went back to his bench, he turned around and was seen on camera, clearly shouting an anti-gay slur at Avery.
Now, anyone who has ever seen another person talk knows exactly what Simmonds is saying here. He's not angrily complimenting Avery on his "Fancy Footwork!" or shouting at him to "Fly Some Flag-Guts!" - no, Simmonds is obviously shouting an anti-gay epithet. In the heat of the moment, Simmonds called Avery the worst thing he could think of in that split-second. And in that moment, the worst thing he could think of was to call Avery gay.
Most of the sports outlets that have picked up on this story have mentioned two pieces of backstory of which many of you might not be aware. First, Simmonds himself may very well have been the target of an ugly discriminatory incident just last week. On Thursday, in an exhibition game against the Detriot Red Wings played in Ontario, someone in the stands threw a banana at him - an act which many thought was racially motivated. Second, the man targeted by Simmonds' anti-gay slur, Sean Avery, is an outspoken supporter of the LGBT community and marriage equality. He also happens to be one of the most polarizing (some would say loathed) figures in all of hockey, and maybe in all of American sports. He's got a reputation as an instigator and a trouble-maker, and this scuffle started because Simmonds believed Avery "sucker-punched" him during the game.
All of this is interesting.
But none of it is relevant to our call, asking the NHL to stand up for its fans who are LGBT or allies of the community. It doesn't matter what happened to Simmonds the week before, or "who started it." What matters is that if they are going to claim that discriminatory slurs "will not be tolerated," they need to prove it.
In its statement about the incident, the NHL claimed that Simmonds said he couldn't remember what he said - and that none of the referees on the ice could verify what was said.
What if a goalie said he "couldn't remember" whether the puck had slipped past him and crossed the plane of the net - and if none of the referees had a clear view of the shot? What would the NHL do? Would they simply take the goalie's word for it? Or would they look at the videotape to see what happened? We're asking the NHL to treat this incident the same way.
We're asking the NHL to take this incident as seriously as the NBA took the Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah incidents, and as seriously as MLB took the Roger McDowell incident. By now, hockey players and athletes of all ages across this country are aware of what transpired during Monday night's game. They're aware that a professional athlete used a defamatory slur. They've now seen evidence that - despite big talk about how homophobic attitudes "will not be tolerated" - when it comes down to it, authorities will be more than willing to turn a blind eye. Using this slur was a bad example for Simmonds to set - and refusing to take responsibility for it is a horrendous example for the NHL to set.
We're asking them to make it right. Don't just TELL the hundreds of thousands of hockey players of all levels - and the millions upon millions of hockey fans - that the sport will stand up against homophobia. SHOW them.