NHL must take strong stance against homophobic slurs

Watch as tensions boil over between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4.

It’s 2016. Enough.

Conveniently, the NBA has already paved the way for the NHL as it considers how to deal with Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw for being caught on camera Tuesday night appearing to direct a homophobic slur at an official.

In December, Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo directed homophobic slurs at referee Bill Kennedy, who after the incident came out as an openly gay official. Rondo was suspended one game.

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And that’s the least Shaw deserves. A one game suspension, which of course, would be a Stanley Cup playoff game, with his team facing elimination.

The incident came late in the third period of Chicago’s Game 4 loss to the Blues. Shaw was penalized for interference, and as he sat in the penalty box, he banged his stick against the glass and appeared to say, “F— you, you f—ing f—–” towards one of the officials. The referees were Chris Rooney and Francois St. Laurent, but it’s not clear who Shaw was aiming his words towards.

Afterwards, Shaw claimed he didn’t recall what he had said, just that he was upset at the time. Ah yes, the amnesia answer combined with the “emotion” response, a handy excuse for athletes who cross the line in any variety of ways.

The You Can Play Project has already said it plans to contact the NHL today to “assist in an appropriate response.” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said today the league is investigating the incident. Hopefully the response will be more appropriate than the last time.

Back in September, 2011, Philadelphia forward Wayne Simmonds was called on the carpet for allegedly directing a homophobic slur towards Sean Avery. Video of the incident seemed to confirm what Simmonds had said, but he denied it, and the NHL let him walk without a fine or suspension.

It would be shocking if Shaw received the same treatment. And appalling.

This is clearly a case where the NHL, if it wants to be taken seriously on this issue rather than simply pay lip service to it, has to act, and the Blackhawks should too. Indeed, in a perfect world, the NHL Players’ Association and other NHL players would condemn what Shaw said and did as well.

Several years ago, former NBA player John Amaechi, who came out as gay after his playing career, explained perfectly why pro sports leagues can no longer simply wave off these kinds of incidents.

“When sports stars use slurs, it is especially damaging because their increased public profile means many more people are exposed,” said Amaechi. “These people seem to have lost sight of the fact that in their prime, in pivotal moments in games, they are one of the most influential people in the world.”

Chris Hine is a gay sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune and covers the Blackhawks. He tweeted after the game last night:

In other words, it matters, a lot. In a related issue, a series of musicians including Pearl Jam, Ringo Star and Bruce Springsteen have recently cancelled concerts in North Carolina because of that state’s new laws perceived to be discriminatory towards the LGBT community.

The NHL has to be just as vigilant on this front or risk being viewed as tone deaf on a matter of increasing public profile. Beyond that, it’s just the right thing to do. Pro sports leagues should no longer differentiate between racist slurs and homophobic ones, and had Shaw used something deemed offensive towards a specific ethnic group, you can be sure the NHL would act.

LISTEN: Matthew Barnaby talks Andrew Shaw on Dean Blundell & Co.

Gary Bettman’s administration has come down hard on players for what they’ve said before. Avery, in fact, was suspended six games in 2008 for making crude comments about his ex-girlfriend dating other players.

So the league has the right and ability to move aggressively here. Shaw isn’t a star, but he’s a significant player on the roster of the reigning champions.

Now act.

It matters not that these are the playoffs. In fact, it matters more, because so many more eyes are on the game. As Amaechi has said, that just makes those offensive words that much more powerful and damaging.

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