The NHL sure is a funny place these days. And we don’t mean funny ha-ha.
Not five days after Wayne Simmonds was subjected to a racial slur in London, Ont., he finds himself hauled on the league’s carpet (at least in the telephone sense) to answer the accusation he himself uttered at homophobic slur at another player.
And it isn’t just any other player the Philadelphia Flyers forward stands accused of insulting during a preseason game Monday night. Sean Avery of the New York Rangers is the accuser, a fellow who has a checkered history to say the least when it comes to intemperate remarks.
To add to the intrigue, Simmonds’s statement of defence, at least if it is the same one he offered to reporters after the game, is not exactly a strong denial. Simmonds, who accused Avery of sucker-punching him earlier in the game, said he didn’t remember everything he said but didn’t deny crossing the line.
“We were going back and forth for the rest of the game and emotions ran high,” Simmonds, 23, said. “I don't recall every single thing that I did say to him. He said some things to me that I didn't like, and I guess I said some things that he didn't like.”
At least part of the incident was caught on video and the NHL is investigating. Last April, NBA star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 (all currency U.S.) for directing the same homophobic slur at a referee, something that was pointed out to reporters by Avery.
Avery’s history in this area is on both sides of the line of civil behaviour. In December, 2008, he was suspended for making insulting remarks about Dion Phaneuf’s girlfriend, whom Avery had once dated. Last spring, Avery appeared in a public service commercial supporting gay marriage in New York State.
While racial slurs have been thrown around by NHL players from time to time, it is far more common for homophobic remarks to be heard in heated situations on the ice. In the last couple of years, many hockey players have said they support gay rights or would support a player who decided to go public with his sexuality. But the fact is, many more, particularly the younger players like Simmonds, have a lot to learn.
The irony is that last week Simmonds and his agent, Eustace King, said they hoped the incident in which a fan tossed a banana on the ice in front of Simmonds, would become a learning experience for everyone about racial tolerance.
Simmonds may have been a victim in an ugly incident but he also needs to be accountable for his own actions. The NHL has to look at this episode on its own and act accordingly.
The call for action has already come from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The group contacted the Flyers and the NHL and GLAAD acting president Mike Thompson issued a statement:
“Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink. The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at LGBT youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility. He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.”