Yesterday the NHL made positive steps towards battling discrimination in the sport by suspending Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw and fining him for using a homophobic slur in the Hawks game four loss against the St Louis Blues.
Shaw was unhappy with a call and was seen calling one of the officials a “faggot” from the penalty box which issued a one game suspension and a $5,000 fine.
Luckily I’ve not seen many people criticising the decision which may be a sign of how progressive the sport is, it also might show just how beneficial the NHLs involvement with the You Can Play Project has been in dealing with these issues.
This isn’t the first time the league has put there foot down on the issue either, back in the 2010-11 season, James Wisniewski (then with the New York Islanders) was suspended two-games for making an obscene gesture to New York Rangers forward Sean Avery which you can see in the video below.
That incident and Shaw’s incident are just two documented ones in the NHL I’ve selected. During my studies to obtain my degree in journalism I did a dissertation on the subject of homophobia in sport and came across a term coined by Patrick Burke called casual homophobia.
Casual homophobia occurs a lot across all sports, it could be said it stems from the accepted use of negative words like faggot from times not so long ago, but in 2016, with how progressive the world seems to be, it’s time for language to catch up with the acceptance of the LGBT community. Any sort of homophobia needs to be (and it seems is being) dealt with the same way any league would deal with any form of racism.
In the incident with Shaw there’s more of an argument that it was ignorance and casual homophobia while with Wisniewski, it’s pretty hard to argue there was no malice behind the gesture. So for the NHL to not just fine Shaw but suspend and also give him mandatory sensitivity training it’s a big step forward for not only Shaw as a person (and a person I believe had no malicious intent behind his outburst other than frustration) but for the Leagues players, fans and others involved to know that using language or making gestures that are homophobic with or without intent to offend won’t be tolerated. It’s a real step forward to making the sport inclusive for all, and while there is no openly gay player in the NHL, it will make it easier in the future to continue to break down the barriers and have openly gay athletes playing in the biggest hockey league on the planet.
For 24-year old Andrew Shaw, he’s since come out to apologise for his remarks, something that we should all admire that he has acknowledged where he went wrong, but now he’s going into his suspension and moving forward so should we and let Shaw build his legacy as a professional player as a hard working, gritty forward who is already a two-time Stanley Cup Champion.
As for the whole issue of coming out as an athlete, that’s another story for another day, but for Andrew Shaw and the NHL, this latest step is yet another stepping stone in the right direction to acknowledge something I think we all can agree on, sexuality isn’t an issue, homophobia is.