Dropping the “F” Bomb

Why “Faggot” Does – and Doesn’t – Matter

Here we go again. Another pro athlete was caught flinging a homophobic brick during a game.  Outrage followed by lame denials or scripted apologies.  Everyone distracted for ten minutes, until the next Miller Lite commercial.  Gay hockey blog weighs in; nobody cares.

I’m no lip-reader, but some things you just know.  And I know that Wayne Simmonds called Sean Avery a “fucking faggot” yesterday, followed up by the terser “Hey Fuck!”  Something I don’t know, but suspect strongly: not a single player or ref hasn’t heard the same before.  Lots.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Irony Police, Line 1!  Simmonds, a black player (and no, the term is not African American as Simmonds is a Canadian national) for the Flyers is caught taunting another player just a week after he was taunted by a spectator chucking a banana peel on the ice during a shoot-out.  Avery, a straight man who is vocal in his support of gays and lesbians but otherwise a taunter of the first degree, is taunted with the one word that probably hurts him least, but some of his fans the most.  And all this on the same day it’s revealed the NFL has included in its players agreement a first-ever (for the NFL) non-discrimination clause including sexual orientation.  Umm…you can hang up the phone now.

We’re unclear what the NHL’s position on this is, or what actions may follow.  Simmonds’ blather came directly next to referee Tony Sericolo – if anyone could not only corroborate but also provide context, it’s the zebra standing right there.  We all know NHL safety czar Brendan Shanahan has been on a tear lately, lowering the boom on players who make lousy hits: is there anyone in the NHL who monitors player behavior?

And should there be?  As we’ve written before, we’re no fans of the ‘faggot’ word – it’s deeply cutting for some people – but we’re even less of a fan for banning words outright, lest they pollute our oh-so civil dialogues.  (Notice nobody – nobody – gives two shits for the other ‘f’-bomb employed.)  Is faggot – or just fag – the worst thing you can call someone – or more accurately, the most offensive term for the GLBT community?  Depends.  Queer, homo, sissy, Nellie, Buttercup, tranny, pansy, fruitcake…I’ll spare you the rest, mostly because you’ve heard them all before.  Each of these and many, many other words could be equally as hurtful to another individual as the f-bomb, depending on their experience.

Yes, some words are worse than others; but making one single word “bad” misses the entire point.  It’s less the word, but so much more about how it’s flung at who and for what effect.  Was Wayne Simmonds literally accusing Sean Avery of enjoying sex with other men?  Really not likely.  Was he just grabbing the easiest, nearest word from his experience that lands like a rock to the face?  Probably.

The problem isn’t a word, but the attitude.  And attitudes can change – just five minutes listening to Willie O’Ree not only opens your eyes about what professional players thought was OK on the ice 50 years ago, but about how much attitudes have changed – in the rink and outside.  The same is happening with sexual orientation – but clearly the past week shows there’s room for much improvement on both fronts.

Casual racism was more or less accepted then – now it’s not.  Casual homophobia is still more or less accepted now – but soon, I hope, it won’t be.  At least if good people continue to stand up and say “this must change.”

So now back to your Miller Lite commercial.  “Man up” says the gravel-voiced announcer, as a self-loathing ad-man’s idea of what friends look like when ridiculing one of their pack for being girly.  “I’m gonna have to take away your man card,” says one.  Uh-huh.

I’d like to see you try that with me, ‘faggot.’

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27 Responses to Dropping the “F” Bomb

  1. Outstanding post, Doug. I like how you get to the heart of the matter being the casual homophobia.

  2. Robyn says:

    Well said. I’m curious to see if Shanny will do anything about this. Suspending players for hits from behind is easy. Fining and/or suspending someone for homophobia is something I don’t think the NHL has ever had to deal with.

    • Carina says:

      Shanahan has no deal with this, as he deals with player’s safety. Campbell will be the one who’s in charge of this sort of deal.

  3. Tony says:

    Well replace the f word with the n word and your line of words like queer, pansy etc with other racist words and there will be automatic outrage. I agree with you that i care more about the context but not the words but I think the LGBT community is saying there should be equal outrage for homophobic words as there is racist words. Who knows maybe Sean Avery is a closet homosexual and it would be as offensive as much as if is he called simmonds the n word.

  4. Pingback: Avery, Simmonds and why reality has conquered the rink| Rss Feed Me

  5. Emily Hall says:

    When attitudes change, it is reflected in language. So why not stop using homophobic slurs? Why is everyone so protective of the right to use homophobic slurs? You mentioned that you’re not a fan of banning words, where do you think society’s attitude would be regarding African-Americans if casual use of the ‘N’ word was still accepted (I’m talking about use in general society and not within its own community)?

    • Doug says:

      Emily – a good point, but one I depart from. I recall comedian Louis C.K. – perhaps not a philosopher, but an observer all the same – talking about that phrase: “the n-word.” It’s very use immediately inserts the word into your head – all without having to say it. It’s surgically clean, and insidious.
      I guess my perspective is that attitudes didn’t change because words were banned; words became unacceptable in some circumstances (used as thrown bricks) because the attitudes had changed. I tend to think that’s the order of things. As you say, attitudes change, and then so does the language. I’d rather we focus on the casual homophobia that’s all around us, rather than the lightening bolts of the ‘f’ word.
      Then again, I’m no philosopher either…this is just one gay man’s perspective. Thanks for writing, though…

      • Emily Hall says:

        Doug, I hear what you’re saying. I guess we see things differently. This is sort of like the “which came first the chicken or the egg” argument. The bottom line is that I hope attitudes change soon.
        Did you guys see this video by a retired elite field hockey goalie in Australia named Gus Johnston who just came out recently? In this video he articulately explains why it’s so difficult for professional athletes to come out in sports and his experience as a closeted gay player.

  6. unstuck says:

    Great and insightful article. Thank you for writing it, and for not once using the term “politically incorrect” to describe bigotry, as so many do, like that’s supposed to make it cool and edgy somehow. Like you said, we would be appalled at what was once accepted and will hopefully be appalled by this … someday… it’s not the word itself so much as what it says about those who use it.

  7. Not that I’m condoning this kind of taunting, but how far do you want to go with it? I’m a woman immersed in hockey in every aspect of my life: I play it, I read & write about it, I watch it. Because of that, I spend a lot of time around men who play it, read & write about, and watch it. The biggest insult I’ve ever heard or seen directed at any man – athlete or no – is to call him a woman in some way. He’s a little bitch, a 12-year-old girl; he has a mangina, a pussy. He needs to man-up, stop being such a chick, and (insert action here). Those Miller Lite commercials are a perfect example.

    There is little difference between all of those other types of slurs and the ones that use women as the negative referencing point. I don’t believe for a minute that insulting men by calling them women is going to change, at least not in the next few decades. I accept that and let it go. I have to. Otherwise I couldn’t ever interact with other fans of the sport. Does the pressure to change the bigotry include that of women? Because I haven’t seen it. In fact, would commercials like the ones Miller Lite made ever see the light of day if the premise was, “When you’re ready to stop being so black, come back for a Miller Lite” or “When you’re ready to stop being such a fag, come back for a Miller Lite”? Not in a million years. Yet they’re hugely popular and considered funny when it’s “When you stop being such a woman, come back for a Miller Lite.”

    There’s a long way to go with this, and of course it has to start somewhere. But where does it stop?

  8. emmaharger says:

    Hi Doug! I saw some folks on Twitter and Tumblr recommend this article, so I came on over. I loved it. ESPECIALLY THIS:
    “Casual racism was more or less accepted then – now it’s not. Casual homophobia is still more or less accepted now – but soon, I hope, it won’t be. At least if good people continue to stand up and say “this must change.””
    Amen! That’s brilliant.

    Then I like how you point out the way gender is portrayed in the beer commercials. I’m a female hockey fan and a proud feminist and I hate those ads. The whole “anything feminine = bad! Now here are some scantily-clad women selling you beer because that’s all women are good for lol” dynamic is nothing I like…I’m derailing here, sorry!

    Back to the topic at hand. This article was great and I’m definitely adding you to the blogroll at the hockey blog I help run, adventuresinpucking.wordpress.com.

  9. We all know NHL safety czar Brendan Shanahan has been on a tear lately, lowering the boom on players who make lousy hits: is there anyone in the NHL who monitors player behavior? His name is Colin Campbell ! You people know hardly anything about hockey but are all in when there is a controversy! Conveniently leaving Avery’s death threats towards Claude Giroux just moments before this out of the article was probably a good idea! Get a clue before you get diarrhea of the keyboard!

    • Doug says:

      Flyersphan – thanks for the reply. But you just don’t get it. It’s not about which player was primed, or which team we root for. Perhaps you need to read this again. You think we’re fans of either of these teams? whoo. Thanks for illustrating the point.

    • emily hall says:

      Oh please, all you people complaining about Avery’s “death threat” towards Giroux. Does anyone really believe that Sean Avery is a homicidal maniac? He may be an a**hole, but homicidal, I think not! How often in your own life were you so angry at people that you said “I’m gonna kill you”? Were you going to kill them, of course not! Homophobic language is a totally different issue. Anyone using “death threat” excuse is trying to dilute the issue at hand: homophobic language in the NHL.

      • I do not think he is a homicidal maniac though I have seen the a hole side with my own eyes. My point is everybody being up in arms about trash talk. If we are taking everything so seriously nowadays then why not Avery’s “death threats”. BTW, really don’t care who you root for and it wasn’t taken into cosideration when I commented!

  10. I am not gay and I was never and would never be offended by someone calling me a fag. My Cousin, who I grew up with, and two of my very good friends ARE gay and I have already had over a dozen fractured knuckles from the faces of people who called them fags. I also asked my Cousin and one of my friends and they said they were never offended when someone called ME a fag. That is why I call it trash talking.

    • Craig says:

      @Phlyersphan: And some of our best friends happen to be: A) Black B) Gay C) Some douche’s cousin D) Flyers fans

      Thanks for coming in here, pissing all over the place and living up to nearly every stereotype of the Flyer’s fanbase.

      • Sandra Dee says:

        Craig, marry me. And if you do not like the ladies, marry my male cousin. Your comment is the best ❤

      • I made 1 comment and some replies trying to explain how hardly anyone I know was making a big deal out of this incident and thought the media frenzy was ridiculous! I have been in some fights and will again anytime rather than just stand there and watch someone I care about wipe spit or beer off of their face while listening to derogatory taunts! Sorry if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon here but you really shouldn’t expect any less from a Philly Phan! Sorry I can’t fit all the other stereotypes that the media has of us. I did not throw snowballs at santa, I’m not fat. I don’t drink. I have never verbally or physically abused anyone for their skin color, sexual orentation or for any other reason than defending myself or someone I love. I’ll put Mr. Winky away now and sorry if I did hurt anyone’s fellings. That was never my intention!

  11. Pingback: still no devils games; here are some older posts: | daneykomissingtooth

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