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.
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.’