The Best Game You Can Name

…Beyond the Name-Calling

For perhaps the last word (at least in this news cycle), on the Simmonds-Avery conflagration, we look north of the border to Andrew, our Leafs correspondent.

We’ve been cobbling together a stable of writers and are lucky we found him.  He brings a well-trimmed beard and a well-turned phrase to his work.

This smart and hopefully growing squad of writers has underscored an important point for us – hockey could be every bit as much about the larger culture as it is about what happens on the ice. -Craig

“It seems everyone and their mother has an opinion on the Avery-Simmonds incident. There’s the GLAAD staunch rebuke and demanding of an apology. There’s the NHL’s split opinion. There’s the general public’s split opinion. The general consensus was, you guessed, a split decision. Rewind to a few days prior and Bananagate.

You had the NHL, the Commish, players, coaches, London residents, the mayor ALL calling it classless, tasteless and offensive. Which of course it was. But it raised the question to me: Why is an overtly racist act met with such fire, but Simmonds act was met with only a relative dull roar?

“I read a rather interesting Tweet I’ll call the Matt Barnaby approach. He tweeted: “I said nasty sh** on the ice and where it might not b (sic) right it should stay on the ice!! Simmonds is a great kid and in NO way would he have…Meant malice by saying things he did. Good kid and great player. Leave it alone!!”

I could very well have responded with the It’s like Whatever Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas. Yeah, unless it’s herpes mindset. I wanted to. I wanted to be offended and come to the vehement defence of my gay honour. I wanted to ride that white horse, wielding that sword of justice and hack away at the chains of oppression and defamation. I really wanted to. But I didn’t.”

Why? Because, though I didn’t want to, I knew why Simmonds said it.

In hockey, as in pretty much all professional sports, it is an ultra-masculine environment. It’s a bunch of jacked-up, sweaty men essentially playing War. And what’s more masculine than war?

Oppositional sides each trying to encroach in the other’s territory and deliver a fatal payload. Think of The Longest Day or The Green Berets. Even in The Birdcage, John Wayne is used as the prime example for Nathan Lane to follow to be more masculine  (Start at about 1:40 if you don’t want to wait). Each and every tactic in war needs to be used to gain the advantage: fighting, dirty hits, trash talking…

Ah, trash talking. In any regular environment, calling someone a f*cking asshole would suffice. That person that cut you off? Flip him off and call him a stupid fucker. Bastard, bitch, pretard, douche baguette…there’s any number of ways you can insult the average person because in the common realm these words are still taboo to a degree.

In hockey? Calling someone an asshole is essentially calling them a silly goose. It doesn’t pack the same punch. But hockey is ultra-masculine, so how do you attack someone in that special sphere? Go after their masculinity. And what’s one effective way of doing that? Calling them a faggot. It’s the same way they trash each other by saying they banged their mother or sister or wife or whomever.

In that very specific frame of reference, the word is used not as a way of slamming gays but of a quick shot at the only thing hockey players have truly exposed on the ice: their masculinity. There are no pads or visors for a man’s feeling of manhood.

Yes, by saying that there is a social perception of the inextricable link between gays and non-masculinity. Obviously it is not true and based on archaic and offensive stereotypes ; the typical gender roles in today’s society are based on years of stereotyping and lack of understanding (homosexuality has only been legal for 30 years in Canada, for instance).

But this is what players have to go on, they live within this realm, the realm of static gender roles (how many current female hockey players are there? And how many male cheerleaders around the ice?  It is the language they speak. Is it inherently wrong? Of course. But am I offended? No. As Matt said, he didn’t mean it. I do not condone the action of saying it, but I understand why Simmonds did. The word is, like has been said before, more about context than the definition in this case.

That being said, and understanding why he did it, does not make it acceptable. This is, however, a chance for the NHL to really kick some ass and get ahead of the curve. Instead of the weak sauce excuse from the League of “Yeah, we can’t really tell what he said despite knowing exactly”, own up to it. Have a hockey mea culpa. Admit that, yes, in hockey we call other guys faggots.

Yes, the term is offensive, but it is not under any circumstance meant as a slam to gays. Make a league “It gets better” video. Use Brian Burke as a shining example of acceptance in hockey and as a positive role model for players/coaches/owners etc. to follow.

Maybe this will change the language hockey players currently speak. Maybe this will change the frame of reference they live in. Instead of just accepting the pink elephant in the room, call it out, fight it and start showing that it isn’t acceptable to use. Even in a special context like a hockey rink.

I do get offended when I hear “fag” said in common parlance. When I hear teens of today call something they don’t like “gay”, I get really pissed off. Or when straight friends call something faggy, I kick their ass. We should not leave it alone because that kind of offence in REAL life does have REAL consequences. I’m sure we’ve all heard about the tragic recent suicide of Jamey . This has happened countless times before and, sadly, will not go away overnight.

There needs to be people, like Sean Avery, who are in this masculine sphere who come out against homophobia. For anyone who follows rugby, Ben Cohen does the same thing. He started the Stand Up campaign to fight gay bullying.

These straight men, who play in a hypermasculine sphere, are great examples of how perceptions and feelings are slowly changing. And if what I’ve read is true, the newer generations are far more pro-gay than previous. So who knows, maybe in 20 years calling someone a faggot will be a thing of history.

Look at Wayne Simmonds himself. A black man playing hockey. Years ago it would have been unthinkable. The Leafs have (at least in some capacity, for now) a Muslim player in Nazem Kadri. Old thinking is changing. Progress is being made. But it’s a slow process. Opinions won’t change at the drop of a puck. The NHL needs to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that the old way of business is simply not right. Make examples of people from this season on. Have a PR blitz. Let speakers come in and let players know how hurtful “faggot” can be. And how fatal.

Show all hockey players that just because it’s accepted, it doesn’t mean it can go on ad infinitum.

Remind them that they are role models.

Remind them that there are both gay and straight boys and girls who take what they do and say as gospel.

Make hockey the example to the rest of sports, and the world.

Because, as we all know, “the good old hockey game is the best game you can name, and the best game you can name is the good old hockey game.” ”

We hope you follow Andrew on twitter @manbearpiglpu

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7 Responses to The Best Game You Can Name

  1. Chris says:

    Good take, Andrew. As for me, I think part of it is the fact that homophobia does not carry the same weight as racism in today’s culture, but I also think it’s partly because the banana incident involved physically throwing something onto the ice which is impossible to ignore. Would the NHL have reacted the same way if someone had yelled a racist epithet at Simmonds instead?

    • Andrew says:

      Good question. I think that it would have probably been dealt with harshly because the “war” hockey players engage in does not overtly focus on race, just that field of masculinity. But that’s part of the dialogue that has to change: just because it’s OK to them in that war doesn’t actually make it OK.

      The whole debate is a very difficult one, since there are so many divergent opinions and possible scenarios (like you outlined). I think the best thing that can be gleaned from this is that there needs to be work done and that there is evidence of it slowly starting to happen.

  2. andrew, nicely done.

    PS: Kadri sucks.

    • Andrew says:

      Why thank you. I almost ALMOST broke out my undergrad Psych textbooks. But that would probably have been going too far….right? Meh. Anyway, glad you like.

      PPS: Pfft.

  3. GayCanuck says:

    Another good article about this, Andrew! I pretty much agree with what you’ve said. Yes, calling someone a “fag” is common in sports and hockey, but, hopefully that can change so we don’t have to be confronted with such a bigoted word on a regular basis while watching our favorite sport.

  4. david says:

    well stated.. i would add that it is about respect.. between players, fans, the league.. i mean these guys are role models, regardless of what charles barkley thinks.. ive played the game, coached it too.. the best way to get a guy off his game is out play him… every shift, every game… name calling is childish and stupid… i know its gonna happen… ive done it.. im not proud of that, but yeah, ive done it.. i never called a guy a ni**er or a faggot though…

    ~ cheers…

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