Yesterday the NHL suspended Andrew Shaw one game, fined him $5,000, and mandated sensitivity training for his use of a homophobic slur during Game 4 of the Chicago Blackhawks/St. Louis Blues first round playoff matchup. With regards to the suspension, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said, “While Mr. Shaw was apologetic and remorseful for both the offensive comments and the inappropriate gesture directed at the on-ice officials, he must be held accountable for his actions. The emotion of the moment cannot and will not be a mitigating factor for the conduct that is expected of an NHL player.”
I wanted to address this incident because I did not want to remain silent and have that silence misconstrued as any kind of ambivalence or apathy. What Shaw said was unacceptable on a basic societal level, and more specifically within the context of our beloved game. Shaw’s transgression concerns all of us because the hockey community is something shared that we are all stewards of, and if anyone in our community is made to feel unsafe or unwelcome we are all in some way responsible. I’ve always found joy, meaning, and at times refuge in the great game of hockey, and it pains me to think that a love of hockey might be foreclosed for some because of the words or actions of another.
There are of course those who will make excuses for Shaw’s use of the slur, although it should be said unequivocally that there is no excuse. The notion that it is a common occurrence in the game of hockey, and that Shaw is only being penalized because he was caught on live television should be cause for alarm, not inaction. The idea that it’s only a word is equally invalid, because the words that we use matter, and the ones that subordinate the basic dignity of any individual enable further acts of violence and hate. Legal discrimination, violence, and prejudice cannot exist without slurs and the ideas behind them, and we should be concerned with words just as we are concerned with actions.
Most odious however is the idea that efforts to scrub homophobia and other forms of prejudice from hockey are simply “PC” culture run amok. It’s not “PC” to extend the same dignity society conveys on you to others, it’s being a decent human being. Others may face daily challenges or hardships that you may not, and rather than adding to those hardships we should seek to alleviate them where possible. There are no “rules” per se, but instead a much more simple choice as to whether to respect the basic humanity of others. I would hope that the choice there is obvious.
The point to all of this isn’t to make anyone feel bad or wrong, but instead to make plain that homophobia, or any form of hate, has no place in the hockey community. What are words or jokes to some may be of deep impact to others, and it is not up to us to decide when we’ve hurt another. Hockey is a great game, and a welcoming community to many, and it’s my hope in writing all of this that we can come together and hold each other to a higher standard. This isn’t just about homophobia, because I’ve seen fans at games specifically picking on women, or shouting racist things. It’s about respecting others on a basic, existential level, and making hockey a home to whomever wants it to be. Whether you’re at the game, a bar, or watching with friends, try and make people feel welcome. Someone did the same for you.