Casual homophobia has no place in sports

I will rarely use this space to be serious about anything, but this is one of those rare occasions. 

This month, Patrick Burke’s You Can Play Project celebrated the one-year anniversary of its inception. The organization, dedicated to the legacy of Patrick’s openly gay brother, Brendan, who was tragically killed in a car accident shortly after coming out, pursues a simple mission: To end casual homophobia in sports.

Casual homophobia can be defined several ways, but in its simplest form it is the non-hateful use of derogatory and discriminatory anti-gay language. Saying “that’s gay” when something is stupid, or calling a buddy a fag in the locker room for listening to Justin Bieber on his iPod. To those perpetrating it, casual homophobia is harmless. To closeted gay athletes, particularly at the youth level, the results can be traumatic. 

Players feel devalued. They quit sports. They choose not to achieve at the highest level, even if they might have the talent to do so. They feel like they don’t belong. They feel like their teammates would hate them if they knew the truth. In reality, 95% of those teammates probably don’t give a single shit about sexual orientation. They just aren’t thinking about the impact of their words because it doesn’t impact them.

Growing up, I was absolutely guilty of this type of behavior. Most straight athletes will tell you the same. But with the information we have today about how casual homophobia affects gay athletes psychologically, it’s simply unacceptable. I’m a huge advocate of the You Can Play Project, and of gay rights as a general movement not only in this country, but globally. And because I believe in what Patrick Burke’s organization stands for, I refuse to stand back and allow casual homophobia in sports happen around me.

So when it happened during my Thursday night, beer league adult hockey game yesterday, I stood up for what I believe in. During a confrontation, a player on the opposing team called me a faggot no less than 10 times. I told him he had no business using that word. I challenged him to a fight. Like any coward who would call a stranger a faggot, he declined. The official heard him use the word, and only gave him a two minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, a penalty I was also given, and the conversation continued from our respective penalty boxes.

Patrick Burke likes to say, don’t call someone a faggot if they’re being an asshole. Call them an asshole. So I took his advice, and, within earshot of the official (unfortunately) called the player exactly what I thought he was being: A trashy sack of shit. I was ejected, and I’ve been suspended by the league.

This is the email I sent to league officials regarding the incident:

Yoshi, Dave, Robert —

I wasn’t aware that I had been given a game misconduct (I thought it was six minutes in penalties) but I wanted to explain the incident in more detail, because I think it merits extra attention. My last penalty was for calling an opponent a sack of shit. If I get suspended for that, whatever. I’ve gotten away with worse and been suspended for less.
 
My issue is how the altercation started, and why I said what I said. The player I was involved in the altercation with called me a faggot at least 10 times when I confronted him for shoving me after a whistle. That word has no place in hockey, no place in sports, and certainly no place at Rollin’ Ice.
 
Hockey players get pissed off and swear. I do it all the time. But there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. This is one of them. I believe in it very strongly. It bothers me to think about how many times I might have used that word growing up around opponents and teammates who might be gay, and not having any idea of what impact it might have on them. Gay players quit sports, suffer from depression, contemplate suicide, because of the bullshit that they hear on the rink that they feel is directed toward them. What if he had been screaming “faggot” at a gay player? What implications might that have for Rollin’ Ice, legally? From a business standpoint? It’s unacceptable.
 
The official heard the word at least once. He told me that he did. He gave the player an extra two minutes for it. Meanwhile, he tossed me for saying the word shit. There seems to be a serious inequity in that equation. 
 
So it leaves me wondering, what would the suspension be for a player who used the N-word during a game, directed at another player? Knowing Terry, Dave, the three of you, and all of the good people who work at Rollin’ Ice, I have to imagine something like that might warrant a lifetime ban, or at least a lengthy suspension. This player needs to have a reason to think twice before he uses hateful, discriminatory language in the context of a game again, or he will keep doing it. 
 
I would say what I said again a thousand times regardless of the consequences. If I say I believe strongly in something and do absolutely nothing, it makes me no better than him. “Sack of shit” is an apt description for anyone who will call someone a faggot nearly a dozen times and doesn’t even have the balls to throw a punch.  
 
I hope you guys do the right thing. In the meantime, I’ll await word on my suspension, if there is one. Feel free to call me if you want to talk in person. I think it’s worth looking into this.
 
Thanks,
Joe
 

The league is run by a facility called Rollin’ Ice. It’s owned by Stanley Cup champion and former NHLer Dave Maley. Feel free to email director of officials Robert Herbst (rherbst@gotoplex.com) with your support of a lengthy suspension for this asshole. It’s time for us all to be held accountable for the words that come out of our mouth. 

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One Response to Casual homophobia has no place in sports

  1. petshark says:

    Well done on all counts. Probably one of the best things I’ve tweeted in a while, so thanks for that too:)

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