League must look deeper into allegations of anti-gay slur and do more to address homophobia in hockey
Washington – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, is calling on the National Hockey League (NHL) to immediately conduct a more thorough investigation and take appropriate action following claims that Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds called New York Rangers winger and equality supporter Sean Avery a “f-cking f-ggot” during a preseason game Monday night. The exchange was caught on video. Simmonds originally did not deny hurling the slur at Avery, but later changed his tune when the NHL began looking into the incident. Sean Avery is a staunch supporter of LGBT equality and recently participated in HRC’s successful New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign.
“Homophobia of any kind is unacceptable, particularly when it occurs in an arena as public as a televised sporting event,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Professional athletes must be mindful of the message they send – we’ve seen this in action through the examples of equality supporters like Sean Avery, Steve Nash, Michael Strahan, Steve Tisch and Brendon Ayanbadejo. And we’ve seen athletes who have exercised poor judgment take ownership for their behavior and apologize. Wayne Simmonds must now take responsibility for his words, and the NHL must take appropriate action to send a message that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated.”
Immediately following Monday night’s game, Simmonds didn’t directly deny hurling the slur at Avery, saying “I don't recall everything that I did say to him, but he said to me some things I didn't like and maybe I said some things that he didn't like. I can't recall every single word I said.” At a hearing Tuesday, however, Simmonds walked back his earlier comments and expressly denied any wrongdoing.
Yesterday, the NHL released a statement in which they announced they would not be pursuing additional action against Simmonds at this time: “It also is important to emphasize that the National Hockey League holds, and will continue to hold, our Players to higher standards with respect to their conduct both on and off the ice. While we recognize that the emotion involved in certain on-ice confrontations may lead to the use of highly charged and sometimes offensive language and commentary, certain lines cannot be crossed.”
The NHL has a responsibility to follow the example set by the National Basketball Association following similar incidents of homophobia on the court. The NHL’s statement explicitly speaks to holding hockey players to a higher standard of conduct. The NHL should take appropriate action to match their rhetoric and hold Wayne Simmonds accountable for his conduct – which he himself did not immediately deny. Additionally, the NHL and the Philadelphia Flyers should take steps to educate both their players and fans about the dangers of homophobia and the very real dangers associated with these types of slurs.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.