• Don’t ask, don’t tell

    by  • September 28, 2011 • Hockey • 43 Comments

    I am puzzled.

    As I understand things, the only reason that Wayne Simmonds did not receive some sort of discipline from the NHL is that the league was unable to determine whether he called Sean Avery a faggot because he denied it and none of the on-ice officials heard anything.

    I saw in my Twitter feed yesterday that Aaron Ward said that everyone in the league uses the word during games and everyone in the league has been called a faggot at one point or another. This would fit with my own experience with minor hockey in a small prairie town and the sorts of things that get said on ice; my current league is filled with lawyers and bankers; the sorts of people who’ve had the ideals of sensitivity training drilled into them through university and workplaces.

    What puzzles me though, is this: if you can be disciplined for calling someone a faggot and people call each other faggots all the time, how in the world is there not a steady stream of $2,500 cheques being sent to the league’s head office? How in the world are there not guys being suspended as repeat offenders> Sure, in this case, none of the referees or linesmen heard anything but if the word’s used as much as Aaron Ward (and my own experience playing hockey with the sorts of guys who make up the NHL) suggests, referees and linesmen must hear it all the time. Do they include it in their post-game reports?

    It strikes me that the NHL is probably speaking with a forked tongue when it comes to condemning this sort of stuff. The rule isn’t “Don’t call someone a faggot” or there would be massive amounts of supplementary discipline; referees and linesmen must hear this stuff. The real rule is “Don’t get caught calling someone a faggot in circumstances in which we can’t pretend there’s doubt about what you said, even with our officials claiming not to have heard anything.” I’m actually kind of wondering if an NHL official has ever confirmed that someone used a slur – looking at the Grier/Simon business, it appears that Simon confessed.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure that this is a bad thing. The NHL is in the business of producing exciting hockey games, not instilling young men with the social norms needed to work in downtown Toronto. If Taylor Hall uses a word that’s acceptable within his peer group and gets suspended for a game during an Oilers’ playoff hunt, as an Oilers’ fan, I’d be a little irritated. Maybe that’s unreasonable of me, but I don’t really care whether these guys are decent people. I’ve got no problem with naming them and subjecting them to condemnation from the press but I’ve a hard time seeing how it should impact on what happens on the ice.

    Terry Jones at the Sun:

    “Are you aware of the incredibly high percentage of the population which wants to see Devan Dubnyk opening the season in goal and being No. 1 this season?” your correspondent asked head coach Tom Renney.

    “Pretty aware,” responded Renney.

    “And your thoughts?”

    “I’m the coach. I’m aware of that, too.”

    I don’t agree with everything that Lowetide writes about hockey and at first glance, I found his reasonable expectations for Nikolai Khabibulin’s 2011-12 season to be awfully pessimistic in the GP department. TEN games played?

    It turns out that old LT, without even delving into the numbers, came up with a reasonably astute guess. I drew up a little comparator group for Khabibulin by looking at the next season for goalies in the following situation: on a team with two goalies playing at least 1500 minutes in the preceding season over the past twenty years where one goalie finished more than .020 ahead of the other in save percentage. This gave me 37 guys, not counting six from last year (three of whom – JS Giguere, Dan Ellis and Marty Turco – have been sent on to greener pastures.)

    With that said, 20 of them got zero minutes for the same team the following season. The norm, you could quite reasonably say, is to get rid of guys who are so clearly the second best choice. The average was 642 minutes (or, about ten games, just like Lowetide predicted). If you exclude the guys who got zero though, you bump the average to 1397 minutes against an average of 1997 minutes in the season in which they were clearly second best.

    Only nine guys played more than 1000 minutes for the same team after a season in which they were so clearly the second best option – the list is at left. Looking at it, you can see that only four guys could be called clear number ones the following season: McLean, Hedberg, Healy and Emery. Emery and Healy were young and Emery’s inclusion on the list is arguably unfair – he was playing behind Dominik Hasek in 2005-06 and even Mario Lemieux would be a number two centre on a team with Gretzky. I suspect that Hedberg keeps showing up on this list because because Kari Lehtonen kept breaking; not by design so much as by circumstance. McLean was an established number one goalie for the Canucks when he had his troubles and was shortly removed from a run to the Stanley Cup finals. It’s not surprising that the Canucks kept giving him rope.

    My point – and I do have one – is that it’s unusual for a guy in Khabibulin’s position to even be back with his team, let alone be the presumptive starting goaltender. The gap in performance between he and Dubnyk was so stark that similar gaps in the last 20 years have, more often than not, led to guys being disappeared. It would be exceedingly unusual for him to come anywhere close to Dubnyk in terms of TOI this year – every time that’s happened, . We don’t yet know what’s going to happen because Renney is playing his cards close to his vest, perhaps understandably so but if – and this is a significant if – Khabibulin comes anywhere near to Dubnyk in terms of TOI this season barring a reversal in their respective fortunes, I think it’s fair to start wondering if the Oilers are even trying to win hockey games.

    About

    43 Responses to Don’t ask, don’t tell

    1. Mike W
      September 28, 2011 at

      I don’t see why it’s so hard for the NHL to get rid of “faggot” in what is basically a workplace surrounded by spectators. Make a big announcement about a crackdown, but also allow refs to warn guys to lay off the language before dishing out misconduct penalties. Only a true homophobe would persist in actually getting a penalty/fine.

      I think there’s a genuine belief that homophobic slurs are a much lesser evil than racist ones, but that doesn’t seem like it will be a winning position in the long run.

    2. justDOit
      September 28, 2011 at

      Get a few hundred drivers to speed past a police car on a radar stake-out – same thing. They can’t pull everyone over.

    3. marconiusE
      September 28, 2011 at

      Is it possible that using the word ‘faggot’ as trash talk has less to do with sexual orientation in the political sense and more with questioning a player’s traditional manhood? I’d be curious to see if the majority of guys who used that slur were actually & truly homophobic. What about trash talk that involves players likening each other to females? Is that any better or worse?

      While I’m sure there are exceptions, the word fag (and its derivatives) seems to have evolved beyond a simple definition of sexuality into something else. Within the gay community the term fag/faggot is used to describe a particular type of gay person, not all gay people. It’s the same thing with the word n*gger, which is used in the black community to describe a particular type of black person instead of all black people. Or the word bitch within the female community.

      Slurs have a history of being appropriated by their victimized community and having their definitions changed as a way to take the power away from the word.

    4. Alan
      September 28, 2011 at

      I find it funny that on the NHL Network, they have to blur out Simmonds’ mouth when he (allegedly) uses the word… yet they have no evidence that he said it?

    5. David Staples
      September 28, 2011 at

      This only came to light because Avery is an agitator, who isn’t afraid to rock any boat. He feels strongly about this issue, as he’s travelled in different worlds than most hockey players, working at a NY fashion magazine, for instance.

      Good for Avery, at least on this issue. I’m sure the gay hockey playes in the NHL are secretly grateful for Avery’s nerve.

    6. Tyler Dellow
      September 28, 2011 at

      Disagree David. It was a story on Twitter before the game was over.

    7. Dave
      September 28, 2011 at

      @marcoinuse: Of course the point is to challenge the opponent’s manhood. That’s what makes it an offensive slur — the implication that a gay man is a lesser kind of man.

    8. Coach Pb
      September 28, 2011 at

      Of course the point is to challenge the opponent’s manhood. That’s what makes it an offensive slur — the implication that a gay man is a lesser kind of man.

      I’m shocked people heavily involved in this debate don’t understand this.

      • marconiusE
        September 28, 2011 at

        I understand that challenging one’s manhood makes it a slur. But how is it different then challenging one’s manhood by calling them a “girl” or some other euphemism for being female? Shouldn’t this be just as ‘offensive’ as what allegedly happened?

        • Coach Pb
          September 28, 2011 at

          challenging one’s manhood by calling them a “girl” or some other euphemism for being female?

          You must realize that women aren’t men.

          • marconiusE
            September 28, 2011 at

            I think I might be missing something. Why is it only offensive because a man ‘could be gay?’ I thought we were concerned about disparaging remarks against a particular group of people?

          • Attila
            September 29, 2011 at

            Ha. That’s not what the feminists say.

            • Attila
              September 29, 2011 at

              That was a reply to Coach PB, not Marconiuse.

            • October 1, 2011 at

              Got a citation for that, Attila? All feminists say that? Really?

              What a remarkably stupid thing to say.

        • Dave
          September 28, 2011 at

          One clear difference between challenging someone’s manhood by calling them a girl, and challenging someone’s manhood by calling them gay, is that a girl is undoubtedly *not* a man, whereas a gay man certainly *is* a man.

          So there are two separate issues here. One is that it’s offensive to challenge someone else’s manhood. The other is that it’s offensive use a term that implies that gay men aren’t real men. (That’s not to say that the second kind of offensiveness doesn’t also apply to the calling a man a girl, since there may be some implication that being a girl is inferior to being a man.)

          I don’t think the NHL has any real choice but to sanction players for using the word “faggot”. Some NHL players are gay. If a gay NHL player were repeatedly called a faggot, and the league was aware that the term was being used and did nothing about it, the league would be setting itself up for a hostile work environment lawsuit.

          • Dave
            September 28, 2011 at

            Ah, Coach PB, you beat me to it.

          • Dave
            September 28, 2011 at

            (Not that ever in a thousand years is a player going to sue the NHL for being a hostile work environment, so in practice I doubt they ever have to worry about this liability. Still, as an employer they have some moral obligation to provide a non-hostile work environment for gay employees, even if they don’t think they’ll ever get in legal hot water for not doing so.)

          • September 28, 2011 at

            Even if you get rid of “faggot”, it’s still a horrendously hostile work environment. No matter how much a coworker pisses me off, I’m not allowed to call him a “fucking pussy”, tell him about all the wonderfully dirty things I did to his mother before the game, or cross check him in the back. It’s a pretty hard sell to even try to consider the “hostile work environment” idea. “Hostile work environment” is part of the reason we watch, and thus, part of the reason the job even exists.

            And both you and Coach PB are missing the point re: questioning someone’s manhood via comparing someone to a gay man or to a woman. Both of them are implicitly expressing that both women and gay men are inferior. It’s the same thing, its just that one applies to men who are less manly and thus inferior, and one applies women who are less manly and thus inferior. That a woman is obviously not a man is irrelevant – the whole point of the slur is implying that the person you’re yelling at is inferior, by way of equating them to another inferior object. Whether the inferior object you’re equating your victim to is a woman, a gay man, a child, a midget, whatever, it’s exactly the same. “x is inferior, and you’re an x”.

            • marconiusE
              September 28, 2011 at

              Ah, IamJoe, you beat me to it

    9. September 28, 2011 at

      I’m a supporter of gay rights, and I personally stopped using “faggot” on the rink or in passing a couple years ago, but I’ve certainly heard it plenty (I play like a bit of an asshole, so that certainly factors into it). That said, to me, I don’t care if someone else uses it on a rec league rink, and I don’t really care if someone uses it in an NHL game. To my way of thinking, sure, it’s wrong, but at the same time, a lot of the things we say on the ice are wrong. You talk shit about a guy’s mother, a guy’s wife, hell, maybe his daughter, even if you’re not getting into personally offensive territory, we’re still tossing “pussy”, “mother fucker”, and “asshole” around like it’s going out of style. Frankly, a lot of fucked up stuff gets said on the rink. “Faggot” probably isn’t even the worst of it. More than that, I don’t really want to watch the NHL try to enforce and police such a change.

      But even if they did, at what point do you draw the line? I know quite a few women who think calling someone a “pussy” is pretty offensive. And that one is probably right below “faggot” if you ranked NHL trash talk terms by frequency (oh, that would be a fantastic infographic!). To me, there’s something sacred about all that (not the words, but the trash talk itself), in that hockey, more than other sport, has you battling guys in direct physical confrontations constantly. You’re in a amped up testosterone fueled atmosphere. Trash talk is a part of the game, and it belongs as a part of the game. Hell, it’s a valid strategy in hockey, to try to draw the other guy into taking stupid penalties.

      Of course, slippery slope arguments and arguments about whether the NHL could effectively police that sort of thing are somewhat specious (though they are legitimate concerns). If the NHL did it, I would support the decision. I just cannot imagine how this would have to be implemented – can you imagine the parade of penalties we’d see, and how it would make the game as tough to watch as it was in 2006? I really, really, don’t want to have to see that. It’s tough, because really, it probably should be against the rules. It’s so ingrained though, that it’d be tough to change to make a certain group happy, without pissing off a lot of another group.

      • marconiusE
        September 28, 2011 at

        Thank you! You said more eloquently then I could have hoped to!

    10. FastOil
      September 28, 2011 at

      I think it’s fair to start wondering if the Oilers are even trying to win hockey games.

      Hasn’t looked like it to me for a while. The injuries have provided good cover for the “interesting” moves that have been made that have not resulted in a better team in the short term. Like signing a failing old goalie long term, or not addressing Horcoff’s inevitable games out with a decent 2 way centre until this year. Lowe built the ’06 team, he has some idea of what an effective player looks like, so while I don’t have faith in Tambellini, at least yet, I don’t think it can all be pinned on catastrophic incompetence.

      Combined with really odd coaching decisions like the diamond PK, not line matching a rookie team, while we can’t know with absolute certainty of course, very many things indicate they have been just going through the motions and collecting high picks. There is far more that indicates this than indicates an honest effort to win, derailed by terrible fortune, which is part of their cover story.

      • September 28, 2011 at

        Is there anything more shameful than realizing you’re the person who fucked up the HTML tag and messed up the entire page?

        Tyler, your blog redesign should’ve featured an edit button.

        • FastOil
          September 28, 2011 at

          Well, yes there is. But appropriately embarrassed and duly noted. I’ll do it the old fashioned way next time.

        • May 6, 2014 at

          Sometimes we enjoy to make fun with Allah or our Religious matters.But U the devpoleers of this site and the guys who upload the photos must go to the Hell.Perhaps U’ve the last chance to ask pardon from Allah bcoz nobody knows when he/she will die. After death like U Kafeer MUST MUST Burn to the core layer of the Hell. Just imagin the lowest temparatute of the hell is 70 more times stronger than the highest powerful fire of this Earth.

      • Doogie2K
        September 30, 2011 at

        Let’s see if this fixes it.

        • Doogie2K
          September 30, 2011 at

          Goddammit, never mind.

          • May 6, 2014 at

            Yep, you guys are light years ahead of the States. Hopefully, we’ll catch up!!I saw that caption and thoguht of my recent post – glad you saw the humor in it, for a second I thoguht you were getting ready to “attack” the east coast of the US =PPP

        • Doogie2K
          September 30, 2011 at

          Trying again

    11. Carl Monday
      September 28, 2011 at

      Not sure why we should give NHL players a free pass on bigotry just because that sort of language is currently no big deal in hockey circles. I don’t buy the argument that the NHL serves a purely entertainment purpose. It’s a very public and even exalted part of mainstream culture. Players are regarded as role models to kids and aspiring athletes, and are actively offered up as such by the NHL and their sponsors. The NFL has a code of conduct for extra-curricular behavior; the NHL should at the very least be seen to be punishing in-game behavior that would otherwise be abhorrent in society at large.

      Organized sports are a big part of growing up in North America. Given the appalling bullying that “different” kids already go through, I think there’s a role (and probably even a responsibility) for leagues to lead by example and make it so that eventually these slurs aren’t acceptable in the peer group of a Taylor Hall in the first place.

      • Carl Monday
        September 28, 2011 at

        …all that being said, this is still one of the funniest things of all time:

        http://youtu.be/1MNA0_n32Hc

      • September 28, 2011 at

        Intellectually, I agree with you. Ideally, the NHL should totally be a role model of how we’d like people to grow up and behave. Realistically, that’s a joke though.

        But where do you draw the line? If we get rid of “faggot”, shouldn’t we get rid of “pussy”? If we get rid of “pussy”, shouldn’t we get rid of “asshole”? And so on. Realistically, we’re setting a limit on how much of asshole you can be, when ideally, no one should be an asshole. And I think we can all agree, there is a fair amount of the game that boils down to being a bit of an asshole, and that it can even be a strategy of sorts – being an asshole is a great way to draw penalties. Hell, I play rec league, and there’s a few guys on other teams who are really good, who we specifically are dicks to, just to bait them into stupid penalties, and get power plays. Is that not a legitimate strategy in hockey? Where do we draw the line, that this slur or this word is ok, but this slur or this word is not, when none of them really ought to be?

        If you’re going to punish behavior that would be abhorrent in society at large, you’re going to have to take that all the way. Not only that, but if we’re going to talk about getting rid of things that society finds abhorrent, shouldn’t we take care of the dangerous behavior first (i.e. society thinks its wrong if I fly at a guy at 20 mph and drive my elbow through his face, and society also thinks its wrong if I hit a guy with a wooden stick).

        • Pleasure Motors
          September 28, 2011 at

          Sorry, but if you’re going to argue “reality,” than the reason the NHL needs to crack down on its players saying “faggot” is that there is a huge swath of people — rapidly becoming a majority, I’d argue — with gobs of money who are going to look at the league like troglodytes, and maybe even stop paying, if they don’t.

          That is basically never, ever going to exist with “pussy” or “asshole,” probably because those words don’t bring up connotations of people being dragged behind pick-up trucks and committing suicide and stuff (though that’s just a guess). Arguing that we’d have to be intellectually consistent about this stuff is not arguing “in reality.”

          • Carl Monday
            September 28, 2011 at

            Agree. “Pussy” and “asshole” aren’t weighed down by the history associated with homophobic and racist slurs. No one is saying that players can’t be assholes, or call each other out as such. Just use one of the many other innocently dirty words available.

            Buried in the arguments that we should turn a blind eye to players using “faggot” is a tacit admission that homophobia ranks somewhere lower on the prejudice scale than racism. We would not be having this debate if this was someone dropping an n-word. I would hope that we could move past this in the next decade or so…the only people who seem to still say “faggot” unironically are hockey players, rappers and the Westboro Baptist Church.

          • May 6, 2014 at

            I was indeed aware of how trgadic this situation was and most probaly still is for Brandons closest friends and family because of my twitter post earlier. (MrMuffiiinz) However i had no idea that the location for such a terrible thing would be Liverpool, you see Liverpool,England is where i live and am now feeling a strange comitment to get Brandons story out here and help raise awarness about bulling, so i feel complelled to tell all my friends and family and get them behind a anti bullying organisation.

        • FastOil
          September 28, 2011 at

          Agreed. Given that the NHL is a business, and it likes to market to children, a high road approach is the best one for them to take. It is possible to put some limits in, which it seems they are doing with intent to injure and rascist and bigotted language.

          That still leaves a lot of room for jawing, they’ll pull through. If they are consistent, the players will get it. There isn’t much they wouldn’t do for those paychecks I am sure. For most of them, there is aren’t a lot of options for 6 and 7 figure incomes.

    12. Tyler Dellow
      September 28, 2011 at
    13. Tyler Dellow
      September 28, 2011 at

      Did that fix things?

      • Doogie2K
        September 30, 2011 at

        Wouldn’t editing his comment work?

    14. September 28, 2011 at

      “If Taylor Hall uses a word that’s acceptable within his peer group and gets suspended for a game during an Oilers’ playoff hunt, as an Oilers’ fan, I’d be a little irritated.”

      What if he keeps giving fans the finger and shouting so the kids in the first row can hear about how Jews drink Gentile’s babies’ blood? That should be a fine, right? The league has a legitimate interest in enforcing rules that require it’s performers to not be incredibly offensive to the paying customers, including blacks, Jews, women, gays etc. It’s good for business to minimize offensiveness when possible. Bad publicity. (There are also problems about fines for televised games from the FCC if a microphone picks up the slur. The NHL has an interest in avoiding those.)

      The line drawing argument iss a fallacy here. You can allow players to insult each other without using words that are reasonably likely to offend even a fairly small minority of viewers. So, you prohibit “faggot” because it is likely to offend some. Of course, “idiot” may offend some with low IQ’s, but in reality that’s incredibly unlikely and even if it happens, it will only happen to one or two people. That’s where you draw the line, even if it’s a rough and ready line. (By analogy, we can draw the line between bald men and not bald men, even though we don’t know exactly how many hairs a person needs on their head to be bald.)

    15. speeds
      September 28, 2011 at

      Does allowing players to swear and call each other names really add anything to the game?

    16. lobanovskyi
      September 29, 2011 at

      long time listener, first time caller.

      Can how a word is used by NHL players or by Taylor Hall’s peers be the basis for the standard on which supplementary discipline is based? I don’t think it can. I know plenty of hockey players who un-ironically use the word Jew as a verb, as in “stop Jewing me, stripes.”

      This is not the role model argument; this is the living in the world argument. There are plenty of things that used to be socially acceptable and now aren’t: drinking and driving, beating your wife, hating minorities, etc. Collectively, our use of language reflects the evolution of our social norms. Regardless of how you or I or Brendan Shanahan feels about certain words, if the NHL wants to discipline players for the words they use, on the ice or off, such discipline should reflect the norms of the society(ies) in which it operates. I would argue that in 2011 in North America, “f*ggot” is no longer acceptable.

      While I think that it’s incumbent on us all to take the opportunities to stand up for what’s right when they come around, I think the NHL could reasonably take the position that what its players say is the players’ business. After all, the NHL is in the business of selling top-level hockey, and I’d still pay to watch Datsyuk if it came to light that he was a Muslim-hating fascist. I’m paraphrasing, but I think this is fairly consistent with Tyler’s point. However, if the league takes it upon itself to police the words players use, the standard against which Simmonds’s conduct was evaluated should should be the same as the one that will be used the next time someone calls him a “n*gger”, which will eventually happen (sadly). The point is, the league can decide to either police language or not; if it decides to police language, homophobic slurs (even when spoken by non-homophobes) have to be treated the same as racist slurs based on our present societal norms.

      The heat-of-the-moment argument strikes me as false. Certain words do not become socially acceptable because of the circumstances under which they are uttered. If you don’t believe me, try replacing f*ggot with k*ke, n*gger, n*p, etc. at your next men’s league game and see how that goes.

      Also, I don’t buy the “f*ggot means different things to different people” argument. Players have always and will always belittled other players – that’s not what this is about. The words pussy and motherfucker may be coarse, but aren’t socially unacceptable. A more interesting example is “r*tard”, which is well on its way to being unacceptable, but is still ok for certain jokes (as in Tropic Thunder).

      Love the site – thanks Tyler

    17. Vic Ferrari
      September 30, 2011 at

      Damn, terrific commentary here.

      Probably best that we haven’t followed Iamjoe’s lead and started confessing our sins, much less tried to defend them. I empathize, but it’s an unwinnable argument.

      Personally I think that people are holding hockey players to much too high a standard. And criminy, have you listened to the crowd during an Oilers playoff game? They’d put the players to shame, and that’s a low bar to jump.

      apropos of nothing: We have a friend from England who came over to visit and rented a car. Before driving off he gave the vehicle a once over, and spotted a cigarette burn on the back seat. “Oi, mate, there’s a fag burn ‘ere, make note of that”. The car rental dude was so freaked out by what a ‘fag burn’ might be that he was frightened to even get near the vehicle.

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