Man, am I fucking sick of writing posts like this. But the NHL, it’s rock-stupid/ignorant players, the league’s insistence on pretty much letting them be that, and the supposed-watchdog organization riding shotgun seem pretty fucking insistent that I and many others have to keep doing so.
To recap the news, though you probably know it already, Ryan Getzlaf got caught calling someone a “cocksucker,” a homophobic slur whether you like it or not, the NHL fined him the change he found between his couch cushions, he came out after Game 5 and delivered the most insincere, backhanded apology one could muster, one so lacking in any emotion or regret even Jay Cutler thought it was patronizing, and You Can Play released a statement that was so soft and passionless it’s a wonder the paper it was printing on didn’t actually piss down its leg. So a good weekend for all around.
Let’s start with Getzlaf himself, and go from there. Yes, I recognize that Getzlaf almost certainly can barely read, and probably stopped going to school somewhere around 7th grade. I realize almost all of his developmental years and his adult life has been spent around a “hockey culture,” which is about as backward and underdeveloped as you can get. Fine, but ignorance is no longer an excuse, and I was under the impression that the NHL and You Can Play were at least pretending to be on a crusade to change all of this. Going well, that.
What Getzlaf needs to realize (and so too should YCP’s “ambassador” on the Ducks Ryan Kesler if that position actually meant anything other than YCP getting to do a press release to pat themselves on the back) is that he likely has had a gay teammate. He very well might have one now, and whether that’s past tense or present the reason he clearly doesn’t know it is that player has had to live in secret for reasons like his teammates and captain using words that he finds insulting and hurtful even if they don’t realize it, or more to the point, don’t care. Getzlaf doesn’t get to decide how his words are interpreted by anyone, and neither does anyone else, even if his “I didn’t mean it that way” half-assed apology certainly put the onus on anyone who might be insulted.
Even if Getzlaf has never shared a dressing room with a gay player, the Ducks certainly have fans who are. Clearly it’s not a percentage he, the Ducks, or the NHL cares about, however large it may be. You’d think since they buy the jerseys, tickets, and provide the sponsors the eyeballs, someone might care. Not that I ever really put any stock in any players’ or teams’ claims about how much they care about the fans, but at some level there are business concerns here. Or so one with requisite oxygen to the brain might think.
And before my horse grows too high and close to the sun, full disclosure that “cocksucker” is a word that has escaped my lips far too often, even after I learned far too late that it shouldn’t. And like Getzlaf’s claims, I too mostly used it as an exclamation of anger when stubbing a toe or making a mistake, mostly because I grew up with my father screaming it after missing an easy shot at the pool table. The difference is we both knew it was wrong and actively strive or strived to be better. Getzlaf shows no interest.
On to the league, and at this point you have to wonder how they even manage to get the doors open to their buildings and games, given their level of incompetence. A fine not even to notice, and no suspension. A year after Andrew Shaw was suspended for a game for the same infraction. And even that was probably not enough. Either way, Getzlaf should have suspended for more than Shaw because a precedent was set, and the lessons should have been clear. This was breaking a known rule, supposedly. But “third-liner, first round” apparently is not equal to “first-liner, conference final” in whatever Seussian system the NHL is judging this through.
The player or round shouldn’t matter in the least, and that seems so simple I can’t even believe I have to say it. This is what happens when you build your playoffs up to be some epic, Mt. Olympus like struggle that can’t be interfered with in any way. This is why somehow suspensions in the playoffs are considered “double,” and I suppose by this round they’re considered “super-duper double.” The NHL actually thinks suspending someone for even a game at this level is akin to being put on “The Machine” from Princess Bride. This is why players can basically axe each other over the head, or physically joust with a ref like Getzlaf’s partner in asshoolery Cory Perry did at the end of Game 5, or say whatever they want and it just gets labeled, “This is the playoffs.” It’s also why your sport basically sucks.
And the NHL certainly doesn’t get to decide what “degree” of a slur is. They’re all slurs, and don’t need grades on them.
And if that is the prevailing attitude, then booting Getzlaf’s neanderthal ass for a couple games now would certainly get people’s attention, wouldn’t it? If this were something the league actually cared about, that is. I would find it hard to believe they have any fear of the Players’ Union, which routinely rolls over for it in CBA negotiations. Really, the play here would have been to suspend Getzlaf for multiple games, have the union go berserk, and then ask the union why it won’t protect the gay players that are assuredly within their ranks but are too afraid or unwilling to come out, then watch the union tie itself in knots over it until it imploded in on itself. That would have at least made for some excellent television.
Which brings us to You Can Play. Here was their statement:
“No language considered homophobic belongs in sports. It’s not the language of role models. This is yet another opportunity to educate athletes, teams and fans.”
Wow. Feel the burn?
“Considered” homophobic? No, they’re homophobic, full stop. Once again this is placing the responsibility on those with ears and not the ones emitting from their vocal chords. And an opportunity to educate would seem to be YCP’s job, no?
It’s been a while now that those in hockey and the hockey writing community who are also part of the LGBTQ community have been criticizing, if not outright hammering, YCP for being basically an organization that is more interested in making the straight community feel better about itself than actually helping the LGBTQ one feel more at home in hockey. It’s pretty clear now why that is for those who might not have known.
Let’s take this “ambassador” program. Boy, they were really excited to tell us about it. Trevor van Riemsdyk did all the interviews and definitely said what he was told to. Except you know what might have helped? TVR going to various youth and school teams around the area to explain what his role was, why it was necessary, and how it’s that generation that will make it easier and welcoming for gay players to be who they are while playing, if ignorant and hateful attitudes are too entrenched for his generation (and they shouldn’t be). Can’t say I’ve seen much evidence of that, or anywhere else really. A lot were repulsed by the choice of Andrew Shaw in Montreal, while I admittedly wanted to see if the enthusiasm of his words about changing and being an example of how you can evolve and help after being a scourge were true. Again, haven’t seen much, but is that Shaw’s fault or YCP for not giving him enough of a platform?
It feels like YCP is so in love with its “partnership” with the NHL that it isn’t actually going to say or do anything that’s going to make anyone uncomfortable there. They should have been screaming from the mountain tops about a lack of fine or suspension and perhaps even prodding Kesler, again, their “ambassador” to make a statement as well. But once again, just like always, team comes before what is actually right.
I honestly don’t know what the endgame here is. It feels were just as far away from an openly gay player in the NHL as were years ago. There aren’t any in college or juniors as far as I know either, but feel free to correct me. YCP can hand out all the rainbow tape they want, and make all the ads they want, but what’s real change? What’s really making a difference? I’ll hang up and listen for my answer.