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To say that Andrew Shaw of the Chicago Blackhawks lost his damn mind at the end of their game against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night would be an understatement.
He took arguably the worst penalty in the 2016 NHL postseason, an interference call with just over two minutes remaining in the third period and his team trailing by a goal. He responded by flipping off the refs.
Once he returned from that penalty, he responded to a trip off the faceoff by Alex Steen by jumping him and then going after anything in a St. Louis sweater after the final buzzer sounded to signal a 4-3 Blues’ win in Game 4, giving them a 3-1 series lead. Shaw was given two minor penalties and a game misconduct, even though the game had ended.
In between these incidents, Shaw may have done something very, very regrettable. Here’s Shaw in the penalty box, shouting at the officials:
Yes, it appears our hero is screaming “[expletive] [gay slur], [expletive] you!” to the referee or another passerby on the ice. He also appeared to say it before going to the box.
Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune asked him about it after the game, and Shaw said: "I don't know what I said. I wasn't happy with the call."
From the Tribune:
“I mean, emotions are high, I really don’t know what’s said,” Shaw said. “I was obviously upset with the call being that late in the game (as) it doesn’t give us a chance to tie it up.”
When asked again if he used the slur, Shaw replied: “Like I just said, I can repeat myself for you. Emotions were high. I don’t know what was said. Obviously, I was upset with the call. It was late in the game like that. I wasn’t happy with the call.”
The floodgates opened quickly on Shaw’s actions. You Can Play, the organization that advocates on behalf of LGBT athletes and fans, put out the following statement:
“We are aware of tonight's incident and will be reaching out to the NHL immediately to assist in an appropriate response.”
Chris Hine, who is on the Blackhawks beat for the Chicago Tribune, said the following via Twitter:
As some of you may know, I'm a gay sportswriter -- who covers the #Blackhawks. I like Andrew Shaw and have a good relationship with him ...
— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) April 20, 2016
But what he said tonight was inexcusable and is one of the reasons why gay athletes everywhere stay closeted and often live lives of torment
— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) April 20, 2016
So is Shaw going to be suspended for this?
It really all depends on how far the NHL has come in five years.
Please recall the 2011 preseason, when Sean Avery did as Sean Avery does and provoked Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers. Simmonds responded with what appeared to be the same gay slur that Shaw shouted:
Now, this was 2011. This was before You Can Play. This was after Kobe Bryant was fined by the NBA for a gay slur – did that make the tribute video? – but before Rajon Rondo was suspended for making one towards a gay referee.
This was back when Wayne Simmonds could deny using a slur and the NHL would have his back because there wasn’t enough corroboration or available audio evidence to confirm what anyone with a pair of functioning retina could see.
Colin Campbell, who incidentally would also be the lead NHL executive in disciplining Shaw for this, wrote the following on Simmonds:
“Since there are conflicting accounts of what transpired on the ice, we have been unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom. Specifically, Flyers Player Wayne Simmonds has expressly denied using the homophobic slur he is alleged to have said."
“Additionally, none of the on-ice officials close to the altercation in question heard any inappropriate slurs uttered by either of the primary antagonists. In light of this, we are unable at this time to take any disciplinary action with respect to last night's events. To the extent we become aware of additional information conclusively establishing that an inappropriate slur was invoked, we are reserving the option to revisit the matter."
So in 2011, the standard was whether the player admitted to it and if anyone had heard it.
Well, Shaw doesn’t admit to it. And let’s say for argument’s sake no one heard him say it around the penalty box.
What does the NHL do five years after letting Simmonds off the hook for a nearly identical offense?
Thanks to organizations like You Can Play and the shift in our culture away from bigotry and tolerance for bigotry against the LGBT community (North Carolina excluded), one assumes it’ll be different this time.
One assumes Andrew Shaw won’t see the ice in Game 5, given the firestorm, and given that it's the right thing to do.
The NHL is an old-school, ‘what’s said on the ice, stays on the ice’ place in its executive levels. And while there is an element of "anything goes" in taunting and trash talking that should remain that way, there's no room any longer for gay slurs. This is an opportunity to prove there’s progress that’s been made, and continues to be made, to rid the game of this kind of repellant behavior.
We should want everyone to love hockey. We shouldn't want people choosing not to love it because of some bile Andrew Shaw spewed at an official, or because the League that employs him didn't feel it necessary to admonish him for it.
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