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  • NHL missed its chance to condemn homophobic slur Print
    Written by Denis Gorman   
    Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:16

    In the aftermath of the Sean Avery-Wayne Simmonds incident, the NHL failed to send a message about homophobic slurs. Was the failure based on Avery's reputation?

    Denis GormanSean Avery stood in front of a stall inside the visitors' dressing room in the Wells Fargo Center a few minutes after the Flyers' 5-3 exhibition win over the Rangers Monday night, talking about slurs – a topic Avery is all too familiar with.

    Over the course of his 10-year career, the 31-year old left wing has become infamous for his ability to infuriate opponents with verbiage.

    This time, however, he was talking about Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds, who appeared to use a homophobic slur towards Avery during the game.

    "Yeah," Avery said when asked by reporters if Simmonds used the word in question. "Ten years ago maybe it wasn't so much of an issue politically. It's been said for years now.

    "I have no idea," was Avery's response to the question as to what could have prompted Simmonds to utter the slur.

    Avery then said, "I'm not really going to comment on. Things like that, the backlash that I could receive, I don't want to hurt the team."

    When asked if he wanted to see the NHL take a firm stance on homophobic insults, Avery said, "I'm not going to go there."

    He needn't have worried. The league's reply was predictable.

    "We have looked into the allegations relating to the possible use of a homophobic slur by a Flyers player in the Rangers/Flyers preseason game last night in Philadelphia. 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," read the newsworthy portion of the statement accredited to Campbell.

    "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," it continued. "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."

    The hockey world should be proud of the NHL's response to the banana-tossing episode, but it should be equally disappointed with the Simmonds-Avery debate and its aftermath.

    In short: We're passing the buck.

    It is not the first time this space has criticized the NHL for its decision making. It will not be the last until there is across-the-board accountability at 47th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.

    Hiring Brandan Shanahan to replace Campbell as the Czar of Discipline is a fine start.

    But for all the good that Shanahan has done in his new role – our Frank Seravalli wrote a strong column Wednesday examining the man’s first real weeks on the job – the NHL disgraced itself by not taking a firm position on homophobic language.

    The league's stance that it is "unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom," is particularly condemnable since Yahoo! Sports' NHL blog has a video of Simmonds shouting what appears to be the slur towards an unseen Ranger. Simmonds and Avery had spent the better part of the first period Monday exchanging words and punches.

    Simmonds was encircled by reporters Monday night and acknowledged having a running conversation with Avery in which both said "some things" that the other "did not like."

    When told that Avery reported he used the word in question, Simmonds shifted his argument to Well, If I Said Something It Is Because the Other Guy Is Sean Avery.

    "He didn't think he said anything? (It's) Sean Avery. Come on, now," Simmonds said. "Who knows what comes out of his mouth?"

    Following Flyers' practice Wednesday, Danny Briere backed Simmonds' Avery Cannot Be Right about This Topic Because He Is a Bad Guy reasoning.

    Briere told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he found it "inappropriate" that Avery had threatened to "kill" Claude Giroux. During its broadcast, CSN aired audio (warning: not suitable for work or sensitive listeners) of Avery telling Zac Rinaldo that he did not "want to (expletive) kill Giroux," following a check from behind on Michael Sauer that caused the Ranger defenseman to suffer a sprained shoulder on the play.

    Briere said he knew the Ranger "didn't mean it literally but we all know Sean Avery and how much he likes attention," while noting, "it's ironic everyone is defending Sean Avery and it's OK for him to call guys out about killing them."

    That this controversy has devolved into a he said, he said, based on who employs these athletes is as unsurprising as it is dispiriting. Especially, when you consider the hockey world – included – widely praised its reaction to the idiotic banana tossing incident in London, Ontario, last week.

    The hockey world should be proud of its response to that episode, but it should be equally disappointed with the Simmonds-Avery debate and its aftermath.

    Sports are a microcosm of society. Would either occurrence be tolerated – or even tacitly encouraged – by corporate management in everyday life?

    No, it would not.

    So why did the NHL, with an opportunity to send an unmistakably clear message Tuesday, fail?

    On Twitter: @HockeyPrimeTime and @DenisGorman

    Photos by Getty Images

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    Last Updated on Thursday, 29 September 2011 15:58