Trash-talking part of the time—just don’t cross a line
In a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning on March 11, Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly allegedly said a homophobic slur to the referee. After an investigation, the NHL concluded that what sounded like an anti-gay remark in the arena’s mics did not come from Rielly, and he was not disciplined.
Morgan Rielly: ‘I was 100% confident I didn’t use the word.’
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) March 12, 2019
Although Rielly did not make the remark, reactions on social media to the NHL’s investigation were worrisome. I went on Twitter and Facebook after it happened and kept shaking my head as I read through comments. The people who believe “the world is too soft” and “people get hurt over anything” were out in full force, showing their ignorance to matters like this. But the one comment that got me thinking the most was, “What happens in the rink stays in the rink.”
In other words, whatever unacceptable behaviour someone does in the rink, doesn’t hold them accountable outside of it. It doesn’t work like that. Although Rielly didn’t actually use a homophobic slur this time, they’re used way too often in sports, especially in hockey.
I’ve played hockey my whole life, and there will always be insults on the rink—it’s part of the game to get into your opponent’s head. The most homophobic sayings I’ve heard were probably when I played bantam or midget. Unfortunately, words to describe members of the LGBTQ+ community are used as insults. I’m not going to lie, I used to say those things on the ice until I learned it was wrong.
It continues to amaze me that some adults believe using homophobic slurs are acceptable as insults because it happens in a hockey rink. How someone acts on the rink is also how they act off of it. Eliminating homophobia in all aspects of life starts by stopping it in the places where it’s most common.
Hockey probably has to be one of the worst sports for gay athletes—there are still no openly-gay players in the NHL, while Michael Sam in the NFL, Jason Collins in the NBA, and Glenn Burke in the MLB were some of the first few athletes to come out in North America’s major sports.
However, the NHL does a good job at promoting inclusivity through its partnership with You Can Play. It’s an organization founded in memory of Brendan Burke, the son of NHL executive Brian Burke, who came out as gay in 2009, a few months before he died in a car accident.
I understand insults are part of hockey, but homophobic slurs don’t belong on the ice—or anywhere for that matter. Not using those words is really simple—just call your opponent stupid or something. Or as my dad always told me, “Respond by putting the puck in the net.”