Ridding the NHL of anti-gay slurs isn’t about political correctness, it’s about common decency

Now that the dust has settled (it has settled, hasn’t it?) and Andrew Shaw no longer is suffering from amnesia, what have we learned?

Try this:

a) The National Hockey League has officially crawled into bed with the You Can Play Project.

b) Mainstream jock journalists are afraid of the word “faggot.”

In the matter of point a), the NHL really had no choice but to deliver Shaw a stinging slap on his wrist, which we can be certain is not a “limp wrist” because, as we all know, there are no “limp wrists” among the practitioners of the manly art of hockey, otherwise the players’ vocabulary, on and off the ice, would not include anti-gay slurs like “faggot.”

Then, again, perhaps it would.

Were there an openly gay performer in the NHL, little doubt foes would draw attention to his “limp wrists” and use sexual orientation in an adolescent gambit to wrestle him off his game.

Whatever, there was little, if any, allowance for wiggle room in the Shaw situation. During a Stanley Cup skirmish featuring his Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues this week, Shaw called a game official a “fucking faggot” and it wasn’t meant as a compliment and it no longer will pass muster. Not when the NHL likes to trumpet the fact that it is in bed with the You Can Play Project, a group advocating the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in sports at all levels.

Trouble is, until this incident, the NHL and You Can Play weren’t actually in bed together, all their warm-and-fuzzy, co-op public service announcements notwithstanding. The same bedroom, yes, but they were more like a couple in a 1950s or ’60s TV sitcom—sleeping in separate beds.

So now, the NHL has actually walked the walk.

It’s not for me to say if the punishment fits the crime. I’m guessing, however, that reality bites: Address one’s foe or a game official as a “faggot” and it earns you a day off (one assumes said hiatus would be sans salary during the regular season), you’re $5,000 out of pocket, and you also are mandated to spend some quality time with those who specialize in the counsel of the less-sensitive among us. One would think that penance ought to attract the workers’ attention, but who knows for certain?

What I do know is this: Contrary to one school of thought, this is not about political correctness. It isn’t about democrats, republicans, liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, Christians, atheists, bleeding hearts or whatever venom Donald Trump is spewing these days. It’s about common decency. Nothing more, nothing less.

You simply do not target and slay a specific segment of society with hate language, and the standard, all-too-convenient “heat of the moment” defence doesn’t wash. Decent folks don’t talk that way.

I have no idea if the word “faggot” is part of Andrew Shaw’s every-day vocabulary, but I choose to think not and that he is genuinely contrite, and I believed him when he said he would “never use that word again, that’s for sure.”

Again, it speaks to decency.

Meanwhile, it’s about point b) and the media. If I read one article/opinion piece about the anti-gay slur Shaw delivered, I read three dozen. Probably more, actually. And in all but three, the word “faggot” was not included. I read that Shaw called one or more on-ice officials a “f—–g f—-t” and I read more than one piece that repeatedly referred to “that word” without advising readers what “that word” was.

But I ask, why leave it for readers to fill in the blanks or guess? Spell it out: F-a-g-g-o-t. Why shy away from it? That’s what Shaw called an official, that’s what should be reported. Writing the word doesn’t make it worse. It makes it real.

Also real is the weight the word carries and the damage it can inflict. Just so we’re clear—and this is for the edification of those who still don’t get it—it is a degrading, demeaning, hurtful and insulting term that leads to serious bouts of self-doubt, with gusts up to depression and suicidal ideation. I have heard it used by men in the LGBT collective as a playful term of endearment, but rarely so outside the gay community. It is an indignity saturated in contempt.

Perhaps now that the NHL has actually gotten into bed with the You Can Play Project, there will be a reshaping of a long-held, anti-gay culture. We can hope, can’t we?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

10 thoughts on “Ridding the NHL of anti-gay slurs isn’t about political correctness, it’s about common decency”

  1. A nice article, thanks. But I do disagree with you about spelling the word out. Words disappear more easily from everyday language when there is an acronym that says the same thing, but doesn’t hit you in the face with the ugly word. The ‘N word” tells me all I need to know about the word used. I don’t need it fully spelled out and frankly I don’t think the impressionable youth of today need it spelled out either. Your use of the word “decency” is most appropriate. In my opinion using terms like the “N word” and the “F word” is far more decent than writing out the complete word,and no sense of ‘realness’ is lost. But I respect that you view it differently. I agree with your sense that Mr. Shaw actually does seem contrite. Kudos to him for that.


    1. In this case, the word faggot is not only central to the story, it is the very core of the story.
      If you go to the gay website Outsports, you will see that they had no issue with using it in their initial stories on the Shaw incident. As I said, in this instance, it was the core of the story.
      Your concern for our youth is well-intentioned, but they can only be schooled on which words not to use by telling them exactly which words are unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.
      I should also point out that there is more than one F-word that we shouldn’t be using. There are times when it’s necessary to spell them out, and this was one of them.
      But you’re right, Rick, we can agree to disagree.


  2. I guess my question back to you is ‘if the N word is used in the next playoff game and results in a suspension, do you want that word spelled out because it is the ‘core of the story’? If you don’t want it spelled out, why not? Granted use of the ‘N word’ acronym has been around for a long time and spelling it out is unnecessary to inform the reader. But we both know that people are aware of what the ‘F gay slur’ word is. I assume you feel that the gay slur word is in its infancy in stories like this; therefore there’s a need for its full inclusion. Apologies if my assumption is wrong.

    As for there being two F words and a need to differentiate, respectfully that seems a specious argument. The word gay has been used to identify the F slur and everyone knows the slur used. The other F word is a common swear word, not a minority slur. If one accepts the two F word argument, both words will have to be spelled out for the reader in perpetuity, and that’s not going to happen.

    I am fed up with the LGBT community being treated by some as second-class citizens, and the elimination of a gay slur word from stories is a very positive thing in my mind. Frankly it bothers me that LGBT people themselves see no problem using the word in articles. If we have no problem using it in journalism, why should anyone else? You can have the last word Patti Dawn should you wish, and thanks for expressing your view and letting me express mine.


  3. So, to follow your line of logic, mainstream media should handle gay slurs like faggot, queer, dyke, butch, bull dyke, tranny, Nancy boy, fag hag, fairy, twink, poofter and so many others as if they don’t exist. Whenever an athlete utters such bile, newspapers/websites should simply refer to it as a “gay slur.”
    If that’s the case, then if Donald Trump refers to Hillary Clinton as a “bitch” or a “slut” or a “whore,” the words should not be spelled out in print. It should be written as “b—h” or the “B-word” or “s–t” or the “S-word or “w—e” or the “W-word.” Or readers should simply be advised that Trump used a “female slur.”
    As if.
    If Trump calls Clinton, or any other woman for that matter, a bitch or a slut or a whore, we both know how that would play out in mainstream media: That’s right, the words bitch/slut/whore would, in fact, be in every headline.
    So why is it acceptable to spell out a misogynistic slur, but it’s taboo to spell out an LGBT slur in a news story? Is the gay collective more special than half of North America’s population?
    There are many in the gay collective, myself included, who toot that we don’t want to be treated differently. Yet it seems to me that there are just as many who want different treatment. We can’t have it both ways.
    As a journalist, I maintain a gay slur should be written out if it’s central to the story. As a member of the LGBT collective, I think it’s important that people know exactly which words are unacceptable and why they are unacceptable, and that’s why bloggers such as myself and LGBT websites like Outsports and Pink News spelled out the word “faggot.”


    1. Yes I do think that mainstream media should avoid words like f___, dyke, bull dyke, tranny, Nancy boy. fair, poofter, etc. Most media outlets seem to realize that these words are insults towards a distinct minority. As for slut and whore and to a lesser extent bitch, those aren’t minority slurs. All of them can be applied to the male and female gender, and we are talking roughly 50% of the population in either instance.

      As for gays wanting it both ways, I’m lost on that one. All most gays want is to be treated with respect and to have the same rights as anyone else. Since when is that inconsistent with a desire not to have slurs printed about themselves in newspaper after newspaper? I take it from your comments that you intend in the future to use the full N word in your columns, the full gay F word for gay issues, the full C word for Asians and the full K word for Jews when you feel they are “essential” to your story (you never really answered that question). It’ll be wonderful to return to the 1960’s. Thankfully most media outlets do not feel these words are necessary to convey a story. That’s my last comment.


      1. So, if it’s a slur directed at women it’s okay just because females make up half the population?
        Heaven help us.
        Talk about living in the 1960s.


  4. You keep on avoiding the question. Should all ethnic and sexual orientation slurs against minorities be spelled out in journalistic articles or not? If the gay slur is the only one that should be spelled out, why?

    An adjective/slur used against women – 50% of the population – is not a slur against a minority. As for whether I feel words like slut, whore, etc, should be routinely voiced by desperate and crass political people, of course not. That’s what this whole topic is about, reducing the crassness of journalism and public discourse. Now please answer my question so both of us can move on, lol. Thank you.


    1. Hi Rick…sorry for the delay in responding.
      I had lunch with two of my dearest friends, both of whom are gay and, although neither is a sports fan, both were aware of the Andrew Shaw story. I asked them this question: Should gay slurs be written out in news stories such as the Andrew Shaw incident, or should the media refer to what he said as a “gay slur” or write it as “f—-t?”
      Vernon said: “I heard the guy’s apology, and you have to write out the full slur. Am I supposed to guess what he said?”
      Cullen said: “The only way we can educate people about the words that shouldn’t be used is to tell them what words are unacceptable. So they have to write them out.”
      So, there you have the uninfluenced opinions of two gay men.
      Now, to answer your question: If two media giants like the BBC and the New York Times can spell out offensive words in their news stories and opinion pieces when the word(s) is germane to the article (see the links below:), then I believe I am on solid footing when I do the same in posts on my insignificant little blog. And, like them, I will continue to do so.
      Take care and thanks for the discussion.


      1. Thanks for the gracious response and all your time. I appreciate knowing your views on your full inclusion of ethnic and minority slurs now and in the future. Perhaps wrongfully, it does affect my desire to follow/read certain bloggers or journalists. I acknowledge myself perhaps as a little petty, but I do not want a return to a time where certain slur words were easily accepted in print or society. You are certainly not alone in your views as your friends indicate, and I have a partner who fully supports your view. His daughter, a millennial, on the other hand says that she would never consider spelling out such slurs in the (limited) articles she writes. Maybe the times are a changing as one wise man once sang. Take care of yourself and the very best.


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