Yes, you can play, but you can also expect to hear anti-gay slurs

Superman no more.

The ‘S’ on Kevin Pillar’s chest now stands for Superslur and, although he’s been saying (mostly) the right things since saying the wrong thing, what came down this past week in Atlanta is going to stick to the Toronto Blue Jays centrefielder like scandal to Bill Cosby.

Yes, Pillar is sorry he called Braves hurler Jason Motte a “faggot” for having the bad manners to quick pitch and strike him out. The mea culpa sounded sincere, at least it did once he moved beyond the scripted and standard “This is not who I am” denial and the mind-numbingly illogical and delusional “It’s not a word I ever use. It’s something that is not even part of my vocabulary.”

Kevin Pillar

But an apology, no matter how forthright, won’t make the anti-gay slur go away any more than winning another tournament made the stigma of an insatiable sexual appetite go away for randy Tiger Woods. Let’s face it, Woods is now known as much for his messy marriage and his coven of blonde cocktail waitresses on the side as for his glory on the golf course.

I suppose that isn’t fair, because neither Pillar’s or Woods’s trespass was ground-breaking stuff. Pillar has a potty mouth. Woods screwed around. Many have been there, done that. Yet both are high-profile, professional athletes whom the rabble places on a pedestal, although I sometimes suspect that’s for no reason other than to watch them fall off. Play-for-pay jocks are expected to march to the beat of a more virtuous drum, except that simply isn’t doable. Pillar and Woods are human beings and the human is an inherently flawed species that never fails to fail.

So, as much as Pillar’s mouth could use the kind of soap-scrubbing that mom threatened us kids with whenever we sprinkled our speech with a pinch of four-letter salt, his damnable choice of words is a rude reminder that even Major League Baseball players spit when brushing their teeth. You know, just like the rest of us.

Robbie Rogers

It also speaks to a larger issue, that being openly gay men in the five major North American pro team sports.

Officially there’s one openly gay player, but the active body count is zero. A wonky ankle is keeping defender Robbie Rogers in the repair shop and unavailable to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the entirety of their 2017 Major League Soccer crusade, and any other gays in MLS, MLB, the National Hockey League, National Football League or National Basketball Association remain in hiding.

Is that in part because the word “faggot” remains the go-to slur and the mind-set of the big boys who play little boys’ games? Could be.

I mean, Pillar insists that the gay F-bomb isn’t part of his vocabulary, and perhaps that’s so at the dinner table and in social settings, but video evidence supports the notion that it’s a different matter once he steps into the batter’s box or between the foul lines. Ditto Andrew Shaw who, during a National Hockey League playoff game last spring, labelled a National Hockey League referee a “faggot.”

That’s not the type of guy I am,” Shaw was quick to assure us.

Ryan Getzlaf

Perhaps Shaw and Pillar truly aren’t that “type of guy.” And, hey, maybe Ryan Getzlaf calls all his male friends “cocksuckers,” not just an on-ice official who annoyed him during Game 4 of the Anaheim Ducks-Nashville Predators playoff skirmish.

It was just kind of a comment,” explained Getzlaf.

Apparently, the NHL agrees, because it withdrew $10,000 from his pay envelope but permitted the Ducks captain to play on.

Well, I’ve got news for Getzlaf and the NHL: I can think of no circumstance by which one very angry straight man calling another straight man a “cocksucker” is meant as a compliment. It isn’t “just kind of a comment.” It’s anti-gay.

But that’s the type of culture Getzlaf, Shaw and Pillar work and play in. Men’s professional team sports is misogynistic and homophobic on a ghastly level, and snuggling up to the You Can Play Project has done nothing to temper that distasteful reality. If the NHL’s relationship with You Can Play was anything more than window dressing, Getzlaf would have been given at least one game off to contemplate his wicked words.

What we heard from Getzlaf and Pillar in the past few days, and Shaw last spring, helps explain why Robbie Rogers is the only gay man in major professional team sports who isn’t hiding in a closet.

And it’s a shame he doesn’t have any company on the outside. I mean, come on, man. This is 2017, isn’t it?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

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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.