So! In relatively recent news, I’m a hockey fan now.
It all started a few years ago when I started writing the book that’s coming out with Harmony Ink Press this December. The book is a companion to Here’s to You, Zeb Pike, and NO, YOU CANNOT KNOW THE TITLE OR SEE THE COVER YET. But both are coming very soon—I absolutely promise. There are special announcement plans and possibly even fireworks involved. Get excited.
Anyway, this book is told from Emmitt’s point of view, and it takes place a few months after he and Dusty first meet. As you might have guessed, there is a LOT Of hockey in it. I’ve always liked hockey; I grew up in northern Vermont, where it’s practically illegal not to. Even so, I was certainly never an avid hockey fan. Like many Americans, I tended to give my best support to the sport in June. I was the quintessential Easter-and-Christmas person of hockey supporters.
Then this book came…and this book required that I watch hours and hours of hockey. Know the history of the sport, the culture of the sport, the rules of the sport. And because Emmitt is gay, this book also required that I research and fully understand the NHL’s relationship with the LGBTQ community.
For better or worse, two important things came out of me writing this book. One: I am now an Avs fan for life, even in sad years like this when we collapse tremendously in the last few games of the season. (It’s okay, Dutchy. I still love you.) Two: I understand why what Andrew Shaw said the other night mattered so much.
In case you missed it—or in case you’re also an Easter-and-Christmas hockey person—the other night the Chicago Blackhawks played the St. Louis Blues. It’s the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Hawks have not always looked their best in this series. In this particular game, star player Andew Shaw—who up until this incident has always reminded me of a delightful puppy who happens to have tremendous stickhandling abilities—lost his cool. Not only did he flip off a ref, he also yelled a decidedly homophobic slur at the guy. I’m sure you can guess which slur.
And the cameras caught it.
Shaw’s apology later on was contrite and repentant. He said this wasn’t him, and he expressed regret multiple times to the entire gay and lesbian community. He said that after watching the video of himself he was horrified.
Either the guy’s an amazing actor, or he’s legitimately sorry. And I’m choosing to believe the latter.
I was proud of Shaw for apologizing. It’s never easy to stand up and admit when you’ve said something hurtful. He could have taken a path of denial or excuses, and he didn’t. That takes guts.
Because I was proud of Shaw, I read several articles covering his speech. Then I read the comments on the articles, and I sort of wanted to throw up.
This, people, is why you never read the comments.
Let’s set aside the Chicago fans who are clearly just upset one of their stars was suspended for a game. Multiple comments referenced how overly sensitive this world has become and how being politically correct is something horrible that we should all avoid. Free speech, several people shouted. He should be able to say whatever he wants! Sticks and stones and all that.
A common thread throughout several of the comments was this: They’re just words. Why does everyone care?
Writing a book about a gay teenager who desperately wants to play professional hockey had already answered that question for me.
Here’s the thing: despite things like the You Can Play project, which has its roots in the NHL and shares the important message that all people—regardless of sexual orientation—are welcome in pro leagues like the NHL, there are no current or former NHL players who have ever come out. Not one. Consider the math on that. Consider the hundreds of people who, statistically speaking, have likely spent years of their entire lives in the closet as they worked their way through the NHL and even after they retired.
I refuse to believe that’s some kind of accident. I do believe that the culture in the NHL is shifting to one of greater acceptance for all people…and that’s wonderful. That’s exactly what the NHL and this world needs.
You know what doesn’t breed acceptance? You know what doesn’t make teenage kids who play hockey or NHL players feel like they can come out to their teams? Professional athletes hurling homophobic slurs rooted in a deep history of vile hate and violence. Words matter. They send messages. They equally breed acceptance and discord.
What Andrew Shaw said on the ice the other night was another sad reminder that the NHL still has a long way to go before it can be the accepting place people like the fictional Emmitt LaPoint so desperately need it to be. But Andew Shaw’s apology was also a reminder that we as a society have come a long way, and so has the NHL.
Andrew Shaw, wherever you are, thanks for standing up and doing the right thing. And for those of you who don’t understand why it was the right thing, do some research. I’d highly recommend the site OutSports; that’s where I did much of my research. This world isn’t getting any smaller, and staying closed-minded toward others’ feelings because you don’t like “political correctness” isn’t going to get you very far in the global community we live in now.
And go Avs. Next year, of course. For now I’ll just have to cheer on whoever Minnesota’s playing