Opinion: NHL trash talk no place for slurs

Wayne Simmonds was the victim of a thoughtless act last week but has now found himself embroiled in more controversy.

Simmonds reportedly hurled a homophobic slur in Sean Avery’s direction during a pre-season game between his Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers.

It’s no surprise there is backlash from Simmonds saying this, especially because of what the young Scarborough, Ont. native went through in London when a banana was thrown at the black player.

What can be said about this event is that it’s something that occurs within the realm of sports.

Athletes trash talk as an outlet or to get into opponent’s heads. It starts at the grassroots level as up-and-coming youngsters learn very quickly through different outlets.

The things said on the ice, on the field or on the court are all aspects of the game but there are reasons why this particular incident has been scrutinized so publicly.

Avery has a long history of being outspoken and creating a buzz within the media, including comments made about an ex-girlfriend who had begun dating Dion Phaneuf.

However, the Rangers forward campaigned for gay marriage earlier this summer in New York State and because of that, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation wants a public apology to Avery from the Flyers forward.

And he should. There’s no denying what Simmonds said was inappropriate. He crossed a line and because of who he said it to and what had happened to him, it becomes even more magnified.

The NHL looked into the incident and decided there would be no punishment handed out. There was inconclusive evidence according to Colin Campbell and the league would not be able to take any disciplinary action.

We’ve seen in the last year two events in the NBA of the same nature that both resulted in fines.

Chicago’s Joakim Noah was fined US $50,000 after throwing that word at a Miami fan in Florida last March. Kobe Bryant said the same thing to a referee in April and the superstar was fined US $100,000.

The NHL should continue to look into these incidents — and yes, there are probably many of them during the span of an 82 game season — and figure out a way to not only punish players but also educate them properly.

A noted critic has been Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke, whose late son Brendan came out publicly as a homosexual with the support of his father.

“The league shouldn’t tolerate taunts or slurs which are hateful and hurtful to a particular group in society,” he said to the National Post.

There will never be any way to totally remove this kind of thing from any sport though because games often become emotional, heat-of-the-moment situations.

In a statement with the Canadian Press, Calgary Flames defenceman Scott Hannan explained that sentiment.

“If you’ve ever played sports and been in that situation, where the anger or the emotion gets a little ahead of you, that should be taken into context somewhat,” Hannan said.

Hopefully the NHL, and every other professional league for that matter, can figure out a way to monitor what is said on the ice.

Trash-talk will never not be apart of the game but as Burke said, “there’s no place in our game for either (racial or homophobic slurs).”

Most importantly, Simmonds should take it upon himself to publicly address this incident and issue a public apology to Avery with the same grace and character he showed following his own public ordeal.