The NHL Gets It Wrong Punishing Anti-Gay Words But Not Goon Actions

Andrew Shaw
The Associated Press

I am gay, I am a huge hockey fan, I play in a rec league, and I strongly believe that the NHL was wrong to suspend Andrew Shaw for the gay slur he yelled at a ref in the fourth game of the Blackhawks-Blues series.

Let me be clear, the Chicago forward’s profanity-laced tirade was absolutely out of bounds, but the league’s decision to suspend him for a game is wrong.

Earlier this week, the NHL Department of Player Safety gave Philadelphia Flyers forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare the same one-game suspension after an illegal hit on Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov. Bellemare’s brutal hit on Orlov sent the Capitals d-man head first into the boards, a hit that could have ended his career and left him permanently paralyzed.

In explaining the one-game suspension, the league pointed out that while the hit on Orlov was illegal and intentional, Orlov was not injured and Bellemare had no previous history of being fined or suspended for illegal hits.

Just days later, the league wasn’t nearly as forgiving when it came to the anti-gay slur used by Shaw.

Despite a sincere and complete apology by Shaw, where he made no excuses and took total responsibility for his actions, the league gave him the exact same one-game suspension — for words — that it gave Bellemare for a potentially career ending illegal hit.

After suspending Shaw, the league brass made it clear that they wanted to make the Chicago forward an example. In an email to the Chicago Tribune, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said: “It is an unfortunate penalty for the player and for his team, particularly at this time of year, but hopefully it will be an eye-opening response for everyone involved in the league and in our game…. As a league, we stand for tolerance and inclusion. We cannot and will not tolerate public commentary or behavior by league or club personnel that is antithetical to those values.”

On the same day that the league cracked the whip on Shaw, they chose not to fine or suspend Penguins defenseman Kris Letang for a violent slash to the neck of Viktor Stalberg of the New York Rangers. They chose not to take action against Letang for an actual slash to the neck after previously levying fines against Nazem Kadri (forward, Maple Leafs) and Josh Manson (defenseman, Ducks) for making throat-slash gestures on ice.

The league needs to get it priorities straight.

Illegal hits can end careers and leave players permanently disabled. The league needs a Department of Player Safety that actually emphasizes player safety. It is preposterous to think that the there would be punishment handed down for a throat-slash gesture but not an actual throat slash or that the league would dole out the same punishment for words — no matter how bigoted or offensive — as it would for a violent and illegal hit.