On Friday night, during Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, Ducks center, Ryan Getzlaf, was caught on camera yelling an anti-gay and sexist slur. His punishment for saying the phrase? A $10,000 fine. That’s all.
Last year, when Montreal Canadien’s Andrew Shaw was on the Chicago Blackhawks, he too shouted an anti-gay slur at the officials. His punishment from the league? A one game suspension and sensitivity training.
The only difference between these two situations is the words they spoke. Where Shaw said a word that starts with an “F” and has a painful and heavy history, Getzlaf said a term that describes someone who performs oral sex, implying that such an act is degrading and demeaning.
For the NHL to determine one merits more of a punishment than the other is ludicrous. Why should Getzlaf get a pass simply because his slur doesn’t have the same history as Shaw’s but is homophobic nonetheless?
The NHL proclaimed the month of February as “Hockey is for Everyone” where a You Can Play ambassador represented each team and where LGBT, female, minority, and other fans were celebrated. It seems like the NHL truly wants to rid the league of homophobia and sexism, but when they nitpick linguistics, it feels like they themselves aren’t aware of the significance of Getzlaf’s slur or how deep rooted the homophobia and sexism is.
“There was obviously some words said, not necessarily directed at anyone in particular. It was just kind of a comment,” Getzlaf said. “I’ve got to be a little bit more responsible for the words I choose. I didn’t mean it in that manner in any way. For that to take that route was very disappointing for me. I do accept responsibility and I accept the fine. We’ve got to be a little bit more respectful of the game, and that’s up to me. I accept that responsibility and we’ll move forward.”
It wasn’t Getzlaf’s intention to alienate gay men and straight women with his word choice in a moment of frustration, but he did and that should matter to the NHL. Many defended Getzlaf and Shaw, saying “it’s common to hear that on the ice” or that these words “aren’t homophobic.” A particular Ducks fan has even gone so far as to create a GoFundMe page to pay off Getzlaf’s fine. The NHL had an opportunity to send a message to fans who think this way. Unfortunately, the league failed its LGBTQ and female fans.
For a man who makes millions of dollars a year, the $10,000 fine doesn’t mean much to Getzlaf. Will the fine help remove the word from his vocabulary? Not likely. So why is the NHL even bothering? Did they fine him just to appease fans? To gain some positive PR? If it was done to help rid the league of slurs, they’re going to have to try a lot harder.
It’s clear that hockey culture needs to change. These words should not be in players’ vocabulary, or be so commonly used that they’re the first words they think of saying during bouts of anger. The NHL has the ability to undo this habit, to educate and teach players. Having sensitivity training be a consequence to Shaw’s vulgar language last year was a great call by the league, but why not do the same with Getzlaf? It’s clear from his response that he doesn’t understand the impact his words might have had. He also doesn’t seem apologetic or remorseful for what he said. With mandated sensitivity training and proper education on LGBTQ topics, he would be more aware of the meaning of his word choice, as would other players.
For a league that is constantly trying to grow and be inclusive to all its fans, the NHL took a huge step backwards on Saturday morning with its decision to be inconsistent in punishing players for using anti-gay slurs on-ice.