Hate Speech in Hockey: The Other Hit From Behind

We’ve got a special guest post today. Let’s call her JEM. Huge thanks for an excellent article.

There have been several accounts of hate speech—specifically racism and homophobia—in hockey reported in the media recently. On one hand, this is great, because the unjust reality of hate speech on the ice needs to be exposed. On the other hand, it totally sucks, because hate speech totally sucks.

To recap, the reports in my awareness are as follows:

1)      A banana was thrown at Philadelphia Flyers player, Wayne Simmonds, by jerk-fan Chris Moorehouse during a pre-season game. Moorehouse contends that his intention was to block a goal rather than convey a racist message, but he is being charged and could be fined up to $2000. I’m not sure what the charge is exactly—committing a hate crime? Throwing a banana?—as I can only know so many things. And of those things that I do know, one of them is this: he deserves to be charged, even if his intentions were misinterprated. You should know that I’m not a tough-on-crime kinda gal, and certainly don’t want to see people ending up in the clink (so what, I’m a bit of a prison abolitionist)—which he’s not – yay! (BTW, have you ever seen the HBO series Oz?). I don’t typically believe in making an example out of people, either. But in this case, I do. It’s time to fucking crack down on this shit. And by this shit I mean racism. I am willing to give Moorehouse the benefit of the doubt—he may really not have known the connotations of his actions. Not everyone knows about all things racist. I mean, he’s not a character from the movie Crash. Those people know ALL things racist, and their everlasting knowledge of things racist functioned to make what purported to be an anti-racist film the most racist film of all time.

2)      Wayne Simmonds (yes, from the aforementioned story) called notorious trash-talker Sean Avery the homophobic F-Word. It’s true, I watched it on the internet. (FYI, Sean Avery has been at the forefront of gay rights in hockey. Huzzah!) On one hand it’s tempting to question how a person victimized by racial hate speech (and presumably not only in this context) could turn around and employ the same kind of tactics on another person. But then reality sets in and we realize that’s not how life works.  Things are actually complicated and post-modern (WOMN 1020). So let’s talk just desserts: Cold Stone Creamery. No, that’s not what I’m supposed to be talking about here. Take two: There have been a couple of sports players in the past who have been fined big bucks (and by big bucks, I mean small potatoes for a sports star—but I’m not complaining!) for this kind of offense: Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for spitting a homophobic slur at a referee, and Joakim Noah (whoever that is) was fined $50,000 for directing the same kind of love (hate!) towards a fan. Simmonds deserves to be reprimanded. Let’s get rid of homophobia already! If the “1 in 10” adage is true—that is, one in every tenth person is gay—then it stands to reason that each team has ½ a gay person on the ice at all times. Just kidding, that doesn’t make any sense. Not only because it’s stupid, but my math suggests that a team has five players on the ice instead of eight. Duh.

3)      A 15 year old minor league hockey player from Ottawa, Nick Ngwafusi, was called the racist F-Word, which does not actually start with the letter “f” at all. Ngwafasi is Black, so you can deduce what the racial slur was. CTV (with Marianne Meehan and Graham Richardson) did a story about it last night, and it really broke my heart to see this young, talented kid being destroyed inside by the racism that is blemishing his ice time. Ngwafusi made it clear that it does not end with emotional pain, though. Every time he is subjected to a racial remark on the ice, his game weakens. He explained that lately his performance has gone down noticeably because he feels like he is playing with “extra weight.” This is just so fucking wrong. Like, SO FUCKING WRONG! My heart is breaking, but not as much as I imagine Ngwafusi’s is, or his dad’s, who was also in the broadcast. The player hurling the hate speech has been suspended for one game. Because authorities were not in earshot of the verbal assault, that was the most they could do. Fair enough, I guess?

So, it’s time to come up with a solution. If you ask me (which you are doing by reading this), I for one think that every player should be equipped with a microphone. That’s right, it’s time to get Big Brother on this shit. You wanna talk about cost? Fuck that. I don’t care how much it costs. Cut salaries for all I care. If the NHL can mic players for television entertainment in HBO’s 24-7, they can do it to address the injustice of hate speech. Okay, maybe HBO paid for that, but I think the NHL has pretty deep pockets. Or they could come up with the money the same way I always say the government could: legalize marijuana and tax it. That works in this case, right? I’m so full of good ideas. But for real, players should be equipped with microphones. The cost of hate speech on the ice outweighs the cost of electronic doodads.

Next: There should be a Brendan Shanahan of hate speech. And when a player employs racism or homophobia as a tactic, it should be reviewed the same way as hit from behind – but with less questions and debate.  And the consequences should doled out liberally, like the butter in my mashed potatoes. Hate speech in hockey, like a deliberate hit from behind, is a form of non-consensual violence. It becomes assault – verbal assault, which is as painful as assault delivered physically (WOMN 1808).  Like a deliberate hit from behind it, hate speech induces pain and potentially long-term damage. This is especially true in the cases of racist and homophobic slurs, which are linked to years of violence and oppression, both systemic and micro. So NHL (and other leagues), use your big stupid rich brain and make the systemic changes required to end micro-level racism and homophobia on the ice! It can only make the game better! For all we know, Nick Ngwafusi is the next *insert your favourite player of all time here*, but if hockey leagues don’t step up to the plate (baseball reference in hockey talk?), we could never know, and that is a preventable shame.

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