It was around this time last year that NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly commented that the league cannot and will not tolerate public commentary or behavior by league or club personnel that is the antithesis of those values.
It came as the deputy commissioner slapped then Chicago Black Hawks forward Andrew Shaw with a one-game suspension and a fine of $5,000 for a penalty box tirade that included an obscene gesture and a homophobic slur directed at an official. Unfortunately, another high-profiled NHLer was making headlines last week for simular unacceptable behaviour.
Anaheim Ducks Captain and star forward Ryan Getzlaf was fined $10,000 for uttering an apparent homophobic slur while television cameras were trained directly on him. To Shaw’s credit, he was remorseful and publicly apologized to the gay and lesbian community and made no excuses for his actions.
Getzlaf, on the other hand, seemed somewhat indifferent. To quote him: "I understand that it's my responsibility to not use vulgar language, period, whether it's a swear word or whatever it is. We've got to be a little bit more respectful of the game, and that's up to me."
Doesn’t sound very apologetic.
In a respectful workplace in 2017, racial, ethnic, sexist and homophobic slurs and sexual harassment are simply not tolerated. For professional athletes, the arena, stadium or locker room is a workplace and for that reason the same standards should apply. Granted, things do happen and are said in the heat of competition, but that is no reason to condone it.
The NHL, its team owners and the NHL Players Association have partnered with You Can Play Project, an advocacy group dedicated to eliminating homophobia in sports. Founded by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke and his father, Calgary Flames president Brian Burke, it is hoping to educate and create awareness.
After five years of working with teams, the players can no longer use excuses for not understanding the power of their words and the effect they have on other players, the fans and the LGBTQ community.
Professional athletes like Ryan Getzlaf with their multi-million dollar salaries have a social responsibility to lead by example and serve as positive role models. That means working to foster a culture shift in professional sport away from homophobia to one of inclusiveness.
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.