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A blog by a long time New York Islanders fan who stays true to the fellas wearing orange, white and blue…but thinks the Islanders organization has some shaping up to do.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Drawing the Line

I don't mean to be all preachy twice in a row, but this came to my attention this morning as I scoured Twitter for hockey news. Puck Daddy, a blog on Yahoo, is a site I check out fairly often, and it provides humor as well as information. There was nothing that humorous about the topic of one of its posts, however: a column written by Justin Bourne, the son of legendary Islander Bob Bourne. In it, Bourne writes about the use of gay slurs in hockey culture, and how they must be stifled. "It's time to acknowledge we've been unfair to the gay community, that the culture of our sport can be misogynistic, homophobic, and cruel," he wrote. (link:http://www.usatoday.com/sports/hockey/columnist/bourne/2009-11-02-hockey-culture_N.htm )

Puck Daddy's editor, Greg Wyshynski, opened a forum for discussion on his blog by asking readers whether or not the issue of gay slurs in hockey should be addressed. Many said yes: many others, however, further proved Bourne's point that the culture of hockey needs to be modified. (link: http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Gay-slurs-and-hockey-banter-Time-to-take-a-stan?urn=nhl,199909 )

Let's make this loud and clear:

This is not about "growing a thicker skin." It is not about toughening up, or simply dealing with the "alpha male" mentality of these players. It is not an issue of words and free speech, either. Free speech does not mean you have the right to completely alienate an entire group of people. Nor is the whole "stick and stones" line going to be accepted anymore. Words do hurt, particularly when the intention to hurt is made clear- anyone who has any concept of feelings understands this. But more than that, it is an issue of acceptance of others- and let's face it, the "f" word describing gay men doesn't exactly convey an air of tolerance here.

As a matter of fact, let's think about that for a second. If a white player were to call a black player the "n"-word, we all know what would happen- groups would get up in arms and call for the white player's head, so to speak, and for good reason. It's a gross word. But athletes in any sport- even the guys I joked around with in high school- throw the "f"-word around like a lacrosse ball and no one bats an eye. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Things have to change, and yes, it's up to us to change them.

Wyshynski does make a good point that it will take time and patience for complete tolerance to spread throughout the NHL as well as other sports leagues; sociologists have proven that younger generations have become more accepting of alternative lifestyles than their older counterparts. Still, the underlying hockey culture- or any sports culture which promotes violence, aggression and a traditional "masculine" atmosphere- could stand to be changed a bit. Not only for the betterment of gay people, but for women, the players themselves, etc. It's just not a great environment to grow up in. Read the book "Crossing the Line" by Laura Robinson, and you'll see just how twisted hockey culture can be- and that's only in Canadian major-junior leagues. If somehow, we find a way to change it, as Bourne hopes, young players will be able to mature as tolerant, respectful men who can still have a good scrap on the ice or score a great goal. And P.S. Though it may be "human nature" to question one another's masculinity, boys, rest assured that it shouldn't be. If you have all the parts necessary to be a man, then quite frankly, you are one.

Another point he makes is that, unfortunately, someone or few may have to come out of the closet and show everyone that yes, Virginia, there are gay players in the NHL. Maybe it'll sink in for players, coaches, and fans alike that there are actual people they are hurting with their "so-and-so likes it up the..." chants and other anti-gay insults. It'll definitely take some time to end the ridicule; however, it can and should happen.

There is no reason why someone's sexual orientation should be an issue for anyone involved with hockey, as long as they can put the puck into the net. As a supporter of gay rights myself, I hope that one day a gay player can feel comfortable around his teammates and not have to worry about these ridiculous comments.


Jacob said...

I think this is where the professional sports world needs to get a reality check from the recreational sports world. My sister plays in a womens league and there are openly gay players, refs, and coaches, and no one cares. There are no derogatory comments made about them or about anyone else for that matter regarding sexual preference. In the last league I played in there was a gay team, when we went up against them it was not with an attitude of "they're gay, and this should be easy as they are not masculine enough to play the game" it was instead with the thought of "These guys are good and we'll have to skate our butts off tonight in order to even contemplate beating them." Hell, we didn't even find out that they were a gay team until halfway though the season, that's how little it mattered. Now, I'm not naive enough to state that that's how all rec hockey leagues are, as I know that's not the truth, but I think that my league, and women's hockey in general show what hockey can, and should be, and that is an all inclusive and welcoming sport. If anyone is interested in the organisation that put together the aforementioned gay team it can be found at http://www.cgiha.org/Pages/default.htm

AngieOnTheNYIslesScene said...

Thanks so much for your comment and for the link. It's great to know that there are players and teams out there who don't look at it in terms of gay vs. straight. The pro hockey and sports world could definitely take a few lessons from you guys! :)

Thanks for reading!