Warning: This post contains graphic language.
A professional hockey player has been pilloried on social media after a video surfaced of him apparently using an anti-gay slur during a playoff game Tuesday night.
Andrew Shaw, 24-year-old center for the Chicago Blackhawks, caught a penalty for interference in the final minutes of a contentious match against the St. Louis Blues, as Deadspin noted. And, perhaps because the Blackhawks were down 2-1 in the series, Shaw was not happy about it. On his way to the penalty box, he flipped two middle fingers at an official and — although there was no audio from the ice — appeared to shout, “F‑‑‑ you!”
Once in the penalty box, Shaw doubled down. Again, there was no sound, but Shaw, after banging on the glass with his stick, appears to have shouted, “F––– you, you f—ing f—-t.”
On Twitter, Shaw was excoriated as users debated whether the word was offensive, whether Shaw’s apparent use of it was intended it as an anti-gay slur, whether the word is too commonly used in sports, what consequences Shaw would face, and whether everyone should just lighten up or take such matters more seriously.
“Once again, we see why there aren’t more openly gay athletes in elite level sports,” one Twitter user wrote. “Thanks Andrew Shaw.”
Perhaps the most remarkable reaction came from Chris Hine, a gay sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune.
“As some of you may know, I’m a gay sportswriter — who covers the #Blackhawks,” he wrote. “I like Andrew Shaw and have a good relationship with him … But what he said tonight was inexcusable and is one of the reasons why gay athletes everywhere stay closeted and often live lives of torment.”
Shaw himself said he wasn’t aware what he said.
“Emotions were high,” Shaw said after the game, as Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reported. “I don’t know what I said. I wasn’t happy with the call.”
This explanation didn’t impress everyone.
“Reporters asked him about what he said to the officials and he went with the ‘heat of battle’ argument, which sounds like a weak excuse,” Patrick Redford of Deadspin wrote.
Opinions on the word Shaw seemed to use, meanwhile, run the gamut. Some say it’s essential to “reclaim” the word; others say it should never be reclaimed. But it’s far from the first time an athlete has gotten in trouble over the term. Last year, Rajon Rondo of the Sacramento Kings was suspended for using it. And Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 after he was caught saying the word during a game in 2011.
Meanwhile, off the court, director Brett Ratner was booted as producer of the Academy Awards for using the word in 2011, and actor Isaiah Washington was booted from “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2007 for using the slur against gay castmate T.R. Knight. He later said the incident helped motivate him to come out.
“It’s an awesome word, isn’t it?” Knight said. “I’ve never been called that to my face. So I think when that happened, something shifted, and it became bigger than myself.”
The Blackhawks’ recent partnership with You Can Play, an organization that promotes equality for LGBT athletes, made Shaw’s apparent outburst all the more awkward.
“We believe athletes should be judged by their character, work ethic, and talent,” Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling said in a video released earlier this month, “not their sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
Indeed, You Can Play was already gearing up to respond to Shaw.
“We are aware of tonight’s incident and will be reaching out to the NHL immediately to assist in an appropriate response,” the organization tweeted.
It was unclear what consequences Shaw would face. Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports said Shaw “won’t see the ice in Game 5, given the firestorm, and given that it’s the right thing to do.”
“The NHL is an old-school, ‘what’s said on the ice, stays on the ice’ place in its executive levels,” he wrote. “And while there is an element of ‘anything goes’ in taunting and trash talking that should remain that way, there’s no room any longer for gay slurs. This is an opportunity to prove there’s progress that’s been made, and continues to be made, to rid the game of this kind of repellent behavior.”