Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Brian Burke wants action on alleged slur
By Katie Strang
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has yet to see the video himself, but said if the allegations are true -- that the Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds called Rangers forward Sean Avery a homophobic slur -- then the league needs to take immediate action.
"That type of comment has no place in the game," Burke told ESPNNewYork.com when reached by telephone Tuesday morning.
Simmonds met with NHL vice president Colin Campbell on Tuesday to discuss what was said to Avery. Simmonds, who is black, was the target of an incident last week in London, Ontario, when a fan hurled a banana into his path during the Flyers' preseason game against Detroit.
Campbell said later in a statement that Simmonds would not be penalized because the league was "unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom."
The 23-year-old Simmonds said he did not remember everything that was said between him and Avery during Monday's preseason game but did not deny crossing a line. Simmonds said that he believed Avery sucker-punched him in a scrum early in the first period and said the two continued to verbally spar after that.
"Honestly, we were going back and forth for a while there," Simmonds said. "I don't recall everything that I did say to him but he said to me some things I didn't like and maybe I said some things that he didn't like. I can't recall every single word I said."
Avery felt he said nothing to prompt being slurred.
"If that happened, that is just so embarrassing and the league should not tolerate it," Burke said. "That should be treated on the same level as a racially charged incident. It's the same level of offensiveness and inappropriateness."
Burke became one of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community's strongest advocates in the sport after his son, Brendan, came out as openly gay in 2007. Brendan Burke, 21, died in a car crash last February; his father has continued to be an outspoken supporter of gay rights in honor of his son.
Brian Burke said Miami of Ohio men's hockey coach Rico Blasi was supportive when Brendan, a student manager for the team, informed teammates that he was gay and intolerant of any backlash that Brendan faced.
"Rico said, 'This has to stop,' and it stopped," Burke said about the pervasive use of anti-gay language. "I stopped. It's possible to stop and the league should definitely feel the need to use discipline in fines or suspensions."
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has contacted both the NHL and the Flyers about taking action against Simmonds.
"Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink," GLAAD acting president Mike Thompson said in a statement. "The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at LGBT youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility. He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable."
When asked if he felt slurs such as the one he heard Monday should be treated the same as racially charged language and other egregious on-ice displays, Avery pointed to a recent example in the NBA.
"Kobe Bryant got fined ($100,000)," Avery said, referring to the April incident in which Bryant was fined for calling a referee the very same derogatory term Simmonds is accused of using Monday.
Burke said he has been immersed in hockey long enough to realize that the derogatory term is often used in such a cavalier way that players don't think about what they are saying.
"I think sometimes it reflects the habitual rather than the homophobic," he said. "Players reach into their back pocket and that's what they say, not necessarily meaning to target someone's sexuality."
But that does not make the use of the word acceptable, Burke said.
"That does not make it OK," he said. "It's got to stop."
Avery has been an outspoken advocate of the LGBT community, appearing in a public service announcement in May supporting gay rights and marriage equality.
"It's an issue," Avery said. "It's an issue that people are dealing with and trying to overcome and 10 years ago, maybe it wasn't so much an issue but it's certainly an issue politically with people in the game. And just in life in general."
Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPNNewYork.com.