Sean Avery called homophobic slur?

Updated: September 28, 2011, 11:58 AM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

PHILADELPHIA -- A Winter Classic news conference Monday afternoon touted the Rangers-Flyers rivalry as one of the best in sports, but the animosity took an ugly turn during the Rangers' 5-3 loss to the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Monday night.

Feisty Rangers winger Sean Avery confirmed that Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds called him a homophobic slur during the first period of the bitter preseason contest. A video replay showed Simmonds hurling the epithet toward Avery while on the ice near the Flyers bench.

"To be here now having to answer the questions about what he did is disappointing for me. I'm disappointed for him," Avery said.

Rangers coach John Tortorella said: "I did not hear it, but I'm sure Sean Avery is not lying about it."

Simmonds, who is black, was on the other side of a racially offensive display last week when a fan hurled a banana into his path during the Flyers' exhibition game against the Red Wings on Thursday in London, Ontario.

The 23-year-old winger said he did not remember everything that was said between him and Avery during the game but did not deny crossing the line.

Simmonds said he felt Avery sucker-punched him in a scrum early in the first 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 such a response.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette didn't comment on the exchange. As for what he saw of it, Laviolette said, "It was a couple of guys battling out there."

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has contacted both the NHL and the Flyers about taking action on the incident.

"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 received Monday night should be treated the same as racially-charged language and other egregiously offensive 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 used during the game.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had not seen the video clip when reached by email Monday night but said the league is "looking into it."

"We have (the) ability to discipline for language used on the ice," Daly told ESPNNewYork.com via email, although he noted that the league has never employed that authority in the case of an anti-gay slur.

When asked if he would like to see the league take a hard-line stance on the incident, Avery didn't want to comment.

But the 31-year-old forward -- who has been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community -- appeared in a public service announcement in May supporting gay rights and marriage equality.

"It's an issue," he said. "It's an issue that people are dealing with and trying to overcome and ten 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."

Just before that incident, Philadelphia's Tom Sestito racked up 20 minutes in penalties after boarding New York's Andre Deveaux behind the net in a move that will likely draw another suspension for the Flyers.

After the play, Sestito and Stu Bickel fought, resulting in misconducts for both players. Bickel also was given an instigator penalty.

"He got a little overzealous," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said.

Last week, after a boarding call in a home preseason game against Toronto, Philadelphia enforcer Jody Shelley was suspended for 10 games by new NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.

Tortorella called for Sestito to be punished, as well.

"Shanny should have a field day. As far as hits from behind, he should have a field day," he said. "Jody got what, 10 games? This one is worse than that."

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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