The NHL chose not to discipline Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds for his alleged homophobic slur because it could not "substantiate" that Simmonds hurled the epithet toward New York Rangers winger Sean Avery.
After a hearing with Simmonds on Tuesday, NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell released a statement calling commentary about race, ethnicity and sexual orientation "absolutely unacceptable," but said there was not enough evidence to punish Simmonds.
"We have looked into the allegations relating to the possible use of a homophobic slur by a Flyers player in the Rangers/Flyers preseason game last night in Philadelphia. Since there are conflicting accounts of what transpired on the ice, we have been unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom," Campbell said.
Video replay appeared to catch Simmonds making an anti-gay slur against Avery during a preseason game in Philadelphia on Monday night. Avery confirmed that Simmonds made the remark.
After the game, Simmonds did not deny the accusation but said he could not recall everything that was said between the two players.
"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."
But Simmonds apparently changed his stance during the hearing Tuesday, as Campbell noted in the statement that Simmonds "expressly denied using the homophobic slur he is alleged to have said," and without an on-ice official to corroborate what Avery said, the league sided with Simmonds.
Campbell said the league reserves the right to amend its decision if any new evidence becomes available.
"To the extent we become aware of additional information conclusively establishing that an inappropriate slur was invoked, we are reserving the option to revisit the matter," Campbell said.
Last week, Simmonds, who is black, was the subject of another controversy when someone threw a banana on the ice from the stands as he was taking a shootout attempt during an exhibition game in London, Ontario.
"All players, coaches and officials in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually-based innuendo or derision," Campbell said in the statement. "This is the National Hockey League's policy and it will remain so going forward."
Earlier Tuesday, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation called for Simmonds to apologize for the slur and pressed the NHL to educate its fans about such remarks.
"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."
GLAAD said it has talked to the Flyers and the NHL about what specific steps can be taken. The organization added that it has worked with sports leagues such as the NBA, Major League Baseball, and the WWE to address issues of homophobia in sports.
"It also is important to emphasize that the National Hockey League holds, and will continue to hold, our players to higher standards with respect to their conduct both on and off the ice," Campbell said. "While we recognize that the emotion involved in certain on-ice confrontations may lead to the use of highly charged and sometimes offensive language and commentary, certain lines cannot be crossed.
"We have for many years emphasized to our clubs and players that commentary directed at the race or ethnicity of other participants in the game (or even non-participants), or that is otherwise socially or morally inappropriate or potentially hurtful -- including as it may relate to sexual orientation -- is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated," he added.
Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.