Monday night in Scotiabank Arena there were reports that a player yelled a homophobic slur at a referee during the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Audio recordings from the arena during the play of game seemed to capture Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly directing the slur at referee Brad Meier.
The NHL’s PR Twitter account tweeted after the game that they were aware of reports of an “incident” but would “have no further comment until this investigation is completed.” Leafs GM Kyle Dubas also released a statement on Twitter that more directly addressed the nature and seriousness of the alleged reports.
“The Club is aware of the reports surrounding a homophobic slur used during the Maple Leafs versus Lightning game on Monday night,” Dubas wrote. “The issue of homophobia is one the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club strongly condemns and takes very seriously. We are in communication with the NHL and are cooperating fully with their office.”
The League’s standard procedure for alleged infractions, whether of “moral conduct” off the ice or additional punishment for on-ice infractions, is to do further investigation before coming to a conclusion or responding.
The NHL is aware of reports that a homophobic slur was used during the Maple Leafs-Lightning game. The League is investigating the incident and will have no further comment until this investigation is completed.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 12, 2019
Tuesday morning, approximately twelve hours later, the NHL PR account tweeted that they determined Morgan Rielly did not utter the slur.
The National Hockey League has determined that Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly did not direct a homophobic slur at referee Brad Meier during last night’s game with the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena.
League officials interviewed several of the participants in the game – including Rielly and Meier – and reviewed video of the alleged incident. All of those interviewed adamantly denied that Rielly uttered a slur and the audio supported their statements.
The National Hockey League does not tolerate language or gestures that disparage anyone based on their race, creed or sexual orientation and continues to work to ensure that our games are played in a welcoming atmosphere for all of our players, coaches officials and fans.
Morgan Rielly and Leafs GM Kyle Dubas also held a press conference.
In the time between the incident and the conclusion of the investigation the assumption of the majority of those who heard the recording is that the slur was used. The NHL’s investigation does not clarify whether a slur was used, only that it was not used by Rielly towards Meier.
You Can Play, the organization that works to promote inclusion in sports–including for LGBTQ+ athletes–released a statement about the usage of homophobic language.
— You Can Play Project (@YouCanPlayTeam) March 12, 2019
This would hardly be the first such public incident.
In 2016, during a Game 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, forward Andrew Shaw directed a homophobic slur at a referee. He was fined $5,000, suspended for one week, and required to undergo “sensitivity training.”
In 2017, again during a Game 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf also directed a homophobic slur at a referee. He was fined $10,000 but there was no suspension.
The most upsetting and unfortunately perhaps the least surprising reactions were from those who believe the slur was uttered–but that it was not a big deal. The replies to the NHL’s initial tweet clearly demonstrate that.
Some people did not believe the slur was used at all, most notably, popular Twitter user and Leafs GIF’er Flintor, who broke down the available clips with DoPS precision. His conclusion is that Rielly uttered a different, more common F-word, while a separate player yelled “rag it,” a lesser-known version of “freeze it.”
1) After giving it a long listen, I am convinced that Rielly did not say "Fucking F****t" on the ice, and what was heard was two separate voices: One that says “Fuck” and another that says “Rag it”. I believe the first to be Rielly’s and the second from someone from the TB bench
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) March 12, 2019
Jeff Veillette, an NHL contributor who spoke with “an active NHLer,” neatly summed it up. “The fact that the most reasonable assumption before a repeated listen is the slur, shows we’ve still got a ways to go.”
If the initial reports had been true (or if the NHL’s investigation came to the wrong conclusion) it would, in fact, a big deal.
Swedish goaltender for the Canucks Anders Nilsson gave a revealing, honest, and troubling interview about the problem of homophobia in hockey, which is still the only major men’s sport with no openly queer current or former players.
The Leafs held their You Can Play night on February 25 and the organization has been active and outspoken in their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past.
If you want to make our world and fandom a little better, you can donate to You Can Play, pick up some Pride Tape for your hockey sticks or decorative purposes, or deck yourself out in RMNB Pride gear. It’s a small gesture, but–as the RMNB queer staff can attest–seeing those marks of community and allies in a space that doesn’t always feel safe does make a difference.
To the fans who have been affected by the incident (either by listening to the recordings or seeing offensive backlash to it), and felt alienated or hurt: We’re sorry. We’re with you. We are you. You deserve to feel welcome and safe in hockey and hockey fandom.
Editors’ note: Russian Machine Never Breaks does not support actions, slurs, or belittlement targeting race, ethnicity, sex or sexuality in our comments or, inasmuch as we can control such things, in the little sphere of the internet that we call home.
Headline image: Global News
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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