Following Tuesday’s Game 4 loss to St.Louis, Blackhawks F Andrew Shaw (above, left) was suspended for Game 5 and ordered to undergo sensitivity training after being caught on camera directing an unmistakable homophobic slur at officials from the penalty box. Writing in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune, openly gay Hawks beat writer Chris Hine writes, “Shaw is not the problem. The fact he felt he could use that word like it was another four-letter word — and not remember saying it after the game — is the problem It is the word gay men fear and despise the most.”
I was called that growing up before I even realized I was gay. When you’re closeted and thinking about coming out, you have nightmares about friends or family members using that word and making you feel like an outcast. It hurts when your friends use that word in a teasing manner. It’s a whole different feeling to have people direct that word at you with contempt. I’ve had that feeling.
Now put yourself in the shoes of a closeted gay athlete. You’re in a locker room or on a playing field, and you hear your teammates use that word. You start thinking, “Is this how they really feel about gay people? Is that what they would call me if I came out to them? Would I still be a member of this team? Would my career be over?”
That word is why gay athletes everywhere hide their sexual identity and often live lives of torment. It’s why some contemplate suicide and develop emotional and psychological issues they might never rectify.
Shaw was heartfelt in his pledge to learn from this, to stop using the word no matter how riled up he gets on the ice. I told him I didn’t view him any differently Wednesday than I did Monday. I’m still going to see how he’s doing when he’s in the locker room and still will pester him with hockey questions. If he ever wants to ask me more about the word and what kind of an effect it has, I’ll be there to answer — after every practice and before and after every game, as long as the Hawks find a way to re-sign him after the season.