Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bigotry Relativity Is Still Bigotry

by NiNY

First, go read Ms. Conduct's latest blog. I mean, I assume you already did because you should because she's awesome. But, on the off chance that it's backwards day in your house and you stopped here before going over to her place then here's your chance to rectify that oversight right now.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

Okay, welcome back.

See, I'm conflicted.

On the one hand, I totally hear and get what she's saying. Hockey may be the last bastion of the rapscallion. There is an undeniable vein in the game that provides sanctuary, indeed opportunities to thrive, for the ill-mannered. To the guys who ran their mouth on the schoolyard playground, and then backed it up. To the guys who don't have the straight up skills to be able to get into a professional sports league on skill alone, so their path of least resistance (nicely provided for them by the aggressive expansion of the NHL over the last fortyear - that included the birth of the Minnesota Wild (for which I am grateful don't get me wrong)) includes re-connecting with that schoolyard yapper/scrapper mentality.

Some of these players enjoyed a position of higher grandeur (read: scoring) in junior and the minors, but just couldn't crack the NHL as a top-two line player. Sometimes those players can't or won't reinvent themselves and they end up bouncing around the minors or Europe for the rest of their careers - certainly no shame in that. But other times they find a Rabbi who shows them the light and teaches them the value of aggressive forechecking and the art of running your mouth on the ice.

The art of running your mouth. Show me a person who presents himself as hockey cognoscenti who doesn't know that what is actually said is much lower brow than the word "art" in that last sentence would imply and I'll show you a person who's never spent any time around hockey players. Hell, even in my beer league the language is salty enough to get a respectful nod from the saltiest Marine drill instructor. And the only thing we're playing for is the 30-pack of Miller Lite - that we buy - after the game.

So, I absolutely get what Ms. Conduct is saying. It IS part of the culture of hockey for players to say disgusting, egregious, blue, offensive things to one another. So, expecting hockey players to change....well maybe that's not very realistic.

But, on the other hand, does that mean we shouldn't try?

Is political correctness reasonable? Or does wrapping this kind of thing up in the banner of political correctness itself indicate a lack of concern for the degradation of societal values that acceptance of such intolerance suggests?

While it would be nice and even sort of cathartic to tell someone to relax when they get offended by something I say (sticks and stones, and all that) I admit it would be hard to reconcile that against what I agree is an ugly and dangerous trend of bullying in our schools, for example, today. Does using offensive and demeaning language as a professional hockey player set or perpetuate an example for would-be schoolyard bullies to follow? I think it's naive to assume it doesn't, regardless of what Charles Barkley thinks. Think of it this way: for every stupid homophobic slur you utter, Nancy Grace's career is extended by a day. Who really wants that?

The reality is that young hockey players do look up to their professional idols and try to emulate them. To an extent, all aspiring (insert industry)-ists look up to their industry's professionals and do the same thing. And I submit that it's a lot harder for a young adult or child to make the distinction between "do as I do, not as I say" than it is (or should be) for an adult to accept that his or her actions do potentially have consequences one of which might be that they are used as an example to be emulated by kids. I think that difference is part of what separates the definition of adult and child in the first place.

I like to swear. I think the notion that using swear words indicates you are possessed of a lesser intelligence is bullshit. But I go out of my way to tone it down in front of kids. Does that make me a hypocrite? Am I a wimp (afraid that my kids will pick up that language and use it in what society deems is an inappropriate time and place and reflect poorly on me as a parent and them as a human)? Or does that make me a realist? Am I simply trying to instill some respect in my kids and not put them in that position until I'm more confident that they can make the determination of when and when not to use those words? I don't know. But I'm not taking the chance that they can't, yet.

I'm generally against bigotry and intolerance. I think it's ridiculous and stupid to act as though you dislike someone or think less of them simply because of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion, their hair color, the toothpaste they use or the store they shop in. I think, frankly, that people who exercise such intolerance are actually just insecure in their own choices. You want to castigate him for his religion? That tells me your God is a pussy. Shouldn't a being purporting to be worthy of being called God be strong enough to withstand the followers of some other being who thinks HE'S worthy of being called God? Isn't that why he calls himself God instead of, like, Eddie?

What the hell does this have to do with hockey? Oh yeah...

Hockey players make split second decisions all the time. Pass left or right. Pass or shoot. Skate or stop. Deke or shoot. Check him from behind or let up. Drop into the butterfly or stay up and kick it out. Against the backdrop of the potential to perpetuate unnecessary and ugly stereotypes, I don't think asking hockey players to make yet another split second decision - about what comes out of their mouth when they're talking trash - is unreasonable.

And the one thing I simply can not accept is any kind of bigotry relativity. Wayne Simmonds was generally lauded for how he handled the banana throwing incident last week. He took the high road, even though he did acknowledge concern that it was a racially-based incident. And good on him for doing so.

Everyone who saw the video knows what Simmonds called Sean Avery. Well, everyone other than Colin Campbell, apparently. But everyone else.

Simmonds is a coward for not owning up to his actions. Not only that, but he hurts the cause of other people who share his skin color and are mistreated because of it. He completely wastes all the goodwill he garnered for taking the high road before, by his lack of integrity when the shoe is on his foot. Why is intolerance of people of other races bad but intolerance of people of other sexual orientation okay? It's not.

Bigotry relativity is still bigotry. Whether that be in one person's mind or at an institutional level (as in the NHL).

So I think it's okay to expect hockey players to engage their brain when they open their mouths. There's plenty of subjects for one to draw from when trying to get under another player's skin.

Does that represent a change in the mentality of the hockey player - that has been accepted for generations of hockey players before the current batch? Yes. Does that mean we can expect all hockey players to not make any mistakes? No. Does that mean we should just give them a pass when they do? No.

Let's elevate our society.


Ms. Conduct said...

Great stuff Nick, and I agree with you. My issue is with literally making it an offense that gets a penalty. I think that's just... kinda lame.

And I feel it's knee jerk because this shit's been going on for decade upon decade, but now, because it was caught on film, the League is all, "Oh goodness, we don't condone that! Cut that out, fellas!" Come on.

To me, the best way to help players make better/different decisions about the words they use is to help them understand WHY it's bad. Just making it a penalty is putting a bandaid on something that really requires a cultural shift, and cultural shifts require education and time.

Obviously, given the non-stop videos poor Shanny is making, just making something "against the rules" isn't enough to stop them from doing it.

I think it will be like the time Houston tried to make the speed limit 55 throughout the city (where 70 is more the norm). So many people blatantly disregarded the speed limit change, it was literally unenforceable. And I think with just a penalty, that's what you're gonna get.

I dunno. I just don't like it. It doesn't feel like the league wants to make REAL change. They just want to look like they're "doing something" about it. KWIM?

Anyway, regardless, I think the debate is a good one and the attention on the issue is excellent. That's how cultural changes start to get traction.

Nick in New York said...

To be clear, I really didn't have an issue with anything you wrote. That is what was interesting to me. Before I read your piece I wasn't going to write about this at all. But your piece made me think about it in a different way and I realized that I did agree with you. So then I had to think about whether or not I could reconcile agreeing with you with thinking it's wrong and worthy of being addressed. That thought process became the blog post.

I also agree that making it a penalty will not change the behavior. I'm not sure Shanny's mandate extends beyond his ability to make it a penalty - and I don't think you're saying that it does either - though.

It's a debate that transcends the NHL, but one in which I think the NHL can do some good.

Whatever his rationale, I was proud of Avery for his stance on gay rights this summer. To see Simmonds blow himself up on that topic, right after landing on the other side of a different shade of the same color sort of blew my mind.

Ms. Conduct said...

Yeah, weirdly ironic situation for Simmonds. So much better to just own up and apologize. Disappointing that he made that choice.

Lukas said...

I want to make clear I completely understand your post and wanting to hold players accountable for what they say/do on the ice. I'm wondering what your feeling is on the countless other things that are said that would make normal people blush. Or threats, like Avery apparently threatening to kill Simmonds's teammate. Do they get a pass on those types of statements? Is it really just the racist and homophobic things we get upset about, and saying ridiculously distasteful things about sisters and mothers is good to go, as are threats?

I know Avery didn't literally mean he was going to kill anyone, but then why are we so upset about what Simmonds said? As long as he didn't literally mean it, why not let it go, as we did with Avery's statement?

I guess in general I'm curious about where the line is, what is acceptable and what isn't. I have to admit, I find it a little weird we can spend so much time and energy worry about a gay slur in light of what gets said on a nightly basis. It seems to me we're cherry picking and that isn't fair to the players.

Everything goes except racist or homophobic things? Do ethnic slurs against a player from another country go on this list too? Or are they alright?

I enjoyed the post, I hope to see more posts on this site as the season ramps up!

Nick in New York said...

Lukas - great point. Where DO you draw the line? And who gets to draw it?

In general, I think you know where the line is in a given situation. I know when I'm arguing with my wife what button I could push to either end the argument right there or piss her off to the point that we shift into overdrive. I know that I can call a guy a fucking asshole in a beer league game and draw a response that's different than if I called his daughter a slut.

But, how do you legislate such an ethereal, and moving, target?

And should you?

Like you pointed out, I'm for accountability here. Maybe it's a case by case thing?

I don't have the answer to that, but I am more than happy to have the discussion that's trying to find the answer.

Lukas said...

Well said, thanks for your response, I appreciate it.

The only issue I would have with the case by case thing is that it really places a burden on the players, one that I don't know if they should have. If they don't know the rules about what the fans and media are going to take issue with, it isn't a rule. The know it when I see it argument is convenient, but if I'm a player I'd be like, ok, well just what the hell is ok and what is going to get me in trouble and affect my livelihood? That doesn't seem like a great way to go to me. We can't get upset at someone for failing to meet expectations when they don't know what the expectations are.
And I know, this instance looks easy to judge, but if I'm Simmonds I'm going whoa hang on here, this shit gets said night in and night out, if you don't like it keep your cameras out of my face. Either that or make a rule about it.

Nick in New York said...

And I think that gets back to Ms. Conduct's point about the knee-jerk reaction. The question I'd ask (actually questions) Simmonds are:

1. Do you really expect us to believe using that particular word with Sean Avery was a coincidence?

2. Do you even realize what a hypocrite you are, given the banana incident?

I agree case by case wouldn't work. The thing that Shanny's bringing to supplemental discipline that is such a step in the right direction is clarity. Making things MORE opaque than they were under Campbell is counter-productive.

artandhockey said...

It is my feeling that insensitivity in young (and old) people seems to be increasing and skins are getting thinner.
What, at one time, was shrugged off nonchalantly, now becomes a matter of legal redress, much to quickly.
Bullying has taken on a more sinister appearance and ought to be checked early by PARENTS who do need to step up first to do that.

On the other hand tolerance of others, who or what ever they may be, should be applied.
We ought to have learned from the not so distant past what intolerance can lead to!
In these times of immediate tweets, etc. words become swords much too quickly. And hurt longer and more deeply than a punch or a slap.
Words fester inside - emotions explode detrementally!
None of us are pure... but some of us seem more dense! Just saying!