I was sitting in the locker room at Southwest Ice Arena a few years ago with a group of about 15 other players putting on our hockey gear as we got ready for a St. Laurence High School alumni game. A tall fellow walked in and recognized one of his former high school teammates from the 1980s and shouted out, “Hey mother f-----!”
He couldn’t wait to drop an F-bomb which was followed by several others and many of the other players in the locker room joined in on the language of the locker room, which quite frankly in my experience, is the norm. It’s crass, it’s vulgar, it’s what a good number of the hockey players I played with in high school and college enjoyed exchanging before, during and after games. For them, it was part of being a guy, a tough hockey player. It was a normal part of the experience for them. I never bought into it and always sat there watching in amazement at just how low it could go. In many ways, it was locker room theater and always entertaining.
Very honestly, the Andrew Shaw slur caught on camera the other day was mild compared to many of things I have heard and seen in a hockey locker room. The fellow who walked into the locker room and dropped the F-bomb turned out to be a well-established physician. Yes, he’s a doctor dealing with patients all day long and I’m sure is very professional in his practice, but given the chance to jump back in time to his high school days and spew the language of the locker room, he couldn’t wait. I was amazed to find out he was a doctor, but perhaps I shouldn't have been.
In college, playing for a championship team at Chicago State University, certainly the language got rougher as my teammates were comprised of players from Canada, Minnesota, Missouri, Alabama and a few of us from Illinois. So it was a mix of cultures and mindsets all brought together. One fellow from Montreal, the toughest teammate I have ever known, was one who used gay slurs fairly often to chide his teammates or opposing players on the ice. There were others. It was no big deal. It was locker room talk for them, almost second-nature. Of course my teammate from Montreal is the same guy who peed on another teammate from Toronto while in the shower, due to lack of respect for any Canadian who is not French-Canadian.
Watching the Shaw discipline rolled out, I understand the Blackhawks' position. They have to maintain responsibility. The same can be said for the NHL. I do believe they are sincere about changing the culture. Do I believe Andrew Shaw is sorry for his slur? He’s sorry it was caught on camera. He was angry and that’s how he addressed the referee who made a call that impacted a very important game. Truth is, it was a really dumb penalty! And Shaw should have been mad at himself, not the ref.
But in terms of the language of the locker room brought out onto the ice, the only thing that will come from this is players will become more aware of what they are saying and where they are saying it. The slur was used to demean the ref. If Shaw had chosen a different word to follow his F-bomb, he could have made the same point and none of this would be happening. When athletes are alone, and definitely out of the camera view, my guess is the vulgar talk and crass ways will continue as usual. It's freedom of speech and actions for those players, who like the doctor, can’t wait to partake.
Perhaps after this incident, there will be fewer gay slurs included in the banter. It will require a change of language habits. We shall see.