When Words Are Not Just Words

I love the Chicago Blackhawks. I have for a long time. I love the sound of “Chelsea Dagger” every time someone wearing the greatest jersey in sports puts a puck in the net. I love a lot of things about this team and the city they play in.

I don’t love it when players act how they did on April 19, 2016. A critical game in a title defense season showed some uncharacteristically confusing things about the team that I have come to love so much over the years. Ill-timed penalties, frustration, and words yelled at referees that invoke strong social and emotional reactions are not what this team has been about and it has defined this post-season. They have switched roles with the less experienced teams in the league this post-season and have allowed their frustrations to boil and their emotions to get the best of them resulting in what appears to be an insurmountable three games to one hole. I don’t think the Blackhawks will win this series, not because I don’t have faith in my favorite team, but because I am realistic about my favorite team.

No one has played more hockey over the last eight years than the Chicago Blackhawks. Multiple overtimes, long stretches into the post-season, and Stanley Cup appearances will put a lot of mileage on a very young team and eventually that mileage will catch up and you’ll run out steam a little sooner than you did in the previous season. That’s okay. No reason to be frustrated about that. I am not one to sit there and complain because in the last six years my favorite hockey team has won three Stanley Cups. That equates to just taking a year off in between celebrations. It’s ridiculously hard to win a Stanley Cup in today’s salary cap era and even more-so to repeat as champions.

What isn’t okay is the allowance of emotions to overthrow what otherwise seems like a class-filled group. When I am watching a goaltender who has been calm and never flipped a switch, leave his crease in order to go after a player, that’s how I know it’s time for a gut punch for a very privileged team. But this wasn’t even the worst showing of character that the Blackhawks exhibited on this fateful night.

With the third period expiring and the St. Louis Blues commandeering a 4-3 lead, Andy “Our Mothers Named Us Andrew” Shaw, showcased the stupid of the year award by collecting a nice two minute minor penalty resulting in his already desperate team having to play shorthanded in a situation where they needed an extra skater. Upon receiving this call, not only was he disgraceful in flipping off the ref, but he exhibited some choice words upon having a seat in the penalty box. Words that don’t need to be written, but words that should never have to be written.

Receiving a minor penalty in hockey is no need for a gay slur to be directed at the referee who gave you the penalty. Neither is receiving an “F” on an exam and directing it towards your professor. A parking ticket doesn’t qualify as a reason to use such a word. In fact, there isn’t a socially acceptable situation that using a gay, racial, or any other type of slur is allowed. Using it as if it were any other four letter word isn’t just wrong, it’s ignorant. I’m not here to criticize Andrew Shaw, I will probably never speak to him and he probably will never read this column. However, if he does, I hope it sheds some light on why using that word isn’t acceptable.

I am a straight, white male who attended an all-boys Catholic high school in Colorado. Seeing Andrew Shaw say the one word that I heard more than “Amen” in the hallways, often times directed at me, often times directed at others, did not hurt me. It did however make me hurt for those that I know from my high school days that experienced hurt when that word was directed at them. It frustrated me that this is still a phrase that gets tossed around in locker rooms not only in the NHL, but the NFL, MLB, and NBA. It even gets tossed around on the field, ice, and court. When words that are socially derogatory are used to attempt to show superiority, the world is a dark place.

The world is shown to be even darker by the fact that people try to justify that saying these things in a situation like a heat of the moment sports game are acceptable. It’s never acceptable. It creates fear in those that have no reason to be fearful. It creates a hostile environment for those that are afraid to truly be who they are. I don’t have a lot of fear when I walk down the street. I know people that do. It’s not fair.

Situations like this are why in 2016 we have racial tension, social tension, extremist views, intolerance, and ignorance. The NHL and the Chicago Blackhawks have a very unique opportunity to do what only the NBA has done. This is a highly publicized incident and rightfully so. The answer is clear and simple. Suspend Andrew Shaw. It would only have to be for one game to get his attention. It would impact his team to an extent that would force them to be shorthanded a talented individual, and lose to a better opponent, with him helplessly watching on TV. That’s a cold and hard approach to my favorite team, but I would rather have my favorite team lose and be represented well while doing so; than having a player who hasn’t totally cooled off playing in an emotional elimination game and have another moment of ignorance displayed.

Every post-season the Blackhawks only have #OneGoal. This year their one goal on the way out of the 2016 post season should be to maintain composure, lose with dignity and class if they are indeed going to lose, and show that ignorance isn’t tolerated within the organization. It’s the least they can do for their fans. More importantly it’s the least they can do for the world we live in.

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