Tuesday night, Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw shouted a word I'm certain he now wishes he hadn't. It happened during the closing stages of the Blackhawks' 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 4 of their opening-round playoff series.
While Shaw was in the penalty box, visibly angry about the game, he appeared to call one of the game officials a "f*ggot."
For that utterance, Shaw has been suspended by the NHL for Thursday night's Game 5, a possible elimination game for the defending Stanley Cup champions, and fined $5,000 for "directing an inappropriate gesture."
I'm positive Andrew Shaw wishes he hadn't said the word "f*ggot" thanks solely to Chris Hine's recent article in the Chicago Tribune.
Hine is a reporter who covers the Chicago Blackhawks for the Trib. He is also gay.
Because of his job, Hine knows Andrew Shaw better than perhaps any journalist in the country; this is why he made a point of crucifying the word, rather than the man, in his article.
In his piece, "Andrew Shaw's Slur Sheds Light On Homophobia In Sports," Hine wrote,
Even with all the restrictions in place in the modern sports media landscape, I have a bead on what kind of guy Shaw is after covering the Hawks for a full season. He doesn't hide when the media enters the dressing room. He will stick around and talk for a few minutes and seems to enjoy the interaction. A number of times this season, I've gone to him just to talk and see how he's doing.
As I learned by the end of his piece, Hine still feels the same way about Andrew Shaw.
Following his use of the slur, Shaw was vilified on Twitter. And while Hine acknowledged Shaw's use of the word "f*ggot" as abhorrent, he was quick to defend the man he'd come to know so well over the course of this NHL season.
...I don't think he's a bad guy. I also don't think he hates gay people. I just want to help him understand why what he said packs such a devastating emotional wallop. 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.
For multiple reasons, I can only imagine how hard it was for Chris Hine to write this piece.
First off, Hine is a Hawks beat writer, which means, as he points out in his story, he is extremely involved with the team. So it's conceivable some critics might say Hine is too close to the players to give an unbiased take.
After reading Hine's piece, and never stepping foot in the Blackhawks locker room, I can confidently say I don't think there was anyone better suited to write this story.
Hine is a gay man covering an industry where, despite pro sports leagues' party lines of inclusion and tolerance, most athletes do not feel comfortable revealing their sexual orientation to teammates.
On the word "f*ggot," Hine wrote,
It is the word gay men fear and despise the most. 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. That word needs to be eliminated from sports. I'm not naive enough to think it will vanish quickly. Like a lot of athletes, Shaw likely doesn't realize what he's saying when he uses it.
Hine is quick to point out Andrew Shaw isn't the first or last professional athlete to use the slur. Joakim Noah said it. Kobe Bryant said it. Odell Beckham Jr. was called one several times during last year's NFL season.
However, the road to eradicating that word from pro sports starts with the punishment Shaw will face for Game 5: suspension. No conceivable fine could make players really think about their actions, especially ones who don't show as much remorse as Shaw appears to, but taking away the one thing every athlete lives for can.
In his finals words on Shaw, Hine wrote,
He 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. I like Andrew Shaw. I like talking to him, and this won't change that. I just hope this small part of him does.
Well said, Chris. Well said.