The preseason's not even over yet, and the Flyers are in all likelihood about to have their second player suspended. Jody Shelley was the first to receive a detailed video explanation by new disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, and I'll be shocked if Tom Sestito doesn't join him tomorrow. In the first period of what would become a rough preseason tilt between the Flyers and the New York Rangers, Sestito took a few full strides before smearing Andre Deveaux from behind, starting a near line-brawl.
Unfortunately, amidst an increasingly rough game, Sean Avery says Wayne Simmonds used a homophobic slur when the two were battling. Katie Strang relayed that news from Avery, and it appears to be the case in watching this video.
If that is indeed what Simmonds said, it's a terrible way to ruin any positivity he'd gain by mixing it up with Avery so early in his Flyers career. More importantly, it's a terrible follow-up to the hateful act Simmonds himself was a victim of just last week. Simmonds was responding to what we hear in the video below: Avery clearly saying he'll "kill Giroux" in retaliation for what other Flyers—namely Sestito—are doing. What we have here, from on the tight camera footage and on-ice mics, is a look at the hockey world we know exists but rarely see up close. When it goes to the living rooms though—and it increasingly will—the league and players will be forced to answer for it.
Both Simmonds' comment and Avery's were in a heated moment, and god only knows what these guys say to each other on the ice even in passing much less when they're ready to go at it. But increased media visibility is going to show more of this to the fans who are tuning in to watch hockey, and there's no question the league will feel compelled to do something about it. We know what Simmonds allegedly said is not uncommon on the playing surface, but it's long since time to put an end to that part of sports culture.
Say what you will about Avery on the ice, but he is one of the foremost advocates of gay rights
in all of sports. To my knowledge, it's his lone redeeming quality, as
evidenced by what you heard above, which is what he's spending most of
his on-ice time doing. After the game, Avery spoke out against what happened to Simmonds in London, Ontario, as well as what Simmonds said tonight.
"It is really disappointing," Avery said, in response to a line of questions focusing entirely on the incidents involving Simmonds. "First of all, who would do that? And why would you do it? It just such an unnecessary thing. It’s something that’s not even an issue with us or our sport. So to be here now and having to answer your questions about what he did is disappointing for me.”
Again, this is coming from the guy threatening metaphorical death but at least bodily harm to the Flyers' star, but on its own, the statement is hard to disagree with.
To his credit, Simmonds didn't want to talk about the on-ice exchange after the game and wouldn't confirm what he said, nor what Avery had said to him prior to it, but did say Avery sucker punched him and said something. “Honestly, we were going back and forth for a while. I don’t recall everything that I said to him. He said some things that I didn’t like and I said some things that he didn’t like. I don’t recall every single word I said."
[Update: On Tuesday, Simmonds denied using the slur.]
While on the one hand you want to see the players handle their own business, and not dictate the media a transcript of the event, it's almost a moot point what they say in the locker room afterward. With today's access to the sights and sounds of the game, everyone already had the raw footage or soon would. The immediacy of videos being posted to Twitter and YouTube takes the steam out of the "it's just the way it is in hockey," and the logic supporting that argument was already on shaky ground.
As for Simmonds... I'm glad that just barely into his career with the Flyers, he was so vehemently ready to go to war for a threatened teammate. I don't mind some trash talk either. But try to say something that gets under Avery's skin while not being hateful toward a community of people. It's not always easy to come up with something vicious yet PC, but you know you messed up when you've given Sean Avery the high ground on a night when he was being, well, Sean Avery.
First video via HockeyFights.com, second via SNY Rangers Blog.