Gay former Ontario Hockey League player disappointed in Ryan Getzlaf
Brock McGillis couldn’t hide his disappointment when he heard Ryan Getzlaf’s statement after the Anaheim Ducks captain was punished for apparently using a homophobic slur during an NHL playoff game.
Getzlaf was fined US$10,000 by the NHL a few hours before the Nashville Predators beat Anaheim 3-1 on Saturday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference final. Getzlaf appeared to shout the inappropriate remark in frustration with an official after returning to Anaheim’s bench in Thursday’s Game 4. Officials appeared to be too far away to hear Getzlaf, but television cameras were trained directly on him.
“There was obviously some words said, not necessarily directed at anyone in particular,” said Getzlaf late Saturday night. "It was just kind of a comment. I’ve got to be a little bit more responsible for the words I choose. It’s tough to see someone refer to it as (homophobic). I didn’t mean it in that manner in any way.
“I understand that it’s my responsibility to not use vulgar language, period, whether it’s a swear word or whatever it is. We’ve got to be a little bit more respectful of the game, and that’s up to me.”
McGillis, who played in the Ontario Hockey League and semi-professionally, became an advocate for LGBTQ rights, addressing schools throughout Ontario, after he came out in November. He had hoped Getzlaf would take the opportunity to educate other players about how homophobia has no place in hockey.
“I don’t care how you mean it, when you say the word, it’s a homophobic slur,” said McGillis in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “He doesn’t sound, in my opinion, very apologetic. He’s comparing what he said to a curse word and he didn’t apologize to the LGBTQ community or take ownership of his actions. That’s quite disappointing.”
Getzlaf’s fine is the maximum allowable under the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA, but McGillis says he does not think it was severe enough.
He notes that as the Ducks forward has made millions of dollars over the course of his 12 year career, the $10,000 dollar fine isn’t especially punitive. Instead, he hopes that the NHL, its players, and other sports leagues try to engage and educate adolescent players before homophobic, racist or sexist language is ingrained in their pscyhes.
“(Getzlaf) is a social influencer, he is a superstar hockey player and he has an opportunity to do some good things,” said McGillis. "I think that if these athletes continue to just donate money they’re missing the boat because that’s not going to shift the culture and that’s going to lead to more and more incidents like this.“
You Can Play Project, an advocacy group dedicated to eliminating homophobia in sports, also criticized Getzlaf before Saturday’s game.
"Words matter and Ryan Getzlaf’s words are offensive. No language considered homophobic belongs in sports. It’s not the language of role models. This is yet another opportunity to educate athletes, teams and fans,” tweeted the organization that was founded by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke and his father, Calgary Flames president Brian Burke.
Getzlaf’s punishment was particularly disappointing to McGillis because last season Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw was suspended a game and fined $5,000 for using a homophobic slur and making obscene gestures toward officials in the first round of the playoffs.
“It seems like it’s almost backwards,” said McGillis. "We took a step back for equality and for hockey to be a safe space for everybody.“
Earlier this week, the Toronto Blue Jays suspended centre-fielder Kevin Pillar for two games for directing a homophobic slur toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
"If anyone in a regular field of work were to use that type of language they would lose their job,” said McGillis. "I’m not saying either of the players should lose their jobs, because it’s a mistake and it happens. However, I don’t think the penalty is harsh enough.“
McGillis said he had "incredible” support from the hockey community when he came out. He advises any young person struggling with their sexual orientation to find peace within themselves so that homophobic language doesn’t cut as deep.
“You have to learn to accept and love yourself because when you learn to love yourself these words won’t have as much power over you. The thoughts and the opinions of other people won’t affect you the same way they currently do,” said McGillis. “I’m so desensitized to those words they don’t have the affect. When I hear a professional athlete say them I say ‘good, this is an opportunity’ whereas before I would have hid and thought I was horrible.”
With files from The Associated Press
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press