Last year I cheered on the Canucks, all the way to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
This year I haven't quite chosen my allegiances, so I've simply been watching Round 1 with neutral interest in the game.
But something happened yesterday in the LA vs. Vancouver series that broke my heart.
After beating Vancouver in Game 1 on April 11, @LAKings tweeted:
"To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you're welcome."
I laughed out loud when I saw it. That got @LAKings a follow from me, and perhaps tilted me slightly towards cheering for them in this first round. I mean, cheeky use of social media AND an 8th place underdog hoping to upset the President's Trophy winner? Sounds like fun! I'm relatively new to loving hockey, but one part I've enjoyed immensely is the chirping. (I'm an Oilers fan, so I'm used to having trash talked at me, since we're not exactly performing at elite levels these last couple of years). There are some teams that people just love to hate; in Canada that's typically Toronto, and that's reflected in the chirping. Every time Oilers played the Leafs this year, there were several people with whom trash talk was exchanged for the entire 60 minutes of play. With the Leafs out of the playoffs (no surprise there... stealth chirp! Ahaha!), Vancouver has taken the place of the "Canadian team we love to hate". All in good fun, or so I thought.
I had heard on the radio and on all the sports shows that the Kings' tweet really pissed off a lot of Canucks fans, but I didn't read any of the specific tweet retorts. Then after Game 2 last night, @LAKings tweeted:
"We apologize to anyone this tweet offends: #LAKings lead series 2-0."
Again, from my perspective, hilarious. Certainly, I can understand it would be upsetting that the Canucks lost two in a row at home, but I always thought hockey upset was different than... real upset. Of course it sucks to have your team lose. But there are bigger problems in the world to worry about. Like racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Which brings me to the responses I found really upsetting:
"STFU U Faggot!! Its A 7 Game Series U BITCH!! PUSSY"
"@LAKings you guys are fucking retarded! Doughty an brown should have got the gate too. Kings lick balls! Eat a dick!!"
"@LAKings FUCK YOU , YOU HOMO SON OF A BITCH"
"@LAKings YOUUU FUCKEN CUNTSSSS go suck a dickk"
"#LAKings fuck you! Team consists of faggots, burn in hell. #Canucks will be back to crush all of you"
"Hey fag how much LAking dick you gonna suck in this series. You pathetic piece of shit. Your sister is a whore"
And the list goes on and on and on. @LOLVancouver RT's many of these if you'd like to see more. I found these exceptionally disturbing as to their hateful content. (They were also disturbing in terms of poorly constructed sentences and terrible grammar, but that's for a whole other rant).
I can understand being upset, after the team you love loses two at home, and the other team's poking fun at you. I can accept that some people have the urge to tell LA to "fuck off" or "shut up". But why do people have to resort to a huge amount of homophobic slurs and sexist comments?
How do you think it feels for someone who is gay to see these responses, as homophobic slurs were the most common? So much hate being communicated. I can relate a bit to the gendered slurs ("cunt" & "whore"), but having worked in violence against women, I've grown a pretty tough skin (but then, tough skin or not, why should we have to put up with abusive language directed towards anybody?). Do the people who tweeted these actually hate women, gays, and the developmentally delayed ("fucking retarded")? I hope not. But then... why would they use words this way?
I know, I know, some will claim the "free speech" defence. Someone always does. But free speech doesn't mean we're not RESPONSIBLE for the things we say, and their potential impact on people. I am "free" to tell my mom I hate her and wish she was dead (for the record, I'm using that as an EXAMPLE, I don't actually think that about her), but I'm not going to because that's really, really hurtful. In fact, when free speech is available, I believe it is the speaker's responsibility to choose wisely. You know, the whole Spiderman "with great power comes great responsibility" bit.
As Canadians, I believe part of our national identity is that we are, on average, supposed to be "nice people". There's nothing nice about what's going on here. As a Canadian, as a hockey fan, as a human being that believes the world has enough hate floating around already: this is unacceptable, and inexcusable.
I also think that this does hockey a huge disfavour: with the recent "You Can Play" project, elite hockey players are speaking up against homophobia. There is a lot of talk about how it's troubling that in this day and age, there are still no openly gay NHL players. I can't even imagine what reading these comments would be like to a player who isn't "out", regardless of what team they're on (statistically speaking, if the NHL remotely reflect the general population, there's probably on average one or two gay players on EVERY team's roster).
Before some of you resort to the "but when I call someone a faggot, it's just words I'm used to using, it has nothing to do with gays" or "but my friend/brother/sister/whatever is gay and they know I love them", please think about why the gay community (or any other group who has to put up with abusive language that's commonly used in society) should have to put up with your limited vocabulary. There are lots of other insults you can throw around, insults that doesn't come with the baggage of years of marginalization and persecution. You can be funny or angry or lash out at a hockey twitter account without resorting to any of that.
Let's turn up the hockey cheering, and turn down the hate, yeah?
Note: Much thanks to George Laraque, Matt Moulson, You Can Play Team, Patrick Burke, Aishah Simmons, Not Another Hockey Blog, Puckdaddys, and many, many, MANY more who shared this blog.