During their match with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, March 11th, Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Morgan Reilly was alleged to have used a homophobic slur against referee Brad Meier at the Scotiabank Arena. The exchange happened after a non-call up on the ice during the match and Reilly had uttered an expletive at Meier that many people, hearing the audio feed, interpreted as a homophobic slur. It created a huge response and backlash on social media that put the Toronto Maple Leaf’s and Morgan Reilly at odds with their own legacies of supporting the LGBT community. Including participation in Toronto’s Pride Festival and organizing a Pride Night with You Can Play.
An internal investigation with the Toronto Maple Leaf’s general manager Kyle Dubas as well as an external investigation by the National Hockey League showed that while Reilly did utter an expletive, it was not a homophobic slur.
“The first step was asking Morgan, directly to his face, ‘this is the video, what did you say?’” Dubas recalled. “He was unequivocal. That word did not leave his mouth.”
The NHL interviewed both Reilly and Meier as well as went through all the video and audio from the incident and determined that a homophobic slur was not used. In a tweet, the NHL released a statement reporting their investigation…
“Following a thorough investigation, the National Hockey League has determined that Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly did not direct a homophobic slur at referee Brad Meier during last night’s game with the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena.
League officials interviewed several of the participants in the game — including Rielly and Meier — and reviewed video of the alleged incident. All of those interviewed adamantly denied that Rielly uttered a slur and the audio supported their statements.
The National Hockey League does not tolerate language or gestures that disparage anyone based on their race, creed or sexual orientation and continues to work to ensure that our games are played in a welcoming atmosphere for all of our players, coaches officials and fans.”
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 12, 2019
Such a slur would be out of character for Reilly who has advocated for LGBTI inclusion and acceptance in hockey. Including just three weeks ago he helped to lead and advocate for the Toronto Maple Leafs to support the Toronto Pride Parade in June. In addition, he has worked with You Can Play including appearing in the Maple Leafs’ video, previous participation in pride parades and pride night events featuring the Toronto Gay Hockey Association.
Despite the investigation, You Can Play has also released a statement in response to the controversy…
“Homophobic language has no place in sports. The words used in last night’s game are unacceptable. We appreciate our partnership with the Leafs and will work with the team and the NHL to create an opportunity for everyone involved to learn more about the LGBTQ community, especially youth who are affected by the power of language. That is the spirit of You Can Play and our work to support MLSE, the NHL and the Hockey is for Everyone Campaign.”
During a press conference, both Dubas and Reilly clarified what happened and expressed their support for the LGBTQI community and the inclusion of openly gay athletes in hockey.
“I didn’t hear it,” Rielly said of the slur. “I know I didn’t use that word and I didn’t hear it during play. I did listen to the video. There are different ways to listen to the video. When it’s a topic that’s very serious, you tend to think what may have been said. But I know I didn’t say it and I didn’t hear it during play.
“I’m not sure if it came from the ice or not. Either way, that word has no place in this building. This is a team that wants to be involved in the community and with the movement. And like I said, I didn’t say it.”
Dubas had learned about the incident as he was leaving the arena. During the press conference he stated…
“When it came out that it was Morgan who was alleged to have used a homophobic slur it was surprising to me, to say the least,” said the GM. “I’ve known Morgan now for five years and this is a cause that he’s supported socially throughout his time here. And a few weeks ago, independent of all of this, he had gone to our community department and to (Leafs media relations director) Steve Keogh and asked to be formally involved in the Pride parade in Toronto this upcoming June.”
So, knowing that from a few weeks ago, and then combining that with the incident of last night, I was very surprised that Morgan was alleged to have said such a thing on the ice.”
When questioned on why this issue was so important to him and to the Maple Leafs, Dubas responded…
“It matters to (my wife) Shannon and I and (club president) Brendan Shanahan,” Dubas said. “It’s incumbent upon us in management to build an environment, where if someone were gay or questioning their sexual orientation, they don’t feel they have to come in here and be somebody they’re not. Even if they don’t come out, that if they’re gay; if a homosexual, bisexual, transgender fan walks in the rink, they feel welcome and safe here.
“If we have a player who is contemplating what their sexuality is, they (can) feel safe here and be themselves. Because of our role in the community and the country as the Toronto Maple Leafs we have a unique opportunity to be pro-active, take a stance on the matter and do more.”
While Reilly was cleared by the NHL, the issue is not without precedence. During the 2017 Playoffs, Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf was fined $10,000 after shouting an anti-gay slur at an official that was recorded on TV cameras. As well in the 2016 Playoffs, Chicago Blackhawk’s forward, Andrew Shaw, was suspended one game and fined $5,000 for using a homophobic slur at an official.
It is important to see the NHL taking this incident seriously and showing that homophobia has no place in hockey or sports.
By Dirk Smith