Kyle Dubas gets it.
About 18 hours after an accusation that defenseman Morgan Rielly used a gay slur on the ice went viral, Dubas, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, sat down at a press conference and gave one of the most thoughtful responses as to why even the implication of homophobic language shouldn’t be tolerated in the NHL.
Seated along side Rielly, who was ultimately cleared after an NHL investigation into the incident, Dubas didn’t focus on painting Rielly as the unfairly maligned victim of social media outrage, but rather put the focus on the people who really suffer when slurs are uttered.
“I don’t think the team or Morgan are victims at all. I don’t want it to be perceived that Morgan feels that way or the team feels that Morgan was slandered…There are a lot of people in our community, people that we know, people that have family members, where they are affected by homophobia every single day in our community and all throughout the world.”
As Dubas and Rielly pointed out in their press conference, the audio obtained by the NHL doesn’t clarify what actually was said and who said it, but both the referee in question and Reilly denied the slur being used.
Still, Dubas was more than willing to use this as a teachable moment.
“Every time it’s even thought that those types of words are uttered in our facility or anywhere, we have to do our part as the Toronto Maple Leafs to use this situation …to get rid of casual homophobia, vulgar homophobia, things that make people of any sexuality or sexual orientation feel unsafe or uncomfortable in our facilities. I think from talking to Morgan, he’s of the same mind, and that’s where we stand on it today.”
It is, frankly, the best response to this entire situation. Of course, Dubas can afford to take the high road, given that Reilly was cleared of using the slur, but NHL teams and players haven’t always had such a great responses to these issues in the past.
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In 2017, the Anaheim Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf used a vulgar slur on the ice and was fined $10,000, but his subsequent mess of an apology made the situation even worse. In 2016, Andrew Shaw, then of the Chicago Blackhawks, was suspended one game and fined $5,000 for using a slur. While he, too, eventually apologized, his initial evasiveness left much to be desired.
As the league and teams push their Hockey is for Everyone campaign, many in the hockey community need to exhibit the care and thoughtfulness that Dubas showed in his comments. He realized the most important lesson from all this, which is that to truly make the sport a safe and welcoming space for everyone, teams need to listen to and hear the concerns of their most marginalized fans.