The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Anti-gay slur bothers high school athlete, activist

LGBTFOOTBALL-thmbnlA high school football player and an LGBT sport activist are disappointed after a Canadian Football League player uttered a homophobic slur during a recent game.

In his public apology, Edmonton Eskimo cornerback Pat Watkins said he "honestly didn't intend to offend anybody" with his comment aimed at Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell during the Sept. 6 game. But the player and advocate say such language is inherently offensive, and is influencing the young players that view professionals like Watkins as role models.

Daniel Adesegun is a Grade 12 student at Bishop McNally High School and a running back for the Bishop McNally/Father Lacombe (MCLA) Laser Wolves. He says that homophobia similar to what Watkins demonstrated, while not as widespread as might be expected, still shows up in high school locker rooms, and it doesn't help that a CFL player has set a bad example.

"It was inappropriate," Adesegun said about the comment. "That kind of stuff shouldn't be said. Using a slur like that affects a lot of people and regardless of what he thinks, he should keep it in his head."

Watkins' comment and Mitchell's response were caught live by TSN microphones after Mitchell scored a touchdown to give the Stampeders a 31-10 lead in the third quarter. The comment was later censored by TSN. However, the Calgary Sun reported that Jon Cornish, the Stamps' running back whose mother is married to a woman, said the other "F-word" should be banned by the CFL.

Daniel AdesegunDaniel Adesegun (#7) is a running back for the MCLA Laser Wolves. He witnesses casual locker room homophobia first hand.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Adesegun
Adesegun noted that high school players still make homophobic slurs and attempts at humour toward each other in the locker room, even if not everyone thinks it is acceptable. He said there have been instances when teammates have called each other out for their comments, but that doesn't happen every time something is said. Many of the players approach it in the same way that Watkins did in his apology.

"Sometimes it will slip out, and no one will take it very seriously," Adesegun said. "No one really means it in a hateful way."

Advocate weighs in

That kind of casual homophobia may be more of a misguided display of machismo than a deliberate attempt to be cruel. But Wade Davis, a former NFL player who came out as gay in 2012, says that doesn't make it right.

Davis is the executive director of You Can Play, an organization based in Denver, Colo. that promotes equality and respect for athletes at all levels, regardless of their sexual orientation.

This summer, the CFL announced a partnership with the organization, and every team appointed an ambassador responsible for furthering its vision among players and fans.

"Calling someone anything homophobic is a way of putting a 'man' down," Davis said. "For gay players, it reinforces the idea that they're not welcome. For straight players, it reinforces the idea that this is the kind of language you use when you want to get into somebody's head or demean an opponent."

Davis said he was pleased to see the reaction from many CFL players who called Watkins out on his slur, and the dialogue about homophobia in sport that it created. However, he added that a fine might not be the best way to put an end to the problem in the long term. As per the CFL's policy, the amount of the fine against Watkins was not disclosed.

“Calling someone anything homophobic is a way of putting a ‘man’down.”

– Wade Davis, former NFL player and executive director of You Can Play

"Players also need to receive education and training, not just from an individual standpoint, but also as a team," Davis said. "Through our partnership with the CFL, hopefully you'll see that it does start happening more. From a player's standpoint, to actually change their behaviour, you can't just be punitive."

What's the penalty?

In the CFL, homophobic slurs directed at opposing players, officials or fans fall under the category of verbal abuse and are met with a 10-yard objectionable conduct penalty. Players can also be fined by the league, as was the case with Watkins.

Football and pride flagA homophobic comment by Edmonton Eskimo Pat Watkins created dialogue about the impact of such slurs on young athletes.

Photo illustration by Madison Farkas
Calgary's football league, which covers everything from first-year atom teams to high school and the Canada Interuniversity Sport (CIS), is much stricter. Those comments, which were once considered simple trash talk, are no longer tolerated.

Lance Campbell, president of the Calgary Football Officials Association, explained that like the CFL, the high school league applies a 10-yard penalty for homophobic language during a game. However, additional sanctions are also applied because of the nature of sport at the amateur level.

"The amateur game has an emphasis on player safety and sportsmanship," Campbell said in an email. "At the high school and minor levels, we are far more strict on language from both players and coaches as we are working to develop positive relationships. Our officials have been directed at these levels to treat any homophobic, sexist or racial comment as an automatic ejection."

Campbell added that under this rule, Calgary's high school league typically sees an ejection once every two years.

"At the amateur level it has been coached out of the game and our zero-tolerance policy has reinforced the commitment to sportsmanship."

Daniel Adesegun, the high school running back, confirmed that in-game homophobia is uncommon, but he still witnesses it in the locker room.

The MCLA coaching staff and the Edmonton Eskimos declined to comment for this story.

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