If everyone else is mentioning it, I might as well, as well.
Justin Bourne, today, in USA Today:
In my days as a hockey player, I did nothing but contribute to hockey's culture of homophobia and prejudice against gays. I used gay slurs more times than I'd like to admit. Six months after I left my last professional locker room, I felt a twinge of regret, followed by a full-out, stomach punch of regret. And by the time I finished the first draft of this column, I was disgusted with myself.
We've somehow made something totally irrelevant to hockey performance – sexual preference – such an issue that every gay player has been forced to conclude that their private life is something best hidden.
So it's time.
It's time to acknowledge we've been unfair to the gay community, that the culture of our sport can be misogynistic, homophobic and cruel. More important, it's time to make a stand that we want it to change.
My take? To keep it shorter than it could be:
1) Homophobia is no worse and no better in hockey than it is in other sports. Like all sports, hockey has its fair share of brain-dead jocks who, for reasons about which I dare not speculate, obsess about teh Gheyz.
2) As Greg Wyshynski notes, a lot of humor among dudes, good and bad, revolves around impugning one another's masculinity. In some ways I think this has less to do with masculinity than the simple fact that---and this is one of the cardinal beliefs of my entire life---a joke isn't funny unless it's at someone's expense, yours or someone else's. In a sports context, "taking the piss" (as our island cousins say) usually means making fun of each other's masculinity. Nothing wrong with that, I think, as long as the joke is funny.
3) Which brings me to the most important point. "That's so gay" jokes and "dude you're a fag" jokes are fucking moronic because they depend on agreed-upon negative cliches, things "everybody knows" (if they've never met an actual gay human), for their effect. Like all arts and crafts, humor is at its best when it upsets the conventional wisdom, makes us see the world in a new and startling way. Humor that relies on received opinion and mechanical reactions, stuff like "haw you didn't score a goal today you are teh Ghey" or "OMG that game was SO GAY" is just dull and witless.
Which isn't to say that some general impressions of certain groups of people aren't true: my first reaction upon reading Bourne's column was "I HOPE they encourage more gays in hockey. Maybe they could fix the Thrashers' shitty third jerseys."
4) Spare me, spare us, spare all humanity the confused "b-b-b-b-b-but FREE SPEECH" bullshit. You're perfectly free to make fag jokes, kike jokes, and nigger jokes, whatever stupid jokes you want; the US government won't arrest you for doing so. But a private organization is within its rights to restrict certain kinds of speech.
5) Not that I think hockey organizations should do anything along those lines. That would just be a bureaucratic, artificial solution. Fag-baiting won't disappear from hockey, or from any professional sport, until the substantial faction of athletes that obsess about homosexuality outgrow their paranoid fantasies. It will take a bit of time.
Hey, how about those Thrashers? Game day today!