No ban for Simmonds

Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds skates against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia,...

Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds skates against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Penn., Sep. 26, 2011. (BRUCE BENNETT/Getty Images/AFP)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:02 PM ET

Well, the Winter Classic got interesting in a hurry.

The participants are always wired, but now will they still be wired for sound?

After some mild trash talking among the grey-haired patriarchs of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the day at the Winter Classic kickoff news conference, Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers, according to Ranger Sean Avery, took the talk between the two teams to another, low level.

Avery alleges Simmonds dropped an F-bomb on him during their game Monday night -- and it wasn't the four-letter one that is noun, verb, adjective, dangling participle and exclamation point in NHL vernacular.

This was the homophobic slur kind. Simmonds said he couldn't remember what he said, but apparently Avery's -- and the video's -- memory was better.

Because on-ice officials did not hear the slur and Simmonds denied uttering it, the Flyers winger escaped punishment from the league, NHL vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said in a statement Tuesday night.

But comments directed at the race or ethnicity of players is "absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated," he said.

"All (players, coaches and officials) deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually based innuendo or derision," Campbell said.

"This is the National Hockey League's policy and it will remain so going forward."

If the league is made aware of additional information in the Simmonds-Avery case, it reserves the option to revisit the matter, Campbell said.

After a sad summer, it was thought the playing of games might serve as a needed distraction. But with the spate of dangerous hits, the suspensions handed out by Brendan Shanahan and now the Avery-Simmonds controversy, the off-ice shift remains the news.

What is said between NHL players in the course of a game can be pretty appalling, but racist or sexually based insults cross the line, even if the NHL's line is way past polite society's.

That it was these two players involved adds another layer to the controversy.

Simmonds is fresh off having a banana thrown at him by some moron in London last week, a reprehensible act after which Simmonds, who is black, chose to take the high road. He tempered his outrage and, apparently, his sensitivity, too. He's the last guy you'd expect to be accused of something like this, no?

Avery has his own rap sheet when it comes to sexually derogatory remarks, getting sat down for six games and having his playing days with the Dallas Stars ended for his infamous "sloppy seconds" remark in 2008.

Now he feels he has been wronged and, I suppose, having been on the other side, feels like he's entitled to some justice.

People sometimes want to equate what happens in an NHL rink during a game with any other kind of workplace. You hear it all the time when there's a case of physical violence, people calling for the police to get involved.

That's just naive and misguided. Bill in the Sales Department is never going to get away with the kind of abusive language or physical threats directed toward a colleague or a competitor that are levelled on just about every shift in the NHL.

But racist or sexist comments are where the NHL and the real world intersect.

The NHL has its own standards of behaviour, but racist or sexist comments that can be proven to have taken place have to be punished, otherwise what message are you sending to your fans?

These things in the NHL usually devolve into a "he said; no I didn't" to and fro and without any third party corroboration (it would have to be an on- or off-ice official or audio, you'd think) the NHL usually has no avenue but to shrug, remind the alleged offender to play nice and move on.

In the NHL, words are sharpened to be used as implements to get under an opponent's skin. Words are said to get a rise, a reaction. For the most part, the most vile and crude exchanges that are the stock and trade of the agitator remain between the players and they often consider the source.

The best trash talking is often clever and dismissive like the time former Winnipeg Jets defenceman Jim Kyte got involved with Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins. They clashed and Lemieux fixed Kyte with a glare.

"How much do you make, anyway?" Lemieux asked, pulling out the "my paycheque is bigger than yours" putdown.

Without missing a beat, Kyte shot back: "Not as much as Gretzky, but neither do you."

Seldom does the NHL trash talk rise to that level.

The NHL's bar is a low one, but that can't mean anything goes.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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