When video popped up last Friday night of Montreal Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw screaming from the penalty box after an altercation with Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, amateur lip readers thought they saw Shaw using a gay slur during his rant. .
If you see the video, you can understand why:
In 2016 Shaw was suspended for using a gay slur from the penalty box during a Stanley Cup Playoff game with the Chicago Blackhawks. Earlier this year Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf was not suspended for also using a gay slur.
Over the weekend, the NHL immediately conducted an internal investigation, interviewing three people, including Shaw and the penalty-box attendant. The league’s conclusion was that Shaw did not use a gay slur.
“We are completely satisfied that Andrew Shaw did not say the homophobic slur that has been alleged,” the NHL said in a statement.
Yet to the untrained eye, there was still doubt. Watching Shaw’s lips without audio, screaming at someone for putting him in the penalty box, it certainly looked like he said “f***ing fag.”
So I decided to ask a professional lip reader to take a look.
When Shannon Sneed Tambolleo first saw the above video of Shaw’s rant from the penalty box, she cringed. She could understand why people had arrived at the conclusion they did.
But lip reading is an art, not a science, and she couldn’t reach any conclusions without seeing more.
The context was key, and she wanted to see more of Shaw speaking. That’s when we came across a longer video of him screaming from the penalty box, in which he said a couple words before those in question.
With the slightly longer clip, Tambolleo quickly made her assertion.
“After seeing the fuller clip, ‘faggot’ or ‘fag’ don't fit,” she said.
She reviewed the video several times and was absolutely convinced Shaw did not use the gay slur in question.
Tambolleo said that in the last word there seems to be an “r” in the word. However, she added that when people are cold or exerted (like in hockey), the person’s mouth can seem to insert an “r” where it isn’t audible.
Some people claim Shaw said “it’s not f***ing fair” or “call it f***ing fair,” which Tambolleo said are certainly within the realm of possibility.
Possibility is what lip readers have to deal with. While it’s crystal clear that Shaw used the “F swear word,” it’s not clear what came before or after that, though Tambolleo was convinced it was not the “F gay slur.”
“Lip reading is definitely not an exact science,” Tambolleo said. “This is why miscommunication is so rampant.”
Still, Tambolleo is very confident that Shaw in fact did not use a gay slur, confirming what the NHL concluded in speaking to people close to the incident.
What Shaw said may not have been pretty, but it wasn’t a gay slur.