This past Thursday, as part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone month, a list of You Can Play ambassadors was released, naming one player from each team who is designated as a support for any LGBTQA+ player on their team. This list includes several high-profile figures, for example, Captains Claude Giroux (PHI) and Gabriel Landeskog (COL). Also represented are key franchise players: Braden Holtby (WSH), Brad Marchand (BOS), Henrik Sedin (VAN), Ryan Kesler (ANA).
There is one name, however, that has drawn an excess of attention since the list was announced. The inclusion of this player has seemed to polarize the hockey community - especially the LGBTQA+ fanbase. The YCP Ambassador to the Montreal Canadiens is Andrew Shaw.
The same Andrew Shaw who was fined last year after he was caught throwing a homophobic slur at a ref. The Andrew Shaw who claimed to not remember what he had said immediately after the game, but eventually abandoned that defense when it was clear he wasn’t getting out of it.
Yeah, that Andrew Shaw.
So what’s the problem? The NHL, the Habs, and many people in the league and the community are holding this up as an example of how someone can redeem themselves. Cid Zeigler writes in his Outsports article, "It’s pretty fantastic that Shaw has come full circle and now stands out with open arms hoping any teammates know they have a place to go if they need it."
Many (myself included) just aren’t buying into the story. It’s been approximately ten months since that slur incident occurred on ice, and this is the very first indication we have that Andrew Shaw has truly turned himself around. There has been no Pride Parade, no calling out of homophobes on social media, no subtle tribute to the lives lost in the Pulse shooting for Andrew Shaw – even when other players in the league managed to do at least that much.
Why, then, should anyone believe that he has really changed his tune? The position of YCP Ambassador appears to be a large undertaking which essentially amounts to being a task force leader within your own professional team – spearheading inclusivity programs, calling out homophobic behavior, and demonstrating in every aspect that you are a mentor and support for the LGBTQA+ players around you. Becoming a YCP Ambassador on a major league sports team is not your first step in finding redemption. It’s not the second or even the third.
What has Andrew Shaw done to deserve this position?
It’s easier to believe that this is a publicity stunt, a convenient way to boost a player’s and franchise’s public value by obscuring the black mark on their image. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are marketable, for better or for worse, and it would be incredibly naïve to think that profit didn’t play into the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone programming. But, should this be merely a public relations stunt, it is disingenuous and disrespectful.
There are hockey fans (again myself included) who aren’t ready to forgive Andrew Shaw or the NHL quite yet. We haven’t been given good reason to do so. It’s not about holding grudges, but it’s hard to forget when someone chooses to use your very existence as an insult, to boil down your identity into a convenient swear word that they throw around when the game isn’t going their way. It’s a reminder that LGBTQA+ hockey fans aren’t really part of the hockey community. As such, asking forgiveness takes time and a demonstrated sense of mutual understanding – an offering of apology not because it’s expected or demanded but because the guilty party realizes that they are truly wrong. The initial announcement ignored that process and demanded positive recognition, swept the past problems under the rug or made use of them to make Andrew Shaw and the NHL seem all that much brighter.
Shaw’s subsequent interviews have shed some further light upon at least his own willingness to participate in the YCP Ambassador program. He appears genuine in his apology, in his desire to work with YCP and to act in support of his teammates. The interview has also left me convinced that he is woefully unequipped to do so. His sole focus seems to be on eliminating derogatory language in the locker room, but homophobia and exclusion in sports is so much more complicated than merely banning bad words. If Andrew Shaw also has plans to tackle toxic masculinity, heteronormative behavior, transphobia, targeted violence, or the tangled webs of intersectionality, he hasn’t shared them.
I want Andrew Shaw to be a good Ambassador, to be put in a position to succeed. I want LGBTQA+ players to go to him and receive the encouragement and support they need to continue playing the sport they love. I’m even willing to give him a chance to be that Ambassador and to be that person. But I will continue to be mad that it was handled in such an insensitive manner by the league and by the Canadiens franchise, that an entire community is just expected to forgive and forget an incident which confirmed that they are still not welcome in the NHL. I will also question his ability to do the job he volunteered for because I have not yet seen evidence to suggest he can.
If you want us to believe that this is a character redemption narrative, then show us the whole story or we won’t trust you when all we get is the "happily ever after." Andrew Shaw as a YCP Ambassador is the epilogue to a book that was never published; I want to buy the story, but it doesn’t exist.