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Brad Marchand licked an opponent. Again. He needs to be suspended.

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Sadly, Marchand is the Bruins’ appointed LGBTQ-community ambassador.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Boston Bruins - Game Four
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is the only person who can stop Brad Marchand from forcing homophobia on other players.

Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand has again licked an opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, marring the game, raising issues of homophobia and, hopefully, drawing a suspension from the NHL.

In the Bruins’ 3-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday, Marchand decided to lick the cheek of Ryan Callahan (not to be confused with gay former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan).

While the NHL rules do not specifically address “licking” an opponent, they do give very clear penalties for spitting. Given the exchange of saliva, the NHL must equate the two and follow the “spitting” ramifications laid out in the rules.

A “game misconduct” for spitting incurs a lousy $200 fine. It also allows Commissioner Gary Bettman to levy any penalty he wants, including a suspension. NHL Rule 23.8 specifically calls it out:

The following list of infractions can also result in a game misconduct penalty being assessed:

(i) interfering with or striking a spectator.

(ii) racial taunts or slurs

(iii) spitting on or at an opponent or spectator

Bettman and the NHL have no choice but to suspend Marchand for Game 5.

Marchand’s licking of opponents previously came into focus in the last few days as reports surfaced of the NHL telling the All Star to stop the behavior. Marchand denied the report. It seems on Friday night he decided to make it perfectly clear he didn’t have to play by the rules.

Now the league has no choice but to suspend Marchand for the team’s fifth playoff game against the Lightning.

The underlying theme of all of this, of course, is homophobia.

Marchand could have easily checked Callahan, pushed him, or performed a list of other actions against him that wouldn’t have brought the ire of players and fans.

Instead, he decided to bring intimacy between two men into the equation. Given all the chatter over the last week, this was not a spur-of-the-moment action. He knew exactly what he was doing, particularly given that the tongue-in-cheek reason he gave for doing it before was that he found the other player “cute.”

“I thought he wanted to cuddle,” Marchand said of his licking Toronto Maple Leaf Leo Komarov in the first round. “I just wanted to get close to him.”

Perceived intimacy between two men was at the core of what he did here. That is disgraceful, particularly as the team’s appointed You Can Play ambassador.

You Can Play executives did not respond to a request for comment Friday night.

“By kissing a player and saying it’s because he’s cute, Brad Marchand is using sexuality as a means to get under an opponent’s skin,” said former hockey player Brock McGillis. “A man kissing a man followed up by his comments makes it homophobic.”

It’s also drawn copious reactions of disgust at one man licking another. I totally agree with Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who was left shaking his head about the incident.

“There’s absolutely no place in our game for that,” Cooper said. “I don’t understand it. I don’t.”

McGillis sees the obvious negative reaction as compounding the problem.

“Fans are referring to it as disgusting, which an unwanted lick is,,” McGillis said. “But the fact that sports news will be continuously showing a man kissing or licking another man in a negative light will set our community back in our attempt to find a place in male team sports.”

As the Bruins’ NHL-appointed ambassador to the LGBTQ community for the last two years, Marchand should know better than this. Licking and kissing opponents simply opens the door to all kinds of “ewwwww” reactions. It begs people to look at one guy licking another with disgust.

While Marchand has said the NHL will accept a gay player, his use of homophobia as a weapon — and that is, at the core, what this is — is a disappointment.

It’s a slap in the face of the LGBTQ community he claims to be helping, and also another issue You Can Play will now have to deal with.

The LGBTQ community deserves better from hockey’s leading entity in North America.

If hockey wants to shed its image as the most homophobic sport in North America, the NHL and its players will have to do much, much better than this.

The league can take a first step by telling Marchand and every other player in the league that this behavior spurring homophobia will not be tolerated, and suspending Marchand for the Bruins’ next playoff game.