During an interview Tuesday afternoon, NHL tough guy Cam Janssen pretty much said everything that fans and media are afraid players actually think. Janssen, who recently re-upped for a one-year deal with the New Jersey Devils, appeared on St. Louis' "Thom and Jeff Show" to discuss how some players think on the ice and what it was like to lose in Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings. What he had to say wasn't pretty.
The radio show is only featured on the Internet, so Janssen didn't have to tone his language down for terrestrial listeners. Just a warning here, most of the subject matter is rough.
When asked about his role in the league, Janssen responded with, "You wanna be scary. You want to put the fear of [expletive] God into people's eyes. And not just 'Oh I'm gonna beat you up.' No, I'm gonna catch you with your [expletive] head down and hurt you because I know how to hit."
"If a guy starts chirping me when I skate by the bench, I'll decide I'm going to hurt somebody on this [expletive] team," Janssen continued. "Whoever's got the puck with their [expletive] head down, I'll [expletive] hurt you. The on the next shift guys will just get rid of the puck because they know I'm coming. You can dodge a fight. But when you have the puck, you're going to get hit."
So far, that is a pretty standard answer that any player who's being honest would probably give. The biggest reason those comments are a shock are simply because Janssen is being honest. It's also a concern because of a wave of hockey player deaths that took place last summer.
Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak each committed suicide last summer after having years almost identical to the one Janssen is approaching the end of. They bounced between teams and spent most of their time on the bench until it was time to throw a punch, or get punched. Early research done on head injuries of recently deceased players such as Rick Martin and Bob Probert shows that players hit by head shots and punches in their career are at a higher risk for mental problems like depression and even schizophrenia later in life.
Janssen was just getting started, though.
"I was pretty [expletive] miserable," Janssen said of losing to the Kings in the finals. He said the Kings had an easier path while the Devils "blew their load" against the Rangers earlier in the playoffs.
"They kicked ass," Janssen said about the Kings. He later compared the loss to "Damn fat broads, man...[The Kings are] the fat broads you regret banging. I've been there and done that. It's a very good experience to see what it takes to make it that far. But losing like that, holy [expletive] that was a buzzkill."
The hosts then brought up the hockey movies "Goon" and "Youngblood," both of which Janssen dismissed as too unrealistic. He did say, though, that "Slap Shot" is a classic for a reason. The trash talk.
The problem is that "Slap Shot" is a movie from the 1970s and while it definitely remains one of the all-time best sports movies, not every aspect of the dialogue stands the test of time. Janssen said the players in today's game know about each other's personal lives, to which one of the hosts said, "If a guy was sucking [expletive] four weeks ago, you're going to know about it."
"Oh, if he's sucking [expletive] he's getting his ass kicked," Janssen responded to roaring laughter.
With the storm of criticism his comments are likely to set off, Janssen will probably come out in the next few days with a bland, scripted apology the public has heard many times before. The fact is, he meant what he said and that he said it has to be a disappointment to not only his fans but especially to any gay athlete in the NHL or otherwise.
Last year The Huffington Post published an article that speculated 1.7 percent of the 18 and over population in the U.S. identifies as gay or lesbian, although finding the true number "remains an elusive task." Previous estimates landed numbers up to 3 or 5 percent. Another 1.8 million or so identify as bisexual while an estimated 8.2 percent of the population have had sex with a partner of the same gender at some point. Again, the article admits its own flaws because of the hesitancy researchers have traditionally had in asking respondents about their sexual orientation.
NHL.com lists the statistics for 894 players that played in the 2011-2012 regular season. If you take that number into consideration and do the math with the statistics from The Huffington Post, 15 NHL players would identify as gay, 5 players as bisexual and 73 would have had sex with other men. That's roughly one gay player for every two teams, but similar estimates in the past have guessed at higher numbers.
As the inevitability of a gay professional athlete coming out of the closet during his NHL career comes closer and closer, the league has made strides in affording that player a certain level of comfort that was absent during the days of "Slap Shot." The "You Can Play" effort that recalls the "It Gets Better" campaign with NHL players taping messages of support for gay athletes is just one effort that flies in the face of what Janssen said. It would be naïve, though, to think that homophobic comments aren't made during every game, even if they're so often used they're not even thought of as anti-gay.
Thankfully, the reaction on Twitter has almost all been negative toward Janssen. Conversation leaders and bloggers from every corner of the hockey media have chimed in.
Yahoo!'s "Puck Daddy" blog features an anonymous NHL player who from time to time responds to fan questions and pens the occasional column. In April, a fan asked how the homophobic culture of the league is changing.
"The Player" responded with, "My gut feeling is that a large majority of the players in the league would support an initiative like 'You Can Play.' I don't know that it's an issue of the 'culture changing' because we've never had a gay player come out before, so we would have nothing on which to base that so-called change.
"I don't think that hockey players are necessarily any different than the rest of society. Assuming that our culture is moving towards being more open-minded, I would also assume that hockey players are as well. I believe that most players would be accepting of a gay player in the NHL because, ultimately, they would see it as the right thing to do. Obviously there would be exceptions (maybe more than I think), and the process wouldn't be without its complications (locker room issues, etc.)."
The problem isn't that Janssen said what he did -- the aftermath of this interview will only result in players just clamming up more to media -- but that he thinks it. It's a sensitive time for both head injuries and homosexuality and there's no longer a place for players that have the same mentality as "Slap Shot."
Video of the interview has been removed from YouTube.
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