Rick Zamperin: Morgan Rielly cleared, but NHL must still toughen homophobic penalties

Maple Leafs say Morgan Rielly found to not have used homophobic slur
WATCH: Maple Leafs say Morgan Rielly found to not have used homophobic slur

Well, that’s a relief.

The NHL says it has determined that Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly did not direct a homophobic slur at an official during the team’s 6-2 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night.

With 1:51 left to play in the second period, television cameras picked up audio of what sounded like a slur moments before Tampa’s Cedric Paquette scored on a short-handed 3-on-1 to make it 5-1 for the first-place Lightning.

Many people on social media suggested the Leafs blueliner volleyed the slur at referee Brad Meier, as the 25-year-old Rielly and Yanni Gourde chased after a loose puck in the Toronto zone.

READ MORE: Maple Leafs say Morgan Rielly found to not have used homophobic slur

Warning, foul language:

Story continues below advertisement

The NHL launched an investigation into the alleged incident shortly after the game, but on Tuesday, Colin Campbell, the NHL’s executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, issued a statement saying, “Morgan Rielly did not direct a homophobic slur at referee Brad Meier.”

Campbell added that the league interviewed several participants in the game, including Rielly and Meier, and everyone “adamantly denied that Rielly uttered a slur and the audio supported their statements.”

There is no place in professional sports for homophobic slurs, none. Then again, that should also apply to everyday life.

Sadly, sports leagues, and society in general, looked the other way not too long ago when it came to such words or phrases.

Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas issued a statement after Monday’s game, saying, “The issue of homophobia is one the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club strongly condemns and takes very seriously. We are in communication with the NHL and are co-operating fully with their office.”

READ MORE: Toronto Maple Leafs fall to Lightning, Tyler Johnson and Cedric Paquette each mark 2 goals

The Leafs have been at the forefront of the “You Can Play” movement, which aims to eradicate homophobia in sports and even hosted a “You Can Play Night” on Feb. 25, when players appeared in a public service announcement denouncing homophobia, racism and sexism in hockey.

Story continues below advertisement

It’s great to hear that Rielly didn’t utter a homophobic slur, but if one thing is certain, the National Hockey League should be more consistent in penalizing offenders for homophobic behaviour.

In 2017, Chicago’s Andrew Shaw was suspended for a playoff game and fined $5,000 after using a slur during a game, but during that same playoffs, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf was fined $10,000 for using an anti-gay remark.

The NHL should use this latest incident — even though a slur wasn’t used — to put everyone in the league on notice that homophobic behaviour will result in an automatic one-game suspension and $25,000 fine, with the money supporting LGBTQ initiatives.