After making a heated homophobic remark, this NHL coach actually got his apology right

After making a heated homophobic remark, this NHL coach actually got his apology right

You are currently viewing After making a heated homophobic remark, this NHL coach actually got his apology right
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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper

It’s one of the oldest misogynistic and homophobic lines in men’s sports: “just put skirts on ’em!”

Following the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff series loss Monday, coach Jon Cooper complained to reporters about two nullified goals. Officials waved off Lightning goals in the first and second periods, alleging they made too much contact with the Florida Panthers’ goalie.

Cooper argued the contact was incidental, especially during the playoffs, where “prison rules” apply.

“Net front battles aren’t allowed anymore? That’s part of everybody’s game, is like the boxing out that goes there. It’s like prison rules in the playoffs, but it’s not prison rules for the goalie?” he asked. “The second something happens, we might as well put skirts on them then, if that’s how it’s gonna be. … It’s a war down there and I think we’re letting the goalies off the hook. They’ve got way more pads on than everybody else does.”

All of Cooper’s above comments were inarticulate, right down to the provocative analogies. It’s not “war down there,” coach. It’s a hockey game!

Cooper faced deserved criticism over the ensuing 24 hours, with many wondering why the Stanley Cup-winning head coach resorted to juvenile taunts. The outdated phrase “put skirts on ’em” equates being “soft” on the ice with being a woman.

It implies that women’s hockey is inferior, which is quite an archaic (not to mention wrong) viewpoint. The Professional Women’s Hockey League is setting attendance records this season!

We also just watched the most popular women’s college basketball tournament of all-time. It’s a different game, but the point stands: women sports rock!

There’s also a homophobic element to Cooper’s remarks. Queer athletes are commonly derided as “soft” and “effeminate,” incapable of playing a physical sport like hockey. That’s the kind of casual homophobia that infiltrates locker rooms across all levels, and chases LGBTQ+ athletes away.

Ex-hockey pro Brock McGillis, who met with 100 Canadian hockey teams in 100 days this season, says players and coaches need to realize their language matters.

“I think the message is for athletes,” he said. “Having them recognize their influence in society and how they impact things positively or negatively. I hope that really hits home with them.”

Well, Cooper received the message. On Wednesday, he immediately kicked off his season-ending presser with an apology.

“It was a disappointing series loss the other night, and I made an inappropriate analogy about goalies in skirts,” he said. “It’s one of those moments where if you could reach back and just grab the words back, I would’ve.”

“As the father of two, and especially as a massive supporter of women’s hockey, and I have girls who play sports. So quite frankly, it was wrong, and I had to go explain myself to my girls.”

Cooper’s apology was forthright and poignant, and indicates he reflected on his poor choice of words. The part about him explaining himself to his daughters was particularly personal.

The coach went even further, saying his unfortunate analogy impacted him more than the loss.

“I sincerely apologize to all who I offended. It’s pained me more than actually the series loss itself,” he said.

Now that’s different! As one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Lightning were expected to make a deep playoff run. They also suffered a first-round loss last season, upping the pressure they faced.

They wound up falling flat to the Panthers, and lost the series finale by a 6-1 margin. It’s easy to imagine many coaches using the devastating defeat as a shield. Dour and distraught, their mannerisms would dissuade anybody from asking about their outdated phrasing.

But Cooper welcomed the conversation. It’s another sign that hockey is changing…

McGillis applauded Cooper’s apology as well.

“I’ve always heard what a good human Jon Cooper is,” he said. “I’m not surprised that he was introspective, recognized that his words matter and apologized.”

“We all say or do the wrong thing. Be accountable, apologize and don’t do it again.”

That’s precisely the point: everybody makes mistakes. The growth comes from correcting them.

As a franchise, the Lighting support LGBTQ+ inclusion, hosting various Pride nights and initiatives over the years. Star forward Steven Stamkos slammed the league’s misguided Pride jersey ban last offseason, putting needed pressure on the commissioner’s office.

May those actions, and Cooper’s contrition, show gay hockey players they are welcome.


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