TORONTO (AP) — Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly didn’t direct a gay slur at referee Brad Meier during the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL said Tuesday after an investigation.
Television cameras picked up what sounded like a slur with 1:51 left in the second period when Rielly and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde skated into Toronto’s defensive zone.
The NHL launched an investigation shortly after the Lightning’s 6-2 win on Monday night when clips began appearing on social media.
“League officials interviewed several of the participants in the game — including Rielly and Meier — and reviewed video of the alleged incident. All of those interviewed adamantly denied that Rielly uttered a slur and the audio supported their statements,” Colin Campbell, the NHL’s executive vice president and director of hockey operations, said in a statement.
“The National Hockey League does not tolerate language or gestures that disparage anyone based on their race, creed or sexual orientation and continues to work to ensure that our games are played in a welcoming atmosphere for all of our players, coaches officials and fans.”
The league didn’t say if the slur had been used, just that it wasn’t uttered by Rielly. The 25-year-old joined Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas at a press conference Tuesday.
“I didn’t hear it,” Rielly said of the slur. “I know I didn’t use that word and I didn’t hear it during play. I did listen to the video.
“I’m not sure if it came from the ice or not. Either way, that word has no place in this building. This is a team that wants to be involved in the community and with the movement.”
Dubas said he was about to leave the rink Monday night when notified of the alleged comments.
“When it came out that it was Morgan who was alleged to have used a homophobic slur, it was surprising to me, to say the least,” Dubas said. “I’ve known Morgan now for five years and this is a cause that he’s supported socially throughout his time here.”
A few weeks ago, Rielly asked to be formally involved in the gay pride parade in Toronto this June, Dubas said.
A Vancouver native, Rielly was Toronto’s first-round pick in the 2012 draft. He’s second among NHL defensemen in scoring this season, with 18 goals and 47 assists in 69 games.
The NHL has issued fines and suspensions in the past for players using slurs.
Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf was fined $10,000, the maximum under the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, when TV cameras recorded him appearing to shout a gay slur toward an official during the 2017 playoffs.
Chicago forward Andrew Shaw, now with Montreal, was suspended one game and fined $5,000 for directing a gay slur toward an official during the 2016 playoffs.
Last month, the NHL celebrated Hockey is For Everyone. The Leafs hosted 30 players from the Toronto Gay Hockey Association during a You Can Play awareness night on Feb. 24. The group works for inclusion in sports, including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans.
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