words are all i have

Hockey: The final homosexual holdout in North American sports

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So, here’s the gay scorecard for the five major professional team sports in North America:

  • The National Basketball Association has had its first openly gay player, Jason Collins, who performed briefly as an openly gay man with the Brooklyn Nets and the sky didn’t fall.
  • The National Football League has had its first openly gay player, although Michael Sam never progressed beyond the Dallas Cowboys practice roster and apparently is now part of a witness protection program (there are suggestions he is likely to resurface next summer with Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League).
  • Major League Baseball has an openly gay umpire, crew chief Dale Scott, who called balls and strikes for 29 seasons as a closeted gay man before calling himself “out” this week.
  • Major League Soccer has an openly gay player, defender Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy, who won the league title on Sunday.
  • The National Hockey League has…oh, don’t be silly, silly. Everbody knows there are no gay men in hockey. Not in the NHL. Not in the American Hockey League. Not in the Canadian Hockey League. Not in the ECHL. Not anywhere. Not ever, ever, ever.

Not only has there never been an openly gay man in any pro hockey league on this side of the big pond, not a single man has come out as homosexual post-career. Former NBA, NFL and MLB players have outed themselves once the final buzzer sounded. But none from the NHL or any other shinny outfit.

This, of course, is a logic-defying bit of business. Ever since the hockey puck replaced the road apple…all those years…all those leagues…all those thousands of players…and we’re supposed to believe not one of them was/is gay? You’d have a better chance convincing me that it would be a swell idea for my daughter to date Jian Ghomeshi.

Let’s place some perspective on this.

In the entire history of organized professional hockey on this continent, there has never been an openly homosexual man on any team roster. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Diddly squat. Yet, there have been at least four women in pro hockey—Manon Rheaume, Erin Whitten, Danielle Dube and Shannon Szabados, who currently tends goal for Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

To repeat: Women 4, gay men 0. For all time.

Consider that reality. Chew on it. Digest it. For the longest time, the notion that females could compete on equal footing with men in hockey was absurd. It still is, for that matter, if we’re discussing the NHL level. And probably the AHL. Yet history records that four females have played pro hockey in North America…and zero gay men.

To suggest there has never been a gay man in the NHL is to say all female hockey players are lesbians. It simply isn’t so. We all know, of course, that there have been (are) gays in the NHL and lower leagues. We just haven’t identified them yet. Or, to be more accurate, they haven’t identified themselves to us.

So why is hockey the final homosexual holdout?

One school of thought has it that hockey players won’t come out because they are a different breed. That they are team-first people. That they prefer not to attract attention to themselves. Oh, please. Gay hockey players don’t remain closeted due to inherent altruism. They remain in hiding out of a fear borne of the game’s macho culture.

It’s one thing for the NHL to lock arms with the You Can Play Project and for players to lend voice to public service announcements proclaiming their readiness to accept a gay teammate. Manny Malhotra and Jason Garrison can participate in the Vancouver Pride Parade, and Brian Burke can do the same in Toronto. Montreal Canadiens’ bankroll, Geoff Molson, can declare his organization to be a safe haven for gay players and those in the LGBT collective who support the Habs. All this is encouraging.

But…until the day arrives when the word “fag” and crude suggestives such as “suck my dick” are no longer the slurs du jour in hockey, you aren’t going to see an out player.

Let me put it this way: When Habs owner Molson stated last month that “Everyone and everybody is welcome in the Montreal Canadiens organization,” he was telling a gay kid who dreams of one day wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge linen of Les Glorieux that he has a soft spot to land. Bravo for Geoff Molson.

Unfortunately, Molson doesn’t spend up to 10 months of the year sitting in the Canadiens’ changing room. The players perhaps wouldn’t feel as accommodating.

Admittedly, I haven’t sniffed the pungent aroma of an NHL boudoir for many years, but I believe Aaron Ward, through his three-segment documentary ReOrientation on TSN earlier this year, provided us with a clear indication where NHL players position themselves on the gay issue.

“Outside of the involvement with Andrew Ference,” said Ward, a former NHL defenceman and now a TSN talking head, “we struggled to get participation from players. Over a nine-month period, we reached out to 12 different National Hockey League teams. (We) could not get co-operation. It was a struggle to get guys to sit down and be comfortable and honest in front of a camera. Obviously, it’s easy to sit down and read words for a PSA, but it’s another thing to sit down and be honest and in-depth and be clear about how we feel about this process and this issue. It’s almost a barometer of where we are today.”

Nine months. Twelve teams. That’s more than 200 players. And only three—Andrew Ference, Ben Scrivens and Dustin Brown—agreed to a chin-wag.

How do you effect change without dialogue? You don’t. The beat goes on and the NHL continues to lag behind the rest of the sports world, even as it promotes itself as a leader in the gay arena.

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