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Something that’s been on my mind this week

November 26, 2010

Due to some unforseen complications that I like to call My Internet Service Provider Can Die In A Fire, I was unable to finish the Friday post that I’ve been working on for a while. You’ll see it on Monday (I hope).

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week: Gay men in hockey and the NHL and whether they’ll ever be able to come out of the closet.

This comes up every once in a while but there isn’t enough conversation about it, more of a general  ‘it sucks but what can you do?’ kind of thing. It’s something I think about sometimes, as I’m sure a lot of people do, but I think it’s also really hard to envision the status quo changing anytime soon. I’m honestly not sure who brought it up on Twitter this week, but some of the people I follow tweeted about it  a little and now it’s on my mind again.

I’ve never been able to forget something therangersfan once said to me: straight men don’t care about issues that affect gay people unless they are in the closet or someone very very close to them is gay. That may or may not be true but sometimes (okay, most of the time) it seems like he’s right.

I am not a gay man, a straight man, or a person who has ever played hockey or been in a hockey dressing room. I don’t know the first thing about this. But here’s the thing. I want to have this conversation.  

I want to know what you think, and maybe collect all your thoughts and arguments into a post – then maybe people could comment and that can be my conversation. No world-changing or life-changing. Just perspective-sharing.

So I have a lot of questions for you, my five readers. It would be great if you could post your thoughts here, or send them to me in an email (theactivestick@gmail.com). Tweet them, leave them as facebook comments, whatever. If you have thoughts but you don’t want your name out there, that’s fine too, just email me your thoughts and let me know. But be honest.  Also, please pass this post on to anyone you think could or would want to weigh in.

So go ahead, tell me what you think. Why is it that pro athletes don’t tend to come out during their careers? The general consensus seems to be that it would likely be much harder for a professional hockey player to come out than an athlete in other sports. Why is that? Tell me what it’s like in a hockey dressing room, because I honestly don’t know. How early does it start to get uncomfortable for gay hockey players? Is it going to take a superstar coming out of the closet during (or even after) his career to make it easier for other gay athletes, and will even that change anything? What about Brian Burke and Brendan’s legacy? Send me any thoughts you have, at all.

I really want to talk about it.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Elie permalink
    November 26, 2010 10:26 am

    I don’t see how this is even a conversation. The choice to change the way things run in regards to acceptance of your sexual orientation in the NHL rests up solely to the players. This isn’t the military, there is no ‘don’t ask don’t tell’.

    If Steven Stamkos is gay, do you think he’ll get bumped from the team? This isn’t the 1970’s. Players are selected based off performance and talent without regard to color, creed or even *gasp* sexual orientation.

    Owners don’t build teams or make selections of staff based off how much they ‘like’ them or anything of the ilk.

    They have one goal and that is to make money. Period. At any and all costs, they see winning as means to generate profit. It’s why we have 4 ‘3rd’ jerseys in a decade and why we have the winter classic. It’s why the all star game has new jerseys. It’s why Hall and Eberle are playing in Edmonton instead of in the minors; jerseys sold. Sell the game. That’s the goal.

    Why don’t players in the NHL come out as gay? Maybe their aren’t any, maybe THEY aren’t comfortable with it. Maybe they have to their fellow peers but don’t make a spectable about it by telling us fans. Who knows. I’m not saying I don’t care, I’m saying it’s none of my business, or yours as well.

    • theactivestick permalink*
      November 26, 2010 10:50 am

      It’s true that an athlete’s sexuality is none of our business. But the fact of the matter is, there are way too many people out there, especially young people, that struggle with being able to just be who they are.

      I wouldn’t want my kids growing up thinking they have to live a lie or keep who they are a secret just to be able to pursue their dreams or do something they love.

      I have enough friends that have had to live with that, and it hurts just to think about their struggles. And to think how some of them are still here with us and may not have been.

      That’s why I want to talk about it.

      • Elie permalink
        November 26, 2010 10:54 am

        I don’t see how kids growing up have anything to do with gay players in the NHL. We have absolutely no idea. Maybe Jerome Iginla is gay. He told his team, his coachs, his GM and the owner and said ‘hey guys, let’s keep this in the orgination. No need to have more press on me.’ and we would never know.

        Kids have a hard time with who they are has absolutely nothing to do with pro sports or the amount of gay players in pro sports. It has to do with you, as a parent, and how you raise your kid. Teach them not to bully. That’s the only way to stop it.

        Putting it on pro sports, celebrities, musicians or other famous public figures is a cop out for proper parenting. You want sexual orientation to not be a spot to bully or have an influence in the professional world, then it takes a change with parenting.

        Players coming out to the public? It’s just as just as crazy as asking all people to openly come out. It’s their choice, let’s leave it at that.

  2. November 26, 2010 10:30 am

    As an alumni and a huge Miami University hockey fan, I can’t speak for it being OK to be gay in the NHL, but I can tell you that it was OK to be gay and involved with Miami’s hockey team. I will forever be touched by the courage that Brendan Burke showed and I was so proud of the way Coach Blasi and the Brotherhood supported him when he decided to come out so publicly. It’s not even a year since his death and if you’re ever at a game at Goggin, you will see that his presence is still very much honored by the team. On Brian Burke’s request, the team attended Brendan’s funeral and wore their jerseys in his honor. I don’t know how many other D-1 teams would’ve done that. I hope they all would, but mine did and it made me proud to be part of a family where it’s OK to be whomever you are.

    As to why gay athletes do or don’t come out – I guess my thought is that it shouldn’t matter. Straight people don’t have to come out and admit to being straight. I hope that our society can get to a point where it doesn’t matter. Love is love and if you love someone of the same sex or different sex, it’s still love. It doesn’t happen for all of us so when it does happen, it shouldn’t matter who you love but that you DO love.

  3. Number31 permalink
    November 26, 2010 10:33 am

    The taboo of Jock Mentality, I suppose… In the end, they’re all in the shower room after a game. I don’t know, it’s their business if they want to talk about it or not.

    Personally I don’t even think about it, much like how I can have a full conversation with a friend who speaks French while I speak English and we don’t even notice we’re speaking two different languages. Honestly I would hope that in 2010 people don’t have a prejudice, much like players that have a different skin colour or come from “non-traditional” origins… Then again, you just have to turn on Coach’s Corner and you’ll see the contrast between the “old ways” and today.

  4. Jason permalink
    November 26, 2010 2:09 pm

    Was just talking with some gay employees of mine and it suddenly dawned on me. Unless you are a superstar player who really in invaluable, such as the previously mentioned Stamkos, it could be career suicide. Just look at the NHL landscape as it currently stands. Plenty of middle aged decent players are being run out of the league in favor of younger and cheaper players. What is to prevent GMs from essentially blacklisting a guy who isn’t amazing? If you’re a 3rd or 4th line guy, coming out probably would end your hockey career. Just a thought.

    My employee also brought up that coming out brings issues not only to yourself, but also friends and family. In this case it could also extend to your team. One could argue that by “staying in the closet,” one is protecting not only themselves from harassment, but also the organization as there would surely be backlash.

  5. thepuckdude permalink
    November 26, 2010 7:15 pm

    First off, good on ya for bringing this up. This is a topic that is not discussed nearly enough. Lets be deadly honest about this.

    Hockey players, like other professional male athletes, are viewed in large part by society as being “Men’s Men”. Especially in the NFL, NHL, and NBA. Rather than face the reality that chances are, one of the guys in the dressing room is checking out their junk when showering after the game, they would rather pretend like it`s not even there `. This way they can uphold that `Man`s Man`image that gets portrayed even though DEEEEEEEEEEEEEP down, they know it exists and is far more prominent than most would like to believe.

    If youve got a room full of 25 guys and only 1 of them is gay, chances are you are going to have at least 20 of the other 24 guys who would admit to feeling uncomfortable in a dressing room environment with someone who they think might be checkin`out their goods.
    I know as someone who has played the game since I was 4 years old, that I am included in that group of ones who would feel like i had to keep a towel on it. If you want to view me as a homophobe for this reason, go right ahead but i do not feel this way because i have a problem with gay people. i love gay people, and believe in what they are fighting for with acceptance. I just don`t want some dude sitting in the locker next to me who is possibly thinking he wants to suck my dick as it flops out of my jockstrap.

    On more than one occasion during my years of playing hockey, I witnessed 2 separate dressing room brawls because one guy accused another of checking out his shit. I was not involved in any of them, however, had it been me, i would likely have lost my cool, too.

    I know it`s not fair and unfortunate, but it`s like beating a dead horse. Cliche, but it`s just the way it is , especiallywhen it comes to manly men.

    Tim – aka thepuckdude

  6. thepuckdude permalink
    November 26, 2010 10:29 pm

    Funny that this topic was on here today and then tonight The Fifth Estate had a big special on Brian Burke’s son Brendan Burke and his crusade to let the doors be opened on gays in hockey. Was interesting to learn that there are currently SEVERAL gay NHL’ers whose teams and teammates are well aware of the situation, but not even one has come forward yet to be the first “out” Check it out at http://www.cbc.ca/fifth

    • Elie permalink
      November 29, 2010 9:01 am

      Whoa, that all defines how you classify what the ‘first out’ means. They came out to their team and organization. Why the hell do they have to come out to us? Why is their sexual preference any of our businesses?

  7. November 27, 2010 1:05 pm

    As I see it, the problem in the locker room is the problem in broader society. As long as people see gay being about sex and not love, it’s an issue (for them). As we read above, it’s not about whom they love, it’s about what they might see in the locker room. Give me a break, you think the ‘straight’ guys aren’t looking at your junk to size themselves up or down? Gay men aren’t after straight guys – if you don’t know that, find yourself a gay friend & get educated.

  8. November 27, 2010 2:55 pm

    I think it is purely a matter of time. It has never been an issue on my hockey team: http://oaklandnorth.net/2010/11/19/hockey-team-puts-alternative-spin-on-puck-for-local-league

  9. November 27, 2010 2:57 pm

    I think it is purely a matter of time. It has never been an issue on my team and we go out of our way to educate straight folks on gay hockey players: http://oaklandnorth.net/2010/11/19/hockey-team-puts-alternative-spin-on-puck-for-local-league

  10. November 27, 2010 3:47 pm

    DJ’s right. The hockey dressing room is just a distilled version of society. I think things will change as the younger generations come through and that we will have a player come out. THe interesting thing will be to see how the team reacts. I’d bet that even if the player is not a superstar that they will NOT cut the guy out of hand because the fallout at this point of making such a bigoted move would be enormous. They’d actually probably try to prove he wasn’t as good of a player but at this point it would be pretty easy to show that that wasn’t true.

    As for rangersfan’s remarks, I think it’s supremely cynical to think that straightmen only care about the issues facing gay men if they are close to someone that is gay or if they are a closeted homosexual. Some people just believe that everyone should be treated equally. Strange concept but apparently that is true of some people.

  11. November 27, 2010 4:58 pm

    One thing I forgot to mention is that when I lived in Denver, one of my friends (who at the time claimed he was straight, but we all knew that wasn’t the case) played for a team comprised almost entirely of gay players. Now, after all the talk about the locker rooms being an issue, I would think this would put that issue to rest. It’s not like they’re having orgies in between periods (that’d be the lesbian hockey team *rim shot for inappropriately timed joke*). As someone mentioned, there is a difference between sex and love and I highly doubt that anyone would try to make a move in an actual locker room on a teammate that wouldn’t be consenting. I have no idea how I’d react to knowing I was in an atmosphere with someone who is gay because I already have an irrational fear and try to show up where ever I am going as fully dressed for that as possible – work, when I play IM hockey in college, etc. Unless I’m given a private changing area, I don’t enjoy disrobing anything in front of anyone (sans removing a coat or jacket). What it really all comes down to is almost a Utilitarianism outlook. Who is benefits the most in terms of comfortableness by a player coming out? The player since the he no longer has to hide a secret, or his team who is now uncomfortable dealing with the situation. Since the maximum benefit is in favor of the team, that is why society has essentially put people in the situation we are currently discussing.

    One more thing for giggles. They were called “The Colorado Climax.”

  12. Andrew permalink
    November 27, 2010 5:53 pm

    DJ is dead on right. Ask a straight guy who claims not to be a homophobe, and at least 75% will say, “It’s cool as long as “they” don’t jump all over me.” Guess what, Romeo? It’s DAMN unlikely that you are so TOTALLY HOT that a gay man will “Jump all over you.”. Being gay isn’t about sex. It’s about love.
    That being said…
    Sexual attraction *is* a part of falling in love. There are still Boys and Girls locker rooms? Why? Because some women *and* men are uncomfortable with members of the opposite sex seeing them naked. The same discomfort would apply to openly gay men being in a mens locker room.
    However, there is such a negative social stigma about being gay, it amplifies the discomfort of those who have issue with it.
    Also, to put on my tinfoil hat for a moment, you think Bettman wouldn’t do EVERYTHING in his power to quash any outings? Bettman is all about spreading the NHL through the good old USA…land of the free and home of the brave. As long as you’re white, straight, and Christian. Is it better than it was even 5 years ago? Yes. But it’s still a very homophobic country. Players coming out would give Bettman an aneurysm.

    Here’s the thing folks. Chances are high that there are currently gay/bi NHL players right now. Chances are they’re closeted, which is a shame. They’re likely not fantasizing about their co-workers any more than we “normal” folk in a 2 gender workplace. They’re not going crazy and grabbing body parts in the shower, because being gay is “deviant” (according to some), and they’re unable to control themselves. Turns out they’re just normal people, doing their jobs, and not letting relationships get in the way.
    Go figure.
    When society comes around, I’m sure it’ll be different. Until then, it’s business as usual.

  13. Habbykins permalink
    November 28, 2010 9:28 am

    I am enjoying the read on this topic.

    I have not played organized sports, however I was part of a customer service team in the 1990’s in the sporting goods industry in Canada. As a result there were a few gay people some of whom were amateur athletes in our workplace. It is noone’s business whether someone is gay or not. I was told on a few occasions – you know so and so is gay. I will tell you the only time I was a little uncomfortable was when I had to share a room with a former Olympic athlete, whom I thought was gay. I can tell you after the first two minutes at most it became a non-issue because I realized it was my issue and that I was uncomfortable for nothing. I don’t know if that helps in this discussion or not, but I thought it was worth a mention.

  14. November 29, 2010 5:57 pm

    I can see why players who happen to be gay or bisexual would want to keep their orientation under wraps, and not necessarily because of their own locker room.

    Every team on which I played from the onset of adolescence had at least one guy who was a yapper- and it seemed like the teams we played against had more than we did, so it’s probably a perceptual issue- and those guys would say all sorts of stuff to try getting under an opponent’s skin. Even when those comments are so unfounded as to be ludicrous, it’s not always an easy thing to pretend you didn’t hear it and just skate away. I could see being nettled for something which happened to be true being even harder to avoid.

    I know there have been some incidents in the NHL where darker-skinned players have reported being called by inappropriate epithets, and these are just the ones which are publicized. I remember homophobic slurs being directed toward teammates questioning their gender preference because they didn’t play a particularly physical a style or refused to fight. It wasn’t acceptable then and isn’t acceptable now, but it went on, and no one really ever said anything about it. I’d hope that is changing, but realistically, it probably hasn’t.

    As far as the “It’s cool as long as ‘they’ don’t jump all over me” line goes, I’d want to follow up with anyone who gave a pathetic answer like that, and not the way Andrew posits above. I’d want to ask if that individual felt that homosexuals had any less self-control than heterosexuals. After all, in most workplaces, there isn’t a gender-bias, so most of us will work with people of a gender which in general terms we find attractive. Do we obsess over our colleagues in that manner? If so, we’d probably do well to find some counselling. Granted, in the case of athletes, their fitness level will place them more in accordance with what is culturally defined as attractive than a sampling of the median population, but still, it’s possible to be in the room with an attractive person and not respond in a sexually inappropriate manner to him or her.

    Would I be uncomfortable changing in front of a teammate who was openly homosexual? Yes, but no more so than in front of one who wasn’t. That’s a personal body-image thing, and it’d be wrong to project my own hangups onto others. [Besides, having spent season after season changing before and after games, before the game most everyone is too focused on their personal preparation to play, and afterwards, everyone’s too tired, banged up and/or sweaty to be attractive. I think I could be in a locker room filled with people who I’d otherwise find exceedingly sexually attractive and wouldn’t particularly take notice, much less action.]

    From my experience, as a whole, gay and bisexual people are not significantly different than the rest of us in their self-control- and due to the social stigmata which are still unfortunately associated with their sexual preferences, they’re probably more so. It’s ridiculous to me to think that there are people who think otherwise- and statements like “I just don`t want some dude sitting in the locker next to me who is possibly thinking he wants to suck my dick as it flops out of my jockstrap” are just bordering on outright homophobia.

    Do I think there will be a time when there are openly gay/bi NHLers? I don’t know, but I don’t know that it matters. Maybe it’s just being reasonably liberal in general, but I don’t care what someone’s gender preferences are. I’d no more introduce gay people of my acquaintance as “my gay friend ____” than I’d introduce the non-gay ones as “my straight friend _____” and when looking to what ‘labels’ are of interest when meeting someone or watching someone do something, their sexual proclivities are irrelevant. I’d rather see a society where sexual/gender orientation isn’t something which is used as a divider of the ways that we’re different, and focus on the things which unite us. In this case, it’d be that we’re on (or more likely, are fans of) the same team or play the same position or whatever. I doubt that it’ll happen in my lifetime, but I’m similarly sure that Willie O’Ree didn’t deliberately set out to be the first ‘person of colour’ to play in the NHL eiter.

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