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NHL preparing to ensure that first openly gay player can focus on the game

The Chicago Tribune's Chris Hine spoke with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the You Can Play Project's Patrick Burke about the inevitable moment that the NHL welcomes an openly gay player to the fold:

The NHL is preparing. It backed up its words of encouragement with action in that direction in April when it suspended former Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw for a playoff game after Shaw was caught on camera directing a homophobic slur at an official. Bettman said he was hoping to send a message to the rest of the league that his office would not tolerate the use of that word.

"You want to eliminate the use of the word, but the fact is, what you do in response to set the right tone in terms of what's acceptable is more important than the word itself," Bettman said. "So making clear, in a strong, clear prompt way that this is not acceptable I hope transcends the use of the word itself. I mean, the word is symbolic and the suspension was symbolic, but what I'm hoping the suspension relayed to people was that type of belief, that kind of culture is not acceptable in the NHL."

Bettman said he has not heard from any closeted players in the league, but Burke said the You Can Play Project has heard from some. As for the theories about why no former or current players are out, one holds water with Burke.

"I do think there's some validity to the idea that hockey is a sport where anything that distracts from the team concept is seen as a negative and that there may be an incorrect perception that a player coming out would be stepping out of the team-first narrative," Burke said.

But even then, Burke countered, a player coming out could actually be beneficial to a team.

"An athlete who's wasting time and energy and mental health and well-being hiding himself in the closet isn't bringing his entire individual self to the team," Burke said. "The idea this would somehow distract from or be a negative from a team concept is fundamentally at odds with the truth of the situation."

Continued, and the NHL has promoted its "Hockey Is For Everyone" diversity project since the 90's. I certainly hope that when the statistical impossibility becomes possible, NHL fans will ask a simple question: "Yeah, but can he play?"

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What if nobody cares if someone is gay? What if gay players are choosing not to be openly gay because they just want to play hockey and not walk into the huge spotlight that comes with doing so? That seems far more reasonable than staying in the closet because somebody said a “symbolic” word that everyone is too childish to repeat even in the context of simply identifying it. The whole thing is pathetic. I don’t think I would feel equal if the garden gnome was waiting with a big entourage to celebrate the fact I’m gay so he could prove to whomever the nhl is just like to other big leagues.

Posted by SlimChance on 06/30/16 at 12:55 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

It’s sort of Patrick Burke’s argument—it isn’t very “hockey” of anyone to make themselves bigger than the team.

See: today’s Subban trade as a strange example of the individualist in the room becoming a distraction for reasons that nobody should care about.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/30/16 at 01:14 AM ET


I know. How does creating such a spectacle allow someone to focus on the game? They immediately become a spokesperson and their new middle name becomes   “who is the first openly gay player in the nhl”. They must give statements and do interviews explaining everything. It’s the opposite of allowing them to focus on the game.

Posted by SlimChance on 06/30/16 at 01:27 AM ET

motorcityhoff's avatar

It’s the opposite of allowing them to focus on the game.

Posted by SlimChance on 06/30/16 at 01:27 AM ET

I disagree. The article is saying that by being prepared for an active player to come out, the NHL will help that player just focus on hockey. Of course he will be a story at first, but media will blow over because frankly, I don’t think anyone cares who’s gay and who’s straight.

Posted by motorcityhoff on 06/30/16 at 05:31 AM ET


I don’t think its a matter of being out or in the closet, and it doesnt have anything to do with effecting the team.  Just look at Sidney Crosby, he’s captained the Pens to 2 Stanley Cups, won 2 gold medals, 2 harts, the conn smythe.  Hasn’t affected his mental health at all by the looks of it.

Posted by PMP5030 on 06/30/16 at 10:29 AM ET


The key really will be not forcing the first opening gay player to be a spokesman unless the player chooses to take on that role. There is zero reason the public “needs to know” everything about everybody. He should be able to be openly gay without a media spectacle surrounding it.

It’s a good thing if the NHL tackles and bigotry or hatred surrounding it. It’s a bad thing if they use it as publicity.

Posted by evileye on 06/30/16 at 12:06 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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