I'm pretty happy with the NHL today. This announcement shouldn't surprise anyone as I have an undying passion for the game of hockey, but I'm proud of the announcement made by the league and the NHLPA in partnering with the You Can Play Project in combating homophobia in sports. By being the first league and player's union to step forward and welcome any and all players regardless of their sexuality, everyone should be proud of the NHL as they blaze a new path in sports history.
Normally, we see players speaking out about this sort of topic in terms of their own personal views, but getting the NHL and NHLPA to support the cause really shows that it doesn't matter if a player is gay, straight, or any variation in between. As long as that player has the ability to play the game at the NHL level, his sexuality will not prevent him from being a card-carrying NHLPA member in the NHL.
Honestly, this is the kind of announcement that makes me happy. I know several gay people - men and women - and their sexual orientation is the least of my concerns. Heck, I worked with one guy who continually tried to convince me to join his team, and his suggestions of finding a "better team" didn't bother me because I'm comfortable with who I am.
It seems that Canadians are fairly tolerant of the majority of issues, but we've never really ever seen a problem with gay men or women. Team Canada's women's team features Sarah Vaillancourt who has not hid her sexual orientation. But the key is that she doesn't sensationalize it either. She's still careful with the topic when traveling with Team Canada. "They don't want me to talk about it so much because if one person comes out, everyone's [going to be labeled] a lesbian," she told David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times. "My whole team is not lesbian."
Dallas Eakins and the Toronto Marlies have been very conscientious of their language since speaking with a member of the Toronto Gay Hockey League. Team Sweden has had two confirmed gay players on the ice for them in Erika Holst and Ylva Lindberg. Other teams are being more welcoming, so it's great to see the NHL get on-board.
The macho, male-driven world of professional sports is literally the last place on this planet that gay men and women have yet to be accepted, let alone welcomed. You can point to the WNBA as an example, but I'm talking the four major professional leagues in North America where not one player has ever admitted to being gay. If Germany can pull down the Berlin Wall, the NHL is working to pull down this wall that is keeping good, intelligent people out of hockey because of their sexuality.
One of the stories that everyone should know when discussing gay men and women in pro sports is that of Peter Karlsson. Swedish-born Peter Karlsson played with VIK Västerås HK in the Swedish Elite League, but was murdered at the age of 29 in 1995 because he was gay. Karlsson was stabbed 60 times by a skinhead, part of a Swedish neo-nazi movement, as he was on his way home from a disco simply because he was gay. The trial of his 19 year-old murderer saw him receive eight years for manslaughter - hardly the sentence that someone deserves after admittedly stabbing a drunk man 60 times for suggesting they have relations!
If the NHL has done anything right, this is the one thing that they should have at the top of their accomplishment list. Brendan Burke's lasting legacy is the You Can Play Project, and he would be excited and proud at the news that the NHL and NHLPA are supporting the You Can Play Project. Donald Fehr, Executive Director of the NHLPA, stated that joining the You Can Play Project was the "right thing to do", and he's entirely right.
Count me in as a supporter as well.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!