Believe it or not, the National Hockey League, which churns through hundreds of players regularly, has yet to be graced by an openly gay player. To change that dreadful situation, attitudes must improve. No matter how brave, the first player to come out needs to know he’ll find a semblance of acceptance so he can compete in an emotionally and physically challenging sport without distraction and fighting for acceptance.
A survey conducted by USA Today Sports at the NHL/NHL Players’ Association Media tour in Toronto earlier this month found that 34 out of 35 (97.1 percent) of NHL players would be accepting of an openly gay teammate. Yes, it’s a small sample. But that’s still a dramatic result.
Calgary Flamespresident Brian Burke said he’s “not surprised” by that figure, although he admits, “I’m disappointed by the one player.”
“I don’t think our players have an issue with gay players,” he added. “I think the first player to come out is going to find an unbelievably welcome reception.”
Over the past few years, more and more professional athletes have been opening up. Jason Collins became the first openly gay active NBA player in 2014. Later the year, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL.
“The [USA Today survey] says a lot about our players,” Burke said. “It says a lot about how far society has come.”