Stephen Finkel, a student at New York’s St. Thomas Aquinas College who played on the school’s hockey team, has penned an emotional essay detailing how homophobic remarks on his team eventually led him to come out.
In the essay, published on OutSports, Finkel recalls how a stressful practice session on the ice turned violent when a player used an anti-gay slur. After making two goals against an exhausted goalie, Finkel decided to leave the ice. That’s when things hit a boiling point. “The goalie yelled something that stopped me in my skates,” he writes.“You are a fucking f*ggot and what f*ggots do is give up.”
“Without thinking I turned right around, skated up to him, got in his face and threw a punch or two,” Finkel admits. “It took several teammates to restrain me. I was immediately kicked out of practice, which I deserved for going after a teammate in that manner.”
Following the fight, Finkel reached a crisis. He had already come out to his family and a couple of select friends, but stayed in the closet. He decided to consult with the school’s athletic director regarding the harassment. Faced with the options of filing a police report, having the player suspended or meeting with his teammate in front of the athletic director, he chose the latter.
“That day we met in the office I sat across from him and told him I was gay,” he remembers, “that I had a boyfriend and that words like he used weren’t acceptable on or off the ice. He apologized and seemed really sorry for what he said. After the meeting, as we walked to our dorm, he asked if we could talk privately. ‘You are a big part of this team and I am truly sorry,’ he said. ‘We need you on this team. Especially a guy who wants nothing but the best for the team.'”
Finkel also took the unusual step of reaching out to four NHL players for guidance: Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils, Brayden McNabb of the Vegas Golden Knights, Michael Grabner of the Arizona Coyotes and Kurtis Gabriel of the Lehigh Phantoms. All four offered advice and encouragement.
“All these guys mean a lot to me because they have given me the courage to really have a chance to be myself going into my senior year of college,” Finkel writes. “They keep inspiring me on and off the ice.”
Ultimately, for Finkel, coming out benefited him, and his teammates. “College hockey is a brotherhood, and that helps explain what happened with the teammate who used gay slurs against me,” he says. “We have put our differences aside and moved on. Since then he has become an ally. Hopefully this year we’ll go out and win the conference championship. Gay college athletes need a great support group around them. That is what I have and what all LGBTQ athletes need to strive for.”
Well done, Stephen.