Sunday, March 4, 2012

Born This Way: The NHL and Gay Tolerance

Patrick Burke, scout for the Flyers and son of the Maple Leafs GM, has started a campaign called "You Can Play", with the laudable goal of stamping out "casual homophobia" in the NHL. "Casual homophobia" is defined as those times when you use a gay slur but aren't really degrading someone's sexuality. Like, "Stop being a fag" when you mean "Stop being a jerk." It's the kind of stuff that seems small to the people who aren't affected by it- I've certainly done it- but can create a climate of intolerance if people are just allowed to continue it unthinkingly.

In practice, this really isn't much different than the NBA's efforts to end a similar problem, though the NHL is being more proactive (the NBA only took action after Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah got in trouble for publicly using slurs, though the NBA also cunningly used those two's desire to make amends to help sell the message). It's also fairly similar to the several MLB teams that have recorded "It Gets Better" videos.

But what does stand out from these other efforts is the specific players the Patrick Burke has recruited. To wit:

Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets; Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks; Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers; Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders; Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs; Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers; Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators; Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers; Corey Perry  of the Anaheim Ducks; Andy Greene of the New Jersey Devils; Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs; and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.

That list is heavy on defenders, goalies, and assorted "tuff guys". It's light on flashy, skill-based forwards, even though some of them are bigger names (say, Ovechkin and Crosy, if we're still counting Cros as a hockey player). In other words, the list seems purposely made up of guys more stereotypically masculine, which is probably a smarter way to deliver the message. I suppose it will only really matter along the margins, but still, it's easy to imagine a lot of old time hockey guys dismissing, say, Patrick Kane's thoughts on integration.

Like I said, that's not a big deal, but it's good to see a worthy campaign play even the small deals so shrewdly. And "If You Can Play, You Can Play" is pretty much the ideal we're all striving for, right?

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