Earlier this year, Yanic Duplessis–a prospect for the Voltigeurs de Drummondville in the QMJHL–came out as gay. In an ideal world, this would be a non-story, so why is it such a notable event? Ask any hockey player and they will all tell you the same thing: it is because of the rampant homophobia which still exists in the game.
While it can be said that this culture of intolerance exists at some capacity in sports in general, it seems even more prevalent in hockey. Out of the four major North American sports leagues, the NHL is the only one to have yet had an openly gay player. This is but one of the many examples of the homophobic attitudes which still permeate hockey culture.
But why is this still the case? In a society which has continuously moved towards being more tolerant and accepting, why does hockey reinforce anti-LGBTQ attitudes? From personal experience in the sport, a lot of this discrimination seems to be a product of performative attitudes and the need to conform.
In reality, for most of the hockey players I encounter and get to know, this sort of intolerance is rarely brought up. While there are undoubtedly some genuine homophobes in the sport, most players seem to adopt the homophobic language and attitudes due to a feeling of general ambivalence and a desire to fit in. And yet, this doesn’t lessen the intolerance for the targeted individuals, especially during the formative years of their adolescence.
As seen with the story of Duplessis, being immersed in this kind of rhetoric can be extremely damaging for any LGBTQ youth playing the sport: “ ‘I was so anxious, I would puke, it was really that bad.’ … admitted Duplessis when asked about protecting his secret. ‘I didn’t want to say something or do something that would reveal that I was gay.’ ”
While it certainly has not been an easy road for the young athlete, his decision to publicly come out was incredibly brave and, hopefully, is a sign for positive changes coming to hockey culture. While we can’t pretend that one story will single handedly reverse years of established toxicity, but I’d like to think that sometime soon, hockey truly will be for everyone.
https://www.si.com/hockey/news/is-the-nhl-getting-any-closer-to-seeing-an-openly-gay-player https://fdspodcastnetwork.com/2020/09/07/out-in-the-open/amp/?__twitter_impression=true https://www.nhl.com/community/hockey-is-for-everyone