What may have started as a marketing ploy seems to be an accurate reflection of a remarkably welcoming team, if the three young hockey players I met Sept 12 are any indication.
Josh McKissock, Jono Ceci and Tyler Mah range in age from 21 to 23 years old, play for the Simon Fraser University (SFU) men’s hockey team, and are nothing like the teenagers I expected to meet.
I expected discomfort, maybe resistance, to their team’s decision to partner with the You Can Play campaign to challenge homophobia in sports.
At the very least, I expected a lack of awareness, maybe a dawning understanding that the casual and not-so-casual homophobia typical of hockey locker rooms may be hurtful to closeted teammates.
Instead, I met three articulate, thoughtful and kind young men open to welcoming gay teammates to their ranks. They shattered my stereotypes.
Granted, I don’t know too many straight young men, but the few I’ve met didn’t seem nearly as comfortable discussing potentially gay teammates as these three guys proved to be. If they truly are a reflection of their team’s character, then You Can Play has found itself a more than suitable counterpart for its first Canadian college-level partnership.
The SFU hockey team’s interim sales and marketing coordinator says he suggested the partnership to reflect the team’s spirit. “It’s a very different team than what you’ll find at other universities. It’s very unique,” Réal Maurice Joynt says.
It’s in his interest to say that. As a non-varsity team only independently affiliated with the university’s athletics department, the men’s hockey team largely has to support itself.
Still, the differentiating factor that Joynt decided to promote is certainly well represented among the players I met, only one of whom was prepped by staff prior to our interview. And isn’t it interesting that in Joynt’s world, boasting about a team’s gay-friendliness is expected to garner the right kind of attention.
“Our guys are definitely of the age and of the era where it wouldn’t matter to them. A teammate’s a teammate, and we advocate for that,” says head coach Mark Coletta, striking a deliberately optimistic note. “It doesn’t matter: an openly gay guy or not. If they can play and make the team, then they’re going to be on the team.
“I think we’re on the page of the future,” he says.
I think campaigns like You Can Play are working to turn the page to the future, but we’re hardly there yet.
“Nothing changes overnight,” says You Can Play co-founder Brian Kitts, “but you can start a conversation.”
Yet, the players I met seem to have already had the conversation and are now simply ready to move forward.
To Mah, it’s a question of maturity. “For high school students and athletes, I think it’s important for them to know, while they’re maturing and learning about discrimination, that it’s very important to just be open to everything,” he says. By the time they get to college, they’re older, more mature and less likely to discriminate, he believes.
Ceci agrees. By the time he was 17, he was playing with an openly gay teammate. He learned early on to treat everyone with respect.
McKissock sums it up simply as playing with a team. “You’re all wearing the same jersey, you’re all wearing the same logo on the front — that’s who you’re playing for. You play for each other.”
Has a new generation of straight allies emerged without my realizing? Three young hockey players can’t unravel decades of sports-culture machismo, but they can certainly help lead a fresh start, even as their well-meaning coaches and marketers scramble to cash in and keep up.