The National Hockey League, better known for its testosterone than a gay-friendly welcome mat, is being asked to adjust its attitude by one of the toughest general managers in the league.
In honour of his late son Brendan, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has launched a campaign to curb homophobia and welcome gay players to the NHL.
Xtra asked Vancouver Canucks stars Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin what they think of the You Can Play campaign.
Birthplace: Örnsköldsvik, Sweden
Drafted by Vancouver: 1999
This season with Canucks: Leading scorer with 70 points
2010 Molson Cup
2010 Hart Memorial Trophy
2010 Art Ross Trophy
2010 First Team All-Star
XTRA: Henrik, what do you think of the new You Can Play campaign to welcome gay players to the NHL?
So why aren’t you participating in the ads?
[smiles] They have yet to ask me. I’ve seen a few of them. They picked good players, big names, and I think it’s great. It’s one of those things where, to get big-name players being out there with their face and doing this, it’s great.
You’re a big name. If they ask you, will you do it?
If they ask. I don’t think anyone that I know wouldn’t do it. To support the Burke family and Brian, who drafted us here, and it was a big part of our careers — it would be an honour, for sure.
Why do you think there are no openly gay players in the NHL right now?
Tough to say. I mean it’s one of those things where in society it’s taken a long time for that to be acceptable. I think in a team sport like this — it’s not only hockey, it’s other team sports where it’s taking even longer — it’s too bad, but I’m sure over time there’s going to be guys coming out.
How friendly a place is the Canucks’ locker room for a gay player, do you think?
I think it’s friendly. I can’t talk for all of us, but the guys I’ve talked to, and myself and my brother, it would be no problem at all. It’s not going to change the way we see them or the way we treat them. They’re one of us and they’re part of the team.
There are no openly gay Canucks at this moment that you know of, right?
No, not that I know of.
If there were someone here hesitating to come out, what message would you want him to hear?
I think the message is like the rest of society: they’re no different than any other people. It shouldn’t be any problem. But we know it is in the rest of society as it is in sports. But in here, it would not be a problem.
Do you support the line, “If you can play, you can play”?
Absolutely, 100 percent. To have this message — it’s a powerful message — and to have the Burke family doing this, it’s great. And I’m hoping it’s going to help a lot of people.
Birthplace: Livonia, MI
Drafted by Vancouver: 2003
This season with Canucks: 3rd in points with 47
Awards: 2011 Selke Trophy
XTRA: What do you think of the Burke family’s new You Can Play campaign to welcome gay players to the NHL?
RYAN KESLER: I think it’s awesome. It’s a really strong message and I think it’s going to eliminate that stigma of gay athletes.
Why do you think that message is still necessary?
A lot of us are closed-minded. Not all of us [and] not just in hockey, but in society. I think this opens up the idea, and I think it’s going to change things for the better.
You just did a spot for them, didn’t you?
It’s a great cause. Brian Burke’s son was the first one to come out, and obviously, we know he passed away, and I think it’s a legacy to him. Burkie was my first-ever general manager and anything I can do to help him and help the cause — it’s for the better.
What were your lines?
It was along the lines of ‘We need to basically stop homophobic bullying in the locker room. And if you can play, you can play’ — and that’s a strong message in itself.
If one of your teammates were to come out, how would you feel?
I would be definitely okay with it. I’m open-minded to that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. If you’re okay with coming out and strong enough to come out — because we all know how people can be. It’s a very different world out there; people are very closed-minded. It’s good to see that this campaign is going to open some people’s eyes.
How friendly a place do you think the Canucks’ locker room would be if someone came out?
We’re a big family in here and I’m sure every single guy in here would be more than supportive and help them along the way.
So if there were a guy in here, one of your teammates, hesitating to come out, what message would you want him to hear?
No message he has to hear. I think every guy in this room knows we’re a big family and knows we have each other’s back no matter what. He shouldn’t be timid to come out or anything.
What do you think it will take to get an openly gay player in the NHL?
I think this campaign that’s going on is going to help a lot. When Brendan Burke did that, he was the first-ever one to come out, and I think that gets the ball rolling. I think for some guys it’s a tough thing to do, but I don’t see anything wrong with it.