The Stanley Cup and Stanley Cup Champions will be the first-ever to participate in a Gay Pride Parade
By Ross Forman
The Stanley Cup is the epitome of pride.
The most prestigious trophy in professional team sports – now held by the Chicago Blackhawks after their National Hockey League (NHL) championship over the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this month – will be part of the annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade, held Sunday, June 27, through the streets of Lakeview on Chicago’s north side.
The Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA) invited the Chicago Blackhawks – and of course the Stanley Cup – to join them at the Pride Parade. Blackhawks’ defenseman Brent Sopel volunteered to represent the Blackhawks and join the CGHA for the parade, along with his wife, Kelly, and four children: Jacob, 12; Lyla, 8; Jayla, 6; and Paul, 20; whom they adopted three years ago after Paul’s parents died within six months of each other.
“We’re thrilled and honored,” said CGHA president Andrew Sobotka. “To know that our idea of having The Cup and a member of the Stanley Cup champions join us in the Pride Parade is amazing. We hope the whole City of Chicago shows up at the Pride Parade to, once again, salute the champs and show our city-wide pride in the Blackhawks.
The CGHA is Chicago’s only predominantly-gay hockey team, known as the Chicago Blackwolves. Team members include gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and straight players, ranging in age from their early-20s to their 50s. The team plays in a straight league in Northbrook.
The CGHA members traditionally rollerblade or walk the parade route. The team invited the Blackhawks, their coaching staff, broadcasters, front-office staff and The Cup to join them at the parade, which annually is one of Chicago’s best-attended parades, attracting more than 450,000 onlookers.
“I am honored to do it,” Sopel told the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Blackhawks are rerouting The Cup from the NHL Draft in Los Angeles to the parade.
“The power of the Cup is incomprehensible, and we recognize the importance of doing this,” Blackhawks team president John McDonough told the Sun-Times, who has arranged for the Stanley Cup to be flown back from Los Angeles 15 hours early. “It’s important for the city and important for the franchise.”
Sopel also is marching in honor of Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who was killed in a car accident two months after coming out as gay late last year. Sopel was drafted by the elder Burke.
“When Brendan came out, Brian stood by him, and his whole family stood by him, like every family should,” Sopel told the Sun-Times. “We teach our kids about accepting everybody. Tolerate everybody, to understand where everyone is coming from.”
“The Pride Parade is one of the biggest events that the CGHA participates in annually,” Sobotka said. “To have the Stanley Cup and a member of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks walk or rollerblade alongside the CGHA is, without question, the biggest day in CGHA history. In fact, this will be the biggest hockey day ever for most of the CGHA members, and one of the biggest days for Chicago’s LGBT sporting community, which is one of the largest in the nation.”
The CGHA was founded in 2002 by Lakeview resident Chuck Jacobson. It is one of about 20 predominantly-gay hockey teams in North America.
“The Stanley Cup has become the biggest celebrity of all,” McDonough told the Sun-Times. “It has its own personality and charm. We will be proud to participate in the parade. And Brent Sopel is one of the truly great guys. To have the cup part of the parade is just another great part of the celebration.”