Harri Tikkanen is a 15-year-veteran in the Finnish Hockey League, the most popular sports league in Finland, and he showed his support for gay players by putting a rainbow decal on his stick during a match this weekend. This is the first time any Finnish athlete has displayed a gay rights symbol. It came after he gave an interview with a gay Finnish site where he said he wished gay players would come out.
"To me, all people are of equal value. There is no important what color your skin is, or whether some one is gay or straight. Everything is in my eyes the same line," Tikkanen, 32, said.
The journalist who wrote the story emailed me about the importance of what Tikkanen said and that he gave the interview to a gay site:
"As background info, I can say that gays and sports have been an impossible combination in Finland. No professional athlete has wanted to say a word about it in Finnish. This is BIG here. Harri's interview seems to be the most read Finnish sports news of this day. No surprise: this is like an H-Bomb for Finland. Reception is surprising: no negative comments at all. In both the ordinary and the social media, there has been overwhelming praise for what Harri did. Words 'grown-up,' 'at last,' 'finally' and 'very brave' have been used a lot. And this is a big deal."
Tikkanen said he embraced becoming a "Straight Star Ally" and supported the You Can Play Project, which uses NHL players to support gay players in the sport. He was also motivated to speak out in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where gay rights have become a big issue.
Tikkanen gave this advice to closeted gay players: "Be brave. You can be, or you can become, a top player, regardless of whether you are gay, heterosexual, or something else. Your sexual orientation doesn’t affect your skills as a player."
We sometimes forget that homophobia is not just a problem in the U.S. and it's great to hear that Tikkanen's interview was well-received in his country.