Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby is the the highest-profile hockey player to show his support for gay players in the sport, while also saying he opposes new anti-gay laws in Russia. He joins five other NHL players who made forceful comments in the past week.
Here is the question Crosby was asked during Hockey Canada's orientation this weekend and his answer:
Q: Do you support other gay athletes and how do you feel about the whole situation [in Russia}?
Crosby: "It's not something we've discussed a whole lot. For me growing up in Canada, my view has always been that way. I think that everyone has an equal right to play and I think we’ve been supportive of that. With the Olympics and the controversy around that I think those decisions and those laws aren’t necessarily something that I agree with personally -- their laws and their views."
While not a stinging indictment of the new laws, Crosby is opposed and more important were his comments on gay hockey players in general, echoing the motto of the You Can Play Project (even though he has never done a video).
"We are very pleased, but entirely unsurprised, to see hockey players leading the way on the issue," said You Can Play co-founder Patrick Burke. "The NHL and the NHLPA have made LGBT awareness a priority and that shows every time one of our guys is asked a question. We will continue to work with USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, and individual players to educate them on what is going on and what they can do to help."
Shea Weber, captain of the Nashville Predators, followed Crosby, saying, "The NHLPA and myself, we're trying to support that cause. Like Sidney said, the way we're brought up is different from the way the Russians view it, but we're going over there to play hockey."
Much more forceful were comments made last week by two Swedes playing in the NHL, defenseman Victor Hedman and forward Henrik Zetterberg, both of whom are expected to play for Sweden at the Sochi Olympics.
"That's completely wrong, we're all humans. No one should have a say in what way you're sexually oriented," Hedman told a Swedish journalist when asked about the anti-gay laws. "The Olympics is there for a reason," responded Hedman "and everyone should be able to participate and be themselves. Everyone should stand up for homosexuals' rights."
"Awful, just awful," Zetterberg said about them. "I think that everyone should be able to be themselves. It's unbelievable that it can be this way in this time, especially in a big country like Russia."
Two NHL players attending the U.S. Olympic hockey orientation in St. Louis also spoke up for gay players.
"As an American who believes in the freedoms that we have and the way we run our society and culture, everyone has their right to participate in sports and live their lifestyle the way that they want. I’m supportive of anyone," St. Louis Blues center David Backes said.
"I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, purple, gold, as long as you’re committed to the team aspect and the way that we’re playing you’re always welcome on my team," Backes said. "We don’t have to agree with everything they do and they don’t have to agree with everything we do. We’ve got our views and we’ll see how that all pans out."
Added Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild: "You always hear with the NHL and USA Hockey that everyone’s got the right to play," he said. "I don’t discriminate, I don’t believe in that."interview over there that says you’re pro-gay and that you support the LGBT community. That’s what I’m going to do."
On the flip side is Ilya Kovalchuk, formerly of the New Jersey Devils and now retired from the NHL, who is from Russia. He supports the new laws, telling TSN:
“I agree, of course. I’m Russian and we all have to respect that. It’s personal and, like I said, it’s a free world, but that’s our line. That’s our country, so everybody has to respect that.”
I'll give the last word to Brian Burke, USA Hockey Director of Player Personnel, whose late son Brendan was openly gay and inspired the You Can Play Project. He called the Russian anti-gay laws "archaic," and gave advice on how athletes and others can keep the issue alive in Sochi:
"If you really want to make a difference, when you pack your stuff, pack a rainbow pin," Burke said. "Give an interview over there that says you're pro-gay and that you support the LGBT community. That's what I'm going to do."