You can't get any higher profile in the NHL than Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Henrik Lundqvist, and the three sat down this month with George Stroumboulopoulos of Sportsnet in Canada to discuss leadership. Ten minutes into the interview, they were asked about having openly gay players in the league:
Stroumboulopoulos: Even though there is not an out player in the NHL, the You Can Play campaign was really, really powerful. You guys are leaders on your teams and there will be a time when there will be an openly gay player in the league and it's probably going to come sooner rather than later. Do you think this is an important part of the evolution of that culture?
Toews: I think things like that happen and at first it always might seem like a shock. You know, it's great to see progress like that, it's great to see paradigms and the way we view things, especially in professional sports, change. And the way Henrik just talked about the way we can progress as a game, if we can tailor it to all sorts of people watching, especially in the United States and grow our game, that doesn't hurt anybody. It's great for hockey, it's great for us.
Stroumboulopoulos to Crosby: What do you think? If you're a leader of a team, and that's the team where it happens, you are going to get the questions.
Crosby: I don't think the questions are the, you just, it's what's right I think. It's about your group. I think the questions are the last thing you worry about. You make sure that everyone understands and that's what it's about. It's about everyone playing and enjoying the game no matter what. That's easy, that's the easy part.
Lundqvist: When it comes to hockey players, the respect we have for each other, opponents or teammates, I think, it starts there. It would not be an issue, at all. It's important that everyone feels in that locker room, whoever you are, whatever you believe in, we're doing this together.
Aside from it being cool to hear an athlete use "paradigms" in a sentence, it reinforces the view that pro sports is much more accepting than ever. I was convinced the NHL would be the first pro men's league to have an openly gay player, but that happened in the NBA, followed by the NFL. At least we know such a player would be welcome by the leaders of the Penguins (Crosby), Blackhawks (Toews) and Rangers (Lundqvist).
The gay question comes at the 10-minute mark but the whole interview is worthwhile for hockey fans: