Nobody should be surprised by the answer Brad Marchand gave when asked about having a gay teammate. It’s not that Marchand was being “politically correct” or “trying to say the right thing.”
When the Boston Bruins winger told ESPN this week that a gay athlete would absolutely be accepted by his teammates in the NHL, he was speaking what we have known to be true for years.
“Guys would accept that, no question,” Marchand said. “We're a team in the [dressing] room and a family. It doesn't matter what different beliefs guys have, or where they come from, or whatever the case may be. Guys would accept it. Again, in the room we're a family. That's the way it is on a hockey team, and that's the way it will always be.”
This isn’t news, but it certainly helps every time a guy like Marchand says it.
No league or any league’s collection of players has done more, or been more publicly accepting, to demonstrate acceptance of LGBT people and issues than the NHL.
The You Can Play project has had a partnership with the NHL for years, working with the league to demonstrate existing acceptance of gay athletes and build understanding of how to show that acceptance.
What’s more, You Can Play’s efforts have reached every single team in the NHL. All of them have created a video featuring players sharing notions of acceptance. Every single team.
The Stanley Cup has appeared in pride parades. The NHL and various teams have embraced Spirit Day.
The evidence isn’t just anecdotal, it is also mathematical. In 2015, 97% of NHL players asked by USA Today if they would accept a gay teammate said they would. In 2012, 92% of NHL players said same-sex marriage should be legal (at the time, only 50% of Americans agreed). In fact, every poll taken of NHL players over the last 15 years shows they are way ahead of American society on the acceptance of LGBT issues.
To be sure, there have been missteps. When Andrew Shaw got caught using a gay slur last season, some pointed to his mistake as evidence of deep-rooted homophobia. Yet his apology was sincere, and the Chicago Blackhawks themselves immediately suspended him for his homophobic rant.
Despite all of the signs of support, there has still never been an active or former gay NHL player who has come out publicly. Not one. There have been multiple athletes in every other big pro league in North America, but hockey and the NHL continues to be an enigma.
People keep pointing at sports saying the institution needs to be “fixed.” There is rampant homophobia, and people need to be brought in to fix it, goes the mantra.
While there are language issues in sports, there aren’t acceptance issues. With every athlete who comes out privately and publicly, they shine a light on just how much acceptance there is. When an NHL player finally comes out, he’ll see that too.