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‘Don’t be afraid,’ NHL’s Aaron Ekblad tells gay athletes

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Florida Panthers defenseman says sports environment more accepting.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Vancouver Canucks
Aaron Ekblad
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad calls himself an ally of the LGBT community and has a message for gay athletes nervous about coming out.

“Don’t be afraid. You’ll be surprised by how many people are accepting,” he tells Boca magazine, elaborating on how sports teams across the U.S., particularly hockey teams, have become friendlier in recent years—at least in official parlance—toward LGBT individuals.

Although homophobic talk still occurs in locker rooms, Ekblad believes that overall, society’s tolerance for and acceptance of LGBT people has progressed. Though Ekblad is not LGBT, he says he identifies as an ally, someone who is openly supportive of the LGBT community.

“Do I think it’s getting better? I think so. People are getting more educated and more understanding,” he says. “I would like to think the climate is getting better.”

Ekblad was one of four athletes with various sexual orientations who appeared in an ad this June for Nike’s BeTrue line of shoes and clothes. The player told Boca that he got very positive feedback from people on social media for taking such a stance.

The biggest game-changer will be an out active gay or bi athlete in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB. Until then, we need more people like Ekblad willing to stand up and let such a person know they won’t be alone.