Leading up to the Manchester Storm’s 3-0 victory over the Dundee Stars at the Elite League’s first ever Pride Weekend, defenseman Zach Sullivan came out for the first time publicly, and is believed to be the the first professional ice hockey player to come out as bisexual during his career. In a post on Instagram, he opened up about not only his sexuality, but struggles with mental health, and how much the league’s pride weekend meant to him.
In a further statement to his team on Sunday, Sullivan said: “I’m not doing this in the hope of any publicity. I’ve always been a very private guy, but I realize that I have a unique opportunity to do some good. If I can be open and honest about my sexuality, then hopefully that will give other hockey players around the country the same confidence to do the same.”
Sullivan received overwhelming support in response to his historic announcement, including a standing ovation from fans in the stands at the Manchester game on Sunday. According to Hilary Keane, a fan in attendance, “When he was called to do the ceremonial puck drop, the entire building cheered and got on their feet for him.”
Dallas Ehrhardt, teammate and captain of the Storm, gave a statement of full support too. “When he told the room, we couldn’t be happier for our teammate and we 100% have his back,” it reads. “The hockey world is a tight knit supportive community and when something as important like this happens, the whole sport gets better.”
EIHL Pride Weekend was in partnership with You Can Play. The games also featured pride tape and specially designed rainbow-spangled jerseys, which will be auctioned off to support local LGBTQ charities that each individual team has chosen to work with. It’s apparent Zach Sullivan’s coming will have a huge impact on the sport of hockey, and he’s just getting started.
When asked in an interview Monday with BBC Manchester about what he would say to anyone else struggling to come out, Sullivan responded:
“I think it’s a journey that everyone has to take at their own pace. By no means just because I’ve done it do I expect hundreds of other people to do it, that’s not what I’ve done this for. If me saying this can help someone else feel better about themselves or move them a little bit further on their journey then that’s my end target. Everyone’s different, but at the end of the day everyone’s still human. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe in or who you fall in love with. My suggestion is to just be yourself and take it at your own pace.”
Coming off a year when Jon Lee-Olsen became one of the first pro hockey players to publicly come out as gay, the two coming out within a few months of each other may lead to more ice hockey players feeling empowered to do so too, and especially for younger generations of players show that #CourageIsContagious.
We decided to use the @officialEIHL pride weekend as a platform to educate Willow on the #LGBTQ+ community and the importance of all it stands for. Following on from @ZachSully11 recent tweet, she wanted to make something in support of his bravery and honesty. #loveislove pic.twitter.com/IMWjOQOOXF— Nicola Carter (@Stormforcewills) January 26, 2020