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Moving the needle on gay inclusion in the NHL

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Hands up everyone who had heard the name Bayne Pettinger prior to last week.

Just as I thought. No hands.

That's because Pettinger was one of those behind-the-scenes guys who made things go tickety-boo for Canada's national shinny sides in their global adventures during the past decade, both at the men's and junior levels.

As operations manager for Hockey Canada, it was Pettinger's task to make certain that Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and all others wearing the Maple Leaf were well-fed, well-watered, well-groomed and that they arrived at their appointed rounds on time. In other words, make them as cozy and comfy as could be.

You don't win international championships without people like Pettinger, which the Canadian men and teenagers did multiple times during his nine-year term.

But, again, he was background furniture in the big picture.

Not so anymore.

We recently discovered that the guy who catered to the whims and requirements of Canada's shinny elite is gay. He just didn't let everyone in on his little secret back then.

The kitty is out of the burlap now, though.

Pettinger outed himself through an excellent article by Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic last week and, you're right, I shouldn't be writing about this because it shouldn't matter.

I mean, Pettinger parted ways with Hockey Canada early last year and is now part of CAA Hockey, one of the top-drawer player rep groups in the game. Why should anyone care about a player agent's sexual preference? None of our business what goes on behind bedroom doors, right?

Except men's hockey and homosexuality matters because it remains stuck in another century.

Look around the sports landscape and you'll find gays everywhere:

  • Rick Welts, president of the Golden State Warriors and a three-time National Basketball Association champion, is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

  • Three lesbians, Laura Ricketts of the Chicago Cubs and Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss of the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, are part-owners of Major League Baseball franchises.

  • Katie Sowers is an offensive coach with San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.

  • Women's NBA lineups are littered with lesbians.

  • Jayna Hefford and Angela James are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and numerous lesbians are Olympic puck champions.

  • The U.S. women's soccer side that won the 2019 World Cup featured five gay players and a gay head coach.

  • The NFL's St. Louis Rams drafted a gay player, Michael Sam, who suited up with Montreal Alouettes in a regular-season Canadian Football League skirmish.

  • Two openly gay men, Robbie Rogers and Collin Martin, have performed in Major League Soccer.

  • Dale Scott was openly gay while still a MLB umpire.

  • Numerous players in the NBA, NFL and MLB have come out once their time in the playgrounds of North America had expired.

But, in top-level hockey, gay men are as rare as a full set of teeth on any player from the six-team era. Not even the Hockey Diversity Alliance has made room for a gay man. (The HDA hasn't made room for women, either, which is another discussion for another day.)

There has never been an openly gay man on a National Hockey League roster. No gay NHL player has come out post-career. Among North America's major men's team sports, only the NHL is, and always has been, a province exclusive to straight men, which is in collision with the oft-chanted mantra of "hockey is for everyone."

Yet now there is Bayne Pettinger, a gay player agent who has been publicly embraced by Crosby, McDavid, Morgan Rielly, Tyson Barrie and other NHL stars.

Will their support hold sway with a gay kid, letting him know he doesn't have to stay in the closet or quit hockey now that the great Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid have said it's okay to be gay? What about hockey parents? Will they steer their teenage boys away from CAA Hockey, knowing one of the player agents is gay?

Those shouldn't be issues. Not today, 21 years into the 21st century.

And, again, I understand those who submit that Bayne Pettinger shouldn't be a story. We should be past this discussion. But he is a story because, you know, men's hockey.

On its own, an out player agent won't move the needle toward on-ice gay inclusion, but when Crosby, McDavid and others talk with such enthusiastic support people tend to listen, and that spawns hope. Not just faint hope. Real hope.

Knocking down a door only matters if it opens a mind, and maybe Crosby, McDavid et al have done that.