It starts off as a very simple issue of socio-political attitudes. Columnist Justin Bourne, former minor league pro, writes in USA Today:
In my days as a hockey player, I did nothing but contribute to hockey's culture of homophobia and prejudice against gays. I used gay slurs more times than I'd like to admit. Six months after I left my last professional locker room, I felt a twinge of regret, followed by a full-out, stomach punch of regret. And by the time I finished the first draft of this column, I was disgusted with myself.
It is a great column and I recommend you click through and read the whole thing.
Back to my interest today, he makes the usual exhortation in the middle of the piece.
We can't wait another two decades ignoring the small but consistent strides of progress that the world outside sport is making.
We need to make a change now, because kids who move away from home to play junior hockey at 16 or 17 are still impressionable. If they don't encounter a good role model, the seeds are sown for a person, who after trying to fit in, thinks it's OK to drink, treat women a certain way and use homosexuality as a punchline.
Simple isn't it? The kind of statement we can all get behind, right?
The whole thing reminds us that it isn't all that easy to make change.
This one hits home for me because of all the environments of my life beyond one-on-one conversation- it is for damn sure the men's sports one in which insensitive shit is going to come out of me. It's part of the culture, right? Accepted. Sure. Unless you are the one the slurs refer to, even in a roundabout way.
So we need reminders to re-double our efforts. This column is a good one.
This column also gives me an excuse to mention Willie O'Ree again. As Mr. Bourne put it:
And maybe the first openly gay NHL star will elicit stereotypical responses but hopefully the 100th is just a guy who will show up in my columns for being "a completely overrated, third-line defensive specialist at best."
Of course in the case of the first African-Canadian to play in the NHL, he was pretty mediocre. Willie O'Ree played a few games and then spent the rest of his career in the minor leagues. And it took a very long time to get to the point where we are today with many players that identify as black having played in the NHL. Some are stars, some are just average and some are the equivalent of the "completely overrated, third-line defensive specialist at best". There may not be a huge number and they may still be underrepresented against a population baseline. But as Mr. Bourne says, this is when you know progress has been made.
Just like we'll know we've made real progress in science when women, gays and/or underrepresented minorities can make it with just as little accomplishment as the worst of the heteronormative white male scientists.
And again, just as with science, Mr. Bourne points out (seriously, this column is great) we'll never know what we've lost to past discrimination:
And maybe ... we've driven so many away; players who didn't want to be teased, shunned, and worse, a target for on-ice violence. Who knows how many great players hung up their skates in favor of some lesser talent, strictly to find acceptance and peace of mind.