NHLers target homophobia

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke -- seen here walking with Rick Mercer during Toronto's Gay...

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke -- seen here walking with Rick Mercer during Toronto's Gay Pride Parade in July 2011 -- is part of an NHL ad campaign targeting homophobia in sports. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters file photo)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:39 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The message began running on network television on the weekend: star NHL players recording public service announcements in support of gay athletes.

There has yet to be an openly gay, active player in any of the four major sports. The campaign, backed by 30 players, and counting, aims to change that.

The first PSA, featuring people like the Flyers’ Scott Hartnell, Dion Phaneuf of the Leafs and Columbus’s Rick Nash, appeared during the NBC-TV broadcast of the Bruins/Rangers game, Sunday.

“If you can play, you can play,” is the campaign’s theme, and it’s designed to rid the game of the “casual homophobia” that exists in dressing rooms.

Winnipeg Jets forward Tanner Glass delivers the same message whenever he gets a chance on the ice.

If Glass hears an opposing player use a gay slur during a game, he’ll let him know he’s crossed the line.

“The language has got to be the first thing to go,” Glass told QMI Agency, Monday. “You hear it all the time.”

The reaction he gets tells him there’s hope, but still a ways to go in educating the rank-and-file in the macho world of pro hockey.

“Some guys will be, ‘Yeah, well, f--- you,’ or whatever,” Glass said. “But some guys are like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.’ ”

Glass has a personal connection to the issue that’s made him more aware of what he hears.

He was at Dartmouth College from 2002-2007 when the goalie for the Dartmouth lacrosse team made national headlines by coming out.

Andrew Goldstein, who went on to play as a pro, remains the only male professional athlete to acknowledge his homosexuality while still playing.

“It was great — he was like a campus icon,” Glass said. “Lacrosse isn’t much different than hockey, and I know his teammates really accepted him. I knew a few of the lacrosse players, and it worked out well.”

Glass hopes the first NHL player to acknowledge he’s gay would have the same smooth landing.

“Lacrosse at an Ivy League college maybe isn’t the same as the Boston Bruins locker room, but close enough,” Glass said. “A hockey locker room is a place to be accepting. The fact there are no openly gay athletes in our sport is not right. If you look at the numbers, statistically there’s got to be a few guys. Anything we can do to make it more comfortable for them, the better.”

Patrick Burke hears Glass’s open-minded approach and figures he should sign him up to be one of the spokesmen.

Burke, son of Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, is behind the You Can Play campaign, created to honour the memory of his brother.

Brendan Burke made headlines in 2009 by coming out while serving as the manager of Miami of Ohio’s college hockey team. He died in a car accident two years ago.

Patrick Burke says NHLers are “lining up to participate” in the campaign, which doesn’t just feature all-stars.

“We’ve got tough guys,” Burke said. “George Parros is in the next one. It’s a Burke family charity, so there has to be some toughness to it.”

Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was the campaign’s choice from the Jets, but so far his appearance hasn’t been produced.

If they want more Jets involved, there wouldn’t be a shortage of volunteers.

“It’s great. Get the awareness out,” winger Chris Thorburn said. “It’s a person’s choice and it should be respected.”

That respect begins with language. Because homosexual slurs are no different than racial ones.

“For an athlete who is gay, there’s no other way for them to take it,” Burke said. “Our hope is that athletes at all levels will feel safe enough to come out, wherever they are.

“I look forward to the day it’s not even news.”

But there has to be a first one. Someone willing to be the headline that breaks the ice.

Like Andrew Goldstein was at Dartmouth.

Whoever, wherever, he is, Tanner Glass and a whole bunch of others have his back.


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