Yanic Duplessis and the final frontier of mainstream sports—hockey and the gay male player

There are three stages to the coming-out process for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

To wit:

Discovering yourself is the interesting part, accepting yourself is the hard part, revealing yourself is the frightening part that goes bump in the night.

Yanic Duplessis has arrived at Stage 3.

Young Yanic came out publicly earlier this month and, no, it didn’t qualify as news with an uppercase N because no one is talking about him as a hockey prodigy. He’s still a kid, just 17, and he’s trying to find his way in life and on the ice, where he might one day suit up with Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and possibly beyond.

That’s a big if.

Les Voltigeurs selected the product of Saint-Antoine, N.B., in the ninth round of the Q’s entry draft in 2019, but he was not among the 34 participants in training exercises that began last month. He also declined an invitation to join Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Junior Hockey League for their pre-season frolic. He’s chosen to stick close to home and play high school hockey.

That isn’t the preferred path to a professional career.

Yanic Duplessis

Still, Yanic’s coming out caused something of a stir because homosexuality is a taboo topic in male hockey. Except, of course, when anti-gay slurs are used as weaponry.

“It should be a non-event, and some day it will be a non-event, but it’s not a non-event now,” Brian Burke said of Duplessis from his Hockey Night in Canada lectern the other night.

Burke is correct.

A teenage hockey player’s sexuality shouldn’t be news, front or back page. But it grabs the attention of the CBC and HNIC because the National Hockey League has never known an openly gay player. Active or retired. Nor have any of its affiliated minor leagues and its main breeding ground, the Canadian Hockey League. There have been more confirmed sightings of Sasquatch than the gay male hockey player. At least one woman, Manon Rheaume, has appeared in an NHL game (preseason), but never an openly gay man. There are female scouts and coaches. But gay guys? They need not apply.

Many wonder why Yanic Duplessis is news. So he’s gay, they say. Why make a fuss out of his sexuality? Nobody cares, right?

Oh, but they do care.

Consider:

  • There were three anti-gay incidents in Airdrie, Alta., this summer, including a rainbow crosswalk that was tarred and feathered.

  • Would-be Conservative party leadership candidate Richard Décarie believes being gay is “a choice,” and marriage should be exclusive to men and women.

  • Tennessee governor Bill Lee recently signed into law an anti-gay adoption bill. Nine other states have similar laws.

  • A student at the University of Louisville entered an LGBT studies course and distributed anti-gay pamphlets.

  • Last month an employee of a Catholic fringe group in Detroit ordered a cake from the lesbian-owned Good Cakes and Bakes and requested that this message be written on the icing: “Homosexual acts are gravely evil.”

  • LGBT hate crimes in England and Wales went from 5,807 in 2014-15 to 13,530 in 2018-19.

  • According to a 2017 report, 60 per cent of LGBT students across the U.S. feel unsafe at school due to sexual orientation and 40 per cent feel unsafe due to gender.

Then there was the recent raising of a Pride flag outside city hall in Minot, N.D., the very heartland of the U.S.A. Mayor Shaun Sipma and council invited the citizenry to share their thoughts on the matter. Here are some of their natterings:

“Today it’s LGBQ. What’s next? BLM? Antifa? White supremacy? You opened up a can of worms Mr. Mayor, and I pray that lunacy does not prevail on the streets of our fine city due to a poor decision brought to us by you. I’m not here to judge. Judgement belongs to a higher power than all of us here.”

“We can pull down the 10 Commandments out of our court yards, out of our schools, we can slap God in the face, mock God. His word says he will not be mocked, just so you know, you ain’t getting away with it, and then raise up a flag praising something that God’s word speaks against. Now I’m gonna tell you a warning, I’m gonna warn you, that’s why I’m here…not about physical violence…I’m here to warn you of God’s judgement. God will…not…let…this…go.”

“The American flag represents the hearts of Americans, and the LGBT flag represents the genitals of certain Americans. Now, I’ve always thought the genitals were kind of a sacred thing, in the sense that, for one, what you do with them is your business and not mine. In terms of the numbers game here, there’s probably a larger Star Wars fan base here than there is LGBT community, and where’s the Star Wars flag being raised? Or Vikings fans? Since we’re next door to Minnesota, let’s raise a Vikings flag. As long as we’re on that page, how about a heterosexual flag and a Confederate flag and the list goes on and on. You opened a can of worms, and do you want all those worms?”

“You can’t even look at the small little things that can turn into a bombshell. I already see our guns coming. It’s coming next. Our freedoms are being taken away. I’ve never been so pissed off in my entire life and so disappointed in our mayor, ’cause you’re bringing war to the city of Minot.”

“I’ve got relatives that were ex-homosexuals, I got friends that are homosexuals. I love ’em all, but here’s the choice: We gotta make a choice for life and not for death.”

“I was raised under the 10 Commandments, and that’s also a law, it’s the law of God. I hope you have the nerve to back up our police department when this city starts seeing the kind of garbage that’s been going on around the country, when people start coming in rioting and tearing things down because of the door you’ve opened.”

“That flag is called an abomination to God. We love God and must stand for truth. When the righteous rule, the people rejoice. When the wicked rule, the people mourn.”

“(The Pride flag) identifies Satan.”

“If that letter P (pedophile) is added to LGBTQ a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, are you still gonna fly that flag?”

Lunacy. Rioting and looting. Worms. Loss of freedoms. Guns. War. Death. Satan. Pedophilia. All that hostility and holier-than-thou condemnation (and there was much, much more) simply because a flag was raised to recognize support for the gay community. Remind me to cancel that weekend trip to Minot.

Homophobia isn’t going to disappear any time soon, and certainly not during what remains of my lifetime. Gays are still too often considered lesser-thans, and men’s hockey represents the final frontier in mainstream sports, even as it trumpets itself as a game that “is for everyone.”

If hockey truly was “for everyone,” Yanic Duplessis coming out wouldn’t even be a blip on the news radar screen.

I don’t know if there’s a God but, if so, I like to think she or he is looking down on young Yanic with favor. Those things that go bump in the night can be mean and nasty and frightening for any 17-year-old kid who’s come out, let alone a hockey player, and they/he need all the positive reinforcement and acceptance they can get.

I know how toxic a hockey changing room can be, so godspeed to him.

Let’s talk about white privilege and giving voice to women and minorities in hockey media

As the discussion about the cult of shinny rages on, I find it most disturbing that some opinionists are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone.

Consider, as a prime example, a recent Twitter exchange between Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star and a chap with the user handle I Drink And I Know Nothing:

I Drink: “My daughter loves hockey but the ‘boys only’ culture she has to endure is going to ruin it for her. The area is too small to have a girls league and if you want to play, you have to put up with the players and coaches who feel that ‘girls are too weak.’”

McGran: “Even today? I thought we were at least past this.”

Earth to Kevin! Earth to Kevin! You might want to have a meaningful chat with some of the women in your life, and I’m guessing they’ll suggest you haven’t been paying attention.

Seriously, 2019 is a moment in history, not a cure-all for what ails shinny.

I mean, sure, women are now being accepted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, more females are playing the game today, and there’s a pro women’s league, but to assume the ‘old boys club’ mentality has gone the way of the dinosaur, the dodo and home milk delivery is pure folly. Also remarkably naive.

Bill Peters and Akim Aliu.

Meanwhile, one of The Athletic’s finest scribes, Sean Fitz-Gerald, has had an awakening of sorts, telling us that “hockey, increasingly, is not for everyone,” and a Calgary Sun editorial described racist language used by now-former Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters as “shocking.”

Come on, people, where have you been hiding? Like, I’d be shocked if someone discovered JFK and Marilyn Monroe were still alive and shacked up together somewhere behind the Grassy Knoll, but a hockey coach spewing racism or bullying a player? That’s a dog biting a man.

Hockey has never been for everyone, and anyone who’s spent more than five minutes inside the cult that is hockey shouldn’t be shocked by the disgusting language Peters used 10 years ago, when he and the target of his toxic tongue, Akim Aliu, were trying to claw their way to the National Hockey League.

Since L’Affaire Peters-Aliu became top-of-the-page news, pundits hither and yon have had their say, but have you noticed anything about the jock journos who’ve been given a voice?

That’s right. All white faces. Male white faces.

I turned on Sportsnet the other day and three white guys were talking about it. I turned on TSN and four white dudes were talking about it. I called up newspaper websites, and no one but white guys were writing about it.

Does that not strike you as odd? Also wrong?

Like, what in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. do male sports scribes and talking heads of white privilege know about discrimination based on skin hue? Nada.

Morgan Rielly

It was no different last March when Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs was thought, mistakenly, to have used a homophobic slur during a match. Both TSN and Sportsnet trotted out the usual suspects for panel gasbagging about the evils of anti-gay language, and those usual suspects had one thing in common—all were heterosexual men. How in the name of Harvey Milk can heterosexual men in hockey—a culture that is deeply and disturbingly homophobic—speak with any level of authority on anti-gay slurs?

The simple answer is they can’t. Yet no gay man or woman was invited to participate in panel discussions.

So we now are having a yackety-yack about racism in hockey, with tentacles also reaching out to touch on bullying, hazing, sexism, misogyny and LGBT(etc.) matters, and not until Saturday night on Hockey Night In Canada did we finally hear from a gathering of black people in the game.

Imagine that. People of color discussing racism. And one of them, Sarah Nurse, is a woman. What a concept.

Ron MacLean, Sarah Nurse, Anthony Stewart, David Amber.

Although inviting Nurse, Anthony Stewart, David Amber and Anson Carter to join the conversation, HNIC remains complicit in perpetuating the whiteness of hockey, something host Ron MacLean acknowledged in another discussion with black filmmaker Kwame Mason and singer/sports broadcaster Tara Slone.

“When the kids throw back to Hockey Night In Canada,” MacLean said, “as a general rule they’re all white, and if they’re not all white, the whites often have the speaking part, and it’s the same with our Hometown Hockey, we’re so proud of being inclusive but how many times do we get people of color to pick the three stars?”

He confessed that it’s “a real eye opener that I don’t recognize the structural racism or sexism that’s going on.”

That is an astonishing admission. How could MacLean not see and hear it?

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

For gawd’s sake, he spent the past 33 years sitting beside Don Cherry’s horrible wardrobe, listening to the gasbag promote cement-head hockey while, at the same time, flailing away at Europeans, Russians, French guys, pinkos and anyone else whose hairy knuckles don’t drag on the ground. MacLean heard Cherry insist that female reporters don’t belong in changing rooms. Over at TSN, their idea of diversity on its many hockey panels is allowing Marty Biron to prattle on in his fractured English. He’s the token Quebec guy. Sportsnet gives the aforementioned Stewart a voice, but their panel pundits are 99.9 per cent white male.

Women, meanwhile, aren’t a minority group, but they’re treated like one. They aren’t allowed to join hockey panels, even though there are numerous former and/or current players from our national and Olympic sides quite capable of stringing together complete sentences. I’ve heard them do that very thing.

It’s no different in the rag trade. This country’s top jock columnists are white, heterosexual males. They simply cannot relate or speak to issues of marginalized communities. To see the light at the end of the tunnel, one must first step inside the tunnel, so good luck to them trying to deliver the kind of meaningful commentary that only a lived experience allows.

People are talking about L’Affaire Peters-Aliu, also Mike Babcock’s bullying of Mitch Marner, as “watershed” moments for hockey. Maybe so. We’ll see. But I hope it also serves as a swift kick in the butt for mainstream sports media as it relates to hockey.

It isn’t just white, heterosexual men who know the game. Women and minorities also have something to say. Let them roar.