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Homophobia in Hockey, “We must speak up”- Janne Puhakka

all love is still not fully accepted

Former Finnish Hockey player Janne Puhakka recently came out as gay days before a pride-themed showdown between elite teams Ilves and TPS. Players slipped into rainbow colors in the match to promote LGBT acceptance in the sport. He spoke about how people needed to put their fear behind them and speak up for their rights and privileges.

“I wasn’t good enough to have complete security in my job, that brought uncertainty. I’m sure other players fear the issue because of their jobs as well” Janne said. He is known to be the first hockey player to come out as gay and he believes that LGBT issues are still a taboo in hockey and his efforts will possibly help other players who are hiding under their shells. He also revealed how the words of a Finnish member of parliament had held him back, in 2014 the minister had come out to say that it will be a good idea for a gay player to hide his homosexuality in the booth so as not to offend team chemistry and turn sentiment against the team. Janne rejects the idea when he said: “When someone shares their own life deeper than just surface level, it strengthens the team.”

Janne recounts telling his captain he is gay but kept his boyfriend a secret from his teammates, avoided questions about his love life and feared that someone might see them together in the city. He concluded that it would be ideal if he didn’t have to talk about the issue of homosexuality but as long as people are silent on the subject, “we must speak up”.

The Social Activism Campaign ” You Can Play” was launched in 2012 to eradicate homophobia in sports, why then are players scared to come out? Hundreds of players in the world of sports have come up to embrace their sexuality, from Golfers to Swimmers and even footballers. There are numerous hockey players who are gays but most of them only come out to say it when they become “former” players, for instance, Ex-OHL player Brock Mcgillis came out publicly only after retiring and has since become an advocate for LGBT inclusion in sports.

NHL players are afraid to come out as homosexuals

Though the National Hockey League has been making an effort to diversify the culture with events like Hockey Is For Everyone month in partnership with You Can Play, people are still not convinced enough and are not ready to take chances, here is why, first of all, they do not want to lose their jobs. MacDonald, who is the former co-chair of the Western Canadian Board of “You Can Play” said, ” you don’t want to risk it not being OK, because the perception is someone who is just as good at your job but isn’t gay is going to take your spot”. These people are afraid to lose their job hence, they would rather stay underground. Second, they are also not sure about how the NHL brass will react. Some of these gay players are also worried about acceptance from their teammates, it may lead to a string of mental issues and these are just a few of the reasons why some hockey players are not able to reveal their sexual orientation.

Will Janne Puhakka’s revelation make a change? Will it kickstart more revelations and is the National Hockey league ready to acknowledge this? Perhaps after Janne, others will come out bravely with no fear of being bullied in the locker room, being discriminated against or even losing their jobs.

Well, another important question worth asking is if the world even accepts homosexuality in the first place or is ready to accept it. Some countries approve of it, others do not because of their religion or culture. Some cultures prohibit it, calling it a taboo or abomination whiles others use the Bible and the story of creation as their standpoint saying, God created a man and a woman, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. Researchers have also acknowledged the fact that there are no gay genes but many genetic, environmental, social and cultural factors may combine to influence sexual behavior.

It is rational that the NHL is doing all it can to make the “culture” acceptable in their domain and it seems to be left on the side of the players to come out freely and be prepared to be accepted.

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