May 28, 2015


By Gary Lawless

NHL

NHLers must take stance on gay rights

High-profile Olympic athletes should stand up to Putin

Gay rights for some or gay rights for all?

For all, of course, and that's why the repeal of NHL player participation in Sochi must be used as a threat to eliminate Russia's anti-gay law.

Riot police (OMON) guard gay rights activists who have been beaten by anti-gay protesters during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays.

DMITRY LOVETSKY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Riot police (OMON) guard gay rights activists who have been beaten by anti-gay protesters during an authorized gay rights rally in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Police detained several gay activists, who were outnumbered by the protesters. Dozens of gay activists had to be protected by police as they gathered for the parade, which proceeded with official approval despite recently passed legislation targeting gays.

It's not enough that the NHL promotes equality in its rinks in North America. It must do it world-wide.

NHL players wield the biggest of sticks when it comes to the Winter Olympics and they need to use it to support gay rights -- just like they did in rinks all across North America last winter as part of a campaign to promote You Can Play.

It's You Can Play. Not You Can Play some places but not others.

You Can Play is a foundation whose mission states it is, "dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation... seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete's skills, work ethic and competitive spirit."

Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law last month banning the public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear.

The IOC has defended its presence in Russia for the 2014 Winter Games at Sochi on the basis they have "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."

But it'll be right back to "shut your mouth about your gayness," as soon as the Olympics are over.

All Out co-founder and executive director Andre Banks says, "Holding the Winter Olympics in Sochi with these laws in place is like holding the Games in Johannesburg at the height of apartheid."

How would the NHL respond if there was a law banning the discussion of rights for Jews or blacks or women? It wouldn't send its players to promote those games and provide those games with its centre-piece attraction, which hockey has become.

The NHL and the NHLPA's views on gay rights are very clear. Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr have put the weight of their offices behind You Can Play. Last winter videos were played in NHL arenas featuring league players sharing the foundation's message.

"Our motto is 'Hockey Is For Everyone,' and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way.

"While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players' Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands," offered Bettman.

NHL players are the most high-profile athletes at the Olympics. They can have the most effect. They can say no to Putin's law and force the IOC to apply pressure.

Or they can promote silence. Like Putin wants for gays and their supporters.

Taking a stand will come with risk -- the risk of missing out on a medal. But the reward of helping people be free to live their lives as they choose should be viewed as far greater than any moment of personal glory.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Should the NHL repeal player participation at the Sochi Olympics to protest Russia’s anti-gay laws? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 8, 2013 D1

History

Updated on Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 7:18 AM CDT: Addsphoto

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