Professional hockey has been at the forefront of embracing LGBT inclusivity in professional sports.
The NHL was the first pro sports league to have all its teams do PSAs in support of LGBT athletes.
Top players, like Andrew Ference, have marched in Pride parades and sported rainbow tape on their sticks.
NHL safety director Patrick Burke even founded the You Can Play Project, which provides support and resources to out athletes.
But still, no professional hockey player past or present has ever come out. In fact, the NHL is the only major American sports franchise that’s never had a gay player.
“I think it’s very difficult to generalize as to why, in a particular league or a particular industry, somebody has or has not come out,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the Chicago Tribune .
“We certainly don’t want a player to come out for our sake. It should be what’s right for him and something that he has to be comfortable with.”
The league’s job, says Bettman, is to create an environment where a gay player knows he is “safe and welcome.”
Any by and large the NHL has done that: In April, when Blackhawks player Andrew Shaw used a homophobic slur against an official, he was suspended for an important playoff game.
“You want to eliminate the use of the word, but the fact is, what you do in response to set the right tone in terms of what’s acceptable is more important than the word itself,” Bettman said.
“So making clear in a strong way that this is not acceptable, I hope, transcends the use of the word itself.”
So, with all this acceptance and good will, why hasn’t there been a gay NHL player?
Burke has spoken to closeted players, and theorizes it’s because hockey is a sport “where anything that distracts from the team concept is seen as a negative.”
But, he counters, a player coming out would actually be good for a team.
“An athlete who’s wasting time and energy and mental health and well-being hiding himself in the closet isn’t bringing his entire individual self to the team.”