Vancouver Canucks goaltender and outspoken LGBTQ advocate Anders Nilsson believes that hockey’s homophobic culture has cost the sport a multitude of potentially game-changing players.
He made those feelings clear during an in-depth interview with Swedish outlet Aftonbledet in which he criticized the lack of acceptance of gay and queer players in team locker rooms and the excessive use of certain derogatory terms within those same walls.
“What I now can feel myself, is that if I was gay, I would have quit playing hockey in my teens.
“That’s why I think when people say there are three to four gay players on each [NHL] team, I say no, absolutely not. They quit when they were younger. There’s no one who would dare to or want to keep playing. Team sports are about the feeling of togetherness, it’s just as fun to go there to hang out and have someone to talk to as the actual sports, but if you have a hard time in the dressing room when you’re a teen it’s not as fun to play hockey on the field either,” Nilsson said, according to Outsports.
He also discussed how common it was the hear teammates casually drop derogatory terms such as “fag,” and “faggot,” among other slurs, in the minor hockey leagues he played in growing up. Though, he says, that language would not be tolerated in an NHL locker room today, it emphasizes his point that many gay players are weeded out of the game as teenagers before reaching the elite levels due to the harshness of the culture among youths.
“What happens is that we will lose gay players, who might otherwise have been the next Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid or Wayne Gretzky.
“We lose talents. And some families with strong feelings about things might feel that, regardless if their son is straight or gay, he shouldn’t play hockey because they don’t want him in that harsh culture where coaches and players call each other all sorts of things. We lose our pride in hockey,” Nilsson said, per Outsports.
The NHL remains the only major North American Professional sports league to not boast a single openly gay player—active or retired.
Nilsson, meanwhile, is possibly hockey’s most popular straight ally to the gay and queer community, often wearing a rainbow decal on his mask. the 28-year-old also was named Hetero Of The Year by a popular Swedish LGBTQ website last February.