In the year since player Sean Avery voiced his support of gay marriage, the sport has gotten more tolerant—but the fight is just beginning.
"If there's a kid in Canada or wherever, who is playing and really loves the game and wants to keep playing but he's worried about coming out, I'd tell him to pick up the phone and call [NHLPA executive director] Donald Fehr and tell him to book me a [plane] ticket...I'll stand beside him in the dressing room while he tells his teammates he is gay. Maybe if Sean Avery is there, they would have less of a problem with it."
–NHL player Sean Avery in a February 2011 interview with the Toronto Sun
When Adam Knoerzer and his partner were in Los Angeles to see the Pittsburgh Penguins play the L.A. Kings, last November, they found themselves sandwiched between two, seemingly incongruous parts of hockey culture. To their left was a lesbian couple, supporting the Kings. To their right was a father-and-son duo cheering for Knoerzer's Penguins, all the while talking about "what a fag the PA announcer was," Knoerzer recalls. For Knoerzer, a self-described beer-drinking, TV-screaming, show tune-hating, hockey guy who came out a decade ago, it remains a jarring, telling experience.
"It was so bizarre being in between lesbians on my left and a father and son on the right, who are unabashedly trashing this guy because they think he's a gay and a queen," Knoerzer, 27, says. "When the Penguins scored, [the father] would give us high fives. I kept thinking, 'Would you give us a high five if I told you that this is the man I love?'"
This experience highlights the tensions that still exist among hockey fans when it comes to homosexuality. It has been a little more than a year since Sean Avery, the lightning-rod of an NHL player and gay marriage advocate, spoke out in support of gay teammates in hockey. Avery's endorsement was just one of several recent milestones in the discussion concerning the sometimes complicated relationship between players, coaches, and fans of hockey and the gay community.