We can always use more allies in sports, and Anders Nilsson is a great ally from the world of hockey. Though he’s straight, the Vancouver Canucks’ goalie always wears a rainbow sticker on his mask and is outspoken about his support for the LGBTQ community. He’s stepped up again by condemning homophobia in hockey in a new, in-depth interview.
Speaking to Aftonbladet, a Swedish hockey news site (translated by Redditor u/monkeycalculator), Anders Nilsson said that due to homophobia in hockey, there likely weren’t any gay players in the National Hockey League. In fact, the NHL is the only pro-sports league that has zero openly gay, bi or queer players, either currently playing or retired.
Nilsson said, “If I were homosexual, I’d quit playing hockey in my teens. When people say there’s three to four homosexual people in each team, I think, ‘No, absolutely not. They quit when they were children.'”
Anders Nilsson then describes the homophobia he saw while playing hockey as a kid.
He says, “Saying things like, ‘Are you a faggot or what?’, ‘fucking fag fuck’ or ‘fairy’ was not out of the ordinary back then. That’s the jargon, and it was so accepted [normalized], and that’s probably still the case. But the difference today is that this would never happen in a team of adults.”
Nilsson blames the coaches for the homophobia, saying they must speak up when they hear homophobia from their players.
Nilsson points to a very real consequence of homophobia in hockey — namely, that we could lose great players.
He says, “What happens is that we will lose homosexual players, who might otherwise have been the next Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid or Wayne Gretzky, we don’t know. We lose talents.”
In fact, though the bullying wasn’t homophobic in nature, we almost lost Gretzky himself due to bullying. As a kid, he was so talented that parents — even those of his team members — would boo him. No one wants to play a game where they’re not welcome.
Anders Nilsson does end with some positive comments for any gay kids out there who want to play hockey.
He says, “As long as you’re having fun: keep going. Be secure in who you are and stand up for yourself. Those who say something mean, or who use that jargon, they don’t have to be your friends…. If someone says something, you don’t have to hang out with them. And they probably feel worse as human beings on the inside when they have to demean other people to feel good about themselves. They’ll regret it when they get older.”