Tag Archives: NHL

PROgressive sports roundup: NBA, NHL, NFL and more

The San Antonio Spurs recently hired Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff.

When Hammon retires from her 16-year WNBA career at the end of the San Antonio Stars’ season, she will move to the staff of the defending NBA champions, working with Gregg Popovich on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day grind of practice.

“Nothing in my life has really ever been easy. I’ve always been someone who did it uphill,” Hammon said. “I’m up for challenges. I’m up for being outside the box, making tough decisions and challenges. … And I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. Throw those all in there and this was the perfect challenge and opportunity.”


Violet Palmer made her biggest call yet: The NBA referee married her partner of 20 years on Aug. 1.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Palmer said she came out as a lesbian to her fellow NBA referees in 2007. She has not tried to keep her sexual orientation a secret from the league since that time.

“This is actually the big formal coming out,” Palmer said. “We are saying to the world, to everyone, here’s my wife of 20 years. This is the big coming out.”

Palmer married celebrity hair stylist Tanya Stine in Los Angeles. The ceremony was officiated by Basketball Wives LA star Tanya Young Williams, the ex-wife of former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams.

Palmer broke barriers in 1997 when she became the first female to referee an NBA game. Under scrutiny from her first tipoff, Palmer instantly proved she could withstand the grumbling and ref baiting that comes with forging a career in a men’s game. 

Palmer said she had been open about her sexual orientation in the NBA for years. There was never a formal public coming out because she didn’t want it to overshadow her work blowing the whistle on every star from Shaq to Kobe to LeBron.


Arizona State offensive lineman Edward “Chip” Sarafin has told a local magazine he is gay, making him the first active Division I football player to come out.

A fifth-year senior, Sarafin told Phoenix-based Compete that he began telling teammates about his sexual orientation last spring.

“It was really personal to me, and it benefited my peace of mind greatly,” he said in the magazine’s August issue.

The walk-on lineman follows the precedent set by St. Louis Rams linebacker Michael Sam. Sam told teammates he was gay during his playing days, although he did not come out publicly until after finishing his career at Missouri.

Numerous other athletes have come out as gay the past couple of years, opening the door for players like Sarafin to do it without much fear of repercussions from teammates or coaches. Brittney Griner, the WNBA’s no. 1 draft pick in 2013, casually came out as a lesbian shortly after joining the Phoenix Mercury. Massachusetts sophomore Derrick Gordon became the first active, male, openly gay Division I basketball player when he came out in April. And Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to play in an NBA game after signing with the Brooklyn Nets last season.

In other sports news …

• The NHL, in a first of its kind report, says that climate change threatens hockey, a sport that many pros began playing on the frozen ponds and lakes of North America. “The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman. “But before many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe. … Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game.”

• NFL teams, to guard against another bullying scandal, held sensitivity sessions during training camp. The focus during the pre-season has been on St. Louis, where the first openly gay player in NFL history, Michael Sam, is in training. The team has treated Sam just like most of their players, despite the extra attention seventh-round draft pick has been getting from the press.

• NFL innovations coming this season that fans might notice: Teams will deliver pre- and post-snap photos to coaches and players on the sidelines. The uprights will now extend to 35 feet above the crossbar, up from 30 feet. All seven game officials will now be able to communicate with each other during NFL games via wireless microphones. And the referee will be able to consult with the vice president of officiating during replay reviews.

• The 95th season of the NFL kicks off in Seattle on Sept. 4, with the Packers taking on the Seahawks. Pharrell Williams and Soundgarden will perform a pre-game show outside the stadium. Ariana Grande will sing the anthem and Bob Costas will lead the broadcast team. 

• The Green Bay Packers this summer unveiled a bronze statue outside Lambeau Field that honors one of the team’s traditions: the Lambeau Leap. The sculpture pays tribute to the post-touchdown celebration of a player jumping into the stands behind the end zone. Former Packers safety LeRoy Butler is credited with starting the ritual on Dec. 26, 1993, in a game against the Los Angeles Raiders.

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NHL: Climate change poses threats to the winter sport

In a first of its kind report, the NHL this week says that climate change threatens hockey, a sport that many pros began playing on the frozen ponds and lakes of North America.

“The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman. “But before many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe. Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates. Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors.”

“The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league,” said scientist Allen Hershkowitz of the National Resources Defense Council. “The report’s focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation.”

The report reviews the numerous programs, benchmarks and successes that have increased the overall sustainability of NHL, its teams and their arenas, and it details the impact of NHL Green, the 4-year-old initiative that involves a partnership with the National Resources Defense Council.

NHL Green was launched to promote green business practices across the league by:

• Reducing the use of natural resources in business operations.

• Tracking and measuring the environmental impact of the sport.

• Inspiring fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship.

The sustainability report released this week puts the NHL’s carbon footprint at about 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This comes from operations that include travel and play on 182 game days, with 1,230 regular-season games, more than 60 playoff contests and nearly 2 million miles of team air travel per season. By comparison, annual emissions from the single largest coal power plant in the United States totals 23 million metric tons.

The analysis concludes that the NHL has made progress, but still has much to do to minimize its impact on the environment.

“At the NHL, we recognize that we have great responsibility for the way we conduct our business, and we are uniquely positioned to promote the environmental message,” Bettman said in a news release. “Today, we join many of our business partners who have for years been documenting their emissions and making progress toward their own sustainability goals.”

Hershkowitz, NRDC’s senior scientist in charge of the green sports program, added, “This document is an important reminder to all sports fans, leagues, teams and businesses that while natural hockey ice might be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to the effects of climate change on sports, the effects of climate disruption are a challenge to all leagues and businesses, and we must take meaningful action to reverse course.”

He said the single most important thing the NHL can do to address urgent ecological challenges is to help change cultural expectations and attitudes about how humans relate to the planet. There are 68 million NHL fans in North America, and the league’s total social media audience, not including individual team sites, exceeds 10 million followers.

Online …

The report is at nhl.com/green/report.

Quotable …

“The routine of my daily life as a kid was pretty simple. One way or another, it always seemed to lead me in the direction of a body of water, regardless of the time of year. The only question was whether the water would be frozen solid for hockey or open and flowing for fish.” — legendary hockey player Bobby Orr

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NHL partners with You Can Play to fight homophobia in sports

The National Hockey League on April 11 announced a partnership with the You Can Play Project to fight homophobia in sports.

The NHL will partner with You Can Play on public service announcements, as well as work together on training and counseling on gay issues for players and other team personnel.

“Our motto is ‘Hockey Is for Everyone,’ and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “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.”

Patrick Burke, a founder of You Can Play and scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, told The New York Times, “We have players from around the world, and a lot of those players are from countries that are seen as more progressive on LGBT issues,” Burke said. “So I don’t think it’s unreasonable or strange to think that the NHL. and the NHLPA are driving this, in part because our players tend to me more comfortable with this issue.”

As athletes speak out, pro sports more gay-friendly

NFL punters are only seen on fourth down and heard from less than that. But with Minnesota voters weighing whether to ban gay marriage this fall, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has emerged as a high-profile gay rights champion – and a symbol of changing attitudes toward homosexuality in the sports world.

“I’d like to win some votes against the amendment,” Kluwe told The Associated Press. “It would permanently change the state constitution. Who are we to say we should decide what our children should do on this subject? If we’re not the generation to make gay marriage legal, why should we prevent our children having a say on the matter?”

Kluwe, a colorful 30-year-old with political science and history degrees from UCLA, is known for his love of video games, for getting a perfect score on the verbal portion of the SAT test and for his liberal political views.

He agreed some time ago to speak out against Minnesota’s amendment and headlined a long-planned fundraiser against the amendment last week.

But Kluwe got a massive new audience for his views after he penned a blistering open letter to a Maryland state lawmaker who criticized another NFL player, Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens, for supporting gay marriage with the issue also on Maryland’s ballot.

“Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you or act different than you?” Kluwe wrote to Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. The full letter, posted by the sports website Deadspin.com, was laced with profanity and sarcasm.

Burns had written to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, urging him to restrain Ayanbadejo from speaking publicly on the issue. Kluwe said it was the assault on free speech, not Burns’ opposition to gay marriage, that angered him.

Burns did not return a phone call from The Associated Press. A Democrat and a Baptist pastor, he told the Baltimore Sun that “upon reflection” Ayanbadejo has the right to express his views.

In all, four states are voting on gay marriage this year. Minnesota’s vote is on a constitutional ban; in Maryland, as well as Maine and Washington, voters are deciding whether gay marriage should be legal.

“I’m just going to continue to voice my First Amendment rights and continue to support the cause,” Ayanbadejo said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

The incident evoked memories of a 1998 controversy involving the NFL and homosexuality, but with the roles reversed.

Back then, All-Pro defensive end Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers made national news by criticizing homosexuality and gay activists, first in a speech to Wisconsin state lawmakers and later in a full-page advertisement in USA Today. White died in 2004.

Pro athletes and team officials say attitudes have slowly shifted in a sports culture often seen as one of the last bastions of acceptable homophobia.

“We call it casual homophobia,” said Patrick Burke, a scout for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and founder of the You Can Play Project, which aims to increase acceptance for gay athletes. “Athletes will use slurs like ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘don’t be a fag’ without thinking about what they’re really saying. You might think it’s harmless, but for that young athlete in the corner who’s closeted, it’s a huge deal.”

No active athlete in the four most popular pro sports – football, baseball, basketball or hockey – has come out publicly as gay, according to the gay-oriented sports website Outsports.com.

“I’ve always called it the last closet in American society,” said Jim Buzinski, the site’s co-founder. “The fact that no player has ever come out while active, it shows you how entrenched that culture is.”

Some players have after retiring.

Esera Tuaolo, a retired NFL tackle who played for the Vikings from 1992 to 1996, came out in 2002, explaining he stayed quiet for years when he heard homophobic slurs or taunting in the locker room.

Minnesota Gophers basketball star Trevor Mbakwe joined Kluwe and Tuaolo at the Minneapolis fundraiser.

“To defeat the amendment, we need to aim our message at the independent and moderate, maybe Republican-leaning voters that just haven’t thought much about this issue,” said Tracy Call, an ad exec for Minnesotans for Equality, which organized the event.

Several sports figures say they were influenced by gay family members. Kluwe has a gay brother-in-law, “and I’d like to see him be able to get married someday,” he said.

Connor Barwin, a linebacker for the Houston Texans, has talked about his gay brother and his own support for equal marriage rights.

Burke, the NHL scout, had a gay brother who also worked in hockey management but died in a 2010 car accident.

NFL leadership has supported players’ right to speak out. League spokesman Greg Aiello said a statement issued a decade ago still holds: “As an institution, the NFL is a meritocracy that also places a high priority on tolerance and diversity … on that basis an individual’s sexual orientation is entirely irrelevant.”

In Baltimore, Ravens center Matt Birk said he thought the NFL was evolving toward greater acceptance of homosexuality. He declined to talk about his own feelings on gay marriage, but spoke out strongly in support of other players’ freedom to take stands. And he said he was “absolutely” willing to play with a gay teammate.

Some of Kluwe’s teammates were more reluctant to talk about it.

“I’ve just been mainly focusing on getting snaps to him. So I’ve stayed away from his media blitz,” said Cullen Loeffler, the Vikings long snapper who spends as much time with Kluwe as anyone on the team.

But Kluwe said the private response from Vikings players and management has been positive.

“For me personally, what I’m seeing is guys who are willing to live and let live,” Kluwe said. “They don’t really care about it, and at the end of the day when we’re in the locker room, it’s what can you do to help us win on Sunday?”

UConn joins pro-gay You Can Play campaign

Gay and play hockey? You’re welcome at the University of Connecticut.

That is the message the school’s men’s hockey team is sending out in two videos for a program called You Can Play.

The goal of the international initiative, which was launched in March, is to work to end homophobia in hockey.

“We thought it was a great idea to show the community how we feel about homosexuality in sports, and let people know that anyone can play on our team,” said UConn captain Sean Ambrosie.

The public service videos are posted on YouTube and the UConn website, and are scheduled to be featured in the coming days on the You Can Play site.

In them, the players pledge to support “any teammate, gay or straight, that can help us win games.”

The program was created by Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke. It was launched in memory of Patrick’s brother Brendan, who died in a car accident in 2010. Brendan made headlines when he came out in November 2009 while serving as the manager of Miami of Ohio’s college hockey team.

So far about 100 athletes, including 50 from the NHL, have signed on to pledge they would play with GBT athletes, Patrick Burke said. But UConn is one of just eight teams have joined as a group.

“When a whole team stands up to do something like this, that’s very important,” Patrick Burke said. “For a young gay hockey player, who is looking for a place to play hockey, he knows that UConn is an option, that he will be safe at UConn, that he will be accepted at UConn.”

Connecticut coach Bruce Marshall said the videos were not done to be “a nice beacon for the university.” He said it was the players’ idea, and he told them not to do it unless they were ready to stand behind their words and deal with any negative fallout.

Peter Wolfgang, president of the conservative Family Institute of Connecticut Action, said he has no problem with the team participating in an anti-bullying campaign, but he is concerned about the references to “homophobia” in the video.

“It’s a very loaded political term,” he said. “If we’re going to be against bullying, then we ought to be against all forms of bullying and not just the kind that get us a pat on the back from politically correct elites. I would hope that people that have traditional beliefs, traditional faiths that they would not be bullied for holding views about morality or the definition of marriage.”

Ambrosie said the team expects to get some heckling about their stance, but are prepared to deal with that. He said if they become known as “the team that made the gay video,” they are more than happy to be that.

“It’s not going to bother us at all,” he said. “We did this because we want to show our support, and other people’s opinions aren’t going to have any effect on us.”

Marshall and Ambrosie said they don’t know if anyone currently on the team is gay and don’t really care.

“If there was to be (a gay member of the team) down the road, or there is today, then I feel they are a hell of a lot better team than other teams that don’t want to accept that,” Marshall said. “I give them a lot of credit for standing up. You’re not seeing a thousand of these (videos) around. That, I think, shows that they have some strength in who they are as individuals.”

In the videos, the UConn players are pledging not only to support gay athletes, but transgender ones as well. The NCAA recently released a policy that will allow a female to male transgender person who has received a medical exception for treatment with testosterone to compete on any men’s team.

Goalie Garrett Bartus said dealing with a transgender athlete might be “a little shocking” at first, but he believes that person would find a welcome at Connecticut. He said players don’t have to agree with everything about a player’s life to be their teammate.

“If they can play and help us win, I’m sure we’d get behind him,” he said. “Nobody should be discriminated against. That’s really the whole point of this – if you can play, you can play.”

On the Net: http://www.uconnhuskies.com/allaccess/?media=318158.

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Hockey pros stand against locker room homophobia

The You Can Play project, with the backing of numerous National Hockey League players and other supporters, is launching an advocacy program to change the homophobic culture of locker rooms.

A mumber of high-profile NHL players, including several all-stars, are filming public service announcements in support of You Can Play. The first PSA debuted over the weekend on an NBC Sports broadcast of the game between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins.

All the PSAs can be found at YouCanPlayproject.org, which also provides resources for athletes, coaches and fans.

“The goals for You Can Play are clear,” said YCP co-founder Patrick Burke. “We want to make locker rooms safe for all athletes, rather than places of fear, slurs and bullying. The casual homophobia in sports has to change, so all athletes know that what counts is whether you can play the game.”

Burke, a scout for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, has been a straight ally in sports since his younger brother Brendan came out as gay while manager of the Miami University ice hockey team. Brendan Burke died in a car accident.

“The hockey community united behind Brendan because he loved the game, and that’s what matters. The NHL players stepping forward to support You Can Play know that creating a homophobia-free environment will make their teams – and the sport – better,” Patrick Burke said.

Brian Burke, general manager of the Maple Leafs, said, “The Burke family is very proud to carry on Brendan’s legacy by working to ensure that LGBT athletes, coaches and fans around the world are treated with respect by the sports world. The You Can Play project will serve as a tremendous resource for the sports community by providing them with the tools needed to create safe arenas.”

2011 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Andy Miele, who was a friend of Brendan Burke’s while at Miami University and now plays in the Phoenix Coyotes organization, stepped forward to talk about the importance of You Can Play.

“The reason why I wanted to be a part of You Can Play is pretty obvious. I had a relationship with Brendan, and if he was still here he would want to promote this more than anyone else,” said Miele. “I felt privileged when Patrick came to me and asked me to be a part of it and I look forward to investing this into players all over the world to make the sports world safe for gay athletes.”

More than 30 NHL players already have volunteered to support the program, and You Can Play will extend beyond hockey. The organization is in active discussions with officials and players in several other sports leagues.

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Hockey’s Wayne Simmonds denies anti-gay slur

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is calling for Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds to apologize for an anti-gay slur that appeared to be directed at Sean Avery of the New York Rangers.

The organization also wants the NHL to educate its fans about such hate speech.

Video replay appeared to catch Simmonds making an anti-gay slur against Avery during a preseason game in Philadelphia on Monday night. Avery confirmed that Simmonds made the remark, and Simmonds originally didn’t deny saying it.

But the NHL declined to discipline Simmonds for the remark after a hearing today on the incident. NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said that during the hearing, Simmonds “expressly denied using the homophobic slur he is alleged to have said.”

Campbell said that without an on-ice official to corroborate Avery’s accusation, the league sided with Simmonds. The league reserves the right to amend its decision if any new evidence becomes available, he said.

“To the extent we become aware of additional information conclusively establishing that an inappropriate slur was invoked, we are reserving the option to revisit the matter,” Campbell said.

“All players, coaches and officials in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually-based innuendo or derision,” Campbell said in the statement. “This is the National Hockey League’s policy and it will remain so going forward.”

“Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink,” GLAAD acting president Mike Thompson said in a statement. “The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at LGBT youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility.

“He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.”

GLAAD has worked with sports leagues such as the NBA, Major League Baseball, and the World Wrestling Federation to address issues of homophobia in sports.