In the wake of college football player Michael Sam announcing that he is gay, there has been a lot of talk about what would happen if a player came out as gay in the Boston market.
Over the past several years Boston Spirit has been fortunate enough to work with several of the professional teams in Boston on this very topic. In 2011 Robert Kraft served as the keynote speaker at Boston Spirit’s LGBT Executive Networking Night. A year later when Jason Collins came out Kraft was quick to congratulate Collins in a statement from the team.
“My hearty congratulations to him,” Kraft said.
And when asked about the possibility of a Patriots player coming out, Kraft responded, “We’re about winning, and [if] someone can come in here and help us win I don’t care what ethnic background, what racial background, what gender preference they have, if they can help us win and they’re about team then I’ll be happy to have them here.”
In December 2012 Boston Spirit had the chance to sit down for an exclusive one on one interview with Boston Bruins enforcer Shaun Thornton. Thornton was quick to point out that, in his opinion, the Bruins would be very supportive of a gay teammate.
Boston Spirit: What do you think would happen if one of your teammates announced he was gay?
Shawn Thornton: Honestly, my teammates are like family so there would be support. I would personally [support] him and I’m pretty sure everyone in our locker room would. We’ve got a pretty good bunch of guys. I don’t think there would be any issues.
BS: If a player did come out, would he get targeted more on the ice?
ST: It depends. There are some things said out there [during games] that probably shouldn’t be said, but the league is very good at clamping down on players that say anything derogatory. I’m not going to pretend that out of 740 guys [the total number of players in the NHL] that you aren’t going to find someone who says something inappropriate but I think, for the most part, it would be fine. I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself it wouldn’t be an issue.
BS: And what about you, have you always been supportive of the LGBT community?
ST: My hometown is a very blue collar, industrial place. There isn’t much of a [gay] community there, but 20 minutes down the road was Toronto. So while I didn’t really grow up with a huge gay community there was one close by and it’s never been an issue with me.
BS: Are you concerned at all about what some people might think seeing you speaking about this topic?
ST: Whatever, I think I can defend myself (laughing).
In September of 2012 Boston Spirit sat down with then Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers. Rivers, years earlier, was the coach of the Orlando Magic. At that time he had the chance to coach a player named John Amaechi. Amaechi came out as a gay man shortly after retiring from the NBA.
Rivers, like Thornton and Kraft, felt as though the Celtics locker room (the 2012-2013 Celtics) would not have any problem with having a gay teammate.
BS: ESPN asked some ‘experts’ recently which league would be the worst at handling a gay player and the NBA was the pick. Do you think that’s the case?
DR: I think the NBA might have been named as worst, and I don’t think it should be, because the NBA has always had an image problem, because people know who you are. They see you, the players are in shorts and tank tops, everyone sees your face and there’s only twelve of us. When you have people with baseball hats on, and helmets, you don’t really get to see them. People know us and I think that might be why the NBA got picked. I think the reaction by all the sports would be about the same. I don't think one would be better or worse than the other. Hockey has its ethics code; baseball has its own clubhouse rules, and football does too. I personally think people are more open-minded than they get credit for. I've always believed that. I remember when I was playing for the Knicks and I was doing something on Imus [the Don Imus radio program] — I think I was injured at the time — he asked me if there were any gays in basketball and I said "yeah, absolutely." The next day I got a call from the league and said "Did you say that?" and I said, "Listen guys, it’s a ratio, just look at the numbers." It was an obvious answer, it was easy.
BS: David Stern and Charles Barkley have both said that the NBA is ready for an openly gay player. In your opinion, is the league ready?
DR: I think it is. I think it would depend on the team but even with a bad team, I think it would be a story for about a week and then it would go away. It would really help if it were a good player [laughing]. If you're a bad player the team doesn't care what your sexual orientation is, and if you’re a good player the team doesn't really care what your sexual orientation is — that’s the bottom line.
BS: Shaun Thornton of the Bruins told me that if one of the Bruins came out, he would fully support that player and he felt the rest of the team would too. He compared the team to a family. Do you feel the same thing would happen with your team?
DR: Absolutely. They would support him first, and then harass him second [laughing] — in a locker room fun way, not in a bad way. He would get razzed just like his teammates would get razzed. There would be no difference or change. I think it would be a one week story at home. Eventually one of the players would get upset because every time you go to a road game, the road reporter who hadn’t had a chance to ask the question would want to ask it and the player would finally say, "I'm done with this'" and that’s what would happen.
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