Russia's Anti-Gay Laws, the Winter Olympics and the NHL: What is to be Done? by @ChrisRBarron - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Russia's Anti-Gay Laws, the Winter Olympics and the NHL: What is to be Done? by @ChrisRBarron

It is rare that I don't have an opinion on something.  I tend to have an opinion on just about everything (even if no one shares that opinion).  As a gay man and a huge sports fanatic it is even more rare that I don't have an opinion on a subject that sits at the crossroads of sports and gay rights.  When it came to the controversy over Russia's deplorable anti-gay laws and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, however, I found myself in the surprising position of not knowing what I believed was the right course of action for the NHL.

After ruminating on the subject for a few weeks, however, I have come to a couple of conclusions (a special thanks to the boys at the Illegal Curve Hockey Show - their discussion of this on air a couple of weeks ago really made me start thinking about exactly how I felt about this complex subject):

There Are No Easy Solutions

While I appreciate the sentiment of people like actor George Takei and others who have pushed for a change of venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the truth is that its just not going to happen.  It is not humanly possible.  Olympic planning takes years and years, you can't simply decide six months out to move the Olympics.  Takei and others have advocated moving the Olympics to Vancouver, despite the fact that many of the buildings and areas utilized by the 2010 Winter Olympics are no longer available for use. 

So while I appreciate Takei's outrage, there are no easy solutions here, and tilting at windmills isn't the most productive use of any advocate's time.

Doing Nothing Isn't An Option

While there are no easy solutions, doing nothing shouldn't be an option either.  Gary Lawless, a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press and a host on TSN 1290, is absolutely right when he says:

The message sent be the NHL and its players doing nothing would undermine much of the great work done by the league, its teams and its players in standing up for the rights of athletes regardless of their sexual orientation. The NHL and NHLPA partnership with the You Can Play project has made professional hockey the most gay-friendly professional sport. Sitting by and doing nothing - tacitly giving approval to the despicable Russian anti-gay laws - would wipe away much of this goodwill.

Why an NHL Boycott Shouldn't Be the Answer

While moving the Winter Olympics isn't realistic, an NHL boycott of the Sochi games is certainly an option, and its an option that some are pushing for - including Lawless. In making his case for a boycott, Lawless rightfully points out:

While Lawless is right, so is Patrick Burke - founder of the You Can Play project - who said:

I believe it is also unfair to punish players for the anti-gay actions of the Russian government. Having the opportunity to represent your country at the Olympics is one of the highest honors for a professional hockey player, why should that opportunity be taken away from them because of the actions of the homophobes in the Russian government?

A Middle Ground

So if there are no easy solutions and doing nothing isn't an option and a boycott wouldn't be fair or particularly effective, then what is to be done? I believe there is a middle ground, a way for the NHL and its players to do something to show their disagreement with Russia's anti-gay laws: speak out about it. ALL THE TIME.

The Russian laws in question make it a crime to speak about gay rights in public, an outrageous law that challenges our most basic ideas of freedom. The best and most effective way to challenge a law that seeks to silence gay rights advocate is through the very act the bigots in the Russian government seek to stop: speech. The NHL, and more importantly the players who will attend, should speak out against this law. They should speak out now, they should speak out at pre-Olympic camps, and they should speak out at the Winter Olympics.

The good news is that this is already happening. While some like Henrik Lundqvist have declined to comment about it when asked, others are showing more courage and doing the right thing:

I don't think Zetterberg and Hedman will be the last NHL-ers to speak up, nor should they be.

This middle ground is a position supported by advocates like You Can Play's Burke, who believes that this approach will be far more effective than a boycott:

"But if we go, and then we have athletes and people talking about this on a daily basis for three straight weeks, it's way more valuable to the LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) community."

Professional hockey has been a trailblazer when it comes to speaking out for the rights of all - regardless of sexual orientation - I have the utmost faith that the league, the teams and the players will continue to speak out - especially considering how high the stakes are.

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