When Russia installed an anti-gay law that bans “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” in June, it immediately made the 2014 Sochi Olympics more than demonstration of sport but a political flashpoint for equality and human rights.
According to the legislation, penalties from fines to jail time await anyone who is found to be promoting homosexuality to minors. There’s been worldwide outrage over the law, and in recent weeks several NHLers have voiced their disapproval.
“As an American who believes in the freedoms that we have and the way we run our society and culture, everyone has their right to participate in sports and live their lifestyle the way that they want. I’m supportive of anyone,” St. Louis Blues center David Backes said at U.S. Olympic orientation camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday.
“I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, purple, gold, as long as you’re committed to the team aspect and the way that we’re playing you’re always welcome on my team,” Backes said. “We don’t have to agree with everything they do and they don’t have to agree with everything we do. We’ve got our views and we’ll see how that all pans out.”
Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise shared that stance. “You always hear with the NHL and USA Hockey that everyone’s got the right to play,” he said. “I don’t discriminate, I don’t believe in that.”
In April, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced a partnership with the You Can Play Project, which works to foster equality, respect and safety of all athletes regardless of sexual orientation. Many players, including former Capitals forward Matt Hendricks, have become involved in the program.
On the opening day of Canada’s Olympic orientation camp Sunday in Calgary, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby spoke out against Russia’s law.
“For me, growing up in Canada, my view has always been that way,” Crosby told reporters, via ESPN. “I think that everyone has an equal right to play and I think we’ve been supportive of that. With the Olympics and the controversy around that I think those decisions and those laws aren’t necessarily something that I agree with personally … their laws and their views.”
USA Hockey Director of Player Personnel Brian Burke, whose late son, Brendan, came out in 2009, is an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights and serves on the advisory board of the You Can Play Project that his other son, Patrick, founded.
Burke declined to comment on the Russian legislation Monday but did address the law in an interview with TSN last week. He doesn’t support boycotting the 2014 Olympics but suggested any athlete who does oppose Russia’s law make it known there.
“If you really want to make a difference, when you pack your stuff, pack a rainbow pen,” Burke told TSN. “Give an interview over there that says you’re pro-gay and that you support the LGBT community. That’s what I’m going to do.”
No Russian NHL player has spoken out against the legislation. On Monday, Capitals captain and Olympic ambassador Alex Ovechkin declined to address the issue, stating, “Our job is to play. I’d rather speak about that,” according to a translation of a Sports.ru interview by Russian Machine.