Homosexual ice hockey film shatters sports taboo

DIVERSITY: The news that one of Canada's top teams has endorsed a movie that deals with gay issues has enraged some supporters of this most masculine sport


Fri, Dec 22, 2006 - Page 23

In a storyline as much Brokeback Mountain as Slap Shot, the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, one of Canada's iconic teams, has lent its name and logo to a movie whose central character is a gay former hockey player.

The move has raised eyebrows within the normally conservative world of professional sports.

In the 89-year history of the NHL -- the world's most elite ice hockey league with Canadian and US teams, known for nightly brawls between players -- no active player has ever admitted publicly to being a homosexual.

The film, Breakfast with Scot, tells the story of a former Maple Leafs hockey player whose relationship with the team's lawyer is exposed when they become the guardians of a young boy with sexual identity issues of his own.

The movie is based on the 2001 novel by US writer Michael Downing and is produced by Canadian companies Miracle Pictures and Capri Releasing.

What astonished many observers is that the NHL cooperated in getting permission for the film makers to use their official logos and uniforms.

John Lashway, senior vice-president of communications at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the parent company of the Maple Leafs hockey club, said that the team was approached by the NHL and urged to lend their name and logo to the proposal.

"We really didn't want to make a statement about homosexuality one way or another, but we recognize that people have diverse lifestyles," Lashway said.

After reviewing the proposal, MLSE agreed to back the project on its own merits.

"You have to give full credit to the NHL and the Leafs for signing on. It also shows the possibility, for if someone were to come out, perhaps it wouldn't be as big a deal as we think," actor Tom Cavanaugh, who plays the main character, told the Toronto Star newspaper.

"Sports is almost like the last bastion for that hurdle to be cleared in many ways," he added. "It's kind of an unwritten rule in sports circles that it's just not talked about, it's just not as accepted as it is in normal society. It's a strange thing. Hockey is no different."

The release notes for Breakfast with Scot say that the movie explores the issues of homosexuality in professional sports and the reasons behind society's reluctance to accept gay heroes.

Public reaction to the Maple Leafs' decision to cooperate has been split.

"We received several phone calls and e-mails from people who were angry that we had linked the Maple Leafs image with the homosexual lifestyle," Lashway said. "But we have had about the same number of reactions from people who have applauded the courage of our decision."

Don Cherry, a flamboyant and hugely popular hockey coach-turned-commentator, whose politically incorrect rants are a staple in the "Coach's Corner" segment of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Saturday night hockey broadcasts, couldn't keep his hands off this story either.

"I know [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman wanted a kindlier and gentler league, but this is too much," he told the Toronto Star.

One evangelical Christian group, the Canada Family Action Coalition, responded to the news with anger, calling for a boycott of MLSE.