Anders Nilsson speaks out on equality problems in hockey during Swedish campaign
A handful of NHL goaltenders have become champions of incredible causes during their tenures in the league, and that includes the equality and inclusion campaign, You Can Play.
The biggest name that has gotten involved in the You Can Play initiative has been 2018 Stanley Cup champion Braden Holtby, who made waves when he commissioned a special You Can Play mask to wear during the team’s Hockey Is For Everyone campaign.
A name that’s maybe gone a little under the radar with their inclusionary efforts has been Vancouver Canucks backup Anders Nilsson. With just 105 career NHL games played between 2011 and now, he’s not one of the league’s household names—and although he’s had a Pride flag on the back of his mask for a few years now, he hasn’t gotten quite the recognition that Holtby has.
With his candid interview for Swedish news outlet Aftonbladet this week, though, that may change.
With a well-crafted multimedia presentation included in the piece, the Nilsson interview was put together by Aftonbladet writer and producer Frida Söderlund at the start of August.
It talks a little bit about the fact that Nilsson has kept the Pride flag as a staple of his mask since his time with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2016-17 season. “I have friends who are gay in both Sweden and the United States, and some do not even even dare to tell their families. So I felt the least I could do to support them is to put a rainbow flag on my helmet,” he explained in the piece.
That was already a line he’d given in interviews about his masks, though. Where his interview with Söderlund really stood out was in how he revealed his thoughts on why a player in the NHL hasn’t already come out.
According to statistics, there are almost certainly gay players currently skating in the NHL; based on worldwide percentages, it seems like an impossibility that this isn’t true.
For Nilsson, though, it’s not that clear-cut—and he doesn’t hold back when he explains why.
“It is said [statistically] that there should be 3-4 on each team who are homosexuals,” he told Aftonbladet. “But no, definitely not.”
“They have stopped when they were children,” he theorized.
“They have not dared to continue playing.”
Sports have seen a growing shift in the level of inclusion seen in the locker room, on the fields, courts, rinks, and pitches, and even in fan acceptance. Robbie Rogers and Collin Martin have both come out as gay in professional soccer, with the latter doing so via a well-received Twitter statement just this past month. Former NFL o-line tackle Ryan O’Callaghan came out a few years ago, albeit following his own retirement, and gained tremendous support.
The NHL has yet to see a player come out though. Only two cisgendered male hockey players are listed as LGBT on Wikipedia: both are now dead, one from a stabbing over his sexuality.
It’s not even just about the hostile attitudes, though, said Nilsson. For many, the slurs used in locker rooms and on the ice aren’t being done in a malicious way; they aren’t trying to attack people who actually are gay when they ask other players jokingly if “they’re gay” when they do something stupid. To him, it was done for years without thinking; the same boys who say these things in the locker room aren’t going to then go out and beat someone for who they choose to love.
But that doesn’t excuse it, he reflects, and it doesn’t change what it likely meant for the players who actually are gay.
“Did you then, as a young player, consider what it meant to ‘be a gay’? That there could actually be someone in the locker room who was?”
He gives some promising advice to young players who may be struggling with this very issue, along with more thoughts on how the community loses out when they even unintentionally push players away out of bigotry.
In one of the few remaining pro sports that has yet to see a male player openly come out, though, what Nilsson says is well worth the read—and hopefully, will inspire other players to be even close to as candid as he is throughout the interview.