TSN documentary on homophobia in sports shows NHL making great & positive strides

A new TSN documentary on homophobia in pro sports casts Kings players Dustin Brown, Ben Scrivens and many more former and current NHL players as leaders in the fight for acceptance, understanding and equality. The game should be proud of them for doing so.

In an April, 2012 conversation with You Can Play Project founder Patrick Burke, he confidently predicted an NHL player would come out as gay within two years. I wasn’t skeptical in the sense that I thought it wouldn’t ever happen, but I did wonder if his projected timeline was somewhat optimistic.

That said, after seeing “ReOrientation”, TSN’s new documentary on homosexuality in professional sports, I understand why Burke arrived at that conclusion.

The three-part series – airing Jan. 15-17 on the Canadian sports broadcasting network, and available on its website and YouTube channel shortly thereafter, is a tremendous glimpse into the root causes, perpetration and devastating effects of casual and strident homophobia in pro leagues. TSN analyst and former NHLer Aaron Ward and producer Mike Farrell have compiled a stirring, honest collection of interviews with athletes and executives across the sporting spectrum and everyone who appears on camera – including, among others, Burke, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and L.A. Kings players Dustin Brown and Ben Scrivens – deserves an enormous amount of credit for participating and, more importantly, for speaking out in a positive manner.

Ward himself is among the people who pull back the curtain on their dressing room experiences to illustrate how the mentality toward gay athletes in team sports is changing more rapidly than most people could have hoped for. He will take a small amount of heat from the usual bigots and closed-minded types for doing this, but none of it will stick in the long term, because history clearly is on his side.

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And that’s what’s most heartening about “ReOrientation” – it is another indication of a trip down a road we as a society aren’t turning back from. When you see and hear Brown and Scrivens discuss their commitment to creating a working environment in which someone of any sexual orientation can feel comfortable being themselves, you realize how far these players already have come and you know it’s only going to be a matter of time before the last few obstacles to equality and acceptance disintegrate altogether. Identical conversations and conversions are happening just as rapidly in the larger community, so it only makes sense they are taking place here.

The best part of watching the documentary is the sense of empathy that permeates it. The results-oriented sports industry contains a good degree of bottom-line, results-related coldness, but as “ReOrientation” shows, the people who comprise the industry are determined to be fundamentally decent human beings.

Makes a guy proud to report on them – and confident that Patrick Burke was right to be so optimistic nearly two years ago.