UPDATED: Read this post in light of new info.
One of the biggest remaining glass ceilings in professional sports may be coming down this week if rumors out of Montreal are to be believed.
Gay community blog Queerty is reporting that a NHL player will come out this week as the first openly gay athlete in the Big 4 North American professional sports leagues. The rumored player is defenseman Josh Gorges of the Montreal Canadians. The 7-year veteran has racked up 12 goals, 67 assists, and 235 penalty minutes for the Montreal Canadians and San Jose Sharks.
From Twitter via NHL Insights.
Just a month ago at the Super Bowl media day, the issue of openly gay NFL players became a lightning rod after comments by San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver (see below). Culliver's comments, were widely viewed as characteristic of the ultra-macho culture that dominates professional sports. Just this week at the NFL combine, ESPN reported that teams were asking Manti Te'o and other prospective draftees if they were "hetro or gay."
While it may be surprising to some that the NHL would be the first sport with an openly gay professional athlete it makes sense when you consider that Canada has long been ahead of the United States on issues of gay marriage. On July 20. 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world - and first in North America - to legalize gay marriage nationwide.
Quebec, the French speaking province where Montreal is located, has allowed gay marriage since March 19, 2004. A 2012 poll by Forum Research showed that 66.4% of Canadians approved of legalized same-sex marriage, while only 33.6% were opposed. Notably, support for same-sex marriage is highest in liberal Quebec where 72% of residents are in favor of gay marriage.
As far as the United States goes, a February 6-10 CBS News Poll shows that 54% of Americans support same-sex marriage while 46% oppose. The United States still has a long way to go until legalized same-sex marriage becomes a reality nationwide. A massive opinion gap exists between the socially conservative 'Red' and socially liberal 'Blue' states. When you consider that a majority of North American professional athletes come from the South (especially in the NFL and MLB) it is no wonder that these leagues are lagging behind their largely Canadian and European counterparts.
Josh Gorges could be remembered as a trailblazer in the mold of Jackie Robinson if his announcement leads to other professional athletes feeling comfortable being open with their sexual orientation. For that he deserves all of our applause, no matter what your personal feelings are on the issue.