New York Rangers forward supports marriage equality

This weekend, the New York Times reported on New York Rangers player Sean Avery and his involvement in the New Yorker for Marriage Equality campaign. Avery has recorded a video for the campaign, becoming the only athlete to do so, and, the Times reports, one of the few active pro athletes to publicly voice support for marriage equality.

Avery, a 31-year-old from Pickering, Ontario, has played nine seasons in the N.H.L. Known as a fashion-conscious, on-ice agitator, he has never been afraid of what others think of him.

“The places I’ve played and lived the longest have been in West Hollywood, Calif., when I played for the L.A. Kings, and when I moved to New York, I lived in Chelsea for the first four years,” Avery said in a phone interview. “I certainly have been surrounded by the gay community. And living in New York and when you live in L.A., you certainly have a lot of gay friends.”

Avery, who lives in the SoHo section of Manhattan and keeps a home in Los Angeles, said some of those friends had wanted to marry, and he saw no reason they should not.

Pro sports remain an unfriendly place for openly gay men. There are no openly gay pro athletes in major American sports. There are very few resources for gay athletes, out or otherwise. “Gay” and “faggot,” as Kobe Bryant demonstrated a few weeks ago, remain slurs to be hurled at men who are considered insufficiently manly or deficient in some other way.

Out pro athletes are hard to find, and so too are active straight athletes who are willing to go on the record supporting LGBT rights. Most athletes wait until they’ve retired – until the stakes are much lower for them – before coming out or, if they’re straight, voicing support around these issues. That this is the case reflects the fear that being openly gay or openly supporting gay rights can damage an athlete’s career. Of course, this fear is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: as long as gay athletes remain in the closet and straight allies stay silent about their beliefs, being out or an ally will remain unusual, the culture of the sport will remain unchanged, and staying in the closet will remain the safest choice.

Which is why it’s great to see Avery step up and publicly support marriage equality like this. But it would seem, based on the Times description of him, that Avery is an out-there kind of guy – pretty outspoken, a bit outrageous, and utterly unconcerned about what people think of him. Which is awesome (would that we could all be that way!), but it does serve to reinforce the sense that advocating equality is only for the bold and the brave.

And in many ways, it is. With athletic culture and definitions of ideal masculinity being what they currently are, what Avery did takes real courage. And while I’m glad he did it, I look forward to the day when openly supporting gay marriage rights isn’t a gutsy move, but good common sense, and a given. To that end, I hope more athletes – and not just the out-there ones, either – will follow his lead, and soon.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • nazza

    Some years ago, but really not all that long ago, a baseball player noted that gay players shouldn’t be openly out because people would throw at their heads. Ice hockey is a brutal sport, and I can see homophobic players being targeted in similar fashion.

    It would be wonderful if this were not so, but if I were a professional athlete, I’d think long and hard about being openly out. Still, someone’s got to make that first step.

  • Tracy

    Eeee.. your comment “that Avery is an out-there kind of guy – pretty outspoken, a bit outrageous, and utterly unconcerned about what people think of him. Which is awesome”…makes me think you dont know about this:

    Avery is the same guy that made a misogynist comment about Elisha Cuthbert, an ex-girlfriend whom had started dating another NHL player, Dion Phaneuf. Before a game he made a completely out of no where comment in the locker room that took everyone off guard: “I just want to comment on how it’s become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds.”

    Perhaps making this comment about marriage equality is his attempt to boost his reputation.

  • James

    But it would seem, based on the Times description of him, that Avery is an out-there kind of guy – pretty outspoken, a bit outrageous, and utterly unconcerned about what people think of him.

    As a hockey fan who’s not a Rangers fan, let me just say that that’s a very charitable way of putting it. Avery is what’s known in hockey as a “pest”—a smaller player whose job it is to get under the opposing team’s skin by whatever means necessary (cheap shots when the ref isn’t watching, trash-talking, basically anything he can get away with) in order to get their opponents to rough him or instigate a fight (thus drawing a penalty and getting Avery’s team a power play). Avery’s one of the more-hated figures in the NHL for anyone who’s not a fan of his team (and, given that he sometimes makes some seriously boneheaded on-ice decisions, sometimes for people who are fans of his team). He’s booed mercilessly at just about every arena in the NHL other than Madison Square Garden (his home ice).

    Don’t get me wrong, though; I totally applaud this, and hope that more players will follow Avery’s brave example in being totally supportive of his LGBT brothers and sisters. Hockey, it seems, is a bit more advanced than most other professional men’s sports in this regard, as Chicago defenseman Brent Sopel took the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Pride parade—with the explicit blessing of the his team, who had just won the Cup, and the implicit blessing of the NHL. (Brendan Burke, son of a prominent GM who was playing college hockey at Miami (OH), came out in 2009 to wide support from the press, fans, and his own famous father, but tragically died in a car accident driving in the snow in Indiana last February, so Sopel and his family carried the Cup in Burke’s honor.)

    Having Sean Avery, who’s famous for his on-ice antics as well as for being a bit of a jerk off the ice (Tracy above mentioned his comments about his ex-girlfriend), publicly supporting equal marriage (after indicating last year that he’d hypothetically stand next to a teammate in the locker room as the teammate came out, in order to provide support), is significant… his not being the most sympathetic figure in the league I think helps the cause, as he’s not all that concerned about looking like a “nice guy” to the fans.

    (That doesn’t mean I’m not going to boo him next time the Rangers visit DC, if I’m fortunate enough to get tickets :-) As a hockey fan, I reserve the right to mercilessly boo the opposing team’s pest, even if he acts like Mother Teresa when he leaves the arena.)

  • Steven Olson

    Tracy and James beat me to talking about what kind of a jerk Sean Avery is. As well as the sloppy seconds comment last year, a few years back there was an incident where he allegedly uttered racial slurs towards a black player during an on ice altercation. I am glad someone in hockey has supported marriage equality, but I wish it was someone else!

    To correct James, Brendan Burke was not a player at Miami (OH), but a team manager. Still a wonderful story and very tragic that he passed away. The NHL certainly has its problems when it comes to acceptance of homosexuality, but there are some people doing good things.

    That is a wonderful show that was made about Brendan Burke and I would recommend it as an excellent show to spend 45 minutes watching! It also talks about homosexuality in pro sports in general, not just hockey.

    • James

      Oops… for some reason I had it in my head that he’d been a player. Thanks for the correction.

  • socialcnstrct

    I’m glad people have been quick to point out that Avery is not exactly great model for tolerance. This is also a player who has had trouble finding a team willing to take him due to his behaviour on and of the ice. He has a tendency of saying things purely for their shock value, although I am hopeful that in this case, he is being honest.

    However, speaking of the NHL and examples of promoting of GLBT rights, in 2007, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the NHL gave a film maker permission to use real teams in making a fictional film about a gay former hockey player who stayed in the closet because of homophobia

    • Steven Olson

      Thanks for reminding me about that movie. I remember hearing about it years ago, but without seeing it, it had slipped my mind. But I am going to get my hands on it to watch it.

      Also, some idiot agent has gone out criticizing Avery for his stand on marriage equality. ( I will be very happy if this agent and/or his agency loses clients because of this. Though I won’t be holding my breath.

  • Ele

    There an intersting article on the about some of the responses to Avery’s comments.

    An NHL player agent named Reynolds condemned Avery’s pro-same-sex marriage comments, and most of the response, especially in Canada has been to condemn Reynolds for ignorance.