One of the first things that some fans brought up when the NHL and the You Can Play Project announced LGBTQ ambassadors for each of the 30 franchises was how exactly the players would be involved. Putting your name on something is good, but it wasn’t readily apparent how much the players knew about these issues or what they would do to help address them.
Much of the controversy surrounded the Canadiens’ tabbing of Andrew Shaw, who had been suspended earlier in the 2016 playoffs for using a homophobic slur toward a referee, as part of the campaign, which led to lots of quote-giving and discourse on social media that, frankly, is probably not a bad thing for a community that often avoids these topics.
Trevor van Riemsdyk is the LGBTQ ambassador for the Blackhawks, and he’s been taking a lead in the campaign along with his brother James, who is the Maple Leafs’ ambassador. They’ve made a point to support You Can Play over the years, as The Athletic’s David Alter recently wrote in a fantastic feature, and this was the latest opportunity for them to get involved.
“I think we’re both aware of the responsibilities of the role,” Trevor said. “It’s a great program, and it’s awesome to be a part of.”
The Blackhawks are hosting their “Hockey Is For Everyone” night at the United Center as Connor McDavid and the Oilers visit Saturday, so both teams will be wearing rainbow-clad equipment during warmups and local organizations supporting diversity in hockey will be represented in the stands.
Van Riemsdyk tweeted Friday night about his excitement to support the cause, and also spoke with the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus about why he believes an NHL locker room is ready to accept players regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I don’t think it would be an issue,” TVR said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be in some awesome locker rooms, and it’s nothing but fun. Just from my personal experience, I think I could safely say that it’d be accepting. ... You pride yourself on making the locker room a place where everyone wants to come and feels good about being there.”
The defenseman said that he received some educational materials as part of his ambassadorship, but he sees his biggest responsibility as making sure that his teammates are “knowledgeable and understand what was and wasn’t acceptable.” It’s not clear how he’s going about doing that, but at least he seems to grasp the importance of the situation. Lazerus also reports that there will be “some appearances in the community as a public face for the promotion,” which is the kind of outreach the program has seemed to lack at times thus far.
The LGBTQ ambassadors may be a big public relations ploy more than anything, and it’s understandable why that corporate sheen turns off some people. But that shouldn’t stop us from appreciating when a player heeds the message and amplifies it for a bigger audience, which is what TVR has done lately. Hockey may not always be at the forefront in terms of addressing progressive or social issues, but having players willing to speak up and get more involved like the Van Riemsdyk brothers is a step forward.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I think it goes a long way … to have people know that the locker room is a place for everyone, and you’re going to feel included. As long as you’ve got a love for hockey, you’ll be accepted here. So, it’s awesome that they’re taking this initiative and it’s great to be part of a league that’s doing that.”