Hockey Bad Boy Becomes Gay Rights Poster Child (VIDEO)

Jeanne Sager

Sean Avery New York RangersThe Human Rights Campaign has no shortage of big names on its side. Singer Pink. The Good Wife star Julianna Margulies. New York District Attorney, er, Law & Order star Sam Waterston. So why has the latest HRC advertisement from a celebrity advocating equal marriage rights for same sex couples bothered to pull in New York Rangers' left wing Sean Avery, a name largely unknown outside of the sports world?

The HRC's latest "get" from the celebrity world isn't an A-lister but one of the Rangers' enforcers, a hockey bad boy at times dubbed the "most hated" player in the NHL. Together, the words are supposed to call to mind the meatheads throwing slushies on the geeks on Fox's Glee, not an open-minded, touchy feely supporter of gay rights.

If you thought it, you can stop kicking yourself. It's a problem of the sports world as much as it is society as a whole. As The New York Times reported, "No active male player in a major American team sport has declared his homosexuality, and homosexual slurs remain in use to insult opponents and officials." Avery becomes the first professional athlete in New York to take such a political stance on the issue, one of the first in the nation.

The question remains why Avery? Simple answer: because he believes in equal rights. Of course. He has gay friends. When asked once about whether he'd support a gay player in the NHL, he said openly that that player should pick up the phone and call him -- he'd support him every step of the way.

But this isn't so much a question of why he did it as why Avery at all? Sean Avery is the man pegged to speak for the sports world on gay rights because he's the antithesis of the stereotypical gay man -- the opposite of some of the myths about homosexuality that America still clings to with both hands. He's a man who depends on his brute strength and a violence on the ice that has forced the NHL to make rule changes to protect other players from him. Nothing mamby pamby about Sean Avery. He's a guy whose dating record with Hollywood starlets like Elisha Cuthbert precedes him, along with his sometimes inappropriate comments about the women he's left behind on his path. No question which team he plays for off the ice. 

He's the sort of guy who can work as a Vogue intern without anyone raising a homophobic eyebrow. He can certainly maintain his heterosexuality while presenting a reasonable argument on behalf of the homosexuals of the world:

In short, Avery is a man able to weather the storm. He's a man used to being insulted by fans, who doesn't let it shake him. And in a world where a man suggesting men should marry draws questions about his own sexuality rather than the more obvious "oh, yeah, that sounds like a good idea" (think I'm over-reaching? Look at what happened to the two Toronto Raptors players who dared hold hands), Avery is a man unlikely to raise that question.

Sean Avery is the right man to break the barrier down for the sports world because he takes the focus off "is he or isn't he" and puts it where it belongs -- on the issue of equal rights for the men and women of America, gay or straight. And maybe, just maybe, the more people like Avery are willing to take their stance public, the more likely the closeted gays and lesbians of American athletics will be to feel safe in a locker room or on the ice.

What do you think of the HRC's choice? Was Sean Avery the right guy to break the ice on this topic?


Image via YouTube

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