Line Change: A Hockey Coming Out Story
Hockey isn’t for everyone, despite the slogans and media. That includes the LGBTQ+ community.
For those in the LGBTQ+ community, coming out can often be a scary and challenging moment in life. Brock Weston combined the two, when as an NCAA hockey player at Marian University in 2019, Weston decided to come out to his teammates.
Weston, who played Junior A hockey in Canada’s Western provinces growing up, ended up serving as an assistant captain for his team, and shared Marian University’s student of the year award.
In 2020, we were able to interview Brock for this article series. Here is that interview:
CKSN: Growing up in hockey culture, how did that impact your identity, and your understanding of yourself? In particular, what impact did the derogatory language, toxic masculinity, and issues of homophobia that are systemically tied to hockey have on you?
Weston: Hockey culture has had an immense impact on the development of my character and identity. As I finish playing competitive hockey, I find myself still searching for the next thing that will consume my time and give me drive, focus, a family/friend environment, and where I can escape ‘responsibilities’ in a healthy way.
As for the issues that live within hockey regarding language, toxic masculinity, and homophobia issues, I never felt them personally until much later on. It is difficult to address the toxic masculinity because of its existence in so many facets beyond just hockey. It is a cultural things that, once addressed, will make a shift and the branches of society (i.e. sport, academics, workplace, etc.) will follow suit with appropriate changes. I have mentioned before that once I was out to my team, they did their best to avoid using the language and making me feel uncomfortable. As I grew up, I think that these issues definitely placed a burden on me as I recall first wondering if I maybe wasn’t straight when I was a teenager, but reassuring myself that I couldn’t be a ‘fag’ or any of those terms because I played hockey, I was ‘macho’, I didn’t dress like a feminine guy, etc. These systemic problems likely slowed my own personal discovery about my sexuality, however, hockey itself gave me some of my best friends, some of my best memories, and provided me the opportunity to grow beyond my hometown and experience new things, people, and ideas. Hockey does have some problems, there is no denying it, but with the help of everyone within the sport, people that are accepting and have shown it, hockey is striding forward to become more inclusive and remove the barriers for young athletes.
CKSN: Why did you decide to come out to your teammates at Marian? What made this decision for you necessary?
Weston: I decided to come out to my team because my mental health was failing. I had the pressures to be a team leader, a role model student, and be straight because the assistant captain of an NCAA DIII men’s hockey team couldn’t be gay. It was exhausting. It finally peaked when I had some teammates that had heard rumours and were making subtle, off-handed comments with me around or with my roommate around. It got draining hearing them and ignoring them and knowing I was being watched by everyone so they could confirm or deny these rumours without asking me. I think it ultimately boiled over when some teammates had kind of ‘cornered’ my roommate. He’d known for a year and all of the guys knew we were best friends and were very open with each other. While watching an Green Bay Packer game on the TV, that I was attending front row endzone, some of the guys started making comments about me with my roommate there, prodding him, subtly prying with comments and questions, putting my roommate in a very difficult situation and completely unfair of them to do. So, once I was told this, I decided it wasn’t fair for me to have to live as not myself, it wasn’t fair for me to expect my roommate to wear that burden every day, and it wasn’t fair for the guys to be making comments instead of having the respect to talk to me personally about it.
One night after being at the bar, we had ride home and a couple guys rode with myself and the driver and they were making comments again, it had been happening much more frequently since we had lost out of the season, and I had had enough. I called them out and said I understand what and why you’re saying these things and it’s ridiculous that you think I wouldn’t. It’s bizarre you’ve been corning my roommate instead of asking me and I’m sick and tired of being treated like shit for a rumour. It was a very loud argument and I had reached my breaking point. I threw my phone at the wall, punched my wall, punched a hole in my door, and then broke down…bawling…physically inconsolable. Luckily, I had my roommate and a great friend that lived directly above us there and they helped to comfort me for some time. The next day we discussed it and decided that I couldn’t live like that any longer. Best decision of my life.
CKSN: What did it feel like, or how did things change for you after you came out?
Weston: It felt like a giant weight had been thrown off of me. I was so petrified to do it and once I was into it (reading the speech), I knew it was too far, so I just kept pushing through. I was so relieved, and it honestly felt like I got the opportunity to finally fully exhale. It felt as though I no longer had someone watching me all the time. Things got better. Less comments, less derogatory language from many people I associate with, and countless more meaningful conversations with people who trusted me to be able to understand circumstances and emotions. I think it gave the people around me a chance to realize that I could be a confidant to them and help them through their own issues. I saw our team come closer than ever before; that’s not because of me, that’s because of them being open and accepting, we were finally willing to appreciate each other as individuals.
CKSN: What challenges do you think LGBTQ athletes still face in sport, in particular, what barriers or challenges do you think there are for LGBTQ hockey players?
Weston: Many barriers, ones that are being tackled every day. Anything from hearing derogatory language to physical, emotional, and psychological abuse by parents, coaches, fans, and teammates to everything in between. As I mentioned, the game has come a long way, it has a long way to go, but that doesn’t take away from the strides that it has taken to become more inclusive, acknowledge the inequalities, and become a public front for facing issues regarding inequity, persecution, and racism.
I think some of the hardest barriers that still exist for youth in hockey is the ability to find someone that has demonstrated a willingness to be listening and understanding about something they may not be familiar with, like knowing someone or being gay (or any other orientation). There may be coaches or parents or other members of the organization that are willing to, and would be happy to help, but it is difficult to find opportunities to demonstrate your willingness to be a safe space besides verbalizing it.
Another barrier is the labeling and toxic masculinity. Hockey players are tough. There is no denying that, however, defining tough is where the problems arise. Tough doesn’t mean that you are apathetic, emotionless, and ‘a man’. Tough means you understand boundaries, are willing to listen when you wish you could be talking, stepping into a role that you might not want for the benefit of the team, and being physically capable of handling what the game throws at you.
I see positive steps from hockey, not just for the LGBTQ youth, but for different facets of marginalized people from the game and it brings me joy to see people finding hope in stories like mine.
CKSN: In an ideal world, what steps would you like to see organizations, leagues, and coaches taking to make change?
Weston: I think from the grassroots levels to the professionals there needs to be an address toward language. It gets overlooked, but many people can remember what someone has said verbatim for years; it sticks. Addressing the language in the locker rooms, car rides to and from, and on the ice is an important step.
We could list several systemic changes that need to be made, but I am not a policy maker and don’t claim to be. I think it will come with the hockey community being open to ideas, suggestions, and criticisms, but I also think that it is important for people that are not in the hockey community to respect the game and all that it has created to this point. There are inherently things in the game that may not be equal, as in so many aspects of society, but that does not mean that they were designed, or are being maintained, to continue to purposely marginalize people. It will take policy and practice to help the game move toward a brighter future where everyone can play.
It will be vital for the game to have coaches that are good people, willing to acknowledge the individuality of every player and celebrate it. This will bring pride and connection and comfort to the youth athletes and hopefully help them develop and learn and become better people, as well as hockey players.
Additionally, hockey is sometimes praised for being a community participant, volunteering and being community advocates, but these volunteering opportunities are usually within their own realm. I think it’s important for hockey to go beyond its own confines and work with the LGBTQ youth, showing them the sport, or working with Special Olympics (one of the most amazing times I had volunteering with our university volleyball team), or working with Boys & Girls Club or Big Brothers Big Sisters to give the youth a positive role model, a new game to experiences, and someone to find strength in if they are struggling, unfortunately because many youth lack that person at home.
Line Change is an article series produced by CKSN.ca through the contributions and consultation of various authors and academics, looking at social issues in sport. The series, which aims to open discussion with sports fans, will focus on issues of inequality, and serve as a portion of our anti-oppression education and reporting. Line Change will look at issues related to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, gender inequality, socioeconomic divides, and much more, as they relate to sport and athletics.