In June, Russia’s parliament passed a law banning “gay propaganda,” and some activists suggested boycotting the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics in response. But that idea hasn’t caught on, with those making the case against it arguing that pro-LGBT athletes and fans would have more influence by participating in the Games while using them as an opportunity to speak out against the Russian laws.
Meanwhile, just last week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced his decision to allow the league’s players to participate in the upcoming Olympics. This means many of the most famous athletes in Sochi will be hockey players. And that’s noteworthy because the NHL and the NHL players’ union are the professional athletic organizations most closely affiliated with You Can Play, an advocacy group dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports.
At the crossroad of all this is the Vancouver Canucks’ Ryan Kesler. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Michigan native was tied with Patrick Kane for the second most ice time among U.S. forwards, helping Team USA advance to the gold medal game, where he scored a goal. He’s a lock for the 2014 team if he can stay healthy. He also happens to be a vocal supporter of gay rights, having been specifically picked by You Can Play co-founder Patrick Burke to be a part of the campaign.
The reason he was picked is simple: Kesler is straight, he’s macho, and he’s respected by nearly everyone in the league. So when he got behind the You Can Play campaign, it made a difference. So now the question becomes, can he do it again in Sochi? Does he even want to? We’ve put in requests for comment with Kesler’s agent, the Canucks, and to Kesler himself via Twitter, and will update this post when and if we receive a response.