It’s been more than a month since the Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup in four years. They paraded through downtown Chicago, hoisted the Cup in Grant Park, as beaming Blackhawks fans booed Governor Pat Quinn and chanted, “Detroit Sucks,” to any Blackhawks sweater clad television reporter that would listen.
There was one question that sports reporters kept asking throughout the festivities: “Is 2013 better than 2010?”
In the grand scheme of things, which is better: a comeback with less than two minutes left, or the end of a 49-year drought?
I had to look off the ice for that answer.
Chicago’s Pride Parade was on the Sunday after the Blackhawks Parade, but unlike 2010, Lord Stanley’s Cup didn’t make an appearance at the Pride Parade. Perhaps the Cup was still recovering from an evening wasted in Margaritaville with Jimmy Buffett and Patrick Kane.
It was a surprise and disappointment that the Stanley Cup didn’t make an encore appearance at what has become a venerable Chicago institution. The confluence of events last month seemed almost too great to ignore, but apparently, it was. With the victories on the ice and the steps of America’s highest court, the Stanley Cup skipped the glitter, and only managed to get covered in confetti.
At a moment when the entire country is moving toward a more accepting view of gay rights, the Blackhawks managed to skate a few strides backwards from where they were in 2010, and from being a team for all Chicagoans.
The media’s coverage of hockey in Chicago has faded with a pension crisis, the opening of Bears training camp, and baseball’s trade deadline. However, for one final weekend this summer, the all-seeing eye of the Chicago media was trained on the Blackhawks, a reminder of the missed opportunity.
Certainly, NBA free agent Jason Collins decision to come out in an essay in Sports Illustrated captured the headlines for a few days, but because he wasn’t playing on or celebrating with a playoff bound team, his courageous story vanished against the backdrop of the NBA playoffs. But the sporting world’s most public victory lap, as the Chicago media called the Blackhawks’ summer with the Cup, had a chance to make an added impact.
Hockey is the toughest sport out there. It might be surprising then, to some people, that hockey is making the most progressive moves towards inclusion for the LGBT community. The National Hockey League’s transformation on gay rights has come about as quickly as the Blackhawks took the lead in Game 6. In April, the NHL announced a partnership with You Can Play Project, in an effort to make the league friendlier to gay athletes. As early as 2011, one of hockey’s biggest bruisers, Sean Avery, recorded an ad to express his support for the push to legalize gay marriage in New York state. In fact, an announcement from a hockey player would also have an even more profound impact globally, particularly when Russia is stepping backwards on gay rights. The National Hockey League boasts the largest spread of international athletes.
You can even see progress in more subtle ways. Even after a Stanley Cup Final filled with scuffles, brawls, and bloody noses, the post-series handshake is no longer merely a stern handshake; it’s become a pat on the back and a hug. Even this gradual evolution of the handshake could be a lifesaver for adolescent athletes, both straight and gay, dealing with torment from their teammates over perceptions of sexual orientation. Now the most public display of affection and friendship in sports shows that two male athletes can give each other hugs without the stigma of “being gay.” That could be enough to make a difference in the life of an adolescent who’s been tormented at school.
With any luck, this acceptance could trickle down to sports leagues across the city.