Georges Laraque says it's not safe for a gay hockey player to come out of the closet just yet

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Thumbnail image for laraquethepolitico.jpgAfter Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke marched in honor of his late son Brendan in a gay rights parade, it only seemed natural to wonder how long it might take for a professional hockey player to “come out of the closet.” That’s never happened – not even for a retired player – in hockey, according to John MacKinnon of the Edmonton Journal.

MacKinnon asked pugilist-turned-political-activist Georges Laraque if he thought that a player could admit that he’s gay as an active player in the bravado-filled NHL.

In 2010, might there be an athlete out there who could become the NHL’s first openly gay player, a gay Jackie Robinson?

“You can’t compare those situations; they’re totally different,” Laraque said. “When Jackie Robinson played, not everyone on his team was racist. A lot of people admired what he did.

“And that was back in the day when, for me, [racism] was even worse.

“If a gay athlete was to do that, sadly, I don’t think he would be as embraced as Jackie Robinson was. On a team sport, it would be even harder for him. I couldn’t imagine a gay guy that played hockey who would tell his teammates that. There would be so much hell he would have to go through.

“I just know the hockey world, that this is not something people are ready for.”

It seems almost inevitable that someone will become the “gay Jackie Robinson” for the NHL, but I cannot help but agree with Laraque that such a day isn’t in the near future.

That being said, sports and human rights tend to be an odd parfait. In some ways, professional sports often are behind the times but conversely, many great teams integrated long before other parts of society employed minorities. The object was to win games, so the Boston Celtics and other sports teams decided to hire the best talent possible, regardless of skin color.

Sexual preference and ethnicity are two wildly different things, but I still think that the environment will be a lot less hostile for both groups as time goes along. Perhaps the question is: how long will gay athletes need to wait?