The Chicago Blackhawks are bringing the Stanley Cup to Chicago's gay Pride Parade this Sunday for all the right reasons.
When we first reported on the Chicago Gay Hockey Association's request to have the Blackhawks represented in this year's parade, we noted that their timing was perfect.
The Blackhawks took pride in bringing the city together during their quest for the Cup, cutting across demographics and eventually partying with 2 million Chicagoans at their championship rally. They also took pride in sparking a revival for hockey in the Windy City, and grassroots organizations like the CGHA are essential to the expansion of the fan base and the growth of the sport.
But above all, it's been a progressive year for hockey and tolerance. The late Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke who died tragically in an auto accident earlier this year, shared his story of coming out in the hockey world and received an outpouring of support.
"When Brendan came out, Brian stood by him, and his whole family stood by him, like every family should," said Sopel. "We teach our kids about accepting everybody. Tolerate everybody, to understand where everyone is coming from."
In that spirit of tolerance, there could be some calculated image rehab for the Blackhawks here as well.
The words "is gay" were mockingly written by the name of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger(notes) in the Blackhawks' locker room during their Cup celebration. That's after the Chicago Tribune put Pronger in a skirt and called him "Chrissy" in a giveaway poster. But the CGHA and other gay hockey players didn't feel the poster was homophobic.
"For the 'Hawks, there might have been a little bit of motivation [for image rehab]. We actually invited them before that story broke," said CGHA president Andrew Sobotka.
The Sun-Times, which broke the parade story Tuesday morning, reports that Chicago Blackhawks president John McDonough made a special arrangement for the Cup to be flown back from Los Angeles, site of the NHL draft, 15 hours earlier than anticipated so it can appear in the Pride Parade. "It's important for the city and important for the franchise," he told the paper.
(Please note that McDonough's former employer, the Chicago Cubs, will also break a barrier by having a float in the parade for the first time. Peer pressure? "It definitely helped," said Sobotka. "Having the Cubs there may have opened the 'Hawks eyes a little bit.")
Sobotka said last week that his organization, founded in 2002 and about 40 players strong, hoped for a player and the Cup at the parade but was "humble enough to take what we can get." What they got was what they asked for: One of Chicago's hockey heroes and hockey's Holy Grail, marching (or rollerblading) alongside the Chicago Gay Hockey Association.
And really: Isn't a gay Pride Parade an obvious venue for professional sports' most ostentatious trophy? Especially, considering the parade's legacy, as a beverage container?