2012 Hero: The Toronto Marlies
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2012 Hero: The Toronto Marlies

Nominated for: standing up for athletes of all orientations.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

In 2012, Toronto Blue Jays player Yunel Escobar was suspended after he wore eyeblack with a homophobic slur written in it. Two weeks after that, Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland claimed that his Twitter account was “hacked” after he called one of his hecklers a fag. In 2012, the NBA fined Amar’e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks $50,000 for doing the same thing (although Stoudemire at least had the good grace to admit he wasn’t “hacked”). In 2012, New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes said he would “scream” if he found a homosexual in his bathtub. In 2012, New Jersey Devils winger Cam Janssen said “if he’s sucking cock, he’s getting his ass kicked.” In 2012, a college football player was kicked off his team for kissing his boyfriend in public. In 2012, three Colorado State football players beat the hell out of some freshman while shouting homophobic slurs at them.

That was unfortunately by no means an exhaustive list of homophobic events in sports over the last year. We could have kept going—and going and going—because professional and collegiate sports are the last places in society where blatant homophobia is still tolerated or even encouraged. When a player gets caught using a slur, they’re fined or punished, most of the time at a level that is at best a slap on the wrist, because pro sports has a culture of homophobia that, while changing, still has a long way to go before we reach anything like true acceptance of a diversity of sexual orientations.

This is why the Toronto Marlies this year need to be celebrated for doing their part to make a difference. Merely punishing those who utter slurs or attack gay people isn’t enough: it’s the Band-Aid method of dealing with the problem. What we need is to promote a culture of inclusiveness: not only to make it clear that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated, but also that accepting equality is a positive in and of itself. When the Toronto Marlies pledged to make their locker room a “place of unity” and to refuse to judge players by their sexual orientation, they made a difference, and one that is still embarrassingly rare in professional sports.

Maybe not a big difference—the Marlies are still only one small minor-league hockey team, after all. But every mountain gets worn down eventually. You just need to start dripping water on it, and somebody has to be the first drop. Good on the Marlies for not waiting on everybody else.

See the other nominees in the Advocates category:

Cheri DiNovo

Championing trans rights.
  Brian Burke

Making it his mission to combat homophobia.
  Stephanie Guthrie

Making public space—on and offline—safer for everyone.

  Jude MacDonald and Paul Magder

Holding the mayor to account

Cast Your Ballot