Bruins' Shawn Thornton (photo credit: Steve Babineau)
In an exclusive interview, the bruising six-foot-two-inch, 217-pound left winger tells what it might be like if one of his fellow hockey players came out
By David Zimmerman
Shawn Thornton loves Boston.
Boston loves Shawn Thornton.
That has been the case since the day Thornton arrived in town to play for our Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
Thornton, 34, is a bruising six-foot-two-inch, 217-pound, left winger for the Bruins who throws punches as hard as his slap shot. In fact, more than a few unfortunate opponents would argue that the punches are actually much harder. He is known as the team’s ‘enforcer,’ the player assigned to protect his teammates and often fights to do so.
You wouldn’t necessarily think that Thornton, the enforcer from a “blue collar, industrial town about 20 minutes outside of Toronto” would be first in line for a sit-down with an LGBT publication like Boston Spirit. You would be wrong. Thornton met with Boston Spirit recently for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
Boston Spirit: What do you think would happen if one of your teammates announced he was gay?
Shawn Thornton: Honestly, my teammates are like family so there would be support. I would personally [support] him and I’m pretty sure everyone in our locker room would. We’ve got a pretty good bunch of guys. I don’t think there would be any issues.
BS: You played for several teams and have been in a bunch of different locker rooms. Would it be the same on other teams as well?
ST: I would like to think that everyone would handle it fine. I don’t know if that’s the case. I’ve only been in three different [professional] organizations. I would hope that in this day and age that everyone would treat it the same.
BS: Have you ever had a gay teammate?
ST: I don’t know.
BS: If a player did come out, would he get targeted more on the ice?
ST: It depends. There are some things said out there [during games] that probably shouldn’t be said, but the league is very good at clamping down on players that say anything derogatory. I’m not going to pretend that out of 740 guys [the total number of players in the NHL] that you aren’t going to find someone who says something inappropriate but I think, for the most part, it would be fine. I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself it wouldn’t be an issue.
BS: Tell me about this particular Bruins team. You are in a state that has legalized same-sex marriage and is seen as a pretty liberal, accepting place. Do the players on this team reflect the environment here?
ST: We’re family in here. We’re around each other more than our own families so you create a certain bond and everyone supports each other in whatever they are doing. That’s definitely the case in this locker room. I have known all of these guys for a long time. All that we went through last year [the Bruins won the Stanley Cup as league champions] and being around each other until mid-June, I know this room would be unbelievable.
BS: The NHL has done a very good job reaching out to the LGBT community, especially with their recent ‘You Can Play’ public service announcements [created by Massachusetts-native Patrick Burke], and the players seem to have embraced the cause as well. Some other sports have not been so supportive, what is it about NHL players that sets them apart?
ST: The hockey culture is that we’re just a bunch of average guys that hang around each other a lot, and if anyone steps out of line you’ve got 19 other guys in the locker room that will bring him back into line. I think that helps create the atmosphere we have.
BS: And what about you, have you always been supportive of the LGBT community?
ST: My hometown is a very blue collar, industrial place. There isn’t much of a [gay] community there, but 20 minutes down the road was Toronto. So while I didn’t really grow up with a huge gay community there was one close by and it’s never been an issue with me.
BS: Are you concerned at all about what some people might think seeing you speaking about this topic?
ST: Whatever, I think I can defend myself (laughing).
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