Finnish hockey player comes out as gay ahead of landmark inclusive Pride-themed showdown
Former Finnish elite-level ice-hockey player Janne Puhakka came out as gay just days before two of the country’s top teams played in a Pride-themed hockey match.
Puhakka came out as gay in an interview last week with Helsingin Sanomat because he believes that LGBT+ issues are still taboo in hockey. He also expressed regret that he did not come out while still playing in the Elite League.
“I wasn’t good enough to have complete security in my job,” Puhakka explained. “That brought uncertainty. I’m sure other players fear the issue because of their jobs as well.”
Just days after Puhakka came out as gay, elite ice-hockey teams Ilves and TPS faced off against each other in a Pride-themed match to promote LGBT+ acceptance in sport. The match – which took place on Saturday – saw players don rainbow colours.
Former Finnish ice-hockey player Janne Puhakka wants to break stigma by coming out as gay.
The 24-year-old Puhakka said it would be “ideal” if he didn’t have to talk publicly about being gay – but said that stigma can only be broken by open dialogue.
“It would be ideal if I didn’t have to talk about this,” Puhakka said. “But as long as people are silent on the subject, we must speak up.
“The hockey world is somehow lagging behind. We wouldn’t have to go through all this if everyone could be themselves in the locker room.
When someone shares their own life deeper than just surface level, it strengthens the team.
“I’m glad if even one junior or professional player finds something positive in this interview,” he continued.
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Puhakka has played professional hockey for teams including Espoo Blue and Espoo United in Finland. He is the first ice-hockey player in the country to come out as gay.
He started playing hockey when he was just six years old and gained a place on the national youth team when he was 16, at which point he started to realise that he was gay.
Puhakka used to laugh off homophobic jokes in the locker room.
When Pukakka was 20-years-old, he became bothered that he was unable to be openly gay with his teammates.
He also revealed that he used to laugh off homophobic jokes told in locker rooms and on the players’ bench.
Puhakka later came out to his team’s captain and to a few of his teammates – but he continued to keep his relationship a secret from the wider team. He became increasingly worried about the possibility of running into his teammates while out with his boyfriend.
The hockey player also revealed that he was pushed even further into the closet by Finnish member of parliament Sinuhe Wallinheimo, who said in 2014: “It’d be a good idea for a gay player to hide his homo in the booth so as not to offend team chemistry and turn [sentiments] against the team,” Outsports reports.
Puhakka rejected this idea, noting: “When someone shares their own life deeper than just surface level, it strengthens the team.”