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Movie to Feature Gay NHL Hockey Player

Toronto- The appearance of the first gay Toronto Maple Leaf will be groundbreaking, even if it is only in celluloid.

Actor Tom Cavanaugh plays a gay ex-Leaf in a comedy film Breakfast With Scot currently being shot in the GTA and Hamilton. He’s one-half of a homosexual couple – his partner is the team lawyer – whose lives are turned upside down after becoming guardians of Scot, “a budding queen of an 11-year-old boy,” according to the storyline.

What makes this movie even more unique is that the NHL and the Maple Leafs – part of a sport where no player has ever come out of the closet – have given the filmmakers their blessing to use their logos and uniforms. The Leafs have even agreed to let them do some filming with them at the end of a practice next month.

Cavanaugh, a huge hockey fan who was born in Ottawa, admits to being shocked they got the go-ahead from the league and Leaf brass. He vividly recalls his first thought when he read the script a year ago and saw in the opening scene that his character, Eric McNally, was a Maple Leaf.

“I never in a million years thought when we finally went to shooting we’d be donning Leaf sweaters,” Cavanaugh said yesterday. “I thought it’d be that thing where it’s the Toronto Razorbacks or whatever. There’s something instant to the viewer when you put on a Leafs jersey or any Original Six jersey.

“It’s harder to tell the story asking the public to remember this is supposed to be the NHL, even though we have to call it the NHA. You have to give full credit to the NHL and the Leafs for signing on. It also shows the possibility for if someone were to come out, perhaps it wouldn’t be as big a deal as we think.”

That remains to be seen, of course.

Leafs general manager John Ferguson, for his part, said it wasn’t hard for them to give the project the go-ahead after it got the green light from the NHL, which had screened the script.

“On our end, we’re certainly not trying to make a statement,” said Ferguson. “We agreed to host them and we’re comfortable with it.”

Don Cherry, on the other hand, may not be quite as comfortable.

“I know that Gary Bettman wanted a kinder and gentler league, but this is too much,” a laughing Cherry told the Star’s Chris Zelkovich.

Olympic swim champion Mark Tewksbury, a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Athletics Foundation, said pro hockey has yet to be put to the acid test.

“It would be interesting to see how they would react if it was non-fiction,” said Tewksbury, a Calgary native. “I think it’s really great that they are supporting it. I know it’s an iconic team, but I think it makes sense this is happening in Canada because we’ve been far ahead on these issues. The Montreal Canadiens would also probably have agreed. Calgary Flames, I’m not so sure about.”

Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin, past and current Leaf captains, are in favour of the project, which is due in theatres next Christmas.

“Obviously, it’s the real world we live in and I have no issues with it at all,” said Sittler. “To me, those things have come a long way and they should.”

Sundin seemed taken aback at the notion of the movie, but said it was “exciting” for the Leafs to be involved in any kind of movie.

“There’s never been a gay hockey player come out that I know of,” Sundin told the Star’s Kevin McGran. “I’m sure it’s going to be talked about.”

That’s what producer Paul Brown is hoping for, though he’s quick to point out the movie’s goal is to entertain, not be laden with messages.

“It’s all done with situational comedy, like how do you raise this kid when you’re embarrassed to take him to school, and he’s prancing around saying, `Go Panthers,’ when the team’s about to go to a basketball game,” said Brown.

“It’s a very roundabout way of tackling issues. If films become issue driven, the broader audiences for the most part become turned off of them. When you watched Bend It Like Beckham, did it become an issue movie about interracial friendships? To me, it didn’t because it worked on so many levels. It became a movie about two girls on a soccer team. To us, that’s sort of what we’re trying to achieve.”

Eric McNally, the ex-Maple Leaf played by Cavanaugh, doesn’t want anyone to know about his homosexuality, but that begins to change when he becomes a guardian of young Scot, who is wrestling with his own sexuality issues. It forces him to confront what it was like for him growing up, knowing he was gay and playing a sport where it wasn’t talked about and he had to suppress his feelings.

“Sports is almost like the last bastion for that hurdle to be cleared in many ways,” said Cavanaugh. “It’s kind of an unwritten rule in sports circles that it’s just not talked about, it’s just not as accepted as it is in normal society. It’s a strange thing. Hockey is no different.

“One of the most interesting questions to me is how is the media going to handle it if not just a hockey name but a pre-eminent hockey name comes out and says, `I was gay.’ A couple of NFL linemen have come out post-career and said, `Yeah, I was gay,’ but they didn’t make that disclosure during their career because in their words it would have been `suicide.'”


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