Finland’s Janne Puhakka has come out as gay.
To spotlight this past Saturday’s Pride-themed game between the Ilves and TPS teams, former Finnish player Puhakka decided to come out. According to Outsports, Puhakka is the first Finnish ice-hockey player to come out as gay. And according to Puhakka, he chose to do so out of social responsibility. Puhakka “believes that LGBT+ issues are still taboo in hockey,” so he hopes to help defuse that situation.
That said, Puhakka expressed regret at not coming out sooner.
“I wasn’t good enough to have complete security in my job,” he explained. “That brought uncertainty. I’m sure other players fear the issue because of their jobs as well.”
It wasn’t that Puhakka was only closeted to the world. He was closeted to his teammates as well. Puhakka only chose to tell his captain he was gay and kept his boyfriend a secret from the others. He even went so far as to laugh at homophobic jokes in order to stay closeted. Now with more confidence, Puhakka not only came out but expressed the need for others to do the same. If we want to fix the homophobic atmosphere surrounding the world of sports, we need athletes to come out.
“The hockey world is somehow lagging behind,” Puhakka said. “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.”
Puhakka concluded, “It would be ideal if I didn’t have to talk about this, but as long as people are silent on the subject, we must speak up.”
Perhaps there is a shift happening in the world of ice hockey. Puhakka came out a month after Danish ice hockey goalie Jon Lee-Olson came out as gay. The 27-year-old goalkeeper is the first professional male ice hockey player in Denmark to come out. At the time, he expressed the uphill battle it took to share his truth.
“There’s a risk that some people might shout and heckle me while I’m playing matches. It’s something I have to be ready for, and be mature about. But I feel that I’m ready to show that you can be gay and play ice hockey,” said Lee-Olsen said [in Danish]. “It took longer than I expected, but now I’m ready to stand up for myself and others.”
But Lee-Olsen is now standing on top of a mountain with Janne Puhakka, and they are shining a light and paving a path for other LGBTQ athletes to join them.