MacKinnon: Oilers captain Andrew Ference to march in Edmonton’s Pride Parade
‘We want to make sure that it’s an accepting environment for everyone,’ NHL player says
Andrew Ference (21) of the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - For Oilers captain Andrew Ference, marching in the 34th annual Edmonton Pride Parade in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is “kind of a no-brainer.”
No-brainer or not, Ference is the first member of the Oilers to participate in the Edmonton Pride Parade, and almost certainly the first pro athlete from any sport to take part in the local event, said Kris Wells, director of programs and services for the University of Alberta Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services.
In an era that has seen the first openly gay player — Michael Sam — selected in the NFL draft, and Jason Collins become the first openly gay active player in the NBA, Edmonton’s professional franchises have not been at the front edge of this particular diversity curve, which makes Ference’s decision to march the more significant locally.
“Making sure that (LGBT) youth know they have allies at the pro level, or whether it’s a teammate who might be thinking about coming out, or whatever it is, we want to make sure that it’s an accepting environment for everyone,” Ference said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “I know most of my teammates and guys around the league line up with the same kind of belief.”
Ference said Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish fully supports his marching in the parade, saying the NHL club is against all forms of discrimination.
The 35-year-old defenceman will join the likes of Mayor Don Iveson and Thomas Lukaszuk, a former Alberta cabinet minister currently a candidate in provincial Progressive Conservative leadership race, among the luminaries marching in Saturday’s parade, which starts at noon and proceeds along 102nd Ave. through downtown Edmonton, along 100th St. past Sir Winston Churchill Square.
Jen Scrivens, wife of Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens, also intends to march in the parade.
Ference’s gesture is of a piece with his progressive, engaged approach to being a citizen. His work with the NHL’s Carbon Neutral Challenge aimed at reducing players’ environmental footprint, and the November Project, the mass appeal, early-morning fitness sessions he has led here and in Boston, for example, are well known.
Ference is certainly not the first high-profile NHLer to participate in a pride parade. Jason Garrison and Manny Malhotra, when he was a Canuck, marched in Vancouver’s parade and Georges Laraque has participated in the one held in Montreal.
Famously, Calgary Flames president Brian Burke has marched in Toronto’s Pride Parade for years to honour his late son, Brendan, who died in an automobile crash Feb. 5, 2010, months after he publicly declared his homosexuality in November 2009.
Inspired by his younger brother, Brendan, Patrick Burke in March 2012 co-founded You Can Play, a not-for-profit organization “dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation,” as its mission statement reads.
Ference became friendly with Patrick Burke during his years in Boston, where he participated in some fundraising initiatives for that organization.
“I think for most (NHL players), especially with You Can Play (initiatives), it’s not a big step for us (supporting diversity),” Ference said. “It’s not sticking our nose out to support something that is really out there.
“It would be rare to find someone that doesn’t support it among our group of players.”
Not long after Ference signed with the Oilers last off-season, he met with Wells to see how he could get involved in diversity projects locally.
“I think he’s one of those athletes who recognizes the privileges and the platform they have to help lead change,” Wells said. “He’s a true captain, he speaks through his actions.”
Ference does not speak or act on complex issues without informing himself about them first. For example, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into abuses at residential schools was in Edmonton in April, Ference took his young daughters to a session to learn about that shameful segment of Canadian history.
When he first met with Wells about participating in the Pride Festival, Ference asked him: “ ‘What do I need to know? What can I do?’ ” Wells said. “He wants to be educated.”
Among other things, Ference sounded out Wells on how members of the LGBT community feel about straight people participating in events like the Pride Parade, like whether they might be cynical and think a high-profile athlete like Ference was in it for the photo opportunity.
Wells disabused Ference of any such concerns.
“When Andrew steps forward and marches alongside our LGBT young people, it sends a powerful message that homophobia and transphobia have no place in our locker rooms, schools and communities,” Wells said. “The civil rights movement didn’t accomplish its goals without allies stepping up.
“It’s the same thing with the LGBT movement. We need our friends and our allies to come forward. In many ways, they’re in the safest space to speak out.”
Representing the team in the community is part of what an NHL team captain does, but Ference has been an engaged citizen for years pre-dating his becoming the Oilers captain.
“I have an extreme fear of ever being a hypocrite,” Ference said. “If I want to do something, I want to do it because I believe in it, not just because I’m doing a favour for somebody or because they’re giving you money to show up for a little bit.
“I don’t like that. It loses credibility, it loses authenticity. I think you have to believe in the things you do. People have really good bullshit meters.”
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