NHL trainer Justin Rogers comes out as gay in history-making move
Seattle Kraken’s Justin Rogers has just come out in a heartfelt letter to his younger self, becoming the first out gay support staffer on a National Hockey League (NHL) bench.
In a letter penned to his younger self, published by the NHL, the trainer assured his younger self that the “knot in [his] stomach” that made him feel “confused, isolated, lost in the world” and “invisible” will “slowly loosen” as he grows older.
Rogers, who was hired by the Kraken in 2021, recalled how he didn’t “even understand the knot” growing up but said he learned things about himself and accomplished “dreams so many others like [him] feel they cannot”.
“You will accept yourself as a gay man, creating a life authentic to you, while welcoming others into it,” Rogers wrote.
“It won’t be easy, and you won’t do it alone. It will take time.
“The building blocks will start to take shape now as you enter your teenage years.”
The NHL trainer admitted that being gay and walking into team locker rooms challenged his “fears of acceptance like it does for so many others in the queer community”.
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He knew he was “different”, but he said there’s a “community within the sports world made up of LGBTQ+ individuals just like” himself.
“You will educate your athletes; trying to humanise queer people, in a positive light, in a world that doesn’t have much exposure,” he said.
“You will learn that living authentically will help young athletic trainers you encounter in your work life.
“You will be an example of someone who prospers in hockey for those players still in the closet who are trying to reach their goals.”
Rogers told ESPN that he knew for years that he’s a gay man. But even after that realisation, it “still took years” to get to the point that he felt comfortable to be out with himself as well as tell his friends and family.
He eventually came out to his loved ones in 2014. The trainer eventually shared his truth with Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis earlier this year, who helped him feel more comfortable being gay in the hockey world.
“I don’t think it matters how many times you come out to somebody, there’s always a level of nerves,” Rogers said.
“You don’t know how someone is going to react. Ron is the most stand-up, phenomenal person in the world.
“Ron loves everyone within his community. I had zero doubt he was going to have my back and that it would matter with him.”
Francis was “very appreciative” that Rogers felt comfortable enough to tell him that he was gay and said he wanted to help Rogers “be able to share his uniqueness with other people”.
According to ESPN, Rogers is believed to be the first out gay support staff member on a NHL bench.
Rogers coming out as gay came as the NHL has a somewhat turbulent relationship with the LGBTQ+ community as of late.
In October, the NHL issued a sweeping ban against on-ice theme gear, barring players from wearing rainbow clothing or using LGBTQ-themed tape on sticks during Pride Night events.
The move followed a handful of players declining to participate in their clubs’ Pride Night celebrations last season.
The misguided decision sparked widespread outrage with bisexual hockey player Zach Sullivan, calling it “spineless”. Arizona Coyotes player Travis Dermott defied the league and wrapped his stick in Pride tape anyway.
Just a short while later, after facing intense backlash from players and fans, the NHL reversed its decision.
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