Hockey legend Hobey Baker was gay, ESPN claims

Hobey Baker photographed in his military uniform.

A new podcast from sports cable channel ESPN has claimed that one of America’s greatest ice hockey stars, Hobey Baker was gay.

ESPN made the claim during an episode of the podcast 30 for 30 – a deep dive into some of sport’s most famous figures and stories.

In its three-part series on the ice hockey player and WWI fighter pilot, Searching For Hobey Baker, the network claims the star was gay – to the surprise of many.

The claim comes specifically in episode two, The Lost Generation, in which narrator David Duchovny says Baker began living – and enjoying a relationship – with socialite and financier Percy Rivington Pyne II, 10 years his senior.

The relationship drew scrutiny across the pair’s various social circles, even in an era, the podcast says, that was “comparatively tolerant of gay relationships and sexual encounters between men”.

The seemingly untold story seems to have shocked many Baker fans, including Outsports journalist Cyd Zeigler, who wrote that in the “25 years of Outsports’ archives, Hobey Baker is not mentioned once“.

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The series’ executive producer and researcher, Andy Reynolds, stood by the claim, saying there is a mountain of evidence to back it up.

“That is what we are claiming,” Reynolds said. “It’s based on massive amounts of research and documentation. Talking about what does this mean, and how do we get this right, we know we have to dot every i and cross every t.”

Reynolds added that the bar for validating each claim needed “to be incredibly high” but that he believed it had been met.

Who was Hobey Baker?

Baker’s contributions to the world of ice hockey span far and wide, to the extent that the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s most prestigious award for male university players is named after him.

Born in 1892 to a wealthy family in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, Baker’s early life was defined by his exceptional skill on the ice hockey rink.

While competing at St Paul’s School, his skill was recognised by coach Malcom Gordon, seen as one of the pioneers of the sport in the US.

A college hockey player holding the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
The Hobey Baker Memorial Award is prestigious ice hockey trophy. (Getty)

He later enrolled at Ivy League university Princeton, becoming one of the best-known players in the Princeton Tigers while also forging a successful run in the university’s football and team.

At the height of his fame with the Tigers, Baker helped secure eight wins in the 10-game 1911-12 hockey season.

In 1916, as the US entry into WWI neared, Baker joined a civilian air corps and became a fighter pilot, finally getting to the front lines in January 1918. He died in December of that year – a month after the end of the conflict – when the plane he had taken for a test flight crashed at an airfield in north eastern France.

Was Hobey Baker gay?

There are very few claims outside Searching for Hobey Baker that suggest he was gay, although Reynolds maintained there is “no doubt” about his sexuality.

Collecting letters sent between Baker and Pyne, Reynolds, along with co-writer Tim Smith, concluded that the pair were in a relationship.

“If we presented this evidence of a man and a woman, there’s no doubt we’d see them as a romantic couple,” Reynolds told Outsports. “In this case, the experts told us that they see this as a very strong loving relationship.

“This is a 90-minute podcast, but there’s a lot of other stuff under the bottom side of the iceberg.”

There is also evidence to suggest that Baker was not attracted to women and even made special efforts to avoid any who wanted to date him. He was, however, briefly engaged to a friend of Pyne but broke it off shortly before his death.

While researchers mention that relationships and views on sexuality were hugely different in the early 1900s, Reynolds concluded that Baker was gay or queer and insists that experts agree.

“We didn’t receive any feedback saying, ‘No, you’ve got it wrong here’. And I was careful not to prejudge their evaluations: we set out what we had, and said: ‘Based on your expertise, what do you think?’”

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