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NHL breaks the ice with role in gay-topic movie

Paul Brown, producer of the just-completed movie “Breakfast With Scot,” said he wasn’t trying to promote an agenda in this story of two gay men who become the guardians of an 11-year-old boy who’s more out there than they are.

“It’s an entertaining film, not an issue-y film,” Brown said.

His intent aside, the twist this Canadian production takes on Michael Downing’s 1999 novel may turn “Breakfast With Scot” into a cultural flashpoint.

In freshening the plot, partners Sam and Ed, originally a chiropractor and a magazine editor, respectively, were recast as a former Toronto Maple Leaf and the team’s lawyer. Delighting Brown, who grew up in Toronto, the NHL and its crown-jewel franchise allowed him to use their names, logos and action footage to enhance the film’s authenticity.

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Although movies made in Iceland and Germany portrayed gay soccer players and their struggles after coming out, this is believed to be the first time a professional sports league and team have lent their names to a film in which homosexuality is a central topic. That the NHL would be the groundbreaker is infinitely surprising.

The caretaker of this most macho of sports, the NHL has long been insular and conservative. Among its most prominent figures is Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, who owns the Kings and Staples Center and has given financial support to an anti-gay ballot measure and anti-gay groups in his home state of Colorado.

On the ice, intolerance toward those outside the mainstream has been well documented. The first European players were verbally and physically harassed, and black players have told of being called “ape” or “monkey” by opponents as recently as last season.

Last month, the Palm Beach Post reported that two Florida Panthers shaved their mustaches because Vancouver Canucks players said the facial hair made them look “gay.” Olli Jokinen, the Panthers’ captain, said the comments came from “a couple of idiots,” but he and Ville Peltonen nonetheless felt compelled to alter their appearance, presumably so they would no longer look gay.

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If supposedly looking gay ignites slurs, imagine the bigotry an admittedly gay athlete would face if he were still active on the ice or field.

Former NBA player John Amaechi disclosed last week that he is gay, joining half a dozen or so men who came out after their pro sports careers ended. For women, the taboo seems less powerful: tennis players Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo long ago acknowledged that they are gay, as have Sheryl Swoopes and several other players in the WNBA.

Cyd Ziegler of outsports.com, a website that covers gay and straight sports, said the movie isn’t earth shattering but might combat homophobia at the corporate and management levels. He believes there are pro athletes who might have come out to friends but won’t come out publicly because they fear teammates would shun them.

The movie “sends a message to some of those players that a bad attitude would not be accepted here. You could have a broader level of acceptance,” he said. “That level shows some advancement, that the Maple Leafs and the NHL might support someone who’s gay.”

The film is in the final editing stages and will soon be screened to test audiences in Canada. Made by Miracle Pictures and distributed by Capri Releasing, it will be released in late spring or early summer. It doesn’t yet have a U.S. distributor.

Its most notable actor is Tom Cavanagh, who starred in the TV series “Ed.”

Richard Peddie, president and chief executive of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, called Canada “a diverse and accepting country” because of its ethnic mix and its recognition of same-sex marriages and partner benefits. But Peddie said he got a flurry of objections when the movie began shooting in Toronto and he’s braced for more when it’s released.

“We’re obviously a sports team that’s the New York Yankees of Canada, the No. 1 sports brand, and we decided we had no problem being depicted in the movie,” Peddie said. “It’s quite benign.

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“When you’ve got ‘Will and Grace’ on TV and a comedian kissing her girlfriend on TV, it’s so accepted. We think it’s very entertaining and tame.”

The NHL gave its approval after staffers from NHL Productions, club services and communications read the script. They passed it to the Maple Leafs for their consent.

“The group thought this was a very interesting and heartwarming tale of two parents who are trying to raise a child who is a bit eccentric and just suffered the loss of his mother,” said Bernadette Mansur, the NHL’s senior vice president for communications. “We were all in agreement that this was something we wanted to pursue.”

Like Peddie, the NHL has received protests over its involvement. Mansur said most came from followers of James Hartline, a self-described former homosexual turned Christian activist in San Diego.

Without having seen the movie, Hartline called it “degrading” and condemned the NHL for “promoting homosexualization of small children.” He added, “The National Hockey League is now becoming a willing partner with the fringe elements of the radicalized homosexual agenda and their ultimate goal of worldwide sexual anarchy.”

His dismay is shared by Brian Rushfeldt, co-founder and executive director of the Canada Family Action Coalition. Rushfeldt said the Maple Leafs were “underwriting homosexuality” by permitting the use of their name and logo.

“This is another attempt by certain individuals to normalize homosexual behavior, and they assume that the Maple Leafs will help the cause,” Rushfeldt said. “I don’t think it does much for the image of the NHL amongst families who may want their children involved in hockey.”

Mansur said the league “didn’t intend to make a statement one way or another about homosexuals.” However, it surely will be taken as such by anyone who has an emotional stake in this issue.

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“Certain individuals are truly missing the point here,” she said. “This is a story of a contemporary American family that exists today and is trying to raise a son in the best way possible.”

If the presence of the NHL and the Maple Leafs in “Breakfast With Scot” can stir a healthy dialogue and shatter some assumptions, it will be the most worthy accomplishment either can hope for this season.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com


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