The last 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Sudbury's Brock McGillis.
Why? The former OHL goalie, who also played for Concordia University, in the UHL and played pro in Europe, wrote a piece for Yahoo Sports.
But it was the substance of that piece that generated such a massive response. You see, McGillis wrote about the secret life he led — or more accurately felt he was forced to lead — as a gay hockey player.
Since the piece was published Thursday, McGillis said he has received more than 5,000 messages from friends, former teammates and complete strangers in reaction to the article.
“I don't think I was ready for so much positive,” McGillis told Sudbury.com “The messages I received brought me to tears. Some people I haven't spoken to in 20 years have come out and shown support.”
McGillis received some negative comments as well, but said they were the minority.
In his piece he wrote “hockey has always been very homophobic.”
McGillis is 33 today, and came out to his friends and family in 2010. Even in his late 20s, he was afraid of the impact coming out might have on his father and brother, who were heavily involved in hockey at the time as a scout and player.
“Hyper-masculinity and hockey go hand-in-hand, so I had to lie to fit in with my teammates,” he wrote for Yahoo Sports. “I began dating as many girls as I could to avoid being exposed. I became a womanizer."
“I lied to myself, I lied to everyone around me, I lied to those women,” he said. “I had to be this hyper-masculine man in that culture, and not be who I genuinely was.”
McGillis told Sudbury.com hockey still isn't a safe space for everyone.
Because hockey players remain so respected and revered in our society, he said they have the ability to change that culture, and influence other young people to be more tolerant.
“I'm fortunate to have played levels of hockey that gave me a platform to hopefully allow people to take notice of some of the things happening in hockey and in sport, and change them,” he said.
McGillis said he has wanted to come out publicly about the struggles he faced as a gay hockey player for several years.
When news broke about the June 12 massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando – in which 49 people were killed and 53 more were wounded – McGillis decided it was time to share his own story.
“I had to do something,” he said. “I didn't know what, but I knew I had to do something. I recognized this was my platform and where I could have the most impact.”
His goal is to start a conversation and make hockey a safer space for everyone.
Today, McGillis runs Be a Rock Sports Training in Sudbury where he trains and mentors young athletes.