Elite Finnish Hockey Star Comes Out: 'We Must Speak Up'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday November 6, 2019

Finnish elite hockey star Janne Puhakka hung up his skates in 2018, in part because he was afraid of being found out as gay. But in advance of a special Pride-themed match, he burst out of the closet in a recent interview, reports at various LGBTQ media outlets say.

The special match, which took place only a few days after Puhakka's interview with Helsingin Sanomat, was intended to highlight inclusivity in sports.

The interview with Helsingin Sanomat was prefaced as follows:

Janne Puhakka is the first ice hockey player in the Finnish Champions League who dares to publicly declare himself homosexual with his own name and face.

Puhakka told the publication that he retired from the sport at the age of 23 because despite being an elite player he was concerned he "wasn't good enough" to be openly gay while active on the ice. He worried that he might find himself inadvertently outed if teammates saw him out in public with his partner.

Moreover, his status as a closeted man made the locker room a tough place to be, even though a select few on the team knew his secret. Puhakka recalled joining in on the laughter when teammates cracked jokes about gays. The way that a government official talked about gay athletes also kept him from publicly embracing his authentic self.

The offensive comments came from Sinuhe Wallinheimo, a member of the Finnish Parliament who is also a former pro hockey player. In 2014 Wallinheimo, who was once a goalie for European teams, opined that any gay hockey players should keep their sexuality to themselves lest they damage team solidarity, media reports recalled.

Puhakka took to Instagram to comment on his emergence from the closet. The move made him the first pro Finnish hockey player to come out as gay.

"The past week has been filled with big emotions," Puhakka posted on Nov. 3. "Thanks for all the posts, comments and reactions. If I have any burden lighter then all has been worth it."

To the newspaper, he said: "It would be ideal if I didn't have to talk about this. But as long as people are silent on the subject, we must speak up."

Despite his early retirement, Puhakka enjoyed a seven-year professional career, having started at the young age of 16.

Media reports noted that Puhakka had joined another elite hockey cadre - he's the fourth pro hockey player to come out as gay. Danish player Jon Lee-Olsen beat him to the #3 spot by a mere month; Lee-Olsen came out in October of this year.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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