A Finnish hockey player came out as gay after opening up about his sexuality in a new interview.
Janne Puhakka — who was born in Epsoo, Finland and began competing professionally at the age of 16 — played for France’s Rapaces de Gap until 2018, when he retired from hockey at just 23 years old. Athletes in the league commonly play into their late 30s, while National Hockey League (NHL) star Gordie Howe retired at the age of 52.
In a recent interview with the Finnish news site Helsingin Sanomat, Puhakka shed some light on his decision to bow out in his prime. He claimed he wasn’t “good enough to have complete security in [his] job” and play as an openly gay man.
“That brought uncertainty,” he said. “I’m sure other players fear the issue because of their jobs, as well.”
Although Puhakka said that other sporting leagues have embraced LGBTQ+ inclusion, he claimed that hockey “is somehow lagging behind.” When Denmark’s Jon Lee-Olsen came out last month during an interview with the news program Go’ aften, he became just the third hockey player in the world to ever come out as gay — and one of a small number to come out while competing in the sport.
While Puhakka is Finland’s first hockey player to come out as a gay man, the country doesn’t have any that are currently active in a professional league.
During his years in the hockey world, Puhakka said he commonly hear homophobic remarks and jokes in the locker room — although its unclear if they were directed toward him. Although some teammates knew about his sexual orientation, he claimed that he continued to keep his personal life private.
Puhakka told Helsingin Sanomat that he has chosen to come out now because he wants to help others have a better experience than he did.
“We wouldn’t have to go through all this if everyone could be themselves in the locker room,” he said. “I’m glad if even one junior or professional player finds something positive in this interview.”
There are signs hockey is making some strides toward progress, even after Finnish Parliamentarian and former hockey star Sinuhe Wallinheimo advised gay players to “hide [their] homo in the booth so as not to offend team chemistry” in 2014. On Saturday the Finnish clubs Turun Palloseura and Ilves played a Pride-themed match in which players sported rainbow equipment to promote LGBTQ+ equality.
Today Puhakka works in the fashion industry, but he hopes that someday gay players won’t be forced to choose between who they are and the sport they love. “It would be ideal if I didn’t have to talk about this,” he said. “But as long as people are silent on the subject, we must speak up.”