Anthony Alfano had a secret, and he wasn't about to tell the DePaul hockey teammates with whom he shared a locker room.
"I wasn't out to [my teammates]," the 23-year-old Uptown resident said. "It was that constant everyone talking about my girlfriend this or I'm gonna go meet up with some girls, get a girl at a bar."
America has trended toward acceptance when it comes to the LGBT community in recent years. In Illinois, lawmakers recently approved gay marriage. But Alfano said the locker room lags behind.
Alfano, now a Chicago Gay Hockey Association board member, said that while his teammates would regularly talk about their female conquests, he didn't dare speak up about his own personal life.
"I just didn't feel comfortable about talking about who I was, so I just kept it hidden," he said. "That wasn't right for myself and it also wasn't right for the team. If I can't be open with my teammates and they can't trust me in the locker room, they can't trust me on the ice and vice versa."
So he made a decision: Give up his favorite sport so he could be himself.
So what's the key to turning things around, so people like Alfano can feel comfortable knowing they can be themselves without fear of judgment or retribution? Making sure kids know that who they are off the ice doesn't matter on it, Alfano said.
Alfano said it would help if an active NHL player took the first step.
Right now, former Fire midfielder Robbie Rogers is the most prominent openly gay athlete on an active roster. Nobody on an active roster in any of the "Big Four" American leagues is out of the closet.
Michael Ko, a 39-year-old Bucktown resident who has been involved with the CGHA since the beginning, thinks it hasn't happened yet because of a perceived impact on a team's brand.
"[Gay professional athletes] don't want to be a distraction," Ko said. "It's professional sports; it's billions and billions of dollars."
That said, he is optimistic that the day is coming when a gay young athlete has an out-and-proud professional role model in one of the big four sports.
"We've come a long way right now," Ko said. "I think it's getting close."
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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