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A tale of love and betrayal

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From NYTImes




This is a story about love and betrayal.


Andrea Barone was barely 18 months old when he first set out on the ice, his tiny legs shaking and pushing behind a chair along the cold surface. If, in Montreal, hockey is religion, then this was baptism by ritual, every morning practice, every unsteady drag of his skates drawing him closer to the game he was falling for.


“We never had to wake him up in the morning,” Barone’s mother, Beba, said. “If the practice was at 7, he’d be up dressed and ready to go. He just fell in love.”


Barone is 28 now, many years removed from those innocent skates under the eye of his father, Remo. Late last summer, during an interview at a Toronto coffeehouse, he was upset.


Barone is sure of two things about himself: He is a hockey man, and he is a gay man. In the sport he has devoted his life to, this has proved an untenable intersection.


In February, the NHL sponsored “Hockey Is for Everyone” events at games throughout the league — to foster more inclusive communities in the sport, it said. Players used rainbow-colored tape on their sticks, and teams hosted pride nights.


And yet, for some time now, Barone has been trying to decide if hockey is still for him.


In high school, as his excellence as a player faded, Barone became a referee. It was his way to stay in the sport, and he has been promoted through the professional ranks, reaching the ECHL, two levels below the NHL. Barone believes a call-up to the American Hockey League is coming soon, and from there, if all he has worked for goes as planned, he could reach the NHL in a few years.


No man, working in any capacity, is known to be openly gay at hockey’s highest level. More than that, at a time when players from the NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball have come out after retirement, the same cannot be said for any man formerly associated with the NHL.


Barone has been trying, often in vain, to correct a culture that for decades has made little attempt to conceal its regular use of anti-gay language.


The insults came from coaches, who would roll their eyes when warned against the use of homophobic slurs on the ice. Or they came from players, who used the barbs as a way to emasculate or demean the opponents across from them.


For years, Barone handled the pointed words, the casual insensitivity that said to him that he and people like him were not welcome. It was, in some way, the price of living in this world as a gay man.


He tolerated it until last spring, when an ECHL coach, whose team had blown a third-period lead in a playoff game, charged at him. In front of three other referees, Barone said, the coach used a graphic, expletive-laced anti-gay slur.


Continues with photos


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