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In my own words: Bayne Pettinger

The NHL agent talks about coming out, his work with Hockey Canada and making the game safer and more inclusive for the queer community

June 28, 2023

COVID-19 changed my life … in the best way possible. Strange, I know.

I was out to my family and close friends for a couple of years before the pandemic hit. But I lived in this world where I was running around, pushing deep thoughts to the back of my mind, saying, “I’ll deal with that later.” It was a fear of combining my personal life and my professional life.

But when COVID hit, I got to go home to Victoria. The world stopped, and so did my life as I knew it. The phone wasn’t ringing and the emails weren’t coming. The things that kept me occupied. It gave me the chance to sit down and have honest conversations.

I remember talking to Tyson Barrie, who was a client of mine and a good friend going back to our days growing up on Vancouver Island, and saying, “Hey, you know what? I think I’m going to come out.”

I thought maybe I’d just do an Instagram post, something simple. But Tyson and some other important people in my life thought I could really do something impactful, that I could be a face for the queer community in the game, because it was something hockey desperately needed.

So that started my journey. I began coming out to others, to big names in the game who I had crossed paths with through the years. When I told Connor McDavid, his response was simply, “Okay, that doesn’t matter.” I got a text from Sidney Crosby, who congratulated me and let me know he was there if I ever needed anything.

On Nov. 5, 2020, with the help of an article in The Athletic by Pierre Lebrun, I came out publicly.

Without discrediting how important my coming out was for my mental health, nobody really cared. It didn’t change how the hockey community saw me. Instead, it was … “Hey, you’re Bayne. You don’t judge us on who we date or who we’re attracted to. So why would we judge you?”

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I got my foot in the door with Hockey Canada as an intern in the finance department in 2009 (I’m not much of a numbers guy, but it was the only position available at the time). From there I joined the hockey operations department in 2011, and my first assignment was the 2012 World Juniors in Alberta. I was travelling the world with Team Canada, riding these highs of winning gold at the Olympics, the IIHF World Championship and the World Juniors. And I was hanging around with a who’s-who of hockey, whether it’s Doug Armstrong, Jon Cooper, McDavid or Crosby. I left Hockey Canada in 2019 to become a certified NHLPA agent with CAA (Creative Artist Agency) and relocated to Toronto, finding my niche in the game and my personal happiness.

But there was always this fear that I couldn’t live my true life – to be accepted as a gay man – and also be a successful young executive in the game. It was a conundrum that kept me in the closet for a long time.

And it was that fear I needed to break down. It’s human nature – you always think the craziest things are going to happen, right? You’re going to tell someone and they’re going to not be your friend anymore. You get these thoughts in your head that you won’t be accepted or pushed out of hockey for some reason.

But that’s not what happened.

When I look back, I wonder why I was so anxious. And that’s what I try to preach to people who have reached out that are still in the closet thinking they won’t be accepted. The amount of outreach I had from people around the world, in the hockey world specifically, saying, “Hey, great for you. That’s awesome. You’re going to do great things,” was amazing. Just the overall support from friends, family, and even strangers was surreal to say the least.

And by no means did I ever think I’d become a face of being a queer man in hockey. But once I crossed that threshold and people reached out, I’m happy to speak on it. I think it’s important because you have to be out there and not everyone has the voice or platform to speak up.

That’s one of the reasons I helped launch the Alphabet Sports Collective (ASC) in March. We are a queer-led, not-for-profit that is empowering queer youth. Working with my co-chair, Brock McGillis, and ambassadors like Gord Miller, Jon Cooper, Morgan Rielly, Tessa Bonhomme – the support has been absolutely amazing.

We want to get our community to feel good about themselves. So if they want to work at Hockey Canada, or they want to be a sports agent, or they want to play in the NHL, now they have those faces, those supporters. Because I’m a strong believer that if you’ve never seen something done in front of you, you can’t tie to that and see yourself in those positions.

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I’ve kind of come full circle now and I’m working with Hockey Canada as part of their ED&I (equity, diversity and inclusion) Task Team. I’ve really enjoyed it. I think it’s important to have representation from all walks of hockey.

For me, the key is showing vulnerability. Hockey Canada needs to get out there and listen to the issues and not think it has all the answers. We can write all the policies we want, run all the seminars we want. But we have to get to the grassroots of it. We need to hear the voices of the community, and there are groups out there that have done the work and understand the issues at hand. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – we need to listen and learn.

I’m really proud Hockey Canada has this new group and it is listening and taking notes and not just rushing out a statement. Anyone can put out a statement. Let’s actually learn and implement new procedures and training so we’re not just spinning the wheel and checking the box. That’s the goal.

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So now for the million-dollar question – where do we go from here?

I think it’s representation. To get the queer community empowered and feeling good about themselves, and then get a member of the community on the Hockey Canada board, get members of the queer community on NHL boards, get them on minor hockey boards, get them coaching, get them as trainers. To get that representation at the governance level, to have that voice and have that perspective, that’s the ultimate goal. Every community needs to be represented. People of colour, people of different religious backgrounds, people of the queer community. Because that’s what makes up Canada. So, if we’re really going to have a board that represents our country, then we need to have a queer seat there.

I want to get it out there and have open conversations and try and educate and humanize, but we’re not going to change everyone’s minds, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to say that the rights that you have, the equality, the celebrations, we want that for queer people.

I think sports are behind the rest of society. If I worked at a bank, I wouldn’t even really have to come out. It’s a big deal in hockey because there has never been anyone that’s done it, and it’s a hypermasculine sport, and we don’t talk about our feelings. We just play hockey and it’s the crest on the front, not the name on the back. Don’t bring your personal problems here – that’s how I was raised in the world of team sports.

But I think with some of the things we’ve seen in the news recently surrounding Pride nights, we’ve actually broken that down a bit and had honest conversations and opened people’s eyes that this is still an issue, that there are still some bigoted views and that it’s not a safe place for everyone yet.

The latest from last week, that NHL teams will no longer wear pregame jerseys for any causes, is disappointing to say the least. Nobody seems to want to focus on the 700+ players who supported our cause and wore Pride jerseys last season, it’s all about the miniscule group that refused. Pride nights (not to mention Hockey Fights Cancer, military appreciation and Indigenous celebrations) were successes across the league, and it’s sad to see the decision that was made.

With all that said, I truly think change is coming, and it starts with our youth.

I coach a U14 minor hockey team in Toronto. When I came out to them, their response was, “Whatever.” It didn’t change anything with them. When I came out to some of my young clients, it was, “It makes you happy and we’re happy for you.”

They’re understanding, they’re compassionate and they really don’t care, but in a good way. A lot of people seem to have a poor opinion of millennials – that they play too many video games and they’re lazy and the old “back in my day, I didn’t do that” mantra. But we’re at a point where the next generation is so eyes-wide-open and accepting that I find the future really promising, and I really think we’re in good hands on diversity and inclusion with our youth coming up.

To finish, I want those that are struggling to know that they’re not alone. There are resources, and there are people to talk to to help you feel accepted. It’s human nature to focus on the negatives, but there are a lot of us trying to break down barriers so queer people feel comfortable working or playing sports and living as their authentic self.

I would never want to be pushed away from the game I love because of sexual orientation. And I thought that was the case for a while, but it’s been the exact opposite.

Who knew? The big, bad hockey world isn’t that big and bad after all.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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