Co-authored by Cheryl MacDonald and Brett Pardy
When you think hockey films, you likely don’t recall a genre that displays progressive values. In terms of social progress, at best, you may think of the Mighty Ducks and its vision of hockey as creating unity. At worst, Slap Shot, which continues to be a staple of junior hockey bus rides, is virulently homophobic even in comparison to other 1970s comedies. Our curiosity was piqued when we heard about Breakfast with Scot, a 2007 feel-good family comedy about a closeted fictional former Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer. The film is the work of queer artists, from the source novel by Michael Downing to screenwriter Sean Reycraft. In fact, director Laurie Lynd’s 1991 film, RSVP, was identified as a key work in B. Ruby Rich’s (1992) influential essay “New Queer Cinema”. Despite being over a decade old, we want to discuss this film for two reasons: first, the hockey community seems to have been rather mute where the film is concerned, meaning we are only discovering it now, so why not recover the conversation? Second, we want to tease out the film’s underlying social commentary on masculinity and homosexuality to demonstrate how it correlates with our perception of men’s competitive ice hockey today. We will use bits and pieces of Cheryl’s latest research with openly gay male ice hockey players to assist us.
The film introduces us to to Eric (Tom Cavanaugh), the former Leaf now working in sports broadcasting, and Sam (Ben Shenkman), a sports lawyer. The characters in the novel have more typical upper middle class occupations, so the “Canadian” twist here introduces a new layer to the story in examining hockey culture. The film’s premise is Sam’s meretricious brother, Billy, asks him and Eric to temporarily look after Scot, an eleven-year old (Noah Bernett). Scot’s mother, Billy’s former girlfriend, died of a heroin overdose and Billy receives custody but tries to put off that responsibility.
Early on, as Eric is covering the World Juniors Championship, we find out that he is mostly closeted, especially at work. He is very much what some call a ‘straight gay’; a white, upper middle-class man who presents himself as very masculine, shows little emotion, and is very reclusive. More than that, though, he appears to be ashamed of himself and is visibly uncomfortable when Sam tries to touch him in public. We get our first clear view into Eric’s interpretation of masculinity when Sam approaches him about taking the tween into their home. Eric promptly disagrees and proceeds to list a whole slew of assumptions about the boy:
Bad call because boys that age are nightmares and boys at any age are nightmares. Two words—night…mares. And I should know because I grew up playing hockey with them. You know, first, you know what he does? He sells our TV. He’ll sell our TV and then he’ll drain our liquor cabinet. He’ll be a liquor bag, a booze hound and then he’s going to wreak havoc through the entire house—our house—that we spent all that time fixing up. And then, after the booze and the TV—girls. Girls, Sam. He’s gonna drag some poor girl up there and deflower her—right here in bed—in our bed—with your fancy five-hundred count sheets, which we’ll never be able to use again. What if he forms a gang? What if he has a bad haircut?
Eric reverberates a common trope about boys in Canada: they all play hockey and they all fit the description of what Canadian sociologist Kristi Allain (2008) calls hockey masculinity: boys and men in elite ice hockey are collectively understood to be aggressive, competitive, heterosexist, philandering, and insincere troublemakers (for further reading, see MacDonald & Lafrance, 2018).
Against Eric’s protests, Scot arrives with a self-presentation that could be described as the straight gay’s inconsonant: he is wearing a feminine scarf, sequins and jewellery. He uses a handbag, likes to sing, uses floral hand cream, and enjoys knitting. In short, he uses he/him pronouns, but appears to be non-gender conforming. At one point he also offers a male neighbour permission to kiss him, which does not happen. Regardless, Scot does not portray the kind of masculinity Eric had expected and this is still a problem for Eric, which begs the question of what kind of masculinity is the right kind for him. He communicates to Sam that he thinks Scot might be gay and that he believes the tween is doing both gender and homosexuality incorrectly. He justifies his position by arguing that Scot will face ridicule and social injustice for the way he presents himself.
Barely capable of masking his apprehension, Eric does try to engage with Scot by asking if he would like to watch hockey on television, to which Scot casually replies, “I only like musicals”. Eric later confides in his female co-worker (the only person to whom he is out at work) that he’s worried Scot will make him “more gay”. Full stop. Eric is worried about being “too gay”? This brings us to our point about how the film uses hockey to present norms around sexuality within the sport. After Scot absentmindedly outs Eric to a mall security guard, Eric cautions, “I work in sports, okay? And some of the guys I talk to wouldn’t be so quick to talk to me if they knew I was a—that I’m a ….”. Not only is Eric incapable of naming himself, he also communicates that in sports, it’s not okay to be that which shall remain unnamed—gay. Indeed, despite reportedly being the league’s toughest player, opponents referred to Eric as “Erica” during his career. This sort of misogynist nickname is common in hockey, but usually directed at players not considered tough enough. For example, Sidney Crosby is often renamed “Cindy Crosby” when fans believe he is somehow weak or complaining.
An openly gay former professional ice hockey player named Brock McGillis, who participated in Cheryl’s latest research (which will be available soon), commented on the film’s ability to accurately capture sentiments about homosexuality in hockey. According to Brock:
As a once-closeted gay man playing high-level hockey, I saw myself in Eric. I saw his fear, his paranoia, his self-loathing, and his need to conform. Being different while growing up in a hypermasculine environment like hockey is nearly impossible—you’ll stick out and be the target of abuse, so you take extreme measures to fit in. Eric overcompensated by being a tough and violent hockey athlete with a traditional understanding of masculinity while I tried to mask it by being a cocky, womanizing, hypermasculine man.
It may not come as a surprise, but Eric uses hockey to try to fix Scot’s masculinity problem. Upon discovering that Scot can figure skate, Eric enrols
him in hockey and becomes his coach. The film’s hockey scenes are conflicted and bring about more struggles with societal notions of homosexuality and non-gender conformity. On one hand, the neighbourhood hockey-playing bully, Ryan, who perfectly embodies the traits of hockey masculinity—he calls adult men faggots and hits on adult women—now befriends Scot because they have hockey in common. On the other hand, Eric teaches Scot to fight (which he misunderstands and fights his own teammate in order to defend himself). Sam is furious and says he is taking Scot home, while Scot shouts at Eric that he “didn’t wanna do your stupid hockey! I only did it to make you happy and you don’t like anything I do!”. That night, Eric sleeps on the couch and Scot prepares to head to live with Billy.
As with any happy ending, Scot winds up staying with Eric and Sam after Billy finally arrives to collect him, making homophobic jokes and showing no real interest in Scot at all. This is the moment that we know Eric not only accepts Scot, but wants him around. When Billy doesn’t comment on the fact that Scot has grown, Eric chimes in with an assertive speech about how he would notice. Scot declares that he wants to stay, Billy agrees, and Scot then tries to shake Eric’s hand—obeying the rules of masculine physicality, which Eric taught him. Eric laughs and pulls Scot in for a hug. He even kisses Sam in front of the group. Eric learns to accept being out and becomes confident that this doesn’t affect his hockey masculinity. We don’t see how this affects his work, but the end credit’s scrapbook sequence shows him coming out to his boss.
Producer Paul Brown hoped the film would be seen as a family comedy that would be a way into difficult issues, comparing it to Bend It Like Beckham. While the film may not have been the same quality as Bend It Like Beckham, it is strange that it has completely disappeared from cultural memory, especially given the recent push for inclusion in hockey. Cheryl had never heard of it until an openly gay non-sports fan brought it to her attention in 2017. Daniel Camilletti, an openly gay former hockey player who played competitively in Toronto around the time the film was released, also hadn’t heard of it. Daniel also participated in Cheryl’s recent academic research and she brought it up to him because he said that he was studying film and media in University and that he was working on a screenplay about homosexuality in hockey. Moreover, the NHL does not seem to have connected the film to its Hockey is for Everyone initiative, which is also strange given the NHL’s partnership with the You Can Play Project (for LGBTQ inclusion in sport) and its new push to celebrate diversity. This film is a tangible example of how the NHL has played a role in celebrating diversity, but no one seems to know much about it.
While this was the first queer film to receive backing from a pro sports league, the NHL and Maple Leafs certainly did not celebrate it. We have been unable to locate a statement from the NHL about the film and the Maple Leafs appear to have offered lukewarm defences when they were attacked by right-wing Christians groups. Leafs CEO Richard Peddie described the film as “quite benign”. Then-GM John Ferguson Jr. elucidated “On our end, we’re certainly not trying to make a statement”. Then-captain Mats Sundin was described by the Toronto Star as “taken aback at the notion of the movie” but “excited” for the Leafs to be involved. The Toronto Star published an article salaciously comparing the film to the then teenage Leaf rookie Jiri Tlusty having to affirm his heterosexuality after nude photos leaked. How do nude photos require a defense of heterosexuality and how do they have any productive connection with this film?
Someone who did offer commentary on Breakfast with Scot was one of the most notable proponents of hockey masculinity: Don Cherry, who actually makes an appearance in the form of a (photoshopped?) photo of him and Scot in the end credits’ scrapbook. On Hockey Night in Canada, Kelly Hrudey commended the film for promoting “self-acceptance” while Ron MacLean joked that Scot dressed as well as Cherry. In an interview, Cherry quipped, “I know that Gary Bettman wanted a kinder and gentler league, but this is too much”. Not only did Cherry draw a line in the sand where gender and sexuality are concerned, he seemed to overlook that his own clothing selection could
be seen as splashy and flamboyant and that he is permitted to kiss other men without being judged. Cherry’s hockey discourse is also predicated on a tough, hard-hitting, old school way of being that he believes is sadly on its way out while players continue to become ‘soft’ (see Allain, 2015). The link between Cherry and the film is rife with contradiction given his appearance in it.
Reflecting a decade later, while society’s acceptance—or, perhaps, tolerance—of homosexuality in men’s ice hockey has increased, Scot’s gender identity likely still wouldn’t go over well. Scholars debate this, but it would appear that there is still a ‘right’ way to be gay in hockey and that means not being feminine. The Eric that the audience first meets in the film is doing it correctly, but we learn by the end of the film that there is more than one way. Does this still hold true? Another one of Cheryl’s research participants—openly gay former Junior hockey player, Alex Tulk—comments on this. Whereas Eric remained closeted, Alex came out and found that he was accepted by his teammates, likely because he was very good at hockey and because he wasn’t “the gay guy walking down the hall with flamboyant colours and prancing around”. Alex stated that he also wouldn’t want a feminine or flamboyant teammate in the dressing room regardless of their sexual orientation, which goes to show that the issue has perhaps begun to shift from sexuality to gender.
We recommend watching Breakfast with Scot. It may be a bit cheesy and it may conflate gender and sexuality at times, but it provides Cheryl’s research participants with the ability to see themselves in the media and in their sport. We would like to think that it’s easier to be a member of the LGBTQ community in ice hockey today than it was in 2007 and we hope to have contributed to the usefulness of this film in changing societal norms, even if the NHL and the Maple Leafs have overlooked the opportunity.
Breakfast with Scot is available on DVD, iTunes, Amazon Prime (US), Google Play, and YouTube.
References that are not hyperlinked within the blog post:
Allain, K. 2008. “‘Real Fast and Tough’: The Construction of Canadian Hockey
Masculinity.” Sociology of Sport Journal, 25, 462–81.
Allain, K. 2015. “‘A Good Canadian Boy’: Crisis Masculinity, Canadian National
Identity and Nostalgic Longings in Don Cherry’s Coach’s Corner”. International
Journal of Canadian Studies, 52, 107-132.
MacDonald, C. and Lafrance, M. “‘Girls Love Me, Guys Wanna Be Me’: Representations of
Men, Masculinity, and Junior Ice Hockey in Gongshow Magazine”. The
International Journal of Sport and Society, 10 (1), 1-19.
Rich, B. Ruby. 1992. “New Queer Cinema.” Sight & Sound 2(5), 30-34