Players dish on politics, gay marriage

An anonymous player poll showed zero support for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Dave Reginek/NHLI/Getty Images

In the D.C. issue of ESPN the Magazine (grab a copy if you haven't yet), there's a two-page spread that confidentially examines the politics of athletes across all four major professional sports. It's a fascinating look at the personal political views of the athletes we cover and watch compete at the highest levels.

And in comparing the NHL views to those of other sports, there were some surprising differences. Other differences were not so surprising.

One question examined whether players would re-elect their sport's commissioner if he had to run for his current office. Baseball players (57.9 percent) felt the strongest about bringing back Bud Selig if he needed to be re-elected.

As the negotiations between the NHLPA and NHL drag on, there wasn't a single one of the 13 NHL players polled who would re-elect Gary Bettman. Not one even hesitated, with the question drawing a laugh from many of the players asked.

That was the obvious issue in which NHL players were united. Two others weren't so obvious.

One question asked whether or not the U.S. should legalize sports gambling. NBA players were on the low end, with only 30.8 percent answering yes. The average among all four sports was 56.5 percent.

And then there were the hockey players -- 92.3 percent of the NHL players questioned said that sports gambling should be legalized.

"I see Floyd Mayweather gambled on sports. If he's doing it I think it should be [legal]," said one Western Conference rookie. "I'm not a big gambler but I don't see why it shouldn't be [legal]."

Many pointed out how Ontario hockey fans can grab a Proline ticket and bet on games and it hasn't been an issue there. Others felt the ability to bet on the NHL would catapult its popularity in the States. There's no debating that gambling and fantasy football have helped drive the popularity of the NFL. Jesse Spector tackled the issue on Monday, saying it's time to take down the barricades that prevent betting on sports in the U.S.

These NHL players agreed.

"It's all in fun," said a Western Conference forward. "There's a lot of people that do it regardless."

Another player said yes, but with the disclaimer that players shouldn't be allowed to bet on their own sport.

"From a fixing games standpoint, I can definitely see the concerns," he said.

The other issue in which NHL players differed fairly dramatically from athletes in other sports was debate over legalizing gay marriage. A slight majority of both NBA and MLB players said they would vote against gay marriage. A strong majority (92.3 percent) of NHL players were in favor of gay marriage even if they leaned heavily on the conservative side with their presidential vote. Mitt Romney got support from 76.9 percent of NHL players.

Patrick Burke wasn't surprised to hear it. Burke, one of the co-founders of You Can Play, pointed out that NHL players have long been supportive of the gay community. While YCP doesn't publicly comment on the issue of gay marriage, Burke envisions a day when an openly gay NHL player would be widely accepted. These numbers back that up.

"Our guys have been on board for a decade now and our league would be happy to have a gay player," said Burke, whose You Can Play project is working with other professional leagues toward expansion outside of the hockey world. "I think our international base helps ... I also believe that our athletes are the best guys in sports. Just talk to anybody who deals with athletes on a regular basis."

Most of the players asked about gay marriage didn't hesitate in their support. One Western Conference defenseman didn't even think it was a debate.

"Of course [it should be legalized], if two people are happy together," he said. "One of the first sentences of this country is [about] life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

And one long-time NHL player cracked: "Everybody should have the chance to be miserable."

But perhaps the most interesting insight came when we asked players to name somebody in any sport who they think would make the best politician.

Derek Fisher, Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow got the most votes among all professional athletes, but a few NHL players stayed within their sport to nominate a potential politician. They opted for intellect over superstardom and popularity. Not one mention of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.

"There's a lot of smart guys in hockey ... I heard George Parros is an extremely smart guy," he said. "Every team I've played on, everybody has raved about that guy."

Another predicted that David Backes will end up becoming a city councilman in Blaine, Minn., some day.

Naturally Tim Thomas was brought up as a possibility, but it was Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray mentioned more than any others. The big Swede is well educated (Cornell) and is one of the most innovative thinkers in the league.

"He knows everything about everything and [has] creative ways to solve any problems that you have," said a Western Conference player.

Not every player focused purely on intellect. One leaned in favor of a good time, choosing Patrick Kane as his best politician.

"Patrick Kane would be great," he said. "It'd be fun. We'd have a fun country."