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Sullivan: It's been a manic week

Photo: Mark Ferris

Manchester Storm's Zach Sullivan had a huge impact on the hockey and wider sporting world on Sunday 26 January when he revealed details about his sexuality, and how keeping it a secret had impacted his mental health. Since that moment his powerful, positive message, which coincided with the final day of the Elite League’s first-ever Pride Weekend, has spread far beyond the EIHL and hockey world!

"It’s been a manic week really, I didn’t really know what to expect and it’s all been a bit of a shock,” began the defensemen. “I was hoping it would get some traction because of the message I wanted to send, and it's been everywhere really. It’s good though, I’m not really one for the spotlight and I have come out of my comfort zone because I realised this message was worth sending.”

Sullivan’s impact has been far-reaching, including the likes of Spittin’ Chiclets - has anything from outside of the country surprised him? "To be honest, anyone that’s wanted to talk to me has surprised me! I didn’t think this would take off as much as it has,” he said. "Finner (Head Coach Ryan Finnerty) phoned me on Monday and said some people wanted to do interviews, but also told me that if it got too much to tell him and the club would manage it. But to be honest, taking the step to put the message out there was the hardest part of the whole process, talking about it is the easy part as I know it will reach the people I want it to.” 

Getting your message across in what can sometimes only be two to three-minute interviews can be a challenge. Is he happy with how most have gone? "There have been some interviews where I feel I’ve got the message across better, but it’s a pretty basic one: regardless of who you are, your sexuality, gender identity, religion, race - not just hockey but sport is for everyone, and I hope that’s the message everyone has been getting,” Zach explained. “It’s not about my publicity or fame, it doesn’t matter who you like - all that matters is you can play the game.” 

In his online message, Sullivan revealed that he’d been battling with the issue himself for some time, but finally decided to speak out. "I decided on Wednesday that I was going to do this; there was already a lot of anticipation for the Pride Weekend around in the week. I messaged two of my best friends in Glasgow, Josh Grieveson and Craig Peacock about what I was going to post on Sunday, and they helped me tweak things to make sure it would have a good impact. I actually put that in my drafts the night before and think I slept a total of about half an hour on Saturday night!” he revealed. "That morning, when I woke up my roommate Cam Critchlow asked how I was feeling, and I think I just said I felt like I needed a hug! My heart was racing a little bit, I didn’t know what reaction to expect, but it’s been nice that everything was taken so positively.

He continued: "The majority of my team-mates have known since November when I became comfortable with everything, and I told my family over Christmas when I was home so I’ve become more and more comfortable talking about it. The reaction from everyone has been pretty much ‘Great, as long as you’re happy then I’m happy’. The reaction from the fans meant a lot though, they’re the ones who come out to watch us every week and to see how they all got on board was really nice."

Sullivan was asked to do the pre-game ceremonial puck drop with Dundee's Matt Marquardt on Sunday night, and the Stars’ captain noticeably took time to say a few things before skating back to his blueline. “It was quite special. He’s a big physical guy when he plays, and very talented, and he told me that I should be really proud of myself because what I’d done will reach a lot of kids around the world,” he recalled. "Considering the situation going into that game, with us and Dundee both in a dogfight for the playoffs, for him to take time to say something when it could have been easier to say nothing really meant a lot. It almost brought me to tears and was a very nice gesture from him."

In several of his interviews this week, Sullivan has highlighted how much everything being normal with his team has meant to him and concentrating on the job in hand which is to make this season’s playoffs. How is he balancing it all? "It’s quite easy for me as hockey has always been my release from normal life. When I was younger a teammate said to me that no matter what’s happened in your day you can forget it when you step on the ice for those few hours. So in that sense it’s been quite easy as I don’t think about anything other than my teammates and trying town a hockey game when I’m out there” he concluded.

Zach is happy for anyone who may be going through something similar to reach out to him via Twitter. You can find him on @ZachSully11.

The Elite League would also like to make themselves available for any hockey player who may be dealing with anything themselves and needs someone to talk to. If you need someone to talk to, you can always get in contact through social media or via media[at]eliteleague[dot]co[dot]uk.
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