When the National Women’s Hockey League’s Buffalo Beauts take the ice on Friday, they'll be making history. Their team forward, Harrison Browne, will become the first openly transgender athlete to play for a professional North Americans sports team.
"Hey, it’s Brownie – number 24 on the Buffalo Beauts," Browne, 23, wrote in a letter to fans on SBNation affiliate site TheIceGarden.com.
Beginning today – the start of the 2016-17 National Women’s Hockey League season – I’m making official what has been part of my life for a few years now. I’m Harrison. I’m a “he.” As in “Harrison Browne made a good pass for the primary assist on that goal by the Beauts.” Or “He really lost his check on that one,” haha.
Browne also released a video discussing his coming out as trans.
"At the end of the day, Harrison is the same player he was last year," NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan told ESPN. "We're here to support him. It's really not a big deal when you look at it, we're respecting his name, the pronouns and his request to be his authentic self."
ESPN also reports that the league is working on drafting new policies to accommodate transgender athletes.
According to Yahoo Sports, Browne first shared his gender identity with teammates and close friends while at the University of Maine. "The hockey community is so open," he told Sportsnet.ca. "There was no backlash at all."
In his letter, Browne explained that he'd told the league he had no intention of undergoing a physical transition until after retiring from the NWHL, saying "I will be playing in the exact condition that I did last season, just under a new name while using male pronouns."
On its website, the NWHL has already changed Browne's first name from "Hailey" to "Harrison," per his request.
Browne made a special point in his letter to thank Chris Mosier, vice president of the LGBT Athlete advocacy organization You Can Play, for his guidance during this process. Mosier, a duathlete, became the first trans athlete to compete for Team USA at this summer's Rio Olympics. "To see him out and proud…If that inspired me, what could I do for people in the same shoes as me?," Browne explained to Sportsnet.
In a statement about Browne's announcement, Mosier said: "We [at You Can Play] are committed to creating and supporting inclusive spaces for trans and gender non-conforming athletes, and we are proud to support Harrison and the NWHL. Because if you can play, you can play."
Browne's statement was met with resounding support and encouragement from fans on Twitter.
Despite the historic significance of his decision, Browne is decidedly humble.
"If I can be a role model for anyone like me, that’s a role I will embrace," he said in his letter. "But when all is said and done, I’m still Brownie: hockey player, teammate, friend, fan of the game."