Harrison Browne came out publicly as transgender in an ESPN interview just before the second season of the NWHL opened in October. Born Hailey Browne, the 23-year-old had been out to his friends, family, and college coaches since sophomore year at the University of Maine, but the interview made him the first openly trans athlete in a professional North American team sport. The league changed his name and pronoun on official pages and worked with advocacy groups to create a fair and comprehensive transgender policy.
Brownie, as he’s known to teammates, announced along with his coming out that he was planning to postpone a medical transition until after his playing career was over. The official policy, further, formalized a prohibition on testosterone therapy while still part of the league. In order to continue his physical transition, then, the first professional trans athlete is retiring.
“I feel like people don’t take you seriously, and sometimes I don’t take myself seriously either because I’m walking around saying I’m one thing, but I look like I’m something else,” Browne told the New York Times. “It’s going to be so validating to look into the mirror and see the person that I see inside.”
Browne said that the league’s financial struggles in the second season didn’t factor into his decision but that, beyond freeing him from the restrictions on hormone therapy, retirement will allow him to “to fly under the radar in my everyday life.” He won’t be leaving hockey or the league altogether, however. According to a statement provided by the league to Deadspin, Browne will serve on the NWHL’s Board of Advisors next year.
“Harrison is leaving quite a legacy from his two years in our league,” Commissioner Dani Rylan said in the statement. “He is a pioneer for transgender rights and has been a great hockey player at every level of the game. He is going to be missed, but it’s gratifying to know that Brownie is remaining a part of the NWHL family.”
An All-Star and a fan favorite in his final season, the Buffalo Beauts forward will finish out his NWHL career with the playoffs this weekend.