The NHL has officially released a press statement regarding their alliance with the You Can Play Project. From the press release:
"NHL players have supported the You Can Play Project since its inception, which we are pleased to formalize and expand upon with today's announcement," said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. "The players believe our partnership with the NHL and You Can Play will foster an inclusive hockey environment from the grassroots level to the professional ranks."
The official partnership with You Can Play includes a significant commitment to education and training for teams, players, media and fans plus the production and broadcast of more public service announcements.
"As NHL players, we all strive to contribute towards helping our teams achieve success on the ice. Any player who can help in those efforts should be welcomed as a teammate," said Ron Hainsey, Winnipeg Jets defenseman and NHLPA Executive Board member. "This partnership solidifies the message that the hockey community believes in fairness and equality for everyone."
You Can Play, founded by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, son of former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, advocates for acceptance in the locker room, on the rink, and on the field. Patrick founded You Can Play after the passing of his brother, Brendan. Brendan came out on a wider scale in 2009 in an article to ESPN's John Buccigross shortly before his passing in an automobile accident in 2010. He was a student manager for the Miami University, Ohio, hockey team, and the acceptance from both his family and his team after he came out surely had to have been a guiding force in Patrick's founding of YCP. As Miami University coach Enrico Blasi told ESPN:
"Brendan is a great guy, personable and caring. As student manager, he is involved in a lot of things for us -- video, stats and community service, to name a few of his duties. To my knowledge, there has been nothing negative [since he came out to us]. I think it goes along the lines that Brendan is part of our family. Everyone respects Brendan, and that's all that really matters. The players are awesome. They are very sensitive to language and how we talk in the locker room. Again, it goes back to our culture and working on relationships and behaviors."
Working on improving sports culture and behavior -- regardless of if that person means it as homophobic or not -- is a very large goal of You Can Play. A very large portion of the players in the league have bought into their message of "if you can play, you can play." There have been a few slip-ups here and there among players on a national scale, but You Can Play has not publicly chastised them. Instead, they work on facilitating discussion, which is far more helpful in changing a mindset.
Despite the rumors (that turned out to fall through) that four NFL players were set to come out on the same day, and despite the fact that many MLB teams have filmed spots for the "It Gets Better" campaign, targeted at LGBT youth who are going through tough times, no professional league has allied themselves with a campaign such has You Can Play. The NHL is, for once, showcasing itself as an example for the other major leagues to follow. There is no place for homophobia, racism, religious slurs, or anything else in professional sports. Sure, sports are a reflection of society, and in society it's difficult to ditch the stereotypes and whatnot. As much as I hate to say it, stereotyping and calling people out for our differences is human nature. But when active thought's involved, it's extremely easy to make life comfortable for everyone.
There are probably NHLers (as well as players of other sports) who are gay and who don't want to publicly come out due to fear of how fans and teammates will treat them. That's unfortunate, but if the You Can Play Project and the NHL's participation with it helps people -- gay and straight -- be more comfortable with their teammates, then it's accomplished a wonderful thing.
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