The National Hockey League and its players association on Thursday announced a groundbreaking partnership with the “You Can Play” project in what is likely the most comprehensive effort by a major North American sports league to support gay athletes.
The agreement with “You Can Play” — a social activism campaign dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports — will see the implementation of an agenda of inclusion throughout the NHL that promotes better understanding of and respect for gay athletes, reported Hockey News.
“I’m very proud that the National Hockey League and NHL Players Association are the ones taking this step and breaking new ground,” Philadelphia Flyers scout and YCP co-founder Patrick Burke told THN late Thursday morning.
“The big shift is that this is a professional sports league saying not that, ‘We tolerate you,’ not that, ‘We’ll deal with it if we need to,’ but that they’re inviting us in. It’s exciting.”
“Our motto is ‘Hockey Is For Everyone,’ and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way,” added NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
“While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.”
The NHL said the partnership will include training and counseling on gay issues for its teams and players.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the venture underlines that “the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.” Union head Donald Fehr says the project “will foster an inclusive hockey environment from the grassroots level to the professional ranks.”
The “You Can Play” project was inspired by Brendan Burke, the 21-year-old son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke.
Advocating for tolerance and speaking out against homophobia in professional sports, Brendan Burke’s coming out was widely praised and supported by sports news outlets and fans, generating multiple discussions about homophobia in sports, and in hockey in particular. He was viewed as a pioneer in advocacy against homophobia in hockey, described as “the closest person to the NHL ever to come out publicly and say that he is gay.”
Brendan Burke was killed in a automobile accident on February 5, 2010. His brother, Patrick, helped found “You Can Play” in the month after his brother’s death.