ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals professional hockey team has announced it will become the latest NHL team franchise to support the “You Can Play” equality project, which endeavors to foster equality, respect and safety for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation.
Capital’s owner Ted Leonsis — who also owns the NBA’s Wizards and WNBA’s Mystics — told The Washington Post, “I’ve always believed that a sports team holds a mirror up to the community it serves, and just from a service-in-your-community standpoint, we have a very diverse community.”
“So I try to always break things down into: Is it the right thing to do? And then: Is it the right thing for the business? And the answer to this was both … We want hockey to be for everyone,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Caps told LGBTQ Nation Tuesday that Capitals forward Matt Hendricks deserves the credit for pushing the team to join in.
Hendricks recorded a public service announcement, which follows several others that were filmed by other NHL players since the project launched in March.
Hendricks, who grew up playing hockey and as an adult has spent his professional life in the NHL, told the Post that “he is personally aware of the parlance of sports, at times inspirational and uplifting, at others sophomoric and crass, at still others offensive and hurtful.”
After his wife Kim gave birth to twins — a son, Gunnar, and a daughter, Lennon last November, they decided that they needed to be able to raise their children in a world that saw inclusivity both in and out of sports oriented venues.
“I think words are thrown around that people don’t necessarily understand the meanings of them, or the ramifications — what they could potentially do to someone’s feelings,” Hendricks said.
“Looking back to when I was a younger player, before I got into the professional ranks, the slurs and the terminology that’s used in the locker rooms at a younger age isn’t necessarily out there to be malicious, but it definitely could be.”
“It struck a spot in my heart that we want equality throughout all sporting arenas, regardless of whether it be hockey or football or baseball,” Hendricks said. “We think that everyone being equal — regardless, whether it be on the playing field or in the parking lot here, or anywhere — is a real big topic that we talk about in rearing our kids. . . . Parents need to be aware of how to teach their kids the proper way to talk in a locker room.”
The “You Can Play” project was inspired by Brendan Burke, the 21-year-old son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke — a mentor and friend of Capitals General Manager George McPhee.
Brendan Burke, an athlete and student manager at Miami University for the RedHawks men’s ice hockey team, made international headlines for coming out in November 2009.
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.
Brendan’s brother, Patrick, helped found “You Can Play” in the month after his brother’s death, in part because he felt his brother had spoken out courageously about his own sexual orientation in an environment that hasn’t traditionally welcomed such talk.
“You Can Play” isn’t limited to professional hockey.
Patrick Burke, now a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, said that although NHL players and teams still lead the way in participating in the program, he has also met with officials from the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball.
“Things are promising there,” he said.