Earlier this month, the National Hockey League (NHL) took unprecedented historic strides on behalf of the athletic equality movement by announcing its partnership with the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to confronting and challenging homophobia in sports.
“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,” You Can Play’s website says, noting the move marks the first time a “major American professional sports league [has officially partnered] with an LGBT advocacy group on this scale.”
You Can Play was founded just over a year ago by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, in part to honor his brother Brendan, who came out a year before passing away in an auto accident. Burke’s father Brian, a career front office hockey man, most recently was the General Manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Today marks a historic step for LGBT equality in sports,” Patrick Burke said in a statement. “The NHL and the NHLPA [NHL Players’ Association] are stepping up to ensure that the hockey community is welcoming—not begrudging, not tolerant—welcoming to LGBT players, coaches, management or fans.”
As The Nation sports editor Dave Zirin points out, “welcoming” is much more ambitious (and worthwhile) than “tolerance.” And this is now a goal (no pun intended) of the league. Which is notable.
“NHL players have supported the You Can Play Project since its inception,” said NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. “The players believe [this] partnership … will foster an inclusive hockey environment from the grassroots level to the professional ranks.”
“If you can play, you can play.”