NHL fighting homophobia in hockey
Published Thursday, April 11, 2013 2:00PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 11, 2013 5:09PM EDT
The National Hockey League and its players’ association announced Thursday they have formed an official partnership with the You Can Play Project, an advocacy group founded to fight homophobia in sports.
While the league, its players and the organization have worked together recently on public awareness campaigns, Thursday’s announcement marks the first formal agreement between all parties.
“Our motto is 'Hockey Is For Everyone,' and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
“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 statement said the partnership “formalizes” the league’s commitment to making the NHL “the most inclusive professional sports league in the world.”
The league says it will produce and broadcast more of the public service announcements that some teams and players have already filmed in conjunction with You Can Play, and vows to increase education and training on LGBT issues for its teams and players, as well as fans.
Part of the commitment from the You Can Play team includes seminars for NHL rookies on issues affecting the LGBT community. As well, players will be able to seek confidential counselling or ask questions regarding sexual orientation via the league’s Behavioral Health Program.
“The NHL sets the standard for professional sports when it comes to LGBT outreach and we are incredibly grateful for their help and support,” said Patrick Burke, the co-founder of the You Can Play Project and a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers.
“We will work with League and NHLPA officials, teams and players to ensure that we create a more inclusive hockey community at all levels.”
Burke founded the organization in March 2012, two years after the death of his younger brother, Brendan, who was an assistant with the University of Miami hockey team. Brendan revealed publicly that he was gay not long before he died in a car accident on a snowy Indiana highway in February 2010.
In late 2009, Brendan Burke spoke to ESPN.com about being a gay man in the hockey community, and was joined in subsequent media interviews by his father Brian Burke, a former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks.
Brendan later told TSN: "I think it's important my story is told to people because there are a lot of gay athletes out there and gay people working in pro sports that deserve to know there are safe environments where people are supportive regardless of your sexual orientation."
Since You Can Play was founded, more than 100 professional hockey players have supported its work via PSAs and other avenues.
Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey said any player that can help the team win “should be welcomed as a teammate.
“This partnership solidifies the message that the hockey community believes in fairness and equality for everyone.”
While no NHL players have said they are gay, speculation has ramped up in recent weeks that one or more National Football League players are preparing to come out.
Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is an outspoken advocate for gay rights and marriage equality, recently told a Baltimore Sun reporter that “up to four” players could come out at the same time.
Ayanbadejo has said he will not out any players, but said he has been working with football players in addition to athletes in other sports to devise support systems in the event that they decide to reveal they are gay.