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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Project tackles locker-room culture
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2012-03-05

This article shared 3583 times since Mon Mar 5, 2012
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The message was simple: if you can play, you can play.

The messengers were most impressive.

On Sunday, March 4, during the first intermission of a Boston Bruins-New York Rangers hockey game broadcast live on NBC, a PSA was aired, featuring eight NHL stars, including Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Keith and the other NHL superstars voiced their support for the new "You Can Play" project, aimed at ending homophobia and discrimination in sports locker rooms, that athletes should be judged on athletic skill and ability, not sexual orientation or other discriminatory factors.

That video and other future videos will be posted at www.YouCanPlayProject.org, which also will offer resources for straight and gay players, coaches and fans. The You Can Play project is backed by numerous National Hockey League players and others, including several All-Stars.

"The goals for You Can Play are clear," co-founder Patrick Burke said in a statement. "We want to make locker rooms safe for all athletes, rather than places of fear, slurs and bullying. The casual homophobia in sports has to change, so all athletes know that what counts is whether you can play the game."

Accoridng to the statement, Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, has been a straight ally since his younger brother, Brendan, came out as gay while a manager of the Miami University ice-hockey team. A car accident took Brendan's life in 2010.

Brian Burke, the father of Patrick and Brendan, is the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager. Brian has been a strong, vocal supporter of the LGBT community since Brendan's coming-out, and both Brian and Patrick appear in the inaugural video.

"The hockey community united behind Brendan because he loved the game, and that's what matters. The NHL players stepping forward to support You Can Play know that creating a homophobia-free environment will make their teams—and the sport—better," Patrick said. "It's important for straight athletes at all levels to step up and let gay athletes know they will be accepted, and to let other straight athletes know that homophobic language and attitudes are never appropriate. This project is a combined effort of gay and straight athletes and fans, but the message is largely for straight audiences."

Brian Burke added in a statement, "The Burke family is very proud to carry on Brendan's legacy by working to ensure that LGBT athletes, coaches and fans around the world are treated with respect by the sports world. The You Can Play project will serve as a tremendous resource for the sports community by providing them with the tools needed to create safe arenas. I continue to be incredibly grateful to the NHL community for rallying around our cause and standing up for equality, and I look forward to seeing other leagues do the same. It has become abundantly clear to me that NHL players, coaches and management agree completely with our ideals: talent matters, sexual orientation does not. If you can play, You Can Play."

Andrew Sobotka, president of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA), said he is "very pleased" with the You Can Play Project. "The project itself is to combat homophobia in sports and having 30 NHL players make appearances in these videos makes a big statement," Sobotka said. "It's nice to see the NHL get behind a project that can do such much for so many struggling LGBT athletes who may not feel comfortable being themselves in the locker room. The Burke family and all those involved in You Can Play are doing top notch work in an area that sorely needs it. If homophobia can be eliminated from the sporting community then that will help people from many walks of life to find acceptance with their teammates, friends and family."

Andy Miele was the 2011 Hobey Baker Memorial Award-winner, presented to the best collegiate hockey player of the year. He now plays for the Phoenix Coyotes, and was a friend of Brendan Burke's while at Miami University. "The reason why I wanted to be a part of You Can Play is pretty obvious," Miele said in a statement. "I had a relationship with Brendan and, if he was still here, he would want to promote this more than anyone else. I felt privileged when Patrick came to me and asked me to be a part of it, and I look forward to investing this into players all over the world to make the sports world safe for gay athletes."

The group's advisory board includes Miele, San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels, Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts, two-time U.S. women's soccer Olympic gold-medal winner Angela Hucles and the elder Burke.

Patrick Burke, 28, told the Washington Post that the NHL is already "the most accepting of the major men's sports leagues."

"But the fact is, we've never had an openly gay active male player in any of the four big professional leagues," Burke told the Post. "As accepting as our [NHL] players are and our management is, we need the gay athletes who are currently in the NHL—because I believe there are some—to know just how accepting our league is. It's scary when you think you're alone, when you think you're the only one. Everyone thinks about the worst-case scenario: I'm gonna come out, and my teammates are gonna turn on me, and I'll get cut. We need to show them that that's not the case."

The other co-founders of the You Can Play project are Brian Kitts, who spent more than 10 years working in the front-office of professional hockey, basketball, lacrosse and soccer teams; and Glenn Witman, a former hockey player at Hobart College and founder of GForce Sports, an elite gay hockey team and advocacy program.

"When Brendan died, the Burke [family] made a commitment to changing the atmosphere in sports for gay athletes," said Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of the gay sports website Outsports.com . "What they found is what we've seen for several years: Sports has already changed, but still few people realize that or want to talk about it. The power of Patrick's new project is the removal of the mask of sports.

"This is now an issue athletes are willing to talk about, and they're on the side of inclusion. It's powerful not just for closeted athletes, but also for straight athletes who have long felt the need to act homophobic to be more of a 'man' to [their] teammates. The You Can Play project is instrumental in showing the change in that dynamic, and also giving license to people to just be themselves and play the sport they love."


This article shared 3583 times since Mon Mar 5, 2012
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