There always has to be a first. Today, with much pride, that honor goes to the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association.
Today’s announcement that the National Hockey League and NHLPA will begin building inclusive policies and practices for LGBT players, coaches and fans puts the league squarely at the head of the line. Much credit goes to Commissioner Bettman, the players and top management across the league, and “You Can Play” founder Patrick Burke, who has so ably continued the pioneering path first blazed by his late brother Brendan.
Being first often can’t be easy. Just ask Willie O’Ree. There’s no place to hide when you’re the first one in line.
But not hiding is so much of what being first is about, and what today’s announcement means for players and fans of the great game of hockey.There always have been, and always will be, players and coaches and equipment managers and owners and fans of the game who are LGBT. We’re already here. The only change is that, hopefully, everyone connected to the sport can feel respected for who they are. The only agenda being pushed is a call to treat those around you with decency, as human beings should.
Patrick Burke likes to say that so much of this is really just about eliminating five or so words. You can still call your opponent an asshole; just don’t call him a fag. That goes for those on and off the ice. Seems like a fairly simply request.
Today is a big day, but rest assured, it is just the start. Sure as the sun’s rising, other major sporting leagues will join suit, in time. Athletes and owners will continue to come out in greater numbers. Those in the stands using homophobic slurs already are increasingly being shunned or shamed.
Change comes in fits and starts. There will be setbacks. But overall, to paraphrase another man at the head of another line, the arc of history generally bends toward justice.
Who ever you are, whatever your team, today is a great day to be a proud hockey fan.
The full text of the NHL statement follows:
NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE, NHL PLAYERS’ ASSOCIATION ANNOUNCE PARTNERSHIP WITH YOU CAN PLAY
NEW YORK/TORONTO (April 11, 2013) – The National Hockey League Players’ Association and the National Hockey League today announced an historic partnership with the You Can Play Project that formalizes and advances their long-standing commitment to make the NHL the most inclusive professional sports league in the world.
“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 Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, the founder of the You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization that fights homophobia in sports. “We will work with League and NHLPA officials, teams and players to ensure that we create a more inclusive hockey community at all levels.”
Said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: “Our motto is ‘Hockey Is For Everyone,’ and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way. 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.”
“NHL players have supported the You Can Play Project since its inception, which we are pleased to formalize and expand upon with today’s announcement,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “The players believe our partnership with the NHL and You Can Play will foster an inclusive hockey environment from the grassroots level to the professional ranks.”
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.
“As NHL players, we all strive to contribute towards helping our teams achieve success on the ice. Any player who can help in those efforts should be welcomed as a teammate,” said Ron Hainsey, Winnipeg Jets defenseman and NHLPA Executive Board member. “This partnership solidifies the message that the hockey community believes in fairness and equality for everyone.”
You Can Play will conduct seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium to educate young prospects on LGBT issues. In addition, You Can Play will make its resources and personnel available to each individual team as desired.
The NHLPA and NHL also will work with You Can Play to integrate the project into their Behavioral Health Program, enabling players to confidentially seek counseling or simply ask questions regarding matters of sexual orientation.
The You Can Play Project, founded by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, celebrated its one year anniversary on March 4, 2013. From its inception, it has had tremendous support from the hockey community and beyond. NHL players Tommy Wingels and Andy Miele, and former NHL General Manager Brian Burke all serve on You Can Play’s Advisory Board. Over 100 professional hockey players have voiced their support for gay teammates and have been joined by athletes from numerous sports representing approximately 20 NCAA organizations.