The Toronto Marlies are making history as the first team to sign a You Can Play pledge declaring support and respect for all players, regardless of their sexuality.
The pledge is the result of a partnership with an organization founded in March 2012 by Patrick Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs president Brian Burke, to carry on the legacy of his younger brother Brendan. Brendan’s coming-out story, and tragic death, inspired the You Can Play movement to promote queer equality in sports.
In September, around the time that now-traded Blue Jays’ shortstop Yunel Escobar was at the centre of a controversy after writing a homophobic slur on his face, the head coach of the Toronto Marlies, Dallas Eakins, asked if someone from You Can Play could speak to the team about homophobia in sport.
“He heard I was in town and jumped at the chance. He said, ‘This is something our players need to be more aware of,’” Patrick Burke says. Out gay hockey player Scott Heggart joined him.
“At the end of discussion, several players came and asked me, ‘What can we do? We’re all on board. We want to help.’”
Contributing a supportive YouTube video was a “given,” the team members told Burke, but the Marlies wanted to go further.
“So they asked me to draft a pledge. The entire Toronto Marlies organization recited it and signed,” Burke says.
Text of the You Can Play Pledge:
The Toronto Marlies pledge to support all of our teammates, coaches and fans — gay or straight. We stand for the idea that athletes should be judged by their character, work ethic and talent, not their sexual orientation. Racist, sexist and homophobic comments have no place in our arena. Everyone contributes. Everyone is valued. Everyone matters. We pledge to make our locker room a place of unity. We pledge to support and encourage each other, on and off the ice. We pledge to make Toronto proud to have us represent them. On behalf of the Toronto Marlies, we pledge: If you can cheer, you can cheer. If you can coach, you can coach. If you can play, you can play.
The written pledge of support is the first of its kind for You Can Play. Burke calls the declaration a historic moment in professional sports. “It’s just awesome,” he says.
The team also had two big copies printed up displaying the Marlies logo alongside You Can Play, and every player and coach signed it.
“One hangs in the locker room to always remind the players, and the other hangs in the concourse [of the Ricoh Coliseum] so the fans see it and the fans are reminded,” he says.
“This is really groundbreaking stuff for a sports team to be doing,” he says.
The video will be aired during games to show queer players, coaches and fans that the Toronto Marlies welcome them into an environment free from harassment and intimidation.
The Marlies are the latest professional sports team to join the You Can Play movement. On Nov 16, the Toronto Argonauts told Xtra they would also support a gay teammate.
Check out the recent You Can Play video from Miami University, Brendan Burke’s former team.
Check out Xtra‘s interview with the Toronto Argonauts: