BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – The National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) have announced they are partnering with the You Can Play campaign, which challenges homophobia in sport.
"The way it will do the league good is it will create the right environment for the league and our fans," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the National Post in a recent interview.
"I think the bottom-line message is really simple; it was the right thing to do, and the players wanted to do it," NHLPA executive director Don Fehr added. "We talked to a lot of players and we got nothing but support on it."
A little more than a year ago, former Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke teamed up with his son Patrick to spearhead the You Can Play campaign,
which is anchored by the slogan “If you can shoot, you can shoot. If
you can score, you can score.
If you can play, you can play." The campaign pays tribute to Brian's
younger son Brendan, who died in a car crash in 2010, just
months after he publicly came out.
In You Can Play’s
debut video, Patrick says his brother "was the first person to fight for the rights of gay
athletes in professional hockey. Since his accident, our family has
fought hard to carry on his legacy and ensure that LGBT athletes around
the world are afforded equal opportunity, judged only by their talent,
character and work ethic in their sport.”
“Over the years,” Patrick told Xtra, “straight athletes have
been conditioned to think they should not support gay rights. We need to
give them a means to support gay players.”
He told The New York Times that the NHL has many players from countries that are "seen as more progressive on LGBT issues."
"I don't think it's unreasonable or strange to think that the NHL and the NHLPA are driving this, in part because our players tend to be more comfortable with this issue," he says.
The aim of the partnership is to facilitate training and counselling about gay issues for teams and players. Burke noted that the partnership is also prepared to intervene when players make homophobic comments, The Times says.
News of the NHL/NHLPA/You Can Play partnership comes in the midst of speculation that an
athlete – and perhaps more than one – from one of the major sports
leagues is mulling the prospect of coming out.
NFL.com recently reported that former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has indicated there is at least one athlete who wants to break the silence about his sexuality but is interested in doing so with another athlete or athletes.
"What we want to facilitate is getting them all together so they can lean on each other, so they can have a support group, and potentially it's possible, it's fathomable that they could possibly do something together and break a story together."
It's a moment for which Ayanbadejo and other NFL-ers, who are part of Athlete Ally, which also works on promoting a welcoming environment for gay athletes, have been paving the way for some time.
"When our Jackie Robinson comes out, he's going to have a supporting
cast around him, and we're going to support him and we're going to treat
him just like we treat everybody else . . . with love and fairness and
kindness and compassion, because we know it's really gonna be a tough
burden on that person," Ayanbadejo told CNN host Don Lemon after the Super Bowl.