Edmonton Oilers captain and defenceman Andrew Ference will march in the city’s Pride parade June 7. Ference will be joined by Jen Scrivens, wife of Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens, says Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play project, which is dedicated to the fight against homophobia in sport.
“Kind of a no-brainer” is how Ference described his decision to participate in the event, scheduled to get off the ground at noon, according to the Edmonton Journal.
“Andrew’s been a friend of mine for a while and a supporter of You Can Play, so he’s always asking us about new ways to get involved and new initiatives he can take part in,” Burke told Xtra. “We let him know when the parade was, and he made sure that he was in town,” he says, noting it was “pretty easy” to set up.
“Jen will represent the wives and girlfriends there, and Andrew will represent the players,” Burke adds. He notes that Ben and Jen Scrivens participated in the Toronto Pride parade last year.
Burke says Ference’s presence in the event shows LGBT youth that the National Hockey League and the Edmonton Oilers support them.
Ference will be marching with You Can Play partner Camp fYrefly, a leadership retreat for sexual-minority and gender-variant youth aged 14 to 24. It was launched in 2004 by University of Alberta researchers and educators André Grace and Kris Wells to help queer and trans youth develop the leadership skills and resilience necessary for them to become agents of change in their schools, families and communities.
“Having Andrew draw attention to Camp fYrefly, as well, will be great for that camp and that organization,” Burke says.
He also hopes Ference’s participation raises awareness about the parade itself. “It would be great if some Oilers’ fans who weren’t planning on attending are now planning on attending.”
Burke says that he anticipates other athletes will take part in other parades this year but notes that the main obstacles to participation are timing and logistics.
“We’ve had a lot of guys say, ‘Yeah, I would happily do it, but I’m out of town or I’m on vacation.’ I think if we were ever to put a concerted effort behind it, we could probably have an athlete in every parade that we wanted,” he says. “This is their off-time and their off-season, so logistically, it’s sometimes a little bit difficult, but I do anticipate we’ll have more athletes in more parades going forward this year.”
Once those plans have been confirmed, they’ll be announced, he adds.
Burke says it’s still unclear whether any Toronto Maple Leafs players will be available for WorldPride.
He says he’s “definitely” seen a marked change in the atmosphere in locker rooms and among fans in the stands over the last three or four years, adding that athletes are speaking and thinking differently about homophobia and out gay athletes.
The “vast, vast majority” of North American sports fans support out gay athletes, a finding that’s been backed by numerous surveys and studies, Burke adds. He points out that the jerseys of Brooklyn Nets’ Jason Collins and St Louis Rams’ draft pick Michael Sam have been flying off the shelves.
“There are always idiots who yell some things,” he acknowledges, noting there is a vocal minority that makes things harder for everyone else. Moreover, the media coverage of people who make homophobic comments tends to be more extensive than when fans do something supportive, he suggests.
Major League Soccer fans are bringing rainbow banners and signs to games, he says, offering an example of the support he has observed. “I think the narrative that the sports world remains homophobic is outdated.”
Burke and his father, Brian, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames, launched You Can Play in honour of Patrick’s gay younger brother, Brendan, who died in a car accident in 2010. Since its establishment, the campaign has received support from numerous NHL teams and players, including Ryan Kesler, the Sedins, Zdeno Chara, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber and Carey Price.
Jason Garrison and Manny Malhotra, a former Vancouver Canucks centre, both marched in Vancouver’s parade in 2012, while Georges Laraque, who used to play for the Montreal Canadiens, took part in Montreal Pride in 2010.