“You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity tocompete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute tothe sport or their team’s success.
You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areasby focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.”
–Mission Statement of You Can Play.
Ever since we were in preschool or kindergarten, it has been instilled in us that we must make an effort to include everyone; no one was to be left out and no one was to be left behind. Ina world where the exact opposite is happening, the National Hockey League (NHL) is teaming up with You Can Play, a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure safety and inclusionfor all who participate in sports, including LBGTQ athletes, coaches and players.
You Can Play was founded in 2012 by Patrick Burke, Brian Kitts, and Glenn Witman in honor of Patrick’s brother, Brendan Burke, who died a few months after making international headlines in regards to publicly coming out as gay in 2009. Before his death, Brendan was working towards spreading the message of tolerance and inclusion in the hockey world as a student manager for the Miami (Ohio) men’s hockey team. The purpose of You Can Play is to help change the way the world thinks about athletes of any sexual orientation and allow LGBTQ athletes to play to their full potential after being freed from fear and shame.
Patrick Burke had emailed every general manager in the NHL informing them about what their program was planning to do and stating that they would like players to participate. Within hours Burke had multiple calls from players who were eager to help in anyway that they could. The organization had filmed its first video and launched it for the world with their signature message “if you can play, you can play.”
This was the first video that was released on March 4, 2012:
On April 11, 2013 the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) announced their partnership with the You Can Play Project . This partnership cemented a commitment to education and the training for teams, players and fans as well as the production and broadcasting of additional public service announcements. This partnership also “solidifies the message that the hockey community believes in fairness and equality for everyone” as stated by Winnipeg Jets defensemen and NHLPA Executive Board member Ron Hainsey. The NHL had become the first major American professional sports league to partner with an LGBT advocacy group of this magnitude.
Gary Bettman, the NHL Commissioner, states the motto of the NHL as “Hockey Is For Everyone” and it was announced on February 1, 2017 that February would be “Hockey Is For Everyone” month. According to their website, “‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ uses the game of hockey - and the League's global influence - to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities. It supports any teammate, coach, or fan who brings heart, energy, and passion to the rink.”
Each day of the month would highlight the ways that the sport of hockey brings attention and broadens opportunities. Throughout the month of February, teams will hold special Hockey Is For Everyone™ awareness nights, which will honor and recognize players of all ages and diverse backgrounds. Select clubs will designate one home game in the month of February to be a You Can Play night which will celebrate members of the local LGBTQ community through puck drops and national anthem singers to featured hometown heroes. Players will also have their sticks specially wrapped in “Pride Tape” to be used during warm-ups. “Pride Tape” along with NHL® team pride shirts are available to be purchased on shop.NHL.com. Limited sticks wrapped in “Pride Tape” will also be autographed by players and be available for auction at auction.NHL.com.
On top of players specially wrapping their sticks for warm-ups, clubs will also designate oneplayer to be a You Can Play ambassador for their team. This ambassador is someone who is a leader in the locker room and in the community on diversity, equality, and inclusion. This year will mark the first year that each of the 30 clubs has a player serving as a You Can Play ambassador.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how or who you love – just that you chose love instead of hate because “if you can skate, you can skate. If you can shoot, you can shoot. If you can score, you can score. If you can play, you can play.”