#YouCanPlay

If you watched NBC’s broadcast of Sunday’s game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers, you may have seen the above PSA featuring many NHL players delivering one simple message:

If you can play, you can play.

The 60-second spot introduced the new You Can Play Project, set up by Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and one of Brian’s sons, Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, brother of the late Brendan Burke. The project was also co-founded by Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman.

You Can Play’s mission statement is as follows:

You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.

You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.

You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.

When it comes to gaining respect in hockey, which sexes a player is attracted to should be and is entirely irrelevant. Instead, a hockey player earns his or her respect through what he or she does on the ice. The You Can Play Project intends to keep it that way.

Patrick’s younger brother Brendan experienced the kind of acceptance You Can Play advocates at Miami University in Ohio, where Brendan served as the men’s hockey team’s student manager. Brendan came out to the RedHawk program, and Miami head coach Enrico Blasi and his players accepted Brendan into the team’s ‘Brotherhood’ unreservedly.

Two years ago, Brendan, one of the brightest young people our sport and our world had to offer, tragically passed away in a car accident in Indiana.

You Can Play continues Brendan’s legacy, though, and Blasi and former RedHawk players Tommy Wingels and Andy Miele are members of the project’s advisory board.

“The end goal of our project is that we’re completely useless,” Patrick Burke told Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post’s D.C. Sports Bog.

“We want the day to come when it’s not a story when an athlete comes out, when athletes are only judged by how they can help their teams win.”

The project is about educating people, Patrick Burke says. While nobody is pretending that it will be easy for You Can Play to realize its end goal, it is becoming increasingly evident that – especially in hockey – there is a wide cross-section of the sporting community that would be accepting of gay athletes.

Many straight allies feature in the You Can Play PSA. A full list of the NHL players featured in the minute-long video:

  • Rick Nash (Columbus Blue Jackets)
  • Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks)
  • Brian Boyle (New York Rangers)
  • Matt Moulson (New York Islanders)
  • Joffrey Lupul (Toronto Maple Leafs)
  • Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers)
  • Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators)
  • Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia Flyers)
  • Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks)
  • Andy Greene (New Jersey Devils)
  • Dion Phaneuf (Toronto Maple Leafs)
  • Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers)

You Can Play has quickly eclipsed the 2,500 follower mark on Twitter, and that number is sure to rise exponentially in the coming days, weeks and months.

Following YCP and retweeting its tweets are a positive step that all of us can make, but we in the hockey community can’t stop there.

Gay athletes also need to be provided with safe environments free of homophobic slurs, and that’s something that can spread the cause’s momentum into anti-homophobia initiatives in other sports.

We’ve yet to see the first gay NHL player make that brave step and come out publicly, but the hockey community takes pride in taking care of its own, and that player, as well as gay players at every other level of the sport, will be celebrated for their courage.

What’s more, if they can play, they will be backed by support from fans everywhere, rooting for them as hard as they do for the players’ straight allies.

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