Yesterday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that they were forming an official partnership with the You Can Play Project, an advocacy association whose mission is to eliminate homophobia in the world of sports.
In a heartbeat, celebrities and athletes all over this great country of ours were taking to social media in order to praise this historic event, most notably Ellen DeGeneres, who Tweeted this:
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) April 11, 2013
The NHLPA was quick to respond:
This partnership certainly marks a huge day, not just for the world of sports, but for the world in general, as every step we take toward fighting homophobia leads to a better, safer world for future generations. I am truly proud of the NHL and NHLPA for being the first professional sports league to officially partner with YCP, which has become the go-to organization whenever an issue with homophobia affects a professional athlete. With YCP presenting rookie symposiums designed to educate incoming NHL players on gay and lesbian issues, and creating public service announcements advocating for equality in the world of professional hockey, the NHL is certain to become the model for acceptance among professional athletes.
The only question that remains to be asked now is, how long until the other members of the “Big Four” – MLB, the NFL, and the NBA – set up such a partnership, if not with YCP, then with another organization that promotes sexual equality? While it’s great to see the NHL and NHLPA spearhead the movement, there are far more baseball, football, and basketball players in this country than there are hockey players. I am thrilled that my seven year-old son now will have some role models in the NHL to look up to and emulate, but what about my son’s friends, only a few of whom play hockey? After all, the athletes who are most likely to benefit the most from the message being promoted by YCP are young kids, according to Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, who founded YCP in order to honor the legacy of his brother, Brendan Burke, who died in a car accident in 2010.
“When we have NHL players come out, people are going to talk about what a great victory this was, and what this partnership did,” Patrick Burke said. “And that’s true, it will be a great day when that happens. But there are kids who are going to be affected by this who will never make a headline or have a story written about them. There are kids who went to bed last night thinking, ‘I could never play in the NHL,’ and they’re going to go to bed tonight knowing the official policy of the NHL and its players is that you’re welcome in our league if you’re good enough.”
It’s amazing, knowing that youth hockey players will now find themselves immersed in a culture that promotes acceptance at every level – but it’s nowhere near enough. There are too many other young athletes out there who are not immersed in such a culture, so I sincerely hope that the NHL’s bold first step encourages the other professional sports leagues to follow suit. After all, Kevin Westgarth‘s Tweet below shouldn’t apply just to the NHL; it should apply to all sports in this, the 21st century:
— Kevin Westgarth (@KWesty19) April 11, 2013