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NHL Teams Up With Gay Rights Group to Fight Homophobia

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Saturday Apr 13, 2013
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Officials from the National Hockey League announced last week that they are working with an LGBT organization to support gay rights and fight homophobia in sports, the New York Times reports.

The NHL, arguably one of the most progressive North American pro sports leagues when it comes to gay issues, is now working with the You Can Play Project, an organization that promotes equality in sports, in order to create "what appears to be the most comprehensive measure by a major men’s league in support of gay rights," the Times writes. The two organizations will train and counsel athletes on gay issues and participate in public service announcements.

"Our motto is Hockey Is for Everyone, and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said a statement. "We are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands."

Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and president of You Can Play, said many of the NFL’s players are from Canada and Northern Europe, where gay rights are more accepted.

"We have players from around the world, and a lot of those players are from countries that are seen as more progressive on LGBT issues," Burke, who founded the group in Marc 2012, told the Times. "So I don’t think it’s unreasonable or strange to think that the NGL and the NHLPA [NHL Players’ Association] are driving this, in part because our players tend to be more comfortable with this issue.

Burke added that preparing for an athlete coming out is not part of the initiative, however.

"But we’re ready to do whatever that player wants," he said. "If he wants to do a thousand interviews and march in pride parades, we’re equipped to handle that. And if he wants us to pass block for him so he never has to do another interview in his life, we’re equipped to handle that, too."

Burke also spoke with the Huffington Post and said that the move is incredibly important.

"Today marks a historic step for LGBT equality in sports. The NHL and the NHLPA are stepping up to ensure that the hockey community is welcoming -- not begrudging, not tolerant -- welcoming to LGBT players, coaches, management or fans," he said. "Now with the culture of the hockey community behind us, we can do the important educational outreach to help everyone know how to be accepting."

This isn’t the first time the NHL has worked on fighting homophobia in sports. In March 2012, some major hockey players, including Rick Nash, Duncan Keith, Corey Perry and others, were featured in a public service announcement promoting equality in sport, the Associated Press noted.

Additionally, last month, LGBT rights supporters, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker in the sports world started working to prepare for an openly out athlete, after rumors circulated around the Internet that an active NFL player would soon come out of the closet.

"We want to let this NFL player -- or any closeted gay player -- know that you have backup. Your community, whether it is your teammates or your fan base is here to support you," Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, a group working to end homophobia in sports, said in a statement. Fujita, an ambassador for the group, said he doesn’t want the athlete to feel pressured into coming out.

"Everyone is different and has his or her own way of living life. At the same time, encouraging fans to stand up for inclusion in sports is fundamental to Athlete Ally’s mission and inextricably bound to moments like this."

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