NHL Joins Gay Rights Group in Effort to Be Most Inclusive League

The National Hockey League announced today a partnership with a gay rights advocacy group, continuing what it calls its quest to become the “most inclusive professional sports league” in the world.

The NHL and its players union reached an agreement with the You Can Play Project, a Denver-based advocacy group that opposes homophobia in sports and promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, equality. The partnership includes educational and support components for teams, players and fans of the league.

“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 in 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.”

The news comes after the Baltimore Sun reported last week that a male athlete in one of North America’s major sports leagues is considering becoming the first active athlete to publicly say he is gay. The newspaper said that more than one current National Football League player was considering going public with his homosexuality.

As part of the NHL partnership, You Can Play will conduct seminars at the league’s rookie symposium to educate young prospects on LGBT issues, according to the release. The NHL also committed to working with teams to further advance the message, and will enable players to seek counseling or ask questions regarding sexual orientation through the league’s Behavioral Health Program.

Patrick Burke

The You Can Play Project was started last year by Patrick Burke, a scout with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and son of former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, after the death of his brother Brendan, who was gay. A manager for the Miami University hockey team, Brendan Burke died three years ago in a car accident at age 21.

“The hockey culture is ready for an openly gay teammate,” Patrick Burke said today in a telephone interview.

Many NHL players have already appeared in ads for You Can Play, including Henrik Lundqvist and Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers. More than 100 players have publicly said they would support an openly gay teammate, according to the league.

-- With assistance from Scott Soshnick in New York. Editors: Michael Sillup, Jay Beberman

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