NHL, Players Union Partner With You Can Play And Stress Gay Inclusion

Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins doesn't care whether a player is gay or straight. - Elsa

Commissioner Gary Bettman talks about "inclusion on ice," as the league and the players union join with a project to make gay players welcome in the sport.

The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association have partnered with the You Can Play Project, stressing that the sport embraces all players, regardless of their sexual orientation. The program will include counseling services and seminars on LGBT issues for incoming rookies.

"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. "While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, 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."

You Can Play has been working with various NHL players and teams over the last year despite no formal relationship with the League. Launched last March, they have brought videos of dozens of NHL players talking about their support for potential gay teammates. In addition, they've worked with teams like the Vancouver Canucks to participate with the community in other ways like turning their home arena purple during Spirit Day and appearing in the local gay pride parade.

"NHL players have supported the You Can Play Project since its inception, which we are pleased to formalize and expand upon with today’s announcement," said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. "The players believe our partnership with the NHL and You Can Play will foster an inclusive hockey environment from the grassroots level to the professional ranks."

The organization was co-founded by Patrick Burke, whose father is a longtime fixture in the NHL and was the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Patrick is a scout with the Philadelphia Flyers and he remarked on the historic nature of the partnership.

"The NHL sets the standard for professional sports when it comes to LGBT outreach and we are incredibly grateful for their help and support," said Burke. "We will work with League and NHLPA officials, teams and players to ensure that we create a more inclusive hockey community at all levels."

With the partnership, the league will commit to educate and train its players on LGBT issues, including seminars at the rookie symposium, public service announcements for fans and integration into the league's Behavioral Health Program, "enabling players to confidentially seek counseling or simply ask questions regarding matters of sexual orientation."

"It’s not a big deal if you’re straight or gay or whatever you are, it’s a matter of being a good teammate," Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference told the New York Times. "We take a lot of pride in viewing the locker room as a family and treating each other like brothers. If one of those brothers feels ostracized for what he is, it’s just wrong."

After the announcement, Ben Scrivens of the Toronto Maple Leafs tweeted: "Very proud to be an @NHL player and @NHLPA member today with the announcement of the partnership with @YouCanPlayTeam"

Correction: We previously reported that Major League Soccer had a partnership with You Can Play. A partnership had been discussed, but it has not materialized.

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