Canadian Football League partners with You Can Play to help end homophobia in football

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly is a supporter of the You Can Play project. - Derek Leung

The partnership between the CFL and You Can Play will help bring a message of gay inclusion to coaches and athletes in the league.

The Canadian Football League has entered into a partnership with the You Can Play project that will provide resources to each CFL team to help combat homophobia in their locker rooms and their communities.

"This is a very important issue facing the sports world today," said CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon. "And it's important to our league and our players. Through this partnership we are demonstrating that we fully support openly gay athletes and we will provide the environment and resources necessary to ensure players are welcomed and respected, and evaluated solely on their athletic abilities, regardless of their sexual orientation."

A particularly cool piece of the program is the creation of ambassadors on each CFL team. These ambassadors will provide resources for their teammates and coaches and build a safe space of gay people on the team. In addition, they will work with their local community to help bring the message of inclusion to sports beyond their own locker rooms.

The You Can Play project also has powerful relationships with the NFL and NHL.

To date, the CFL has never had an openly gay active player.

Here's the press release from the Canadian Football League that explains the entire program:

The Canadian Football League and the Canadian Football League Players' Association launched today a new partnership with the You Can Play Project, an organization that is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.

"This is a very important issue facing the sports world today," said CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon. "And it's important to our league and our players. Through this partnership we are demonstrating that we fully support openly gay athletes and we will provide the environment and resources necessary to ensure players are welcomed and respected, and evaluated solely on their athletic abilities, regardless of their sexual orientation."

CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon & Calgary Stampeder Jon Cornish will be available to media at Noon MT at McMahon Stadium to discuss the partnership.

Through this partnership, YCP will provide a confidential and anonymous system through which CFL players, coaches and staff can receive support, training, counseling, or other resources as needed.

"We have some of the greatest athletes in the world playing in our league, and their sexual orientation should be of no consequence," said Scott Flory, CFLPA President and former CFL All-Star. "This partnership will provide support to all CFL players as we continue to remove any barriers or disrespect to openly gay athletes in professional sports."

Another former football player, Wade Davis, is the executive director for You Can Play, and spent time playing in the NFL and NFL Europe as a closeted gay athlete.

"We are honoured to partner with the CFL to build a more inclusive culture in the locker rooms, on the field, and in the stands," said Davis. "At any level, football is about family. My teammates were my brothers and my friends, and I would have done anything for them. We will work with the CFL and its players to ensure that family atmosphere includes all of our LGBT brothers and sisters."

The Canadian Football League and its Players' Association is the third professional sports league in North America to partner with YCP, joining the NHL and MLS.

"You Can Play is proud to be a partner of the CFL," said Patrick Burke, President of YCP. "We believe talent, character, and work ethic are what matters in the sports world. It is encouraging to see the CFL and its players embrace the same ideals. This is an exciting day for LGBT football fans and players across Canada. It is wonderful that they now know without a doubt that they are welcomed and embraced by the CFL family."

As part of this partnership, each CFL team has identified an ambassador who will work with their teammates and YCP to provide the necessary support and resources to any player or staff member who requests it. These players will also be involved in their communities to promote equality and respect for all athletes.

Here is the list of team YCP ambassadors:

BC Lions: Marco Ianuzzi
Edmonton Eskimos: Mike Reilly
Calgary Stampeders: Jon Cornish
Saskatchewan Roughriders: Jim Hopson
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Donovan Alexander
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Brian Bulcke
Toronto Argonauts: Zander Robinson
Ottawa REDBLACKS: Eric Fraser
Montreal Alouettes: Kyries Hebert

During the World Pride Parade in Toronto on Sunday, June 29, members of the Argonauts will join the You Can Play float in support of this partnership and important cause. This marks the second year in a row that the Argos have been representatives in the Parade.

"It's great to see our players step up for this important issue," said Cohon. "Through the sports communities collective efforts, we truly hope that this will be a non-issue in the future."

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