The You Can Play project today announced the “High Five Initiative,” which will bring professional athletes to LGBT youth organizations. It starts today with former NFL players and NFL player-engagement execs Troy Vincent and Dwight Hollier visiting the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which cares for and educates LGBT youth, many of whom are homeless.

Next year the project will be expanded to LGBT youth groups in other cities with many NFL players and possibly athletes and staff from other pro-sports leagues.

The initiative is brilliant on a few levels.

Most importantly, it allows LGBT youth themselves to educate the NFL on their issues. There is no better way to do it. Professional football players are adults. They're big boys. They can handle sitting down with a 16-year-old trans boy or a 15-year-old butch lesbian. They don't need someone to filter the messages and stories these youth have to share about their lives. Taking NFL players and staff members directly to the source will be the most impactful interaction with the LGBT community they have ever had.

I've visited the Hetrick-Martin Institute. I was blown away by the lives many of these kids are forced to lead and the issues they face. Many of them were kicked out of their homes by their parents and go to school for food. They wash their clothes and even seek out clothing at the school. There are special lights throughout the building to control disease and pests the kids may track with them from living in group homes or on the street. All of this is because of the marginalization they feel in our society, or because of the hostility they experience at home (if they even have a home).

No speaker at a symposium could ever have the impact this visit will generate.

The visit will also have a huge impact on these kids. NFL players? Coming to Hetrick-Martin? Are you for real?? This was an impossibility just a couple years ago. But Vincent, who heads up diversity at the NFL, has been committed to educating himself and the League on LGBT issues, and he has been talking with gay former NFL player Wade Davis for much of this year about how to do that. I saw first-hand what kind of response pro athletes can get by visiting with these kids when I attended the YOU Belong Initiative camp in Chicago this summer. Talking to the kids, they were blown away that Jason and Jarron Collins — two NBA players — would take a weekend of their time to spend with them. It was inspiring.

Also, don't miss the significance of the initiative's name — High Five. The high five was created by Dusty Baker and gay former MLB player Glenn Burke. It's poetic, for Chrissake!

This is powerful stuff by the NFL, You Can Play, the Hetrick-Martin Institute and everyone involved. As I've said several times, the way you truly change sports is by having LGBT people share their stories and talk with people. Seeing the NFL work more closely with openly gay former NFL player Davis is powerful. This is another great step in the right direction.

Here's the full statement from You Can Play:

You Can Play Project Announces the launch of the "High Five" Initiative

New York — Today, December 3rd, the You Can Play Project (YCP) will launch the "High Five" initiative. The "High Five" initiative works to create meaningful connections between LGBT youth and leaders within the professional sports community.

"We believe that the power of story telling is a transformative experience that helps to broaden and foster our understanding of one another. We hope through these one-on-one interactions youth will see they are welcomed in sports," said former NFL player Wade Davis, the executive director of the You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The initiative will have a soft launch today with former NFL players and NFL Player Engagement executives Troy Vincent and Dwight Hollier visiting the Hetrick Martin Institute (HMI), one of the nations oldest and largest LGBT organizations based in NYC. The HMI provides at-promise lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) youth social support and programming ranging from arts and culture to academic enrichment to job readiness.

After today, both organizations will continue to work together to expand the initiative during the 2014 season and have current and former players visit other organizations nationwide.

"After attending the You Belong camp and recognizing the impact those LGBTQ kids had on me, it became clear the easiest way to educate athletes was by creating meaningful interactions with the LGBTQ community, especially youth. We hope the "High Five" initiative will accomplish just that by moving through various sports and locations nationwide connecting professional athletes and youth" said NHL Director of Player Safety Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project.

Current You Can Project Executive Director, Wade Davis worked for over two years at the Hetrick Martin Institute and learned firsthand the impact sports can have on LGBTQ youth. "Initially, I didn't inform the youth I was a former NFL player, but as more and more found out, I realized it was important for them to know that I was gay and played sports."

The "High Five" initiative is one of many steps that the NFL and other professional sports leagues are taking to make LGBT individuals feel welcomed in sports. During the visit to HMI, the former NFL players will receive a youth led tour of the organization and then talk with youth who are a part of two different internships, the Stars of Change and Peer Ed. The youth will talk about the work they do in their internships and the impact that the organization has had on them. In addition, youth will educate the players on the importance of "pronoun" usage and the need for safe spaces. The players will discuss the hard work, perseverance and dedication it took for them to make it to the NFL and answer whatever questions the youth have about the NFL and sports.

The name "High Five" for the initiative is important as well, because Glenn Burke, former MLB player and gay male, is credited with inventing the "High Five" and further cementing the connection between LGBT individuals and sports.

“Our goal at You Can Play beyond creating safe spaces for LGBT individuals, is to change the singular narrative that exist about sports,” said You Can Play Executive Director Wade Davis. “If youth only hear that sports is about toughness, masculinity and violence, some may choose not to play. But when youth learn the true essence of sports is family, solidarity and compassion for all participants, then we will see more youth, especially LGBT youth, understand sports is a place for them.”

The You Can Play Project currently has official partnerships with the NHL and MLS, in addition to a strong relationship with the NFL. YCP provides vital resources directly to organizations to ensure safe spaces for everyone. We look forward to working with our existing partners and new partners to have other professional athletes visit LGBT organizations in future years as well.

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