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Patrick Burke retires as head of You Can Play Project

Group was instrumental in getting NHL to address homophobia.

Patrick Burke

Five years after forming a sports advocacy group to combat homophobia in pro hockey to honor his late brother, Patrick Burke has retired as head of the You Can Play Project.

Under Burke’s leadership, the NHL and its players have made a push for the “You Can Play” concept, that anybody can play hockey regardless of their sexual orientation. Just recently, each of the 30 teams named a player as its LGBTQ ambassador.

Here is the group’s news release:

The You Can Play Project today announced that co-founder and president Patrick Burke has retired from the organization that promotes LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

“You Can Play has never been stronger and our message has never been more important,” said Burke. “I will always be incredibly proud of the work we have done in five amazing years. We built an organization that celebrated and honored the ideals that my brother stood for and we’ve made a lasting mark on the sports world. I look forward to watching how the You Can Play Project and message of inclusion and respect continue that legacy moving forward."

Brian Kitts will assume the role of president of You Can Play. Kitts, one of the organization’s co-founders, is a Denver-based entertainment marketing executive and professor of sports marketing at the University of Denver.

“Patrick, and his entire family, will continue to inspire a movement that values all athletes and fans for their passion, talent and commitment to sport without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity,” Kitts said. “The five-year anniversary of You Can Play is a good time to thank Patrick for his necessary and vocal opposition to homophobia. And, this is the right time to reaffirm You Can Play’s unconditional commitment to including all athletes and fans, including our LGBTQ family, teammates and friends.”

You Can Play was founded, in part, to honor the legacy of Burke’s brother, Brendan, who passed away shortly after becoming one of the first to come out as gay in college sports. The group will rededicate itself to its mission of making locker rooms and sports venues safe and free from casual homophobia.

“Burkie has really become a role model for those who want to address inequality in sports,” said You Can Play’s third co-founder, Glenn Witman, of Patrick Burke. “His nononsense approach has been what athletes need to focus attention on homophobic language.”

You Can Play announced that a search soon will begin for an executive director to lead daily operations of the organization. You Can Play currently does educational work at the college level and has numerous relationships with professional teams including the Canadian Football League, Canadian Olympic Committee, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and others.

In its first five years, You Can Play was recognized for a number of milestones including being the first LGBTQ sports advocacy group to have players from all teams in a pro league (NHL) speak on behalf of LGBTQ athletes, the first LGBTQ sports advocacy group to address the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the first LGBTQ advocacy group to partner with a national Olympic committee (Canada).