James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton of the Philadelphia Flyers wanted to do more for the team’s Pride Night than just a one-off.
Starting this season, the two players are providing game tickets to the You Can Play Project for 12 games. The team held its annual Pride Night on Monday and a recipient of tickets to that game was Juls Ries, a 16-year-old hockey player who identifies as LGBTQ.
Ries was selected by Nora Cothren, herself a hockey player and coach who wrote for Outsports in 2015 about going back into the closet to become a coach. Now associated with You Can Play, Cothren serves as a mentor of sorts for Ries.
“Getting to see kids like Juls be themselves at very early ages and be fully embraced by their teammates and have the experience of being their full selves on the ice, off the ice, with their teammates, it’s why I do what I do,” Cothren said in a terrific story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Cothren also connected with Riemsdyk and Laughton and became impressed with their support for LGBTQ inclusion in hockey.
Cothren, a longtime Flyers fan, has always followed van Riemsdyk because of his work with the LGBTQ community. Van Riemsdyk was close with [You Can Play founder] Patrick Burke and also got involved from the start. She also admired Laughton because she heard he approached Patrick Burke to offer his assistance. When Cothren reached out to him over Twitter to thank him for speaking out in a video the Flyers released, she was surprised he answered and was impressed by how serious he was about helping out.
Laughton said he knew he wanted to get involved as soon as he heard about You Can Play. For him, it really comes down to being a good person, he said. Both he and van Riemsdyk spoke of the importance of educating yourself and others about how to be a good ally and how it helps to grow the game they love by welcoming more people.
“You hate hearing stories talking about before,” van Riemsdyk said, “where you hear people say it just became not fun for me because of whatever the issues or whatever their certain circumstances may have been, whether it’s different language that they didn’t like hearing a lot, and that was hurtful for people to say.”
Ries and Cothren stressed the impact having current players support inclusion in a sport that has never had an out gay player, active or retired.
“It’s really cool to be able to show people that are OK with it and that they’re accepted and that there’s nothing wrong or different about it,” Ries said.