Amid swirling speculation that a gay male athlete in one of the four major professional leagues will soon come out, the National Hockey League announced partnership with the You Can Play Project, an organization that promotes equality in sports.
“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 in the statement obtained by the New York Times. “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.”
The league said it would launch an education campaign targeting players and fans intended to promote tolerance.
“We have players from around the world, and a lot of those players are from countries that are seen as more progressive on LGBT issues,” said Patrick Burke, a Philadelphia Flyers talent scout and president of the You Can Play Project. “So I don’t think it’s unreasonable or strange to think that the NHL and the NHLPA are driving this, in part because our players tend to be more comfortable with this issue.”
Burke helped found the advocacy group in March 2012 after his brother, Brendan, died in a car accident. Brendan was a manager of a college hockey team and came out as gay in 2009.
Part of the project’s goal is to get gay slurs out of the locker room.
“If you were to go to a group of athletes and say, ’Would you support an openly gay friend,’ the vast majority would say yes. But if you were to say, ’How many of you have used an anti-gay term in the last 48 hours,’ the majority would also say yes,” Burke said.
Of the thousands of pro athletes in the four major US sports leagues—a list that also includes Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association—not one has come out as gay during his career.