The NHL has formed a partnership with You Can Play, an advocacy group that is dedicated to working with gay athletes and fighting homophobia in sports.
The NHL doesn’t currently have any openly gay athletes (neither does the NFL, MLB, or NBA) but that could change with today’s announcement.
Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and co-founder of You Can Play, told USA Today: “I have no doubt that (the NHL) will be first … Our league is ready for this and our players are ready for this. The culture of the sport, when it comes to LGBT issues, is so far ahead of the other sports that I have no doubt that there will be openly gay athletes in the NHL in the near future.”
The partnership with You Can Play will promote an inclusive community and will discourage players from using casual homophobic language. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that he wants to create a welcome environment that will allow any gay NHL players to be open about their sexuality.
Bettman said: “We are welcoming and inclusive and we want to make sure that our sport has the right environment … And that is a message that resonates from our players, our fans and our teams … Our motto is Hockey Is for Everyone, and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way. We are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the N.H.L. Players’ Association that the official policy of the N.H.L. is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.”
Donald Fehr, the chief executive of the players’ association, told the NY Times: “Bottom line, it’s the right thing to do, and that’s what we’re all supposed to do in this world.”
You Can Play will run seminars for rookies joining the league to educate them on gay issues. The league will also offer counseling services.
Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said: “It’s not a big deal if you’re straight or gay or whatever you are, it’s a matter of being a good teammate. We take a lot of pride in viewing the locker room as a family and treating each other like brothers. If one of those brothers feels ostracized for what he is, it’s just wrong.”
The NHL’s announcement comes amid heightened speculation that several NFL players are getting ready to publicly announce that they are gay. The NFL has struggled with homophobia in recent years. Before last year’s Super Bowl, several players said that they wouldn’t feel comfortable with a gay person in the locker room.