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My Hockey Community Includes Everyone

March 6, 2012

If you love to play hockey, if you are a fan of hockey, you are a part of the hockey community. It does not matter who you are, what you do, what you look like or where you come from; if you love hockey, you are a part of the hockey community.  Patrick Burke and his family have started a new initiative intended to help those who love the greatest sport on earth ensure that hockey is an inclusive sport.

And its not only hockey. Gay athletes need to feel accepted in every sporting arena.  That if they are good enough to play, they can play. In an environment that is accepting of the fact that their abilities are what matter. Not who or how they love.

Just over a year ago, Brian Burke, general manager of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, lost his son Brendan in a tragic automobile accident.  Brendan had recently come out and was an advocate for acceptance of gay athletes, specifically in hockey. After his death, his father stepped up to become a vocal figure in support of gay rights. Brendan’s brother Patrick, has officially launched a new initiative, the You Can Play Project, based on the concept that he drew up when he wrote an article for, stating that if you can play the sport, we welcome you. In other words, your abilities mean more than your sexuality.

Since the launch on 4 March 2012, the You Can Play Project has garnered a great deal of support. In fact, the amount of support makes me feel inordinately happy. Because it means the sport I love, has begun to accept everyone for who they are. This past weekend, Don Cherry was his usual outspoken self regarding the lack of Ontarians on the Ontario-based Toronto Maple Leafs. As a lifelong fan of the Leafs, I could care less where the players are born as long as they can play well and hopefully win. Ok, preferably win. Most true hockey fans wish the same for their respective teams. In the same vein, this is what the You Can Play Project is seeking for homosexual players. To be accepted on the strength of their abilities as hockey players, regardless of their sexuality.

I don’t always agree with @Bruce_Arthur of the National Post, but his writing is insightful and his article touches on the great points of the Burkes’ campaign and their support for Brendan’s legacy. offered this message of support from Adam Kimelman, Deputy Managing Editor. And when famed comedienne Ellen DeGeneres tweeted from @TheEllenShow, “I’m grateful to all the professional athletes participating on the@YouCanPlayTeam. I think I might take up hockey,” I nearly cried. Kudos to all those who have chosen to support the You Can Play Project, NHL-ers and everyone else.

If the volume of NHL participation, Twitter activity and general internet interaction is any indication, support is higher than ever from a demographic often regarded as thuggish and overly concerned with macho-ism. I love that the hockey community is showing that we do not live in the past. That we can overcome the ‘casual homophobia’ of which Patrick speaks.  That education, not ignorance is the key to acceptance of everyone who would call themselves a fan. Because that is what a sports community should be: people who are united by their love of the sport, inclusive of everybody.

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