Citizen Leaders’ Success: You Can Play Project and the NHL Team Up to Eradicate Homophobia on the Ice

Citizen Leaders are the men, women, young adults and teens who take stock of the kind of world they want to help shape for the people they care about and act to make it so.

—Peter Alduino, Author, The Citizen Leader

In a blog post 9 months ago, I applauded Patrick Burke, Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman as citizen leaders for their efforts to eradicate homophobia from amateur and professional hockey. These three men founded the You Can Play project — an outreach and advocacy program that challenges the culture of homophobia in locker rooms and among fans by focusing instead and only on an athlete’s skills, hard work, heart and competitive spirit.

As a direct result of their efforts since founding the project 12 months, yesterday, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association announced a groundbreaking partnership with the You Can Play project in what is likely the most comprehensive effort by a major North American sports league to support gay athletes. Hockey News reported, the agreement with You Can Play will see the implementation of an agenda of inclusion throughout the NHL that promotes better understanding of and respect for gay athletes. You Can Play will conduct seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium and make its resources and personnel available to each individual team as desired. The NHL and NHLPA will work with You Can Play to integrate the project into their Behavioral Health Program to enable players to confidentially seek counseling or simply ask questions about sexual orientation issues.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement, “Our motto is ‘Hockey Is For Everyone,’ and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way. While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, 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.”

In his statement, Patrick Burke reminds us that the You Can Play Project is not just for pro players. He said, “To me, it’s just as important that a young player playing lacrosse or a 60-year-old playing beer league someplace feel safe in their locker-room. We really want to work on the culture at its core because I believe in any sport, at any level, at any age, at any skill level, you should be able to play sports free of fear.”

Congratulations to Citizen Leaders Patrick Burke, Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman. Bravo to the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association.


NHL, NHLPA combine to form a partnership with You Can Play Project (Hockey News)

NHL, ‘You Can Play’ announce partnership to support gay athletes (LGBTQNation)

Major Sports Leagues Prepare for the ‘I’m Gay’ Disclosure (New York Times)

NHL Announces Support For Gay Rights, Pledges To Fight Homophobia With New Initiative (Huffington Post)