If you can play, you can play. That is the slogan behind an initiative to end homophobia in sports around the world. Patrick Burke founded this initiative in honor of his late brother, Brendan Burke, who passed away in a car accident on February 5, 2010. Brendan, who was openly gay as of 2009, was a student manager for the Miami Red Hawks men’s ice hockey team.
Patrick Burke, who is a scout for the Philly Flyers, felt like there was not enough support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) athletes in the sport’s world so he teamed up with Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman who is openly gay of GForce Sports. GForce Sports is an openly gay male elite hockey team that is based in Denver that competes nationwide in tournaments against other straight elite teams to honor Brendan Burke’s memory and try to put an end to homophobia in locker rooms nationwide.
In a phone interview on Thursday, Burke indicated that he, Kitts and Witman are the main three people running the You Can Play Project along with interns. The work that they have put into this project is astonishing. They have 55 NHL players involved with most of them classified as NHL superstars including Tampa Bays own Steven Stamkos.
Seven colleges including the Princeton’s Women Hockey Team along with college hockey powerhouse University of Denver have endorsed the You Can Play Project. The initiative does not stop with college hockey as the University of Denver men’s basketball team has made a video for them. Patrick expressed his interest in expanding the project into other major league sports including the NFL, NBA and MLB.
Burke has been moved by the support of the entire hockey community with the You Can Play Campaign. Patrick said he would have never thought that he would get NHL players calling him and emailing him asking to take part in the project. Burke stated that hockey players are the best in the world at giving back to their community and doing charity work. Patrick also said that he knew he could rely on the support of the hockey world.
There are plans to expand the initiative to the AHL and lower levels of competitive hockey like the Canadian Hockey League. The Plymouth Whalers and the SOO Grey Hounds of the OHL have already shot videos. The AHL has officially endorsed the You Can Play Campaign, however, they are waiting until the beginning of the season to shoot videos because AHL teams do not have a “set” roster until training camp.
When asked if there are plans to take the project into youth sports, Patrick confirmed that they are in the process of writing a guide for coaches, players, fans and media on how to make a sport LGBT friendly.
Moving into the summer months, the You Can Play Project is opening its doors and letting people make and submit their own videos. The project is looking forward to getting videos from youth sports said Burke.
So far the project has only taken place in Canada and the United States, however, athletes from six countries have shown support. There has also been interest in taking the project over into more women’s sports. The campaign wants to move more into the college ranks per Burke. In addition, there has been one high school that has supported the cause, a prep school in the greater Boston area.
When asked, “do you think there will be an openly gay pro hockey player?” Burke said that he expects to see an openly gay NHL hockey player in the next couple of years. If you’re interested in following the You Can Play Project, you can follow them on twitter @youcanplayteam, as well as, on their facebook page. Fans can make a donation on their website and can sign up to take a stand and take the captain’s challenge.
Thanks to Patrick Burke for the interview opportunity.