The You Can Play Project, a nonprofit group working to ensure LGBT equality and inclusion in sport, is launching its "High Five" initiative in an effort to create connections and dialogue between LGBT youth and leaders within the professional sports community. On Tuesday, the group announced the National Football League as the first professional organization to participate in the new campaign.
The "High Five" initiative will begin with former NFL players and executives visiting New York City's Hetrick Martin Institute. As one of the nation's oldest and largest LGBT organizations, the Institute provides LGBT youth with social support and programming, ranging from arts and culture, to academic enrichment and job readiness.
“We believe that the power of storytelling is a transformative experience that helps to broaden and foster our understanding of one another," said former professional player and You Can Play executive director Wade Davis in a press release. "We hope through these one-on-one interactions youth will see they are welcomed in sports.”
Davis himself learned firsthand about the impact that sports have on LGBT youth while working for more than two years at the Hetrick Martin Institute. “Initially, I didn’t inform the youth I was a former NFL player,” said Davis, who came out as gay after his professional career, “but as more and more found out, I realized it was important for them to know that I was gay and played sports.”
As an advocacy organization, You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect, and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. The organizations currently partners with the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer. Together with the NFL, You Can Play is now committed to expanding its program during the 2014 season, intending to connect more players with LGBT organizations nationwide.
The “High Five” initiative is one of many reported steps that professional sports leagues are now taking to reach out to LGBT communities. And despite not having any openly gay athtetes currently playing in the “big four” — the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL — the initiative demonstrates a bold move, the first of its kind offering a mutually beneficial relationship. The announcement also comes on the heels of a recent report indicating the NFL was actively working to bring an openly gay player into the league last season.