You Can Play, a new public service announcement campaign founded by the family of the late Brendan Burke, wants to make sports culture welcoming to gay athletes.
The New York Times reports on the campaign, which launched Sunday when the first message aired during NBC’s broadcast of the Bruins-Rangers game. The campaign features 35 NHL players, including starters such as Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, and Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators.
Brendan Burke, who came out while serving as general manager of the Miami University hockey team, died in a car accident in 2010. His older brother Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, is a founder of the You Can Play Project. Their father, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, marched in the city’s gay pride parade with Brendan and again after he died.
“Hopefully, in large part due to my brother and what he started, I think our league is much more accepting and on board with the whole gay-rights issue,” Patrick Burke told the Times. “It may be in part because we’re more international than other leagues, but for whatever reason, our guys are great about this.”
Patrick Burke said the You Can Play project, which was developed by gay and straight athletes and fans, is aimed at straight audiences. No current NHL player is openly gay, but stars of the league have supported gay rights, such as the lobbying last year from the Rangers’ Sean Avery to pass the New York marriage equality bill. The Philadelphia Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds was later accused of calling Avery an antigay slur during a game.
“We call it casual homophobia,” Patrick Burke told the Times. “It’s very rare in the NHL where you have someone who is actually homophobic or bullying someone, but you have guys using homophobic slurs and slang, not trying to mean it in that way. But in general, our players are very supportive.”
You Can Play has an advisory panel with representatives from other major sports leagues and women’s sports. The project will also produce a playbook on how to create a welcoming and safe environment for LGBT athletes.