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Congratulations to the You Can Play Project
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/06/13
Last updated on: 03/06/13
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Patrick Burke and his father Brian are keeping the project alive.

Congratulations to the You Can Play Project, which is celebrating its first anniversary. The goal of the project is to end homophobia in sports generally and especially in hockey. Co-founded by National Hockey League scout Patrick Burke to continue his younger brother Brendan Burke's campaign against homophobia, the project is sponsored by the National Hockey League.

Brendan Burke, the youngest son of Brian Burke, former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and of the U.S. Olympic hockey team, came out in November 2009. An athlete and student manager for Miami University of Ohio's hockey team, Burke was widely praised for his courage in advocating against homophobia in sports. Tragically, he died in an automobile accident on February 5, 2010.

Following his death, Burke's memory and contribution to glbtq awareness in sports was honored especially in Canada. The You Can Play campaign was inspired by his openness and advocacy on behalf of gay athletes.

The project's founding and first year is the subject of a feature article by Bruce Arthur in Canada's National Post. Arthur reports that in its first year, "You Can Play videos have been recorded by about 60 NHL players, 18 universities and colleges in Canada and the United States, 10 AHL teams, two Major League Soccer teams, one National Lacrosse League team, the rapper Macklemore, Nashville Predators minority owner Brett Wilson, TSN's hockey panel, and others."

Describing the project as "a key source of education for athletes," Arthur says that "As sports lurches towards a sort of Jackie Robinson moment for gay athletes, You Can Play has become the most significant progressive voice in sports."

When Arthur says that Patrick Burke is the right person to lead the campaign, Patrick interrupts him to say, "I think Brendan was the right guy for this, . . . I'm just trying to fill his shoes. Brendan would have done this better, easier, been a lot more likeable. This is something he should have been doing."

In a column at Outsports, Patrick Burke reflects further on the project's first year.

"We've had some very cool things happen this year. All of our NHL videos. The AHL Pledge campaign. Macklemore speaking out against anti-gay language. Our partnerships with the Canadian Women's Hockey League and the America East Conference. Having major Division 1 athletic powerhouses invite young LGBT athletes to their school. Marching in Vancouver Pride with Manny Malhotra, Jason Garrison, and Fin. Really amazing, ground-breaking stuff, to be honest."

"But," he continues, "I am most proud of two ongoing facets of our work: the principles that are guiding us, and our work amplifying the voices of LGBT athletes."

"I am immensely proud of the LGBT athletes I have been lucky enough to work with this year. I know my role in this fight is to be an ally to the LGBT athletic community. My way of doing that is, whenever possible, by providing them with an opportunity to share their stories. I rarely, rarely give speeches alone, preferring instead to moderate a panel of LGBT athletes."

"When issues arise in the sports world, we work to ensure that the LGBT viewpoints are given the appropriate weight. For example, in response to the recent controversies in the NFL, we have worked to ensure that the voices of Wade Davis and Esera Tuaolo, both gay former NFL players, are the voices publicly representing You Can Play. I fail to see how I could call myself an ally if I wasn't actually allied with anyone."

Burke cites such glbtq athletes as Jose Estevez, a gay runner from Boston College; Angela Hucles, a two-time Olympic medalist and professional soccer player; hockey player Scott Heggart who came out in high school via YouTube videos; and Cory Oskam a transgender goalie from Vancouver.

(Heggart's inspiring story was the subject of a blog post here, in which I discussed the young man's coming out through YouTube videos as a distinctly twenty-first century phenomenon that has precedent in the diary writing and journal keeping of earlier eras when countless numbers of young men and women explored their feelings by writing about them.)

Burke points out that "Like any culture, the athletic culture is incredibly resistant to outsiders attempting to change things. One of our great strengths as a group is that all of us--from myself, to my co-founders, to our advisory board, to our speakers--are members of the sports world. We are not outsiders telling athletes they're bad people. We are fellow athletes, some of whom happen to be gay, talking about ways we can improve our locker room. We connect with athletes of all skill levels, sexual orientations, and genders because we've been there ourselves."

Burke is convinced that the first professional hockey player to come out while still playing will happen soon. But he cautions that we should not burden our Jackie Robinson with unrealistic expectations.

In the video below, Patrick Burke and his father Brian Burke appear with professional hockey player to say "You Can Play."

In the following video, hip-hop artist Macklemore adds his voice to the chorus telling gay athletes, "You Can Play."

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