Today saw a landmark moment in hockey.
It wasn’t an overtime win, a championship, or the breaking of a winning streak. It wasn’t a moment on the ice at all, in fact.
But the repercussions of it might just change the world of hockey for the better forever.
The NHL, the biggest league in the world, have officially announced a partnership with the You Can Play Project, a growing foundation in North America started by the family of NHL GM Brian Burke in the memory of their son Brendan, who came out as openly gay in 2009 while a student manager for the Miami Redhawks NCAA team, had become a key anti-homophobia advocate in sports, but was tragically killed in a car-crash in 2010 at the age of only 21.
YCP was started by his brother Patrick with the aim of continuing to champion the rights of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender) sportspeople, particularly hockey players, in April 2012. Its mission statement is thus:
ou Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.
You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.
Since its founding, YCP has been supported of some of the best hockey players in the world, including Henrik Lundqvist, Shea Weber, Dustin Brown and my own favourite NHLer, Jason Pominville. AHL teams have committed to joining the project, as have several colleges in North America and several teams from other leagues.
But, with the support of the NHL the project has jumped another level. But still it only remains in North America.
Using statistics as a base (the latest statistics say one in 100 people in the UK say they are gay, lesbian or bisexual, thus assuming an equal spread statistically one in 50 men are in the UK), there were 40 gay or bisexual players playing in the Elite League last season. There are likely several thousand LGBT fans watching the Elite League every weekend.
And yet, in locker rooms and crowds all over the country and during games at all levels, there are probably still homophobic jokes being made, homophobic insults being thrown around…and also a UK media that in the main thinks that hockey is a sport where a bunch of neanderthal idiots go to beat each other up.
The Elite League could gain themselves the kind of positive press coverage they could only dream of not only in Britain but internationally in the hockey world, while at the same time truly committing to their much-trumpeted “sport for everyone” marketing ethos &, not least, start a contribution making the world of sports in the UK a little better.
All they have to do is stand up and say “yes, we too want to work with the YCP project.”
They’d become the first sports league outside North America to join one of the fastest-growing movements for change in sports, as well as opening up the sport in Britain to a whole new market of people who up until now have been marginalised by the majority of sports in the United Kingdom (think about the homophobic abuse hurled on the football terraces across the UK every weekend, for example).
They would also begin to provide a force for change among youngsters in the sport-teaching them that hockey is a great thing because, as the project says “if you can play, you can play”.
All it takes is a phone call and a little bit of commitment from the EIHL, and suddenly the sport of hockey will come on leaps and bounds in terms of positive PR-and the league itself will become better-known on the worldwide stage. It’ll cost you nothing, beyond common decency. And the rewards it’ll bring
Plus, of course, it’ll be a contribution, however small, to making the world a better place.
It’s said that where the NHL leads, the rest of hockey usually follows nowadays. So come on, EIHL. Do something amazing. If the NHL can do it, you can, too.
Stand up, say “we support You Can Play”.
And just like the NHL, help change the world for the better.
Your move, EIHL owners.