I’ve always been a passionate advocate of equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) community. Although I can’t quite pinpoint where this all started for me, I’ve spent the last few years getting involved as much as I can — whether it was editing and writing for the LGBTQ page for my college newspaper or volunteering for Pride Toronto.
We’ve seen campaigns and support groups start up throughout Canada over the years; however, one area that still has limited resources is the world of sports. While actors and politicians are coming out on a more frequent basis, athletes still appear to be shrouded by a cloak of silence — especially the elite superstars. Big-money pay cheques and million dollar sponsorships likely play a big factor; yet this barrier is now closer to being broken down more than ever before.
I tend to zero in on any news coming out of the LGBTQ community, so I was thrilled to hear about this week’s launch of the You Can Play Project, an initiative co-founded by Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke and his son, Patrick.
As a lifelong Leafs fan I’ve been aware of the Burke family’s commitment to combating discriminatory language in the locker room and sports venues for awhile now. Burke’s younger son, Brendan, came out to his Miami-based hockey team shortly before his death in a car accident in 2010.
Since then, Burke has rallied together some of the NHL’s biggest stars in an attempt to promote tolerance and acceptance among athletes of all ages. I’ve been following his community work closely and it’s wonderful to finally see this project come to fruition.
I love that it promotes the idea that talent should be nurtured in an environment free from homophobia. The world of sports, especially for boys, can be an overly competitive and sometimes hostile environment. For younger athletes, especially, they may not fully realize the impact of their words on other people and they often mimic the behaviour they witness in others.
For kids hoping for a future career in sports, having a positive role model to look up to is imperative — both for developing their own talent and for learning how to respect one another’s teammates, regardless of sexual orientation.
Children should feel safe and comfortable while taking part in an activity that they are passionate about. We can only hope that the “You Can Play Project” inspires other sports organizations around the world.
The significance of this initiative is overwhelming — it’s telling the world that homophobia should and will be dealt with as decisively as racism within the sports community. We still have a long way to go towards eradicating homophobia in sports; however, we are finally headed in the right direction and people are talking about it.
Have you spoken to your children about homophobia? How did you approach the topic?
Check out the You Can Play Project‘s public service announcement featuring some of the NHLs biggest stars, from Zdeno Chara to Dion Phaneuf!