NHL, NFL form alliance with LGBT community

by Alicia Chavez

With rumors circulating about NFL players choosing to come out to the public about their sexual orientations, national sports leagues are forming alliances with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups to remind players of the strong support system behind their decisions.

According to a New York Times article last Thursday, the NHL made headlines by announcing its official partnership with the You Can Play Project. You Can Play’s mission is to eliminate homophobia in sports and plans to work with the NHL by holding group discussions for rookie players to understand gay issues.

You Can Play co-founder Patrick Burke started the advocacy group in March 2012, after his younger brother Brendon Burke passed away in a car accident. Brendan Burke was the student manager for Miami University’s hockey team and came out to the team a year before passing. The goal of the You Can Play Project is for athletes to give the same level of overwhelming support Brian Burke received from his team.

During a press conference last Thursday, the union executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, Donald Fehr, made a statement about the partnership.

“You ought not to get extra credit for doing the right thing, and that’s what we’re doing,” Fehr said.

The partnership between the NHL and You Can Play is the first of its kind between a national sports league and an LGBT advocacy group. However, with the anticipation of an NFL player disclosing his sexual orientation to the public, other men’s sports are feeling the implications of the NHL’s decision.

The NFL is preparing for the announcement of one of its players by continuing to work with gay activist groups.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and chair for Athlete Ally Advisory Board Brendon Ayanbadejo called it upon himself to be an unofficial spokesman for the league. Several other NFL players have joined Athlete Ally, another group focused on removing homophobia in sports.

Ayanbadejo discussed the NFL’s acceptance and support for the next player who chooses to come out to fans.

“This isn’t about one player, it’s about all of us,” Ayanbadejo said in a statement. “It’s about being a good teammate and a loyal fan. It’s about respect and everything the NFL stands for.”

According to the Huffington Post, last Wednesday the NFL and several gay advocacy groups met and discussed future partnerships to end homophobia. Former Tennessee Titan Wade Davis also attended. Davis publicly came out as gay after he retired in 2012.

The gay advocacy groups included Athlete Ally and You Can Play, as well as others. After the meeting, the group collectively made a statement to the Huffington Post.

“Fortunately, that attitude is changing, and the NFL can help make the sport even more inclusive,” the group said in a statement. “We look forward to being a resource for the NFL on LGBT issues and hope to be valuable to the league as we all continue to progress.”

Other men’s national sports leagues, such as MLS, MLB and the NBA have pre-established rules prohibiting discrimination on sexual orientation and have discussed these policies with their players.