The National Hockey League announced a partnership with a group advocating acceptance of openly gay players on Thursday, and other big league men’s sports may be soon follow.
The group You Can Play was formed a year ago, according to its website, “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.”
The NHL is the first men’s major league to sign on. The National Football League also is working with advocacy groups to ensure a smooth transition when one of its players eventually admits publicly to being gay.
NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo has publicly advocated for gay players to admit to their sexuality. He told The New York Times
that more than a handful of gay players exist in professional sports. None have admitted to their sexuality during their careers.
“I’m not going to name numbers,” Ayanbadejo said. “Several gay players in more sports than just football, and what we’re trying to facilitate is to get them together and do what they want to do, do what is right for them.”
The NFL, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball all have policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Patrick Burke, a founder of You Can Play, told the Times the group’s purpose is to support an openly gay player in any way he wishes to be supported.
“If he wants to do a thousand interviews and march in pride parades, we’re equipped to handle that,” Burke said. “And if he wants us to pass block for him so he never has to do another interview in his life, we’re equipped to handle that, too.”
Wade Davis, a former defensive back for the Tennessee Titans
who is on You Can Play’s advisory board, has come out as gay since his days on the gridiron. His career was effectively over a decade ago after an injury.
He said many NFL players have deep religious convictions and who are opposed to homosexuality. He said those beliefs should be respected, and suggested open talks with them.
“The players are the ones who are going to have to interact with this first-out gay athlete,” Davis told the Times. “Instead of pushing anything on them, let’s have an honest conversation. Even if somebody has a different opinion, their opinion is valid.”
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