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Patrick Burke gets support for "You Can Play" project

Monday, 03.05.2012 / 9:02 PM / NHL Insider

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Patrick Burke gets support for "You Can Play" project
In memorializing his brother, Patrick Burke came up with seven words that are starting to resonate across hockey: "If you can play, you can play."

Sometimes, it's the simplest things.
 
For Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, it was seven words that were part of a tribute to his late brother Brendan on the website Outsports.com that stuck with him.
 
Brendan Burke -- Patrick's younger brother and the son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke -- had revealed his homosexuality to his family in 2007, and then took his message public in 2009. Brendan was working toward spreading a message of tolerance and inclusion in the hockey world while working as a student manager and video assistant for the men's hockey team at Miami (Ohio) University when he was killed in a car accident in 2010.
 
In memorializing his brother, Patrick came up with seven simple words that just now are starting to resonate across the hockey landscape: "If you can play, you can play."
 

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"I thought it was a good way to sum up the message," Burke told NHL.com. "This is what the issue is. This defines sports. If you're good enough, you get to be in there, you get to help us win. For the LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) community, that's all they want -- a fair chance."
 
Those seven words sparked what has grown into the You Can Play Project. The first public step in that project was unveiled Sunday during the first intermission of the nationally-televised game between the Bruins and Rangers. It was a public-service announcement featuring some of the game's top players -- Columbus' Rick Nash, Chicago's Duncan Keith, Toronto's Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf, Philadelphia's Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and the Islanders' Matt Moulson among them -- communicating the simple message that it doesn't matter what your sexual orientation is, that if you can play the game well, that's all that matters.
 
"I've said it many times -- if a player from the Flyers came out tomorrow and I could improve our team by cutting him, great, see you later," said Burke. "… Conversely, if I can win a Stanley Cup with 22 gay guys, great. Let's go.
 
"All we care about it winning. The whole thing for me is, it's an equal opportunity, an equal share. Let the game sort it out. Let the stats -- goals, assists, blocked shots -- let that sort out our players, not their sexual orientation."
 
Burke and his father set out assembling the players by sending e-mails to the 29 other NHL GMs, who Burke said all greeted their idea warmly. The GMs passed the project along to players on their teams to gauge their interest. Burke than sent out another round of e-mails, which is when he said he got nervous.
 
"I'll admit it was a little nerve-wracking at first," he said. "When you're sending out these e-mails, you don't know what a player is going to respond. In the back of your mind, there is the worst-case scenario that you're going to get 30 no's. But I had faith in the hockey community. The hockey community has rallied around our family so many times … that I knew they'd step up, and they have. Getting some big names and getting character players, that's what we were looking for. … The players immediately said great, we're in."

The players who took part said it wasn't a tough decision on getting involved.

"You look at what it's for (and) it's not hard to say yes," said Perry. "It's something that you have to respect. For Burkie and for Patrick Burke, it's something special for them.

"When you got guys supporting that kind of thing it just shows that everybody's on the same page. Everybody's on board and everybody cares about one another and that's the biggest thing."

"We live in a diverse world where if anyone sets their mind to do anything they can do it, no matter race or sexuality or anything," Hartnell told NHL.com. "There's a lot of guys involved, which speaks well for the League. … It's pretty cool that everyone is on board."

"It's obvious that everyone should have the same rights and ability to play the game, it doesn't matter race or sexual orientation," Lundqvist told NHL.com. "To me, I think overall, all the hockey players I meet are a respectful group of people. I've never had an issue with it or seen people have issues with it. But when they asked me, if they wanted my help, I would."

Burke said he had about 20 players sign on to be part of the initial PSAs, which were filmed by HBO, but not all made the first commercial. He said another cut with more players will be unveiled soon, as will other PSAs filmed by CBC and the Root Sports affiliate in Denver.
 
In addition, Burke said three NCAA Division I hockey teams have committed to making their own "You Can Play" videos, and he also said the You Can Play Project is encouraging fans to send in homemade versions of the video.
 
Besides the players involved in the PSAs, two current NHL players are on the project's advisory board: San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels and Phoenix Coyotes forward Andy Miele, both of whom were at Miami with Brendan Burke.
 

"They both separately reached out to us and said we want to do something," said Burke. "I said I'm kicking around this idea of a project, what do you guys think? They said anything you need. They cut checks, they joined the advisory board, they added their names. They're doing interviews, whatever we need. They're the heroes in this to step up as athletes."
 
Burke hopes to continue spreading his message of inclusion; this summer, he and the You Can Play Project's advisory board will create what he called a "playbook" for the project's future.
 
"When coaches or athletes or fans would ask me how can I help, I got tired of not having an answer," said Burke. "We're going to spend the summer with our advisory board, which features top athletes, male and female, in all different sports; top sports executives; an amazing sports psychologist. We're going to put together this playbook and come the fall we want to have a resource for everyone in the sports world, whatever role they play in the sports world, to make their team, their program, their stadium, safe for the LGBT community."
 
For more information on You Can Play, go to www.YouCanPlayProject.org.
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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