Kesler is joining the fight for fairness in the locker room as part of You Can Play, a bold new initiative promoting equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes, founded by Patrick Burke and others, and backed more and more by the hockey and sports world every day.
Burke, a scout with the Philadelphia Flyers, is the son of Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and brother of Brendan Burke, who came out to his family in 2007, publically in 2009 and died a year later in a car accident at the age of 21.
When Brendan told his family he was gay, they gave him the love and respect he needed and deserved, yet Brian and Patrick wondered how Brendan, manager of Miami University’ RedHawks men's ice hockey team, would be accepted within the sport.
When Brendan came out publically in 2009, the news was received with open arms and many hoped it would open doors for other LGBT athletes to speak freely about their sexuality.
Brendan was viewed as a pioneer before his tragic death and the Burke family ensured his legacy would be that of acceptance with the launch of You Can Play, which has gay athletes and straight allies teaming up for respect.
The list of NHL supporters reads like an all-star game roster, but Kesler isn’t raising his voice because it’s trendy. It’s also not a favour to Brian Burke, the one-time Vancouver Canucks general manager who drafted Kesler 23rd overall in 2003 and was also his GM as part of Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
No, Kesler is supporting You Can Play because he wholeheartedly believes in the cause.
“I thought that it was the least I could do,” said Kesler. “Obviously there are gay people out there and there’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s a way of life and the more I can do to support it and make it easier on people to do what they want to do to, the better.”
According to youcanplayproject.org, the mission of You Can Play Project is threefold:
-“You 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.
-“You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.”
Focusing on what an athlete brings to the table to help the team win is what Kesler said the Canucks locker room is all about.
He’s proud of that and said he’ll forever go to war with a teammate regardless of personal differences.
“In this room we’re all friends, it feels like we’re family, we have each other’s back. It shouldn’t matter if you’re gay or not, we go out and we work hard for each other,” said Kesler, adding that the stigma of homosexuality extends past the boundaries of sports.
“It goes much further than just the locker room, it’s definitely a stigma in society too where there’s a lot of close-minded people. It’s the 21st century, people need to get with the times and be accepting.
“I have no problem with it and obviously I’m going to speak out.”
Kesler has filmed a public service announcement pledging his support to the campaign, if you want to help You Can Play in the fight for fairness in the locker room click here.