If you can play, you can play.
That is the message of the You Can Play project, whose mission is "dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation."
On Thursday, April 11, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association announced a historic partnership with You Can Play, unequivocally reaffirming the commitment of the league and its players to the idea that hockey is for everyone.
The collaboration marks the first of its kind between the just-over-a-year-old social activist group and a professional sports league and its players.
Hurricanes forward Kevin Westgarth tweeted last week in support of the partnership:
"You have to have the conversation to make sure that things are correct and going in the right direction," Westgarth said. "I think it shows that we're willing to be outspoken about it now, and that's very important. There's no question that's the direction our league and everywhere in athletics should be going."
Founded by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, You Can Play has had vocal and expansive support throughout hockey since its inception on March 9, 2012.
"To formalize it across the NHL and NHLPA is a great thing, and hopefully that is a beacon moving forward," Westgarth said.
According to the league, the partnership between the NHL, NHLPA and You Can Play includes a broad pledge to education and training. You Can Play will conduct educational seminars at the league's rookie symposium and will make its resources available for teams and players. The partnership also includes production and broadcast support of public service announcements.
At its core, the You Can Play project centers around respect - respect both in and out of the locker room - and the idea of judging athletes based on character and work ethic. Sport unites people of all backgrounds, races and culture together; exclusivity is not inherent, and inclusivity should be celebrated.
"It's unfortunate it can't just be right without saying anything," Westgarth said. "But I think it's very important now that we do it, and I think it's a great step for us."