Some of the biggest stars in the NHL appeared in a powerful, black-and-white, minute-long public service announcement last weekend and earnestly relayed a very special message. Players stared through the TV and into their fans' homes, telling them, "if you can play, you can play."
The PSA was created for You Can Play, the campaign dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation. The You Can Play campaign is spearheaded by Patrick Burke, scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke and brother of the late Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community rights advocate Brendan Burke.
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.
On Sunday, March 4, You Can Play debuted its first PSA during a nationally televised game between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers on NBC. It was the first of many PSA's scheduled to hit airwaves in the coming months and featured 12 National Hockey League players, including Islanders leading goal-scorer Matt Moulson .
"I'm honored and proud to be a part of this campaign," Moulson said. "Sometimes in pro sports this issue is the kind of thing that gets swept under the rug, but it's there and it's important. Sexual orientation shouldn't affect how players are treated."
|A shot of Matt Moulson from the first You Can Play PSA that originally aired on NBC Sunday, March 4, 2012. |
It's one thing for politicians or non-profit leaders to discuss LGBT equality, but when role models like pro athletes become advocates for the cause, it can reach vast new audiences and create resounding awareness.
"If the situation comes up on a team I'm on, I'd be willing to help in anyway I could," Moulson said. "It would never change how I view a teammate. Based purely on percentages, I've probably played with someone or will play with someone who is LGBT. But it shouldn't affect how you treat a teammate and it wouldn't affect how I treated them."
Moulson's teammate Frans Nielsen also embraced the opportunity to support You Can Play and traveled with Moulson to shoot the series of commercials produced by HBO. A PSA featuring Nielsen will be released in the coming weeks.
"It's good for hockey that we're doing this," Nielsen said. "I think it's an issue that's growing and it's going to be more accepted; people who are LGBT won't have to hide it. I think in other sports it's going to be a normal issue at some point soon, too. It's definitely great that hockey started it though. It shows that we care."
Patrick Burke emailed all 30 NHL general managers asking for their support, as well as to help reach out to their players. The response was overwhelming.
"Garth (Snow) responded almost immediately," Burke said of the Islanders General Manager. "He told me, 'You've got all our support. Whatever you need, the Islanders will help.' All the teams and players have been great and more than willing to help."
The Islanders organization is proud to help You Can Play and Burke is just as proud to have the Isles participating.
"To have guys like Matt and Frans involved takes us to the next level," Burke said. "We're very honored to have them. I mean that sincerely. We were able to tape most guys at their rinks after a practice, but Matt and Frans went out of their way to film their PSA's. After a practice, they drove themselves to the shoot because they cared about this. That's not lost on anyone and it means a lot."
Moulson believes hockey players can be leaders amongst all athletes when it comes to dealing with this issue.
"We've seen pro athletes in basketball and football come out after they're done playing and it seems like there's a lot of frustration there," he said. "This should not affect how players are treated - by teammates or anyone."
Sexual orientation has been very taboo around locker rooms in all professional sports. With mainstay NHL faces in the You Can Play campaign, the league's stars are taking the first step in changing that culture.
"Ten years back, this never would have happened, so I think we came a long way," Nielsen said. "No one has an issue with it. You're going to hear more about it, not just in hockey but in all sports."
To have guys like Matt and Frans involved takes us to the next level. We're very honored to have them. I mean that sincerely. - You Can Play Co-founder Patrick Burke
This is a global issue. It's not limited to North American sports leagues or even professional sports leagues. This affects children growing up in athletics around the world.
"If it's a teammate, if it's a friend from back home, I'll still be your friend, your teammate," Nielsen said. "It won't change anything. It's definitely going to happen on teams in the future. I think everybody would be supportive of a guy on the team."
THE FIRST COMMERCIAL
You Can Play titled their first PSA 'The Faceoff' and featured stars Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Perry, Dion Phaneuf, Rick Nash, Daniel Alfredsson, Duncan Keith, Claude Giroux, Joffrey Lupul, Scott Hartnell, Andy Greene, Brian Boyle and Moulson. The high-profile players filled the 60-second spot, making an immediate statement that this cause had full support around the NHL.
"We had one requirement when we enlisted all the players," Burke said. "They had to be high character guys. (They had to be) leaders on their teams. Diversity was important though. We wanted star players, role players, grinders, goalies, defensemen and forwards, everyone."
Using so many star-caliber players in the first PSA made a statement to the hockey community though. These are the leaders in the league that teammates and fans look up to.
"It shows that it's a little more important when you have these guys like Nash, Alfredsson and Lundqvist getting involved," Moulson said. "They obviously believe, like we all believe, in what You Can Play is doing."
For the hockey community, it's vital to have those superstars participating, but it's just as vital to have as many players involved as possible.
"If I could figure out a way to get all 700 players in the league in front of a camera, I would," Burke said. "We want the guys involved to know they're not lone wolves. This is part of a team philosophy. And there are young, gay hockey fans of every team. We want them to know they're supported and equals."