The NHL took part in an experience Saturday aiming to benefit the greater good of its efforts to promote Hockey Is For Everyone.
Jessica Berman, NHL Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, joined former NBA player Jason Collins, former WNBA player Sue Wicks and You Can Play VP and United States triathlete Chris Mosier at the New York Red Bulls' first Pride Night in Harrison, New Jersey. A pregame panel featuring prominent members and allies of the LGBTQ community helped celebrate diversity, inclusion and the message of acceptance and respect within the soccer community.
"The panel was great," Berman said. "I really enjoyed the experience and appreciated the effort to be included alongside other sports, and to have representation from basketball, soccer and hockey together. It was an opportunity to learn from each other and celebrate each other's initiatives."
Collins, who played 13 seasons in the NBA, became a recognized name in the effort to promote diversity and inclusion when he came out as gay in a first-person story published by Sports Illustrated on May 6, 2013. Unique to Collins' story is how he became the first active male athlete from one of the four major North American sports to publicly come out.
"He has a unique story in that he continued to play," Berman said. "He shared his perspective about how players embraced him, and he talked very candidly about casual homophobic language that had been used around him before he came out, and how many players apologized to him.
"Now he goes out and talks to current players about language and the impact words can have. You never know what someone's background is and you never know what's going on in their personal lives or who they're associated with. To be more sensitive to words that might be offensive or hurtful is an important message, and he's uniquely qualified to deliver that message."
The Red Bulls wore special jerseys in their 3-1 win against Orlando City SC in the Major League Soccer game. The jerseys will be auctioned at a later date to benefit You Can Play, an organization dedicated to the safety and inclusion of all participants across the world of sports, including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans. Its mission is to create a culture change in which locker rooms and spectator areas focus on athletic ability, work ethic and team spirit, not sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The League's goal entering this season is to build on the foundation established through its relationship with You Can Play last season. The new campaign will launch Feb. 1.
"Part of what we're doing is reviewing all of the great activations that happened in last year's campaign and building on that foundation, sharing best practices between the teams, and also looking at some of our counterparts at the other leagues and what they're doing, and learning from them and ensuring that we're doing everything we can to create an inclusive environment," Berman said. "Everyone should be able to participate in this sport, whether it's playing or consuming the game as a fan. We always want to make sure we have an inclusive environment for everyone."