Video: COMMUNITY | You Can Play
From rainbow Pride Tape to You Can Play on-ice projections and scoreboard activations, Rogers Place was brimming with messages of love, support and inclusion this Valentine's Day.
On Tuesday night the Edmonton Oilers hosted their first-ever You Can Play Night in partnership with the You Can Play Project, for the inaugural year of Hockey Is For Everyone Month.
Hockey Is For Everyone, a new League-wide initiative, will focus on raising awareness towards LGBTQ, ethnicity and gender equality throughout the month of February.
"It's just the right thing to do," said Oilers defenceman and You Can Play Ambassador, Andrew Ference.
Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, and You Can Play Team Ambassador, Dr. Cheryl MacDonald, echoed Ference's sentiments, "Sport should be a safe and inclusive community regardless of how people identify - be it their race, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, or otherwise."
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"Initiatives like You Can Play help raise awareness of the importance of making everyone feel safe and included in their sport," she added. "In doing this, we are creating a brighter future for the athletes of tomorrow."
Kicking-off the You Can Play night, the Oilers hit the ice for warmup sporting Pride Tape, before facing off against the Arizona Coyotes.
"Being a father, this gives me a great opportunity to be a role model for my kids," said the Oilers team You Can Play Ambassador and father of two, Matt Hendricks.
However, this wasn't the first time the team has donned this badge of support.
In 2016, the Edmonton Oilers became the first team in the NHL to use Pride Tape during their annual Skills Competition as an act to show support towards LGBTQ players, spectators and fans.
Pride Tape, an Edmonton-based campaign to promote inclusion in hockey, raises both awareness and funds towards LGBTQ youth outreach initiatives, such as the You Can Play Project.
"Canada is known for two great things - hockey and human rights. We asked, what happens when you put them together on one roll of tape?" said Dr. Kristopher Wells, Faculty Director of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta and Co-Founder of Pride Tape.
"Having NHL players stand up and be those role models to young people is a huge statement. It's the kind of statement that doesn't just change lives, it can save lives," added Dr. Wells.
"The fundamental issue here is not that there is a lack of support, particularly in the case of the NHL given initiatives like Hockey Is For Everyone and the You Can Play night," said Dr. MacDonald. "The issue is that there are still anti-LGBTQ+ people, places and instances among players, coaches, fans and parents."
"My research has shown that male youth hockey players who have negative attitudes towards homosexuality simply are not used to it or don't understand it or they come from longstanding traditions both in and out of hockey of men who have belittled it, so they follow suit. With this in view, supporters of initiatives like You Can Play can raise awareness. The key is to reach out specifically to nay-sayers in a meaningful way and encourage them to understand that athletes cannot be differentiated by things like their gender and sexual orientation - they are there to participate in a sport they love just like everyone else and that's what's important."
By dedicating this month to Hockey Is For Everyone and hosting a You Can Play night, the Oilers stand alongside the NHL and National Hockey League Player's Association (NHLPA) to fight to end homophobia and encourage a conversation surrounding inclusion in hockey - with the goal to become the most inclusive professional sports league in the world.
"The Edmonton Oilers are proud to share a message of inclusion, acceptance and diversity alongside the NHL and NHLPA with our hockey club, our peers and fans," said Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) Vice Chairman Kevin Lowe.
"The Oilers are reaffirming that the official policy of our great game is one of inclusion - on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands," added Lowe.
The You Can Play motto is simple - If you can play, you can play.