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Pens happy to support equality with You Can Play

by Nicole Jelinek / Pittsburgh Penguins

To support inclusion in hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be hosting a "You Can Play" Night during Tuesday's game against Calgary at PPG Paints Arena.

The NHL and NHLPA have partnered with the "You Can Play" advocacy organization to ensure safety and inclusion for all who participate in sports, including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans.

The league is calling February "Hockey is for Everyone" month. The campaign will include programs and events designed to highlight a place in hockey for people with disabilities and people from different socio-economic statuses and ethnicities.

It will also have one player from each team be a LGBTQ-inclusion ambassador. These players will be "a leader in the locker room and in the community on diversity, equality and inclusion," according to an NHL release.

Chris Kunitz has been named the Pens' ambassador, and thinks it's important for the NHL to show they care.

"One of the big key points is that they want to have the respect for one and all," Kunitz said. "There are communities that need people to be role models for them and stand up for a game that we love.

"We need to include everyone who supports the game. It doesn't matter if you are a player or manager, so be it. We want people to be included and be able to enjoy it just like everyone else. "

To show support and welcome those in attendance, a number of Pens and Flames players will use Pride Tape on their sticks in the pre-game warmup. The sticks will be autographed and auctioned through NHL Auctions, with proceeds benefitting "You Can Play."

Group tickets were on sale for the LBGTQ community, and tickets from Pens players and corporate partners were donated to bring LGBTQ youth to the game. A student from Capa High School will sing the national anthem.

Many LGBTQ groups in the area are looking forward to the event. The Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh is one who has seen the Pens organization step up to the plate with wanting to help and do something to welcome the LGBTQ community to the game.

The initiative started several months ago and as a result, the 'You Can Play' night has come together for February.

Chris Bryan, who is Director of Marketing and Development for the Delta Foundation - which produces events and supports projects that help make Pittsburgh a vibrant and exciting city that is attractive to the LGBT community - says their organization is excited because they are expecting over 400 people from their community to be there.

"Sports is such a big thing for Pittsburgh," Bryan said. "It is a huge part of the fabric here in town. I think that when the sports organizations embrace communities it is an important part of their outreach to people. The LGBT community loves its sports just like everyone else. They go to games and they are fans. To be able to go as one group and into a safe space and be treated with dignity and respect is a big deal."

Bryan has seen a lot of positive reaction from the community on their Facebook event for the game, and says that many people are looking forward to seeing rainbow tape on the players' sticks during warmups.

"It shows that the entire team is welcoming and happy that the community is there," he said.

"You Can Play" was founded in 2012 by the NHL's Patrick Burke, son of Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke. Patrick's brother, Brendan, came out as gay in 2009. Brendan died, tragically, in an auto accident several months later, and "You Can Play" was founded in his honor.

The Burke connection is the reason the Penguins chose the game vs. Calgary as their "You Can Play" Night.

"If you can play, you can play," Bryan said. "I think that, especially for younger kids who may be struggling with their sexuality, it's important that they know that they can grow up to be a Penguins hockey player if they want and play for the team, or even to play for a football team. They can be anything they really want to be. Nothing has to stand in their way of being successful, being loved and treated with dignity and respect."

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