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Clutterbuck: You Can Play

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference.

Sometimes it takes a little help to get a movement rolling.

Cal Clutterbuck is one of more than 50 NHL players who have signed on to help deliver the mantra “You Can Play,” a movement trying to halt anti-gay slurs and homophobic speech.

The You Can Play Project is “dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.” It is an anti-bullying message, but also a call to cease all anti-gay slurs as a part of everyday dialect. 

Clutterbuck first learned about You Can Play after Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher received an email from Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke asking if Cal would be willing to appear in a public service announcement for the initiative. Burke’s son Patrick is one of the project’s co-founders. While the team was in Denver for a game against the Avalanche on Feb. 2, Clutterbuck recorded a spot for the project.

“It’s something I think is important,” Clutterbuck said. “It’s important that we get some guys on board and some awareness. It’s a strong message.”

“The way Cal plays – hard nosed, a physical player that works hard with high energy – that’s the type of guy we want for the You Can Play Project,” Patrick Burke said. 

In 2010, Brian Burke’s son Brendan died in a car accident. Brendan Burke was a student manager for the men’s hockey team at Miami University and was openly gay. After his death, both Patrick and Brian have become prominent straight advocates for gay rights, including their involvement in You Can Play.

“I learned from my brother what gay athletes face,” Patrick Burke said. “It’s hard enough to be an athlete without having extra difficulties and harassment.

“And we want to work to end that.”

The message isn’t asking anyone to take a political stance, but a stance against using homophobic slurs in the vernacular of the locker room or sports arenas.

“We’re not asking anyone to agree with the lifestyle, but have some respect and just explain things differently,” said Glenn Witman, You Can Play co-founder. “Don’t use those slurs.”

Witman also started GForce Hockey, which is a team comprised of gay males. He said that people don’t realize the impact homophobic slurs can have on athletes who are not openly gay.
“I grew up playing sports my whole life, and your friends use those words in describing something, and you’re a little different than your friends,” said Witman, who didn’t come out till he was 28 years old. “It’s a difficult time in your try to change and say it’s just a phase, and when you realize it’s not a phase, you start to come out to yourself and come out for yourself.”

Growing up, Witman said he didn’t have any role models to look up to or to say being different was all right. He said that if there would’ve been athletes like Clutterbuck talking about acceptance when he was younger, things might have been easier for him.

“(Cal) is an excellent representative because he plays hard and he plays tough, not just for gay kids, but for straight kids, too,” Witman said. “If I’d have heard that when I was going through what I was going through, it might have been easier for me to come out.”

The NHL has been a large supporter of You Can Play and PSA videos are online at the project’s website, Clutterbuck’s video hasn’t been released yet, but other NHLers who have appeared in videos include Zdeno Chara (Bruins), Steven Stamkos (Lightning), James Van Riemsdyk (Flyers), Brandon Prust, (Rangers), and RJ Umberger (Blue Jackets).

“We’ve been thrilled with the reaction from the league, teams and fans,” Patrick Burke said. “I hope Wild fans will take a look and see what we have to offer.”
Clutterbuck thinks the culture of sports at the higher levels is changing for the better because of awareness. He added that hockey players in general are typically receptive of people’s differences.

“I think a lot of people would be surprised how included they would be if they decided to come out and tell their story,” Clutterbuck said. “I think guys are a lot more accepting than people think.”

The end goal of the You Can Play Project is to cease the anti-gay slurs and homophobic language that might push promising gay athletes out of sports. Clutterbuck said that it would be hard enough for someone who is different without having to deal with verbal abuse from teammates or opponents.

“You look over the course of history, there are a lot of things from racism and discrimination, that have come a full 180 in sports,” Clutterbuck said. “I think this is probably just the next step.”

“It’ll take time, just like anything else.”
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