NHL stars take stand against homophobia

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 05, 2012
Some of the NHL's biggest stars are featured in a public service announcement promoting equality within the sport, regardless of sexual orientation. Rick Nash, Duncan Keith, Corey Perry, Dion Phaneuf and Henrik Lundqvist are among the players who participated in the spot that debuted on NBC during Sunday afternoon's broadcast of the New York Rangers' 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins. The idea is part of the ''You Can Play'' project, which was created by Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. Patrick Burke's brother, Brendan, made headlines when he came out in November 2009 while serving as the manager of Miami of Ohio's college hockey team. He was killed in a February 2010 car crash at age 21. More than 30 NHL players have taped spots that will air throughout the remainder of the season. ''The messages are very simple, yet meaningful,'' Patrick Burke told The Canadian Press. ''It's variations of the idea that all they care about is winning, all they care about is having the best teammates and it doesn't matter if the best teammate happens to be gay or straight. ''That plays no role in whether or not they would accept their teammate and that they would all be welcoming and supportive of an openly gay teammate.'' Patrick Burke founded the ''You Can Play'' project along with Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman, who run a Denver-based gay hockey team called GForce. Brian Burke has been active in gay rights initiatives around Toronto and marches annually in the city's gay pride parade. In its mission statement, the ''You Can Play'' project says it aims to ensure ''equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.'' That ideal comes directly from conversations Patrick Burke had with his late brother. ''When Brendan came out it didn't change anything between me and him,'' Patrick Burke said. ''It turned into a great moment for us, a great bonding moment for our family because when something like that happens when you're not expecting it, you have to evaluate: 'What do I look for in a brother? What do I look for in a friend?' ''We had a very open relationship where I asked him a lot of questions because I didn't know anything. ... And hearing some of the stories that young LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) athletes face really touched me and made we want to do something in Brendan's honor to help those kids.'' The Burkes reached out to all 30 NHL teams in an effort to get support from players and received a strong response. ''I am grateful to the NHL community for their support (and) acceptance,'' Brian Burke posted on Twitter over the weekend.
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