NHL is ahead of its time after partnering with You Can Play
“This is evolution for us,” says Gary Bettman from his office in New York, after an afternoon spent running the media gauntlet. The National Hockey League and the NHLPA had formally announced a partnership with You Can Play on Thursday, becoming the first league to partner with a group dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports, and the commissioner had toured the major networks. Now, Bettman sounds happy. He sounds proud.
“The way it will do the league good is it will create the right environment for the league and our fans,” Bettman said. “We have been very clear in terms of what we believe is the right thing.” He’s on speakerphone, and he says to hold on for a second so he can look up and read aloud the anti-discrimination language in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement. It included sexual orientation. This is a bigger step, though.
It’s been a little more than a year since You Can Play was launched in the wake of the death of Patrick Burke’s younger brother Brendan (pictured above with the rest of the Burke family, far right), who had come out to ESPN a few months before he died in a snowy car accident in Indiana. It has been a year of patience, even as things moved fast. Burke has been very careful not to shame sports into changing for the better, but instead has worked to convince them that YCP could be trusted. No angry press releases, no PR stunt. Just methodical work.
You Can Play already had a significant presence in the NHL, with over 60 players in its PSAs, from Zdeno Chara to Steven Stamkos to Carey Price. But now it’s part of the playbook, and that’s progress. (Photos: PNG/Files/Matthew Sherwood for National Post)