The NHL's New Gay Rights Initiative

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 11 2013 3:50 PM

The NHL's New Gay Rights Initiative

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Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association threw their weight behind gay rights advocacy today, announcing a partnership with the You Can Play project to combat homophobia in sports.

It doesn't look like the NHL's gesture is purely symbolic. You Can Play will provide LGBT training for new players on NHL teams, and counseling on related issues for players who want it. The partnership will also speak out publicly against any homophobic remarks made by NHL players in the future. Here's the official statement from league commissioner Gary Bettman:

"Our motto is 'Hockey Is For Everyone,' and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way. While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players' Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands."
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The partnership will also produce PSAs on LGBT issues featuring NHL players. A few NHL players, it should be noted, have already participated in You Can Play campaigns in the past year.

Although other professional sports leagues have non-discrimination policies that address sexual orientation, the NHL's announcement goes further. You Can Play founder Patrick Burke (who works as a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers) thought the league's more international player base might have something to do with their ability to come out more strongly for gay rights. Here's what he told the New York Times:

"'We have players from around the world, and a lot of those players are from countries that are seen as more progressive on LGBT issues,' Burke said. 'So I don’t think it’s unreasonable or strange to think that the N.H.L. and the N.H.L.P.A. are driving this, in part because our players tend to be more comfortable with this issue.'"

Should an NHL player decide to come out as gay, the partnership could help that player handle the inevitable onslaught of media attention. Again, You Can Play founder Patrick Burke, this time speaking to Rolling Stone:

"But we're ready to do whatever that player wants," Burke said, when such an occasion arises. "If he wants to do a thousand interviews and march in pride parades, we're equipped to handle that. And if he wants us to pass-block for him so he never has to do another interview in his life, we're equipped to handle that too."

Last week, speculation was on the rise that at as many as four National Football League players may come out as gay simultaneously, pushing the NFL to think about their own stance on LGBT inclusion in professional sports.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.