I am honored and proud to be a founding partner of the You Can Play Project. My brother Brendan taught me what the locker room can be like for young LGBT athletes, then showed me the difference one person can make by standing up for what is right. With the You Can Play Project, we hope to provide a means for athletes, coaches, and fans to stand up and create an atmosphere of inclusion. As each person or team stands up, LGBT athletes everywhere will become aware that they can be themselves without fear. Freed from the burdens of fear and shame, these athletes will be free to play to their full potential, making our teams, our leagues, and the sports themselves better, stronger, and more entertaining.
It’s time to change the way the world thinks about athletes – both straight and gay. Talent, work ethic, and character are all that matters when evaluating a player. It’s time for straight allies to show their character by enabling LGBT athletes to show their talents without fear. If you can play, You Can Play.
Anyone who’s played a sport knows the feeling of stepping up to make the big play – that split second slapshot or a soccer ball lofted across a field.
For Glenn, Patrick and me, You Can Play is that big play. Fairly randomly, buddies meet and realize they like the same sports. It’s usually as simple as that. But, we realized that our love of sports had a tougher side, and one that we want to change. You Can Play is a project that lets straight athletes and straight allies talk to each other about gay athletes. This is a project that lets gay athletes tell their stories and talk about what makes them great.
It turns out that most of us have a gay little brother or sister, or uncle, cousin, teammate or best friend. We all laugh and snicker at gay jokes and we call each other names. We’re just kidding, kind of, and it’s funny, right? We might not mean anything by it, but the subtle pressure, casual homophobia, and true lack of understanding are keeping our brothers and sisters, uncles, cousins, teammates and best friends from being great athletes.
I was the little fat kid who played soccer and I heard a lot about it. Kids are mean. But, while you might not be the fat kid anymore, you don’t grow out of who you are. Eventually, I went to work as a marketing guy for professional teams: hockey, basketball, lacrosse and soccer. The sports change, but the slurs don’t. Adults are mean, too. There are some terrific and embracing people in the world of sports. But there’s a continuing lack of awareness that, unless we aggressively work to change a culture, it stays the same.
I’m a competition junkie. I’ll watch anything if someone is going to win – from hockey and lacrosse to curling and yachting. And, I know more about bull riding than I do about most sports. Casual homophobia doesn’t help an athlete in any of these sports win and it’s time for it to stop. It’s time for us to talk about it. My work with the You Can Play Project will focus on what teams and their fans can do to shift the focus locker rooms and stands from who an athlete loves, to whether the player can help his or her team win. That means building awareness in fans that, if your fellow fans will call you out for using a racial slur during a game, I’ll call you out for using the f-word. It means building awareness in teams that getting cheap laughs by focusing the Kiss Cam on the opposing team’s bench, sends a message that unnecessarily mocks some of your paying customers, and potentially some of your players. The fact is, we don’t know who’s in the locker room next to us, or sitting in the stands behind us. And, it doesn’t matter.
Patrick, Glenn and I aren’t the first ones to take this on, but we’re proud to join a team made of aggressive gay athletes and straight allies. The work of guys like Dan Woog, Cyd Ziegler and Jim Buzkinski in highlighting openly gay athletes like Greg Louganis, Martina Navratilova and other greats, along with out college players like Andrew Goldstein, Andrew McIntosh, Brandon Stoneham, Dave Farber, and the everyday rec league player, has paved the way for You Can Play. Straight allies who are vocal in their demands for respect are quickly emerging. Rugby player Ben Cohen. Wrestler Hudson Taylor. And, You Can Play owes a special debt to hockey’s own Sean Avery. We hope that, because of You Can Play, Sean won’t be the last guy to say that he’ll stand next to you in the locker room when you’re ready to come out.
I’m extremely grateful to have incredible friends. My family is the most important thing in my life. I thank them all for their friendship and support. I’m also grateful to Patrick and Glenn and their families for teaming up with us.
We invite your comments and support. Make videos. Talk about it. Argue with us. Suggest ways to help. Glenn, Patrick and I all believe sports will be better when our little brothers and sisters, uncles, cousins, teammates and best friends are judged on their athletic ability – or lack of it – rather than being gay. When you can play, we all win.
I have been around sports teams my whole life and any player, gay or straight, knows the joys of being part of the team. But they also know how homophobic a locker room can be.
When Gforce Sports got started in 2006, it began as an elite gay hockey team that traveled North America playing in high caliber straight tournaments. We did this to have fun, to be together, but also we wanted to show our straight allies that gay players can be just like them.
In the past few years our advocacy, through the “Invisible Athlete” Forums and the Athlete Buddy System ( more info at www.gforcesports.org) we took a more important role at a time when GLBT youth where committing suicide at an alarming rate. And we know that coaches and teams don’t get the best performance when a member of the team is forced to keep any secret or when a player feels shut out.
You Can Play shows coaches, team captains, and players how important it is to focus on skills and work ethic, not personal differences. It is my hope that You Can Play will be the catalyst that makes locker rooms safe for all athletes rather than places of fear, slurs, and bullying. With the You Can Play team we have put together and with your help, that change has already started.
My family and friends were among the first to support You Can Play. My former high school coach spoke on our behalf and showed that relationships matter even after all these years. I thank them, and you, for your support.