To the Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association,
Each year, your Association is tasked with the difficult job of selecting the winner of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” This year, 30 deserving players have been nominated. There are many wonderful names on the list- players whose character, passion, and dedication are absolutely unquestioned. We write this open letter to you today to ask you to consider voting for Tommy Wingels of the San Jose Sharks.
Simply put, without Tommy, there would be no You Can Play Project. We can say this honestly, and we can say it for many reasons. Tommy’s unwavering support of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community in the sports world began at Miami University with his support of the late Brendan Burke. Brendan’s story is now well known in the hockey world, but the role of the Miami players in the story is often underemphasized. Without the support of his wonderful Miami teammates, Brendan would not have been in a position to share his story with the rest of the hockey world. Tommy, in his position as captain, worked with the rest of the team to ensure that Brendan felt safe and welcomed in the Redhawks locker room. Without that welcoming atmosphere, there would have been no story on ESPN, no interviews on TSN, and no You Can Play Project.
When Brendan was tragically killed in February of 2010, Tommy was again there to support the Burke family. He did a reading at Brendan’s funeral, and stayed in constant contact with the Burkes over the ensuing months. When Patrick mentioned the idea of the You Can Play Project to Tommy, he (along with fellow Miami Redhawk Andy Miele) jumped at the chance to be involved. Not content with just doing a PSA, both Tommy and Andy volunteered to serve on the advisory board and generously donated the first two checks to get You Can Play off the ground. Tommy still works tirelessly behind the scenes to attract new players to appear in our videos and to raise awareness about the issues LGBT athletes face. He has been relentless in his desire to help end homophobic bullying in any way he can.
Since our launch, NHL players have been overwhelmingly supportive of our campaign. The tremendous displays of support from the hockey community may make Tommy’s work seem less courageous, less daring, or less important. As more and more superstars sign on to support us, it is rapidly becoming the norm for NHL players to speak out about LGBT rights. However, it is our belief that Tommy showed remarkable courage by being (again, along with Miele) the first to sign on. Tommy’s presence on the campaign was secured at a time in his career where his NHL job was not. He was a minor league player, and he had no way of knowing how his vocal support of You Can Play would affect his reputation with his future employers, teammates, and fans. Had we been unable to secure additional players right from the start, Tommy and Andy would have been standing alone on this issue, with potentially harmful backlash. Tommy shouldered that burden without hesitation.
Simply put, Tommy is an active and vocal supporter of the most marginalized group in the sports world. He has supported the LGBT community both privately and publicly. He has done so with his time, effort, creativity, finances, and reputation. He did when his career was far from a certainty. He did it before it was endorsed by the NHL and his fellow NHL players. And he continues to do it, not out of a desire for recognition but out of a genuine belief that he will better the lives of people around the world because of his efforts. In short, Tommy put his own NHL dreams on the line in order to help ensure that others are given a fair chance to follow theirs.
For far too long, the gay hockey players of the world have had to live in fear, secrecy, and shame. Thanks to the courageous efforts of Tommy Wingels, the day is coming when that will not be true. Because of him, we will have a better sport, a safer sport, and a new generation of LGBT fans and athletes who are drawn to hockey because they know they will be accepted there. It is our belief that, wonderful though they all may be, it would be difficult for any other NHL player to surpass the positive impact made on the game of hockey by Tommy Wingels of the San Jose Sharks.
The You Can Play Project