The You Can Play Project is launching the “High Five” initiative in an effort to create meaningful connections between LGBT youth and leaders within the professional sports community and the National Football League is the first to participate. “We believe that the power of story telling is a transformative experience that helps to broaden and foster our understanding of one another. We hope through these one-on-one interactions youth will see they are welcomed in sports,” said former NFL player Wade Davis, the executive director of the You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The initiative will have a soft launch with former NFL players and NFL player engagement executives Troy Vincent and Dwight Hollier visiting New York City’s Hetrick Martin Institute (HMI), one of the nation’s oldest and largest LGBT organizations. The HMI provides lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) youth social support and programming ranging from arts and culture to academic enrichment to job readiness.
After today, both organizations will continue to work together to expand the initiative during the 2014 NFL season and have current and former players visit other organizations nationwide.
“After attending the You Belong camp and recognizing the impact those LGBTQ kids had on me, it became clear the easiest way to educate athletes was by creating meaningful interactions with the LGBTQ community, especially youth. We hope the “High Five” initiative will accomplish just that by moving through various sports and locations nationwide connecting professional athletes and youth” said NHL Director of Player Safety Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project.
Davis worked for over two years at the Hetrick Martin Institute and learned firsthand the impact sports can have on LGBTQ youth. “Initially, I didn’t inform the youth I was a former NFL player, but as more and more found out, I realized it was important for them to know that I was gay and played sports.”
The “High Five” initiative is one of many steps that the NFL and other professional sports leagues are taking to make LGBT individuals feel welcomed in sports. During the visit to HMI, the former NFL players will receive a youth led tour of the organization and then talk with youth who are a part of two different internships, the Stars of Change and Peer Ed. The youth will talk about the work they do in their internships and the impact that the organization has had on them. In addition, youth will educate the players on the importance of “pronoun” usage and the need for safe spaces. The players will discuss the hard work, perseverance and dedication it took for them to make it to the NFL and answer whatever questions the youth have about the NFL and sports.
The name “High Five” for the initiative is important as well, because Glenn Burke, former MLB player and gay male, is credited with inventing the “High Five” and further cementing the connection between LGBT individuals and sports.
“Our goal at You Can Play beyond creating safe spaces for LGBT individuals, is to change the singular narrative that exist about sports.” “If youth only hear that sports is about toughness, masculinity and violence, some may choose not to play.” “But when youth learn the true essence of sports is family, solidarity and compassion for all participants, then we will see more youth, especially LGBT youth, understand sports is a place for them,” said Davis.
The You Can Play Project currently has official partnerships with the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer, in addition to a strong relationship with the NFL. YCP provides vital resources directly to organizations to ensure safe spaces for everyone.