OGDEN, Utah (January 14, 2016) – Today, the You Can Play Project and Big Sky Conference are announcing their official partnership. The primary aim of the partnership is to help make collegiate sports into a safer and more inclusive place for everyone – athletes, staff, and fans alike.
The Big Sky is now the first collegiate Conference in the Western region of the United States, and the second NCAA Division I Conference, to partner with You Can Play. You Can Play is a non-profit organization founded in 2012, whose mission is to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports – including LGBT athletes, coaches and fans.
Big Sky Conference Commissioner, Doug Fullerton, expressed his strong support for the partnership, “As a league, we are continually looking for ways to address the well-being of our student-athletes both on and off the court. We are proud to partner with the You Can Play Project and to have all of our institutions participating. We believe that this partnership will have a positive and meaningful impact on our student-athletes, coaches, fans, and institutions.”
The Big Sky Conference is an NCAA Division I Conference, with schools located across Washington, North Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, Utah and California. The Big Sky member institutions participating in this partnership are Eastern Washington, Idaho, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, Southern Utah, Weber State, along with affiliates Cal Poly and UC Davis.
You Can Play’s Executive Director, Wade Davis, describes how important this partnership is, both personally and for the Big Sky community: “To see the entire Big Sky Conference step up and be leaders in fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment for LGBT students is magical. As a Weber State alum, it reaffirms the decision I made, ten years ago, to attend a Big Sky school. I hope that when LGBT students athletes hear about the Big Sky partnership with You Can Play, they feel as proud and supported as I do.”
Over the past two years, the You Can Play Project and the Big Sky Conference have worked together to train and develop leaders within the Big Sky community. Vice President of Program Development & Community Outreach, Anna Aagenes, and Davis traveled to Denver in July 2015 to deliver a You Can Play presentation for the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) student-athletes and administrators. Earlier that year, Davis was a featured speaker at the Big Sky’s 2015 Health and Wellness Symposium.
Through the partnership, You Can Play will provide additional trainings, educational resources, and support for the SAAC leadership at each member institution. The Big Sky will further spread the word about You Can Play and will assign representatives from each school to work directly with the You Can Play staff.
At the trainings, You Can Play and Big Sky representatives not only discuss homophobia in sports, but also racism, sexism, mental health, and other forms of identity that have an impact on whether or not student athletes feel safe and included on their teams. The key takeaway message is respecting each other, regardless of our differences.
“The Big Sky and You Can Play Project are a step ahead of the curve in where this conversation needs to be had about being inclusive with all athletes. The You Can Play Project focuses on student athletes’ performance and that’s what it should be about, rather than all those extra outside factors,” explains student-athlete, Cody McDavis. McDavis is not only the Big Sky Conference SAAC President at Northern Colorado, he is also a Division I National SAAC Representative.
Lisa Campos, President for Intercollegiate Athletics at Northern Arizona University (NAU) states, “NAU is excited to be partnering with the You Can Play Project through the Big Sky Conference sponsored diversity initiative. Supporting a culture of inclusivity is a priority for NAU Athletics and this initiative aligns with our core goals.”
Several Big Sky member schools have already created You Can Play videos, spreading the message that if you can play, you can play, and that’s all that matters on the field, track, or the court. Davis makes a special appearance at the end of Weber State’s You Can Play video.
Through this partnership, You Can Play and Big Sky will continue to expand upon their important work together to ensure that college sports teams are a safe place for everyone, including LGBT athletes, coaches and fans.