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Home Ice

NHL's partnership with You Can Play a proud, watershed moment

Patrick Burke of the You Can Play ProjectFlyers scout Patrick Burke has been leading an historic movement for inclusion in sports. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

By Allan Muir

Well, that didn't take long.

About an hour after the news broke that the NHL and NHLPA have officially partnered with the You Can Play Project, I got an email from a woman who promised never to watch hockey again as long as it "promotes the homosexual agenda."

Lady, you won't be missed.

I learned long ago there's no arguing with someone like that. You can't tell anyone what to believe. Just like the best intentions of the league and the PA can't force hockey players to be accepting of a gay teammate.

But you can try to cultivate an environment where inclusion is the stated goal and a player's ability to contribute to a team's success on and off the ice makes a non-issue out of his sexual orientation.

And that's where this partnership stands as a watershed moment. This isn't about the "homosexual agenda," whatever that is. YCP isn't about gay marriage or gay adoption or gays on the international space station. It's really about a single, simple, perfectly worded idea: If you can play, you can play.

I usually steer clear of canned quotes, but this one from Ron Hainsey really hits the mark.

"As NHL players, we all strive to contribute towards helping our teams achieve success on the ice. Any player who can help in those efforts should be welcomed as a teammate," said the Winnipeg Jets defenseman and NHLPA Executive Board member. "This partnership solidifies the message that the hockey community believes in fairness and equality for everyone."

The most interesting takeaway for me from the press release is that You Can Play will conduct seminars at the NHL's rookie symposium to educate young prospects on LGBT issues.

In a larger sense, this is probably the last group that needs education. My nieces are about that age and they've grown up at a time when acceptance is more common than ever. But it's probably the right place to start because there is one area where that particular group of players can make an immediate and critical culture change.

Hockey echoes every other major sport in the use of terms like "fag", "fairy" and "gay" as pejoratives or casual synonyms for things that are lame or undesirable. It's been going on forever and it won't be easy to eradicate. It's not easy to wean yourself off language learned in the dressing room. But for this effort to take root, that talk has to stop.

Adjusting vocabularies and attitudes is a process, like the phasing in of visors. There will be resistance -- hopefully not as obvious as it is when someone plays without a shield -- but by focusing on the kids, the NHL and NHLPA are officially grandfathering acceptance.

It's interesting that this announcement coincides with the release of the movie 42, which captures the era of baseball's racial integration. It was a turbulent change, but it's a time that baseball fans now look back on with justifiable pride.

I'd say future hockey fans will look back on this moment with just as much pride, but there's no need to wait.

Be proud of it now.
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