March 19 2012 02:43PM
The You Can Play project was launched by the Burke family in honour of Brendan Burke, a gay athlete who perished tragically in late 2009. I'm proud of the way the hockey community is leading the way on a critical social issue, the acceptance of LGBT athletes in professional sports, and I was thrilled today to hear that the organization has added their newest spokesman - Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks.
You've probably seen the first run of You Can Play PSAs featuring the likes of Corey Perry, Matt Moulson, Henrik Lundqvist, Scott Hartnell, Daniel Alfredsson and others. It rules.
What's great about the "You Can Play" project and the PSA linked to above is how simple the organization's name, and primary message is. It's about promoting tolerance of gay athletes in the locker room, and creating an environment where a talented athlete won't leave the sport because of homophobic banter, or fear of in-game targeting based on their sexual preference. But the real genius of "You Can Play" is its wider implications beyond equality for and tolerance of LGBT athletes. It's a slogan, and it's also an assurance: no matter who you are, or who you love, or who you pray too - if you can play, you can play.
Kesler has apparently already filmed a PSA, and we assume he'll continue to be a spokesman for the organization going forward. If his comments via Derek Jory of Canucks.nhl.com are any indication, Kesler seems like he'll be well suited for that role:
“It goes much further than just the locker room, it’s definitely a stigma in society too where there’s a lot of close-minded people. It’s the 21st century, people need to get with the times and be accepting. I have no problem with it and obviously I’m going to speak out.”
Kesler's style of play is tough, swashbuckling and rugged - he's machoism incarnate, and it makes him a perfect spokesman for this issue. I have to believe these types of images can, and do make a big difference; so kudos to Ryan Kesler, and kudos to the Vancouver Canucks for getting on board with the You Can Play Team.
Here's footage of Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler talking about whether or not they'd be accepting of a gay athlete in the Canucks locker room (via Xtra.ca):