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Lundqvist, Boyle encouraged by You Can Play partnership

4/12/2013

Thursday marked an historic day in hockey, as the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced a partnership with You Can Play, an organization founded to eliminate homophobia in sports and create a safe environment for gay athletes.

As participants in You Can Play’s initial campaign -- a series of public service announcements that ran last season -- both Rangers Henrik Lundqvist and Brian Boyle were encouraged to hear the news.

"It’s progressive. It’s great stuff," said Boyle. "[For] the future generations of kids, hopefully this starts becoming the culture, the norm -- accepting everyone... It’s something that’s completely necessary. It’s a great job by Patrick Burke."

Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and son of former Leafs general manager Brian Burke, created the foundation in tribute to his younger brother Brendan, who came out as gay while serving as student manager of Miami University’s men’s hockey and was tragically killed in a car accident in 2010.

Since You Can Play’s inception, the foundation has been received with open arms throughout the hockey community, in dressing rooms across both the NHL and AHL.

Thursday was the most recent, and perhaps most significant, step in what has been a wildly successful campaign to celebrate tolerance and inclusion in sports.

"I think it’s good. I think it’s important that everybody knows that we respect everybody," Lundqvist said. "I think everybody deserves to play this game. It doesn’t matter who you are. I think it’s a good thing."

No player in the NHL or any other major professional sports league in the U.S. has come out as gay during their career, though Lundqvist is hopeful the NHL has fostered the type of culture that would be open and accepting should that happen.

"I hope everyone would feel comfortable being themselves, without feeling any pressure, whether it was [sexual orientation], religion, or whatever it might be," he said.

The recently-brokered collective bargaining agreement includes a clause that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, in addition to religion, race and national origin as well.

The You Can Play team will be presenting and conducting seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium and will be providing education and resources to each team as desired.

"Our motto is 'Hockey Is For Everyone,' and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday in a statement. "While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our lockerrooms and in the stands."