Commentary

NHL players promoting inclusion

Pucksters partnering to make sure Brendan Burke's memory and message live on

Updated: March 10, 2012, 11:19 AM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

Brendan Burke, a student manager for the Miami University men's hockey team and openly homosexual, was a trailblazer in the quest for tolerance and gay rights in hockey. Not long after coming out publicly, he was killed in a 2010 automobile accident, but his family and several NHL players are partnering to make sure his memory and message live on.

In Brendan's honor, his brother Patrick, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, and father Brian, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, created the You Can Play initiative, a campaign to promote equality, respect and safety for all LGBT athletes.

[+] EnlargeMatt Moulson
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesThe Islanders' Matt Moulson said he "jumped at the chance to be involved."

The project, which launched with a 60-second commercial that aired nationally during Sunday's New York Rangers-Boston Bruins game, has gained support from players across the NHL, including the three New York local teams.

Henrik Lundqvist, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust took part for the Rangers as did New York Islanders forwards Matt Moulson and Frans Nielsen and New Jersey Devils Andy Greene and Mark Fayne.

Moulson, one of several players featured in the first commercial, said he "jumped at the chance to be involved."

"I think this is an important message to get out," Moulson said. "I think it really came together well in showing the unity throughout the league. It's something I've always felt strongly toward."

Moulson said he would welcome an openly gay athlete like he would any other teammate and hopes that the culture of tolerance and acceptance is promoted throughout hockey.

"If you have a guy that can help you, I don't care if he's gay or straight, I'm going to treat him the same way as a teammate. We're a family inside the locker room. I don't think it matters about anyone's sexual orientation," he said. "I'm comfortable playing with gay players, having gay friends. We're all human."

Boyle viewed the opportunity to become involved as a chance to speak out for his love of the sport.

"It's a great opportunity to be a voice and a responsibility, I think," Boyle said. "This game means so much to me and has given me so much -- so many friendships and memories -- now it's what I get to do for a living. I think everybody, no matter what you do … if you love something, the opportunity to play should be there for everybody."

Fayne was first approached about participating by Patrick and Brian Burke during a golf outing this summer and agreed immediately.

He hopes that the movement does more than just promote awareness and tolerance across the league, but reaches the younger generations as well.

"I feel like it can't do anything but help," said Fayne, who thinks seeing star players such as Rick Nash, Claude Giroux and Corey Perry speak up against inequality will make kids think twice about bullying.

"There's always the phobia that it's uncool. But when you have guys like Nash and big-name guys out there staying stuff, it knocks it down a lot. Especially for younger kids -- to see their idols, they're not going to think it's cool to make fun of people."

The movement has garnered a tremendous reception across the league and beyond. Even celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Khloe Kardashian and Alan Thicke have voiced their support via social media forums.

Patrick Burke said he has been blown away by the reaction.

"It's been great to see, really touching to see the response we've gotten," he told ESPNNewYork.com via telephone Thursday. "In a way, I'm not surprised, because the hockey community really is the best."

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Follow Katie on Twitter »  Chat archive »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

MORE NHL HEADLINES