Happy Birthday to the You Can Play project!

Published On March 4, 2013 | By Meghan Riggs

The You Can Play project celebrates its first birthday Monday!

You Can Play is a social activism campaign dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports and is centered around the slogan, “If you can play, you can play.”

The campaign was launched exactly one year ago on March 4, 2012 by its three co-founders: Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and son of former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman, both members of GForce Sports, an advocate for LGBT athletes.

The You Can Play project works to ensure equality, respect and safety for all athletes without regard to sexual orientation. It strives to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete while being judged only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.

The campaign was created after the death of Brendan Burke, Brian Burke’s son and Patrick Burke’s brother, in a car accident on February 5, 2010. He was 21 years old.

Brendan was the student manager for the Miami University Red Hawks hockey team and came out publicly in 2009 through an article written for ESPN.com by John Buccigross. During his short life, Burke was known for working to raise awareness and acceptance for homosexuality in hockey.

Brendan appeared with father Brian on the Canadian channel TSN during an intermission of a nationally televised hockey game to discuss his sexuality and his father’s acceptance of his lifestyle.

“I think it’s important my story is told to people because there are a lot of gay athletes out there and gay people working in pro sports that deserve to know there are safe environments where people are supportive regardless of your sexual orientation.”

On March 4, 2012, the You Can Play Project released a video called “The Faceoff” which laid out the goals of the foundation, saying You Can Play strives to “to carry on Brendan’s legacy, and ensure that LGBT athletes around the world are afforded equal opportunity: judged only by their talent, character, and work ethic in their sport.”

Over the past year, You Can Play has earned the backing of popular NHL players including Henrik Lundqvist, Zdeno Chara, and Ryan Kesler. The campaign has also been publicly endorsed by the American Hockey League, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League. A number of college teams have also shown their support for the initiative.

Since the campaign has gained widespread support and recognition by North American professional leagues, You Can Play has been called upon to comment on the challenging instances of homophobia involving professional athletes. In just one short year, You Can Play has established itself as one of the leading organizations defending homosexual athletes in professional sports.

For example, just before to the 2013 Super Bowl, Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers responded to an interview question about whether he had any gay teammates by denying the presence of any gay athletes in the locker room and saying gay athletes would have to “get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

You Can Play, GLAAD, and Athlete Ally released a joint statement condemning these views and Culliver subsequently apologized and pledged to grow from the experience.

It is impressive what the You Can Play project has achieved in such a short time, so here is to many more birthdays to come. If you would like to take a stand and get involved with the You Can Play campaign: click here.

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About The Author

Meghan is a junior at Boston University majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in communications. She has been an athlete her whole life and is a member of the Women’s Ice Hockey team at BU. She is also a member of BUTV10’s sports talk show, Off Sides.