In what promises to be a shake up of the heterosexual male-dominated sports world, the National Hockey League (NHL) has become the first professional sports league in North America to throw it’s full support behind LGBTQ equality. The league, in association with the You Can Play Project and the National Hockey League Players Association, has made a commitment to combat homophobia in the NHL by implementing workshops, and sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues to it’s players and officials. The league has also promised to use its athletic star power to make a stand against LGBTQ bullying, in the form of public service announcements.
Patrick Burke, founder of the You Can Play Project (an organization that targets homophobia in professional sports), said the NHL taking the lead on LGBTQ equality in sports was a no-brainer. “We have players from around the world, and a lot of those players are from countries that are seen as more progressive on LGBT issues,” Burke said. “So I don’t think it’s unreasonable or strange to think the NHL and the NHLPA are driving this, in part because our players tend to be more comfortable with this issue.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also weighed in on his league’s pro-gay stance announcement, saying “our motto is Hockey Is for Everyone, and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way.”
Now that the NHL has taken the lead on LGBTQ equality, the next question is which other league will follow suit? National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern has recently sent a memo to all 30 NBA teams making it clear the league will not tolerate discrimination towards its players based on religion, race, and sexual orientation. The conservative National Football League has also shifted (if not slightly) towards a more progressive tone towards LGBTQ acceptance. It recently designated former player Troy Vincent and community relations director Anna Isaacson to oversee the implementation of a league policy that would tackle how the NFL would deal with a player revealing his sexual orientation and how to handle adverse public reaction. The NFL also maintains a policy which prohibits discrimination towards a player because of religion, race, or sexual orientation.
For now, however, the NHL’s pro-gay announcement has been met with much fanfare. Richard Sanchez, mega-fan of the Los Angeles Kings, told Qulture.Org “I’m elated! For a major sports league to make this announcement is huge! When I was younger I kind of held back from doing things, especially sports, because I knew I was gay. I didn’t feel I would be accepted. Now that a policy like this is in place, I think it will help players who are gay to explore their God-given talents, regardless of their sexuality.” Sounds like the NHL’s announcement is already making it’s intended impact on the community.