Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the National Hockey League and Donald Fehr, the executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association, today announced a landmark continuing partnership with the You Can Play Project (YCP).
The You Can Play Project will henceforth be an integral part of the NHL's rookie symposium. They will hold seminars to engage with rookie players in order to spread YCP's mission to ensure equality, respect, and safety for all athletes; without regard to sexual orientation. The NHL has also reported that The NHLPA and NHL will work with You Can Play to integrate the project into their Behavioral Health Program, "enabling players to confidentially seek counseling or simply ask questions regarding matters of sexual orientation."
Said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: "Our motto is 'Hockey Is For Everyone,' and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way."
"Nothing empowers an athlete to step up like knowing they have a teammate, a whole team, or an entire league by their side. The NHL and You Can Play have taken a precedent-setting step forward in the world of men's professional sports with this partnership," said Aaron McQuade, head of GLAAD's sports program. "The NHL is the first pro sports league to take such concrete and public measures to create a safe space for LGBT athletes, and is sending a message to all LGBT young people that the only thing that matters on the ice, on the field, on the court or on the track is whether they can compete."
Pro hockey players also voiced their support for the partnership. "As NHL players, we all strive to contribute towards helping our teams achieve success on the ice. Any player who can help in those efforts should be welcomed as a teammate," said Ron Hainsey, who plays for the Winnipeg jets and serves as an NHLPA Executive Board member. "This partnership solidifies the message that the hockey community believes in fairness and equality for everyone."
Deadspin asked Fehr why he chose to work with the NHL in this agreement, especially after the lockout between the league and the NHLPA that left the 2012-13 season drastically shortened and eliminated the NHL All-Star game in Columbus, OH. "When you can do something that is good and is the right thing to do, you do it", said Fehr. "Even if you're aggravated with the person you're doing it with. This is something the players support, and it just seemed like the right time to formalize our relationship. This was the right thing to do."
This alliance between YCP and the NHL is monumental, as it marks the first time a major professional sports league has entered into a partnership with an organization specially focused on LGBT issues in athletics.