The Ohio State University has become arguably the most visible and most successful collegiate athletic program to participate in the You Can Play Project for LGBT inclusion in sports.
Recently, Outsports' founder Cyd Zeigler Jr., discussed the issues involving LGBT acceptance in athletics and the importance of participating in the You Can Play project in an interview with Gene Smith, the Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics at The Ohio State University. In the interview, Smith stresses the importance he places on promoting diversity and inclusion in his athletic program. His attempt to foster an environment of inclusion is grounded in the fundamental idea that, "regardless of your background and interests, if you can play you can play." Meaning that sexual orientation does not affect a person's athletic ability.
In line with this, Smith has a desire to rid the locker room of homophobia. Smith also addresses the potential issue of anti-gay religious influence that a coach might wish to incorporate in their playing environment. Smith says he stresses for the coaches at OSU that, "It’s unacceptable to not have an environment of intolerance", which includes having coaches be mindful of running their team with an agenda that might hurt athletes of another religion or of a specific sexual identification. However, the most important concept that Smith is trying to convey to current and potential athletes is that "people’s sexual (orientation) has nothing to do with their ability to play on the field and represent our athletic department." These statements add Smith to the long list of leaders in athletics who would support anyone identifying as LGBT and feel it would and should not be an issue in sports.
Gene Smith continued with his promise to create an LGBT inclusive environment at The Ohio State University by having the Buckeyes be the first NCAA Division I school to host a "Pride Night" in support of Ohio's LGBT community. The "Pride Night" was held during an OSU men's hockey game against Notre Dame. Smith and OSU's men's hockey team also produced a You Can Play video emphasizing the support an LGBT athlete would have in the school's athletic department. The fact that a state school from Ohio is the first Division I school to participate in this project may seem surprising. Yet, Mr. Smith gives thanks to the city of Columbus, where the university is located, for housing what many say has become one of the most LGBT inclusive environments in the nation.
Regardless, what may be most important is the fact that OSU's hockey program has over a dozen former players currently in the NHL or affiliated leagues, more than 40 former OSU football players in the NFL, as well as a handful of pro baseball and basketball players and many athletes from other sports that went from OSU to become professionals at their sports. The desire of Gene Smith to create an LGBT inclusive environment will hopefully mean that future pro-LGBT athletes from OSU will enter professional sports prepared to carry this same spirit inclusivity with them at every level.