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With You Can Play, hockey aims to curb homophobia
NHL players would support openly gay teammate, Patrick Burke says
Like a lot of professional athletes, he knows what kinds of words are used and hopes to prevent young players from making the same mistakes. The 31-year-old doesn’t believe eliminating those words is impossible, or even difficult.
“Not if you’re raised that way,” Hendricks said. “The coaches are going to be able to hear what’s said, and they need to say when things aren’t OK. They need to be able to address that.”
That’s an emphasis at the youth level, but the NHL is involved because players are seen as role models. Burke said the language “isn’t perfect but it isn’t terrible,” but eliminating it altogether will take time and effort.
It also may be a long time until an active male athlete in North America comes out as gay, though Burke said that’s more because of the media attention than how that person will be perceived by teammates.
“Especially in the National Hockey League and I believe in all the major sports, the player’s teammates will have no issue with it, the player’s coaches will have no issues with it as long as the player continues to show up and do his job,” Burke said. “I think the reaction from within the sports community is going to be a great big shrug of the shoulders and then everyone goes back to work.”
No matter the sport, the first such athlete will undoubtedly be considered a pioneer, like Jackie Robinson was when he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 as the first black player in the majors. Burke said his team’s job would be to protect that player or those players from the crush of media attention that’s sure to follow.
“I think the reason that we don’t have athletes out right now is because they do understand [the attention],” Burke said. “We haven’t had a player yet who wants to deal with it.”
“Obviously there’s going to be a few individuals who it may not sit well with, but on the grand majority, I would feel that we’d talk about it for a day or two and just go on with our business,” he said. “People, I think, for the most part are going to understand it, are going to respect it and realize that, you know, we don’t really have a say in it. It’s not your decision, it’s their decision. We care about our teammates.”
For now, Burke and his team are focused on informing and educating.
“We’ve got the resources and the ability to do what we’ve set out to do, which is have confidential information available to players who need to ask questions or need to reach out, have people that they can talk to who can answer their questions for them,” Burke said. “[We will] keep our work going on the cultural side of things and trying to change sports culture from the top down.”
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