RALEIGH — The videos are short but the message is powerful.
The public service announcements, made by both the Carolina Hurricanes and Duke University, support the You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization seeking an end to homophobia in sports.
Hurricanes players Tuomo Ruutu, Kevin Westgarth, Tim Brent and Tim Gleason appear in Carolinas video. Any race, gay or straight, we are all one team, Ruutu says.
The Hurricanes are the first professional team in North Carolina to support gay and lesbian inclusivity through You Can Play, a Denver-based nonprofit. The National Hockey League and NHL Players Association announced last month a joint partnership with You Can Play, with the motto Hockey is for Everyone.
Peoples right to choose whatever in their lives is important. Its important enough for the Hurricanes to support it, Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. For people to have to carry certain things around in their life and not feel comfortable sharing it with other people, to me it isnt right.
You dont have to agree with everybody with what they do in their life, their different choices in their life. But everybody has that right.
Duke produced its video last summer. Coaches, athletes and athletic department members participated, including athletic director Kevin White and womens basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie. The Canes and Duke videos can be found at www.youcanplayproject.org.
Teamwork and excellence extend far beyond sexual orientation, White says in the Duke video.
Jason Collins, a veteran NBA center, recently became the first active major-league athlete to publicly say he was gay. Collins, 34, used Sports Illustrated as his forum in a cover story titled The Gay Athlete. Most have applauded Collins decision to go public.
Unquestionably. I think he was incredibly brave to be the first one, Westgarth said Friday. Hopefully, every day, every year there will be more progress. It has been interesting to see the support (Collins) has gotten in the NBA. Hopefully everyone will be more accepting in the future and others will feel more comfortable in coming out.
Collins told Sports Illustrated he had wrestled with the decision but that the bombings at the Boston Marathon last month spurred him to finally come forward. He said he realized he could be booed or jeered by some NBA fans next season, but said he expected to have the support of his teammates.
The You Can Play project advocates the equal treatment of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender athletes, coaches and fans. One of the co-founders is Patrick Burke, the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and older brother of the late Brendan Burke.
Brendan Burke, who was a video coordinator and student manager for the Miami University hockey team in Ohio, raised awareness for gay and lesbian athletes in 2009 when he said he was gay in an ESPN interview. His death in a car wreck in 2010, at age 21, was the catalyst for the You Can Play project.
The NHL and NHL Players Association announced the partnership with You Can Play on April 11, which Burke called a groundbreaking step.
Soon after the announcement, the Canes Westgarth, who has been active in NHLPA matters, said, Hopefully we can become a beacon for other sports. Hopefully other leagues and organizations will follow us.
For now, the NHL is the only major league to partner with You Can Play, although there are several pro teams and colleges supporting the project.
Duke, UCLA, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Princeton and Ohios Miami University are among the institutions to produce You Can Play videos. Professional teams include the Portland Pirates, Toronto Marlies and Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League and DC United and Toronto FC of Major League Soccer.
Individual NHL players such as defenseman Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and forward Jason Pominville of the Minnesota Wild have taken part in You Can Play videos.
We do not reach out directly and ask for support, and prefer to be more of a grass-roots organization, Burke said.
The Duke video was produced last year after the university contacted Burke, said Leslie Barnes, the schools director of student-athlete development.
We had seen their videos online and decided as a department that they were basic, powerful and straight-forward, Barnes said. It was the avenue we wanted to go.
Burke held a panel discussion in February with Duke coaches and freshman athletes. He said he acts as a straight moderator on the panel for three gay athletes who share their story.
Duke is one of the premier universities in the world, Burke said. Its known as a basketball powerhouse athletically but the school excels in all areas. Were hoping other schools aspire to be like Duke in taking a stand.
The You Can Play video, Barnes said, has been shown during the universitys freshman and parent orientations.
The feedback has been awesome, Barnes said. Were far from perfect and not 100 percent are onboard, but its being embraced as part of the culture.
Cricket Lane, assistant athletic director for student-athlete development at UNC, said a You Can Play video is being planned as a summer project by the athletic department.
Lane said UNC already has produced a video supporting the It Gets Better Project, created to encourage and inspire gay and lesbian youth. North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham and womens soccer coach Anson Dorrance appear in the video along with athletes and other athletic department members.
Weve always addressed these issues and others such as diversity with our student-athletes, and have a lot of conversations on the issues during the year, Lane said. We work closely with the LGBTQ center and make our athletes aware of all the resources available to them.
Tonya Washington, assistant athletic director for student-athlete development and community relations at N.C. State, said Justine Hollingshead, the director of the universitys GLBT Center, and others meet with members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee once a month to discuss issues.
Washington said two or three representatives from each sports team attend the meetings, then share the information with teammates.
Hollingshead also has met with the Wolfpack coaching staffs, Washington said.
Barnes and others agree its one thing to say, another to do. As the Canes Westgarth said, a real test may come when there is a gay or lesbian athlete in your locker room when you have a Jason Collins on your team.
Its very easy to talk and give lip service to it but I think my experience in talking to (NHL players) is very positive, Westgarth said. I dont see there being a problem to it. I dont care. Its kind of like if hes good enough to play here and help us win, I dont care. Hes a teammate. Everybody on the team would fight for a teammate, in any respect.
Burke said he has talked with Collins since the Sports Illustrated story, congratulating and thanking him for his decision to come out as a gay athlete.
What he did was unbelievable, Burke said. Whether this benefits us or any other group, its just great what he did, to step up and be the first.
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