Everyone’s welcome in my dressing room

I first caught wind of this in my Twitter feed on the weekend and I’m so happy to see that it’s starting to spread and grow.

As most of you probably know, minor hockey has been a huge part of my life, both as a player when I was a kid and as a coach for several years as an adult. Hockey has been overwhelmingly positive for me and I want other people to have that same positive experience. It’s what drives me to stay involved in the game as an adult.

Unfortunately, the hockey culture isn’t perfect. The hockey dressing room is still a place where macho idealism reigns and, as a result, terms like “faggot” and “queer” are thrown around too often. Even when they aren’t used in an attempt to demean or insult someone specifically for their sexuality, they still hang in the air as a shorthand for undesirable attributes.

This has to change.

A few years ago, a courageous young man named Brendan Burke came out of the closet and took on the cause of making the hockey world a more tolerant and accepting one for GLBT athletes. Sadly, he died in a car accident shortly thereafter. In the wake of that tragedy, his brother Patrick, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, and his father Brian, GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, took up the fight for him.

The You Can Play Project is an extension of that fight.

The message is simple: if you can play the game, you can play the game.

Locker rooms should be safe and sports venues should be free from homophobia. Athletes should be judged on talent, heart and work ethic, not sexual orientation.

It’s early days for the project but I’m so excited to see where it goes. This is long overdue. I may not be an NHL superstar but I’m proud to lend my voice, insignificant as it may be, to such a worthwhile cause. I can’t promise to change the world and I can’t promise to end homophobia but as long as I’m holding the key to a dressing room or opening a gate on the bench I will say as loudly and clearly as I can:

Everyone is welcome. If you can play, you can play.