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March 17, 2012 | 4:08pm ET
Everyone's game
 Members of the New York Rangers are backing a good cause.

"If you can skate, you can skate. If you can shoot, you can shoot. If you can score, You can score. If you can play, you can play."

NEW YORK, NY -- The message is clear and simple, if you have the talent to play, nothing else should get in your way. And the "You Can Play" initiative is something everyone should be able to get behind.

This movement is not about politics, or morals, it's about human rights and equality. More than 30 hockey players have gotten behind the simple concept, fueled and created by Patrick and Brian Burke, who lost both a brother and son, respectively in 2010. It was during his time as a student manager with Miami University that Brendan Burke, Brian Burke's son, opened up about his sexual orientation to the world.

His news was well received, and resounding support was reciprocated by his teammates, management, but most importantly his family. It was unprecedented at the time for someone in an athletic community to be so open about that aspect of their life.

"Imagine if I was in the opposite situation, with a family that wouldn't accept me, working for a sports team where I knew I couldn't come out because I'd be fired or ostracized ... people in that situation deserve to know that they can feel safe, that sports isn't all homophobic and that there are plenty of people in sports who accept people for who they are," Brendan explained to ESPN.

Now, with rapidly growing support, from players, teams, and media outlets, Patrick Burke is making a gargantuan movement toward social reform. To make all sports, not just hockey, a place free from homophobia, or any other discrimination for all athletes.

The first PSA aired a short time ago, on a nationally broadcast Sunday afternoon game between the New York Rangers, and Boston Bruins.

Amongst the players vocally supporting the Burke's simplistic message of tolerance, were Rangers teammates Brian Boyle and Henrik Lundqvist.

"When it comes to the game, that's where you are just supposed to be able to go out and have fun no matter who you are," stated Boyle. "Any kind of prejudice or foul play towards anybody who has a different belief is not tolerated."

He also reaffirmed that it is not a political issue but that, "it's pretty black and white, if you can play, you can play... No matter what you do, or in any sport, the opportunity to play should be there."

With the strides made in social reform, and a change in attitude towards fellow peers, it's almost astounding that sexual orientation is still taboo in sports.

Or rather, that it should have any effect on how an athlete is perceived by both teammates, and fans. There is simply no reason for what Patrick Burke refers to as "Casual Homophobia" in locker rooms, and arenas.

Fans have looked past such atrocities as convictions for major crimes, and jail time in the past. And while the player's bottom line may have taken a small hit, they will still be revered for their accolades when the time comes. Their jerseys will still fly of the shelves come Holiday season. And families will still gather around to watch them flaunt their athletic abilities on television. So why is it that some athletes still feel the need to live in fear and hide who they really are?

Henrik Lundqvist chimed in on the future of the movement, and the impact he hopes it has: "I just hope everyone can be themselves. And if this helps people come out, and be honest, and be able to relax, then I think that's great."

"It's a great game an everyone should have the chance to play," he also emphatically exclaimed.

As the initiative garners steam, more and more athletes are vocally backing it, whether it be through PSA's or even taking to their twitter to support the central idea of the issue. Which is, and will remain tolerance.

Patrick Burke has explained that they are trying to harbor an atmosphere of safety, and eliminate the casual homophobia, like the use of homophobic slurs on the ice, or around the locker room.

Tough guy Brandon Prust, who earns his living with his fist as well as his skills, was very quick to point out, "The World's changing, and everybody needs to be aware of that."

"It doesn't matter who you are, everyone is equal," maintained Prust, re-iterating what other players have already said.

"People look up to us. We're role models, so it's good for us to show our support."

As Prust eludes to, it is important for athletes to use their influence in an honorable way. To not use their esteem to take advantage of situations for personal gain, but instead to better themselves and their society.

The simple Mission Statement of "You Can Play," is as follows:

"You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute to the sport or their team's success. You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete's skills, work ethic and competitive spirit."

It's not impossible to build a culture of absolute tolerance, and respect in sports. But it will require some work, and good on the Burkes for getting the ball rolling.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.


 

 

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