Metro Morning

NHL players to serve as LGTBQ ambassadors for You Can Play project

The You Can Play project, started five years ago to create a more inclusive environment for LGBT people in sports, has 30 new recruits working to help further the cause — one player from every team in the National Hockey League.

The 30 player ambassadors will be the 'go-to person on their team' for LGTBQ issues

James Van Riemsdyk is the new LGTBQ ambassador for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The You Can Play project, started five years ago to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ people in sports, has 30 new recruits working to help further the cause — one player from every team in the National Hockey League.

The players have all volunteered to be an LGBTQ ambassador, something You Can Play co-founder Patrick Burke called "a really exciting moment for the NHL."

"It's the first time that any professional league has had one designated player on each team who will be the LGBTQ ambassador," Burke said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "The player will be responsible for being the go-to person on his team when it comes to LGBTQ events or media questions or issues."

Among the players who have stepped up to fill the ambassador role is Andrew Shaw of the Montreal Canadiens, who was suspended last year for using a gay slur while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks.

"He wanted this responsibility, and I think it's a real tribute to the growth he's made in a short period of time," said Burke.

At a Canadiens practice on Friday, Shaw explained that he wanted to use his experience to make sure others know "the strength of words." 

"I want it to be about the program, not about me. I just want to be there to help, and help is what I'm going to give," said Shaw. 

In Toronto, 27-year-old winger James van Riemsdyk will fill the role.

No openly gay players in the NHL

Unlike in other sports leagues, there are no openly gay players in the NHL.

"The LGBT community certainly gets to pick when they feel comfortable and safe inviting all of us in and coming out to everybody," said Burke.

"We're just going to keep doing work like this that will hopefully lay the groundwork for a safe and inclusive community."

Burke started You Can Play with his father, former general manager for the Maple Leafs Brian Burke. 

The organization is meant to honour the memory of Brendan Burke, Patrick's brother and Brian's son, who died in a car accident three years after coming out to his family.

In 2012, the organization created a video featuring a number of NHL players advocating for equal opportunities for LGTBQ athletes. 

With files from Metro Morning

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