New campaign takes aim at homophobia in locker rooms

Jets join ‘You Can Play’ campaign. Will the Wesmen follow?

The You Can Play campaign aims to change locker rooms into a safe space for gay and lesbian athletes at all levels of sports. Dylan Hewlett

A new campaign aims to change the locker room into a safe space for gay and lesbian athletes at all levels of sports.

The Winnipeg Jets recently joined the You Can Play campaign, launched in spring of 2012 with a single video of current NHL stars simply stating, “If you can play, you can play.”

The message of the campaign is that simple: if you have the ability to play, you should be welcomed on a team. Sexual orientation should not be part of how a player is judged. 

Dustin Byfuglien and Tanner Glass were the first Jets to join the campaign.

You Can Play was founded after the death of Brendan Burke, son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke.

Brendan Burke was an activist for LGBT players; after his death, his brother Patrick, along with Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman, created the campaign to continue the legacy.

Patrick Burke believes the campaign is needed because often locker rooms and sports in general are cultures that build on themselves.

“Sports teams are very insular cultures — there are not enough challenges,” he said.

According to Burke, there are no active openly gay players in the NHL, NBA, NFL or major league baseball.

Burke regards homophobic slurs as equal to racist slurs and wants to see coaches and teammates hold each other accountable.

“Basically you need to commit to eliminating 10 words from your vocabulary and you’ve done 90 per cent of the work,” he said.

Burke understands homophobia developed as a way of defining manhood. He is adamant that being a man has nothing to do with whom you love or with whom you have sex.

“Being gay doesn’t make you less of a man,” he said. “Defending those who need it and standing up for what is right makes you a man. That’s what being an ally is all about.”

He points to professional athletes such as rugby player Garret Thomas as exemplars of masculinity who are gay, mentioning there are a number of gay UFC fighters as well.

UFC promoter Dana White has gone so far as to implore any queer UFC fighters to come out, he said.

Burke and company are hoping You Can Play will reach grassroots sports, most especially university and college campuses.

A former Wesmen men’s basketball team player, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Uniter homophobia was a problem in the locker room during his career there.

However, Wesmen teams have no policy on how to deal with issues of discrimination or homophobia, according to Wesmen communications director Sheldon Appelle.

Nor have there been talks of engaging in a campaign to rid homophobia from the Wesmen locker rooms.

Doran Reid, athletic director for the Wesmen, said the team is developing a new code of conduct for players, but has yet to develop a procedure for implementing the University of Winnipeg’s Respectful Learning and Work Environment Policy — a policy that, according to the university’s website, establishes “a methodology for educating and training University employees and students with regard to discrimination and/or harassment, as well as a methodology for addressing any concerns or complaints regarding this issue.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 19, 2012)

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