You Can Play Project
How a grassroots organization is working hard to change the equality landscape in sports.
Brian Kitts loves sports. But he’s also seen the damage that can be done when there’s discrimination in the locker room and on teams. Being familiar with the way sports organizations work, Kitts knew that something needed to change. Thankfully, he wasn’t the only one. After hearing Patrick Burke, a former hockey scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, speak at the University at Denver, Kitts reached out to him. Burke had recently lost his gay brother in a car accident. The two chatted and decided to form the You Can Play Project along with a third party, Glenn Witman.
“We formed the organization with the idea of approaching athletes to promote a message that gay teammates are accepted,” Kitts explained. When asked how many athletes have participated in the project thus far, Kitts revealed he had no idea. “We’ve had hundreds of athletes participate in our video messaging and on-campus programs,” he said. “What we’ve found is that not only are athletes, coaches and fans willing to publicly support LGBT athletes, colleges are willing to recruit those players who value inclusion and diversity.”
It’s been two years since You Can Play was formed. Since then, the organization has received support and participation from every major North American sports league, and has formed important formal partnerships with the NHL, MLS, CWHA (Canadian Women's Hockey Association) and others. The NHL became the first pro league to have every one of its member teams represented by a player speaking as an LGBT advocate on the You Can Play website. The organization has also worked with the NFL and US Olympic Committee on projects geared at promoting LGBT diversity, and is actively addressing issues specific to the way women coach and recruit for college athletics. “The assumptions for female athletes are different than for men,” Kitts added. “And there are a number of issues regarding masculinity and femininity that we’d like to address.”
While Kitts and his founding members are focused on spreading the message of equality for all sports on the professional and collegiate level, they are also extremely focused on LGBT youth. “Our message for LGBT youth is simple,” said Kitts. “Don't give up your love of sport or your desire to play because you’re afraid teammates won’t accept you. We’re working hard to change the culture of locker rooms and sports arenas to promote diversity and erase homophobia. Heart, talent and commitment are what matter to athletes and fans—now let’s prove that you can play.”
According to Kitts, the general public can easily get involved in the project simply by being aware of the type of language they use at sporting events. “Finding three words in your vocabulary that you can change is a start,” he advised. “Asking a fellow fan to choose another word rather than ‘fag, homo or dyke,’ is important. Changing one little word leads to bigger awareness.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the You Can Play Project or getting actively involved, please visit www.youcanplayproject.org
This is a submission from the Seattle Reign FC for the You Can Play Project: