May 26, 2012

Huskies pledge support for You Can Play project

By Jesse Connolly

The University of Connecticut men’s hockey team recently unveiled their second video supporting You Can Play, an initiative launched by Patrick Burke (Canton, Mass.) to put an end to homophobia in hockey. 

Goalie Garrett Bartus and the rest of the Huskies recently filmed public service videos supporting the You Can Play project. (Photo courtesy of UConn Athletics)

"We thought it was a great idea to show the community how we feel about homosexuality in sports, and let people know that anyone can play on our team," UConn captain Sean Ambrosie told the Associated Press.

Since the program was launched this spring, over 100 athletes have pledged their support. That included 50 NHL players, with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara among them.

The Huskies, however, are one of just eight squads to have joined on as a group.

"When a whole team stands up to do something like this, that's very important," said Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers. "For a young gay hockey player, who is looking for a place to play hockey, he knows that UConn is an option, that he will be safe at UConn, that he will be accepted at UConn."

Burke launched the program in memory of his brother, Brendan, who died in a car accident in 2010, just months after making headlines when he publicly came out while serving as student manager for Miami’s men’s hockey team.

Burke stressed the importance of creating a safe environment for gay teenagers and young adults when he spoke with New England Hockey Journal back in January.

“It’s staggering if you sit down and look at it,” Burke said. “Sixty-four percent of gay teenagers don’t feel safe in their schools. A gay teenager is three to four times more likely to commit suicide than a straight teenager. That should stop any adult, any coach and any teacher in their tracks and make them realize that kids are dying.” 

If a young, gay hockey player is looking for a place to play the game, they’ll be welcomed at UConn with open arms.

“We will support any teammate, gay or straight, that can help us win games,” goalie Garrett Bartus said in the team’s first You Can Play video.

The Huskies also pledged their support to transgender athletes, as the NCAA recently instituted a policy allowing a female-to-male transgendered person that’s received a medical exception for testosterone treatment to play on any men’s team.

"If they can play and help us win, I'm sure we'd get behind him," Bartus said when asked about possibly playing alongside a transgender teammate. "Nobody should be discriminated against. That's really the whole point of this -- if you can play, you can play."

For more information on the initiative, visit www.youcanplayproject.org. Follow the You Can Play team on Twitter at @youcanplayteam.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.