STORRS, Conn. (CBS Connecticut/AP) — Gay and play hockey? You’re welcome at the University of Connecticut.
That is the message the school’s men’s hockey team is sending out in two videos for a program called “You Can Play.”
The goal of the international initiative, which was launched in March, is to work to end homophobia in the sport of hockey.
“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,” said UConn captain Sean Ambrosie.
The public service videos are posted on YouTube and the UConn website, and are scheduled to be featured in the coming days on the You Can Play site.
In them, the players pledge to support “any teammate, gay or straight, that can help us win games” played either home, at the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum, or abroad.
The program was created by Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke. It was launched in memory of Patrick’s brother Brendan, who died in a car accident in 2010. Brendan made headlines when he came out in November 2009 while serving as the manager of Miami of Ohio’s college hockey team.
So far about 100 athletes, including 50 from the NHL, have signed on to pledge they would play with gay or transgender athletes, Patrick Burke said. But UConn is one of just eight teams have joined as a group.
“When a whole team stands up to do something like this, that’s very important,” Patrick Burke said. “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.”
Connecticut coach Bruce Marshall said the videos were not done to be “a nice beacon for the university.” He said it was the players’ idea, and he told them not to do it unless they were ready to stand behind their words and deal with any negative fallout.
Peter Wolfgang, president of the conservative Family Institute of Connecticut Action, said he has no problem with the team participating in an anti-bullying campaign, but he is concerned about the references to “homophobia” in the video.
“It’s a very loaded political term,” he said. “If we’re going to be against bullying, then we ought to be against all forms of bullying and not just the kind that get us a pat on the back from politically correct elites. I would hope that people that have traditional beliefs, traditional faiths that they would not be bullied for holding views about morality or the definition of marriage.”
Ambrosie said the team expects to get some heckling about their stance, but are prepared to deal with that. He said if they become known as “the team that made the gay video,” they are more than happy to be that.
“It’s not going to bother us at all,” he said. “We did this because we want to show our support, and other people’s opinions aren’t going to have any effect on us.”
Marshall and Ambrosie said they don’t know if anyone currently on the team is gay and don’t really care.
“If there was to be (a gay member of the team) down the road, or there is today, then I feel they are a hell of a lot better team than other teams that don’t want to accept that,” Marshall said. “I give them a lot of credit for standing up. You’re not seeing a thousand of these (videos) around. That, I think, shows that they have some strength in who they are as individuals.”
In the videos, the UConn players are pledging not only to support gay athletes, but transgender ones as well. The NCAA recently released a policy that will allow a female to male transgender person who has received a medical exception for treatment with testosterone to compete on any men’s team.
Goalie Garrett Bartus said dealing with a transgender athlete might be “a little shocking” at first, but he believes that person would find a welcome at Connecticut. He said players don’t have to agree with everything about a player’s life to be their teammate.
“If they can play and help us win, I’m sure we’d get behind him,” he said. “Nobody should be discriminated against. That’s really the whole point of this — if you can play, you can play.”
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)