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What NHL, NHLPA ‘You Can Play’ partnership means for next generation of players

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The You Can Play Project has made some tremendous strides towards breaking down the institutional homophobia in sports -- most notably hockey, where founder Patrick Burke plies his trade as a scout. On Thursday, they made another leap forward, announcing a new partnership with the NHL and NHLPA to further their effort towards inclusion for LGBT athletes.

Through the work they've already done with YCP, the NHL has staked their claim as one of the most progressive, inclusive sports leagues, and this partnership will allow them to continuing blazing that trail.

It also sets a standard for other leagues to follow. The NHL just became the first of the four major sports leagues to partner with an LGBT advocacy group. One assumes the other three commissioners would prefer that their league isn't the last.

Speaking of commissioners, here's what Gary Bettman had to say:

"Our motto is 'Hockey Is For Everyone,' and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way," he said in the NHL's release. "While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players' Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands."

Bettman can be a divisive figure, but his leadership on this issue is one area where I've been glad to see him running the good ship NHL.

Donald Fehr was equally happy to be announcing the new agreement. "NHL players have supported the You Can Play Project since its inception, which we are pleased to formalize and expand upon with today's announcement," he said. "The players believe our partnership with the NHL and You Can Play will foster an inclusive hockey environment from the grassroots level to the professional ranks."

That said, while Fehr and Bettman are saying some very nice things, I'm far more interested in what the league and the players' association will be doing to further YCP's purposes: a whole lot of educating, which is, of course, what a push towards the acceptance of LGBT athletes requires:

The official partnership with You Can Play includes a significant commitment to education and training for teams, players, media and fans plus the production and broadcast of more public service announcements.

As well, the League will be conducting seminars at the NHL's rookie symposium to educate the newest NHLPA members on LGBT issues. It's an excellent, forward-thinking way to establish a baseline of tolerance and understanding for hockey's next generation and promote a long-term culture change.

The average age of an NHL player is 28. The average age of an NHL rookie is 20. That means, in the next decade, the majority of NHL players will have entered the league after this partnership.

For years, there's been a quiet acceptance of homophobia in hockey (and all professional sports). Rookie seminars are an excellent way to grandfather in acceptance, period, in its place.

It's a process, and this one still has a long ways to go. YCP continues to work towards the acceptance of LGBT athletes, and the work they do has been transformative and wonderful.

But one day they won't even be necessary. That will be a great day.

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