To help raise awareness and fight against homophobia the NHL, NHL Players Association, and Member Clubs have dubbed February “Hockey is for Everyone Month” and have paired up with the You Can Play Project, a non-profit group that supports the LGBTQ sports community.
“Hockey is for Everyone” wants to bring issues such as LGBTQ, ethnic and gender equality, economic status, and disability, to the forefront.
“Our Clubs, our players and our fans are committed to welcoming everyone to hockey,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement earlier this month.
Every NHL team has appointed an ambassador for the project, including Henrik Sedin from the Vancouver Canucks, Ryan Kesler from the Anaheim Ducks, and Dion Phaneuf from the Ottawa Senators. But the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks had no troubles when it came time to appoint their You Can Play ambassador, as James van Riemsdyk and his brother Trevor van Riemsdyk were firm believers in respect and equality. Since they were children the brothers say they were taught by their parents that everyone should be with respect and as an equal.
“I don’t know if there was a certain instance, but we were always raised that way and this is just an extension of that.,” said James van Riemsdyk to nhl.com. “As long as someone is a good person and this instance a good teammate and a good hockey player, that’s the only thing we really care about within our locker room.”
Tonight’s Leafs home game against the Buffalo Sabres has been dubbed Hockey is For Everyone Night. The Maple Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock also made sure to voice that there would be zero tolerance for any sort of exclusion in his team and that no one should be made to feel uncomfortable.
“This is how simple it is: if you’re good enough to play, you get to play, how’s that?” Babcock said. “This is just me, but I always thought everyone’s included always anyway, it didn’t really matter. Let’s be honest, the world changes and everybody is important and everybody should have the right to live the way they want to live and do the things they want to do.”
Earlier this season, it was actually one of the NHL’s least admired players who was at the centre of a incident that brought the issues that the NHL’s February initiative tries to address to the forefront, calling out a homophobe on Twitter.
On December 29th, superpest Brad Marchand stuck up for himself and millions of people around the world on twitter after @DJ_Redd_Baron, who has long since deleted his twitter account, sent out a rather vulgar tweet targeting Marchand. Although his grammar may have left a little to be desired, Marchand pulled no punches. “This derogatory statement is offensive to so many people around the world your the kind of kid parents are ashamed of,” tweeted the Bruin forward.
The official hashtag for the Hockey is For Everyone is #HockeyIsForEveryone.