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Colorado Avalanche team captain Gabriel Landeskog on Wednesday became the latest professional athlete to speak on behalf of the You Can Play Project, and in doing so, the National Hockey League has become the first professional sports league in North America to have each of its member teams represented by players voicing support for LGBT athletes and fans.
"Having full and, more importantly, ongoing participation from the NHL, is a milestone for acceptance of all athletes at every level of play and sport," said Wade Davis, You Can Play executive director. "Every major men's sports league has been represented in a You Can Play video and now every team in one of the world's premier sports leagues has actively participated. This support from professional leagues has a positive impact in locker rooms and anywhere sports are played."
"Young athletes everywhere look up to National Hockey League players as leaders on inclusion," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Our players, our Clubs and every member of the NHL family will strive to support important initiatives such as You Can Play in our local communities and around the world."
Landeskog, the Avalanche's 21-year-old team captain, was named to the Swedish Olympic hockey team this week. He appears in a video filmed with players from Mountain Vista High School (Highlands Ranch) and Regis Jesuit High School (Aurora) as part of the Colorado High School Activities Association's (CHSAA) "You Can Play, Colorado!" initiative. "You Can Play, Colorado!" is part of CHSAA's Positive Leadership program, designed to promote diversity and inclusion while lessening bullying in sports and student activities.
The Landeskog video marks the first time a pro player has teamed with high school athletes in a You Can Play video. Dozens of players representing the NHL, Major League Soccer, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Football League and a number of minor leagues and college teams have made You Can Play videos in support of LGBT inclusion in sports.
"Sports are better when the best player, gay or straight, is free to contribute without fear or harassment," said Brian Kitts, You Can Play co-founder. "Gabe's leadership and that of these student-athletes, represent a new era of teamwork, fairness and equality in sports."
"Change is taking place at a grassroots level," said Patrick Burke, You Can Play president. "High school student-athletes are now partners with professional players in making important social change both on and off the field, the ice and the court."
You Can Play is a Denver-based non-profit organization dedicated to changing the culture of locker rooms and sports venues to include all athletes and fans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The project honors the life of the late Brendan Burke, an openly gay student manager of the Miami University (Ohio) hockey team. You Can Play has formal partnerships with the NHL, MLS, CWHL and a number of Canadian, minor league and NCAA conferences and teams.