STU athletics wants students to know that “if you can play, you can play.”
The slogan is from the You Can Play Project, a social activism project that is devoted to ending homophobia in sports.
Kayla Blackmore, education student and captain of the woman’s hockey team, was initially exposed to the video in her sexuality and diversity class but didn’t initially start the project. She brought the project to STU after interning at a high school and seeing the first-hand account of students that were bullied because of their sexual orientation.
“I think that as student athletes at the university level, we have a responsibility to kind of take action and take the lead and make sure initiatives like this are being brought to attention and hopefully that trickles down into the high schools.”
Blackmore says that she was very lucky that her teammates were accepting of her sexuality, but she understands that this isn’t always the case.
“My teammates are unbelievably supportive of everything I do.”
“I’ve been really lucky and I just got back to thinking that I can’t take advantage of that, I need to advocate for this. There are athletes and teammates of mine, who are struggling with this so that’s something I need to work towards.”
While Blackmore says that being a strong voice in the community is important, being gay shouldn’t define an individual.
“I do think it is important. I am not by any means shy about it, I am not closed off about it, but at the same time I believe firmly that me being gay doesn’t define me.”
The original project was created in March 2012 by Patrick Burke along with co-founders Brian Kitts and Glenn Wittman after the death of Patrick’s brother Brendan Burke, who was an openly gay athlete and student manager of the Miami University RedHawks, a school based in Ohio.
NHL stars Dion Phaneuf, Rick Nash, Henrik Lundquist and Zedno Chara are among the many athletes who have appeared in advertisements for You Can Play, stressing that your sexuality doesn’t define you.
Patrick Burke says that support from athletes from every level of play and all different types of sports have shared a positive reaction to the project.
“It just shows that our beliefs about the sports world are shared by the majority of us. Athletes are tired of being seen as homophobic meatheads. A lot of them have personal connections to the LGBT community and are happy to have a way to preform quality outreach.”
Burke says the message of the project is simple.
“All we’re after is equality of opportunity. Give athletes a fair chance to compete and prove their worth.”
Blackmore launched a video for support of the You Can Play project, and said that finding STU athletes that wanted to participate wasn’t challenging.
“There were tons of people who wanted to be involved with it. My team wanted to make a video themselves, so that’s 20 people alone, plus we probably had the support of every other team wanting to be a part of it, so it was awesome,” she said. “Even before the video started, we knew it would have a positive response, so that we even more of an encouraging thing and a motivating factor to get it done and get it out there.”
Cross-country athlete Kyla Tanner, who appears in the video, says that she was absolutely on board when presented with the opportunity to be part of it.
“When Kayla and Nick [Murray] approached me about the video they were making, I was absolutely on board because STU athletics has been so welcoming to me.”
“At this school I truly do feel that anyone has the chance to play, and no matter what, we want to see you out.”
Mike Eagles, STU ‘s Athletic Director, says that he was very honored to appear in the video.
“I thought it was something that at the end of the day was the right thing to do, so I was very pleased to be asked to be involved.”
He says that he was very proud of Blackmore for taking the initiative and starting the project at STU.
“We just think the world of Kayla. I’ve known her for a long time and I think it’s typical of something that she would involve herself with. It’s such a positive community initiative.”
Zach Nicholson, former captain of STU’s cross-country team, who is openly gay, says that his experience with STU regarding his sexual orientation and sports have always been positive.
“Everyone was welcome and I have my coach, Scott Davis, to thank for that. He fostered a team environment unlike any I had seen before – anyone was welcome as long as they gave their all at every practice.”
Nicholson does recognize that professional athletes are likely afraid to come out due to the negative stigma that still exists with being a gay pro athlete.
“Whether this is caused by a desire to maintain a positive public image, a fear of losing their contracts or sponsors, or an apprehension of being out to their teammates is not always clear. It’s a serious problem, regardless of the circumstance, if somebody doesn’t feel as if they can be honest about their sexuality for fear of the consequences.”
While Burke acknowledges that there are many women pro athletes who have come out during their careers, there is an obvious fear to be the first male pro athlete to come out.
“Even though I’m absolutely convinced that the first athlete will have a positive experience, for anyone who goes through a coming out process, there’s the ‘worst case scenario’ that runs through your mind.”
Blackmore says that the response to the video has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s great; we are trying to spread it through all the classes. I’ve sent emails to professors and athletes and everything trying to get them to watch it and just get it out there and be seen as many people as possible. It’s been awesome so far. I’ve been really happy with how everyone has been responding. I have gotten tons of emails saying ‘great job’ and ‘great work’, so it’s definitely very encouraging.”
Blackmore says that even if the video just affects one person, then the project was completely worth it.
“I said to Matt Sheriko, as long as one person watches this video, and decides to try out for a team, or decides that maybe they can be a part of this club or maybe they can be involved in this activity, and that their sexual orientation doesn’t define who they are … then that’s a huge success.”
Burke echoes that sentiment
“If you’re good enough, you’re on the team, gay or straight. If you can play, you can play.”