Updated - Gabriel Landeskog joins You Can Play and makes two videos

Doug Pensinger

Colorado Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog became the latest NHL player to become part of the You Can Play (YCP) project.

The Avalanche captain is in two YCP videos, one by himself and one in which he is joined by Colorado hockey players from Mountain Vista High School and Regis Jesuit High School. The YCP project aims to support LGBT athletes and fans.

Landeskog is the first Colorado Avalanche player to be part of the project, and with his inclusion, the NHL becomes the first league to have every team represented by players advocating for the inclusion of the LGBT community.

"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 You Can Play executive director Wade Davis. "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."

The YCP project is aiming to start conversations about what it means to respect teammates regardless of their sexual orientation, not necessarily change their point of view. "One of the big things we believe at You Can Play is that players are really concerned about winning as a team," Davis said. "We are sensitive about not telling someone ‘Hey, you have to be supportive of gay rights.' It may be something that your religion doesn’t stand for or whatever, but what we do stress is that everyone—regardless of their sexual orientation—deserves respect and to be treated equally and fairly. We believe that that message is something that everyone can get behind."

As a result, "athletes who may be a bit uncomfortable with the idea say that they are at least willing to talk about it. Davis added, "Our process doesn’t point the finger, it actually creates an opportunity for conversation. We’ve been most successful with the NHL primarily because of Patrick Burke and his father’s visibility and that we’ve just been given more access to the hockey world. But when we’ve encountered NFL or NBA players, they’ve been just as open."

I asked Davis if they approached the players, and he said, "Often times, the players approach us, actually." They get teams, particularly college and university teams saying, "Hey, we’re accepting of players. We want to show the rest of the world."

I also asked Davis how Landy came to do this spot. "The Avalanche were actually the very last team to do a video. We’ve actually launched a Colorado high school athletics association (CHSAA) where all the high schools in Colorado are doing a You Can Play video. The Avalanche heard about this, and they were actually shocked that their team hadn’t done one yet. Particularly, Landeskog wanted to make sure the Avalanche had one and that he was involved." He finished by saying, "Every NHL team has now done a You Can Play video, and that speaks to the NHL really buying in, but beyond that it also speaks to the players and the culture of the NHL. It’s really intentional about making sure all of their players know that it’s a place that is compassionate and where everyone is accepted."

From the You Can Play press release:

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.

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Update:

Brian Kitts, a co-founder of You Can Play, contacted me to clarify some concerns MHHer's have about how long it has taken the Avalanche to support You Can Play. Although Gabe's video is the latest one released, he was not the last one to give his name to support this cause. In fact, this video has been in the works for quite some time, saying "Gabe agreed to do a video for You Can Play about this time last year.  We've been sitting on the opportunity all this time.  Gabe thought it was important to involve youth somehow, so when we teamed with CHSAA, it was the perfect opportunity.  Gabe was very nearly part of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis video we shot at Red Rocks during Winter on the Rocks last year, but he'd just hurt himself and had to pass."

He went on to say, "The Avs have had a commitment for more than a year which would put them ahead of more than a third of the rest of the league, and the video was actually filmed last October and we've released several videos before Gabe's.  Also, the way we roll out videos is kind of random and based on player availability and what we've got on deck from colleges, etc.  Frankly, someone had to be last, and we used that opportunity with Gabe and CHSAA."

Kitts also explained that "two of the three co-founders live here, while Patrick was in law school in Boston when we launched.  You Can Play, as you may know, started when Patrick, Glenn and I all met at the University of Denver after a talk there (I teach sports marketing there).  It's also how DU's hockey team came to make the first college You Can Play video ever."

You Can Play - Gabriel Landeskog (via YouCanPlayProject)


You Can Play - Gabriel Landeskog, Mountain Vista, Regis Jesuit (via YouCanPlayProject)


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