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Highlights from “Leveling the Playing Field for Athletes of All Sexual Orientations with Patrick Burke of the You Can Play Project”

October 16, 2013

By Nicole Greenstein C’14

On the afternoon of October 14, Penn Law students gathered in Gittis Hall to hear a talk from Patrick Burke, the Co-Founder of the You Can Play Project. Burke’s organization combats homophobia in sports to create a more inclusive environment for all athletes, regardless of their sexual orientation. At Monday’s event, which was sponsored by the Penn Law Entertainment & Sports Law Society, Lambda, and Journal of Law & Social Change, Burke discussed the inspiration behind You Can Play, as well as the importance of changing today’s sports culture.

“Our motto is simple: if you can play, you can play,” Burke said. “If you can contribute to a winning team, it doesn’t matter who you love off the field.”

Burke founded You Can Play in honor of his late brother Brendan, a devoted hockey player who was the first person associated with the National Hockey League to come out as openly gay. Only a year after the project’s founding, You Can Play has had over a hundred professional hockey players and colleges sign on with videos expressing their support, along with popular musicians such as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Burke’s organization has also worked to remove homophobic slurs and stigmas from professional sports through legally binding documents with the National Hockley League and Major League Soccer. These unprecedented agreements ensure that if an athlete comes out, the league will stand behind them. Yet Burke stressed that because “a locker room is not a court room,” his main focus is not to make equality legal, but rather to make equality popular — both among the athletes themselves and in the sports community at large.

“We thought the event was phenomenal, Patrick is an incredible speaker,” said one of the organizers, Grant Darwin L’14. “His organization is really making some important headways in an area that I think has been most resistant to change, so we were very excited to have him.”