*Editor’s Note- This is Part One in A Three Part Series About Tommy Wingels, Patrick Burke, and the You Can Play Project.*
Often we make decisions in our lives because they will ultimately lead us to where we want to be, the careers we want to have, and to the people we hope to share our lives with. When Tommy Wingels made the decision to play Hockey at Miami University I doubt the thought ever crossed his mind that it would lead to work with the ultimate goal of changing the way athletes and fans view each other. Specifically, how athletes and fans view, talk about, and passively (sometimes aggresively) harass gay athletes. Wingels sits on the advisory board alongside Phoenix Coyote Andy Miele, of the You Can Play Project. While both the young players were on entry level contracts, they stepped up and provided the capital that would fuel a movement to make locker rooms safe for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation.
In April 2009 Brendan Burke, the son of the Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, was a student manager and friends with Wingels when he announced to players and coaches that he was gay. Ten months later, the young Brendan Burke was killed in a car accident and the sports community lost an advocate for acceptance and tolerance of players no matter what their orientation, age, race, creed, or color. They say anything is possible with the help of family and friends, and after much conversation and debate, the You Can Play Project was created to preserve Burke’s legacy and spread his message of acceptance throughout the sports world, by his family and dear friends.
I find it both fitting and humbling that on the morning Wingels’ nomination for the Bill Masterson trophy due to his work with the You Can Play Project, I was interviewing none other than Patrick Burke himself, Brendan Burke’s brother, and the man who brought You Can Play to life. I spoke with Patrick for quite some time this morning and was thoroughly impressed by his genuine love of this project as well as his enthusiasm to get it to spread like wild fire. To take on the locker rooms of any sport, no matter what level, is quite the task, but with the right team in place anything is possible, and for this project the sky is the limit.
I would like to congratulate Tommy Wingels on his nomination for the Masterson Trophy but also make the comment that with this nomination comes public recognition that what he is involved in is not an easy battle. The Masterson Trophy is awarded to players who have overcome adversity to find success and along with it comes a humble head nod and a whole lot of support from the community surrounding whoever recieves it. As a community of fans and athletes we want everyone to feel accepted and be able to play the sport they love no matter what. If you have seen Tommy’s PSA then you already know his message, “If you can play, you can play.”
In part two of this series I will present you with my interview with Patrick Burke from this morning as well as additional information about You Can Play. I encourage you all to go to www.youcanplayproject.org and take a look at what it is all about, who it affects, and what you can do to help! You can find Tommy’s “You Can Play” PSA located in the Hub on the right hand sidebar of www.bladesofteal.com . Be sure to follow the You Can Play Project on Twitter @YouCanPlayTeam!!!