“Our students felt like, given the diversity of where we are, it was important to take the lead,” Nero said. Eighteen athletes from 10 sports, including men’s basketball, filmed a PSA in support of the group. They are now joined by groups from Duke, the University of Denver, Princeton and Connecticut, among others.
D.C. United was the first Major League Soccer franchise to support You Can Play, but that move continued a tradition of getting some of the franchise’s most prominent figures — from former star Clyde Simms to current star Chris Pontius to former player and current Coach Ben Olsen — involved in the issue of equality regardless of sexual orientation. This Saturday night at RFK Stadium, United will hold its latest “Night Out,” a tailgate and game experience aimed at the gay and lesbian community.
“It’s in our DNA that D.C. United be a rallying point for people of all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and in this case sexual preference,” said Doug Hicks, United’s senior vice president for marketing and communications. “. . . We’re D.C. United by no accident.”
After Hendricks stuck up his hand to get the Capitals involved, team owner Ted Leonsis — who also owns the NBA’s Wizards and WNBA’s Mystics — followed to put the franchise’s name behind it.
“I’ve always believed that a sports team holds a mirror up to the community it serves,” Leonsis said Monday. “And just from a service-in-your-community standpoint, we have a very diverse community. So I try to always break things down into: Is it the right thing to do? And then: Is it the right thing for the business? And the answer to this was both. . . . We want hockey to be for everyone.”
Though hockey players still lead the way in participating in the program, Patrick Burke said he has met with officials from the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball. “Things are promising there,” he said. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, in an emotional essay on Deadspin.com, lent his support to the gay marriage movement. Kluwe followed Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has spoken in favor of gay marriage rights for several years.
Burke said You Can Play is focused not on marriage rights, but on athletes and the culture of sports. That is what Hendricks knows. He said he would not hesitate to raise the issues with his Capitals teammates. It is, he said, not because of personal experience with a gay teammate or opponent.
“I would assume I probably have played with or against someone,” he said. “I’m not sure. But I think it’s important that those players are able to speak freely about it. We’re moving on. We’re evolving as a society. I think it’s an important thing for sports, because sports should be a part of everyone’s lives, regardless of sexual orientation.”