The Peoria Rivermen become the second American Hockey League team to take the You Can Play Pledge as part of the AHL’s ongoing work with the You Can Play Project to end homophobia in sports.
As a show of support, the team has released a video featuring a dozen players and head coach Dave Allison expressing their support for their teammates, gay or straight.” The Pledge was created by the You Can Play Project as a way to encourage organizations and players to speak up against homophobia in their arena. The Toronto Marlies were the first organization to take the Pledge, which states that the players will “support all of our coaches, teammates, and fans, gay or straight.” The Rivermen, the AHL affiliate of the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues, expressed strong interest in participating after seeing the Marlies.
Said goaltender Mike McKenna, “The You Can Play Project is something I have fully supported since its inception. Hockey is generally known as a 'macho' sport, but I think it is very important for people to understand that the bulk of our players are also compassionate people that believe in the virtues of equality and respect. This video is a testament to that common belief shared in our locker room. When I asked my teammates if they would be willing to do a video for You Can Play, there was an overwhelmingly positive response.” Twelve players appear in the video, along with Coach Allison, who states “if you can coach, you can coach.”
The players are (in order of appearance) Chris Bruton, Ian Cole, Taylor Chorney, Jake Allen, Mark Cundari, Phil McRae, Derek Nesbitt, Mike McKenna, Jaden Schwartz, TJ Hensick, Scott Ford, and Adam Cracknell. The players state unequivocally that “racist, sexist, and homophobic language have no place in our arena.” This is consistent with You Can Play’s mission to change the culture of “casual homophobia” that often exists in locker rooms and seating areas.
When asked about changing the language in the arena, Mckenna responded, “I believe the You Can Play has helped many people re-evaluate how they view the LGBT community. By showing that big, tough, manly athletes - a group with a history of being vocally homophobic - are actively taking a stand against slurs and degrading language, it provides a very strong message: that players should be judged by their performance rather than who they are attracted to.”
As part of the initiative, the Rivermen will be signing a printed version of the Pledge, which will be hung in the arena to remind the players of their commitment. “This type of statement by the Rivermen is invaluable, and we are truly grateful for their participation,” said You Can Play president Patrick Burke. “Now gay hockey players, coaches, and fans know that there is another American Hockey League organization that is fully committed to giving them a fair opportunity to be a part of the Rivermen community. It shows tremendous leadership on the part of the Blues and Rivermen management, coaches, and players to work to support an often ignored community in the sports world.”
McKenna echoed that sentiment, stating “I have full confidence that if one of our players came out as gay or bisexual, there would be nothing but support within the locker room. We practice, train, play, and bleed together as a family: something a person's sexual orientation has no effect on.”