Although maybe other fans may have found it surprising, it wasn't shocking in the least to Bruins fans to see captain Zdeno Chara in a PSA for the Burke family's new charity, the You Can Play Project. If you haven't heard of it, You Can Play is working "to ensure equality, respect and safety for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation." It poses an interesting theory - that some athletes aren't reaching their full potential on the ice because of the stress of keeping a secret - like sexual orientation - off the ice. Why wouldn't an NHL captain, least of all a Stanley Cup Champion NHL captain, do whatever it took to help his players reach their full potential?
There are currently over 30 NHL players involved in the project, according to Patrick Burke, and several PSAs have been filmed which will be released over the course of the next few months. Who better to represent the Bruins than the man who's lifted the Cup higher than it's ever been lifted?
Burke wouldn't divulge what other players are involved, but the odds of seeing another Bruin - or at the very least, a player in the Bruins' system - are pretty high. Carter Camper, former Miami of Ohio player and close friend to the Burke family, has reached out to the project. Additionally, the AHL has gotten on board, and the original PSA, which aired during the Bruins-Rangers game on March 3, has been sent out to every team in the AHL - they're given the option whether to run it on their jumbotron during games. One team has even filmed their own PSA, using their own players.
One amazing aspect of this huge awareness movement is that the prevalence of Miami of Ohio players in the various hockey leagues - players like Carter Camper and Andy Miele - has in fact been a strong influence on changing the culture. It's especially notable considering the school's background.
"Miami of Ohio as a whole has historically been one of the most homophobic schools," said Patrick Burke, "and the hockey team's attitude is beginning to change that as a whole. It's a team where, you know, on any team you usually have one or two bad apples - not on this team. To a man they're all great character guys." This is a culture change that needs to take place not only in the locker rooms, but also everywhere else - something that has hit close to home for the Miami guys as they supported their friend and former equipment manager Brendan Burke.
Patrick Burke has plans to pitch this Project to other major leagues. It's not going away, nor should it - and it's not limited to male athletes, either. There are PSAs planned with female athletes, both at the collegiate level and at the professional level. We're all included.
This isn't about politics, it's not about electing officials, it's not even about political rights or freedoms. It's about being accepting, about not letting someone's unimportant, irrelevant personal life decisions get in the way of how you treat them as a role model/teammate - focusing on how a player can help your team win, rather than focusing on them as an individual. Is it helpful to a gay athlete to hear homophobic slurs in the locker room? Will that motivate them to play their best and to win for the team at all costs? Or would a safe space, free from that sort of casual homophobia be actually useful, helping all players work to the best of their ability at all times?
Bruins fans should not only be proud to have Zdeno Chara as our representative, but also be proud to be NHL fans - no matter what team we support, we're all fans of the sport making the biggest strides in this arena, and that's a huge deal.
View the PSA with Zdeno Chara and Sabres' captain Jason Pominville below.