On Tuesday afternoon, the NWHL announced its official partnership with the You Can Play organization for the upcoming 2016-2017 season.
“The league and our players have supported You Can Play since we launched last year and we’re honored to make a formal announcement today,” said NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan in a press release from the league. “The NWHL is committed to promoting LGBT equality and the respect of all of our athletes, fans, coaches, and staff. Alongside the NHL, AHL, and CWHL, the hockey community can proudly say we are the most inclusive professional sport in the world.”
You Can Play was founded in 2012 by Patrick Burke of the NHL, sports marketing executive Brian Kitts, and Glenn Witman of GForce Sports. Burke's brother, Brendan, came out as gay in 2009 and was killed in a car accident only a few months later. You Can Play was established in his memory "to ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports - including LGBT athletes, coaches and fans." Although the NHL formed a partnership with YCP in 2013, there are still no openly gay players in the NHL, a fact which Burke believes is "surprising."
Even though the NWHL is a young league, it has been quick to show its support of the LGBT community. The league sold Pride Month merchandise in June and each team will host a You Can Play Night during a home game, which will feature the debut of each team's You Can Play video.
“Our partnership with the NWHL is extremely significant and sends a powerful message to athletes, young women in particular, that hockey is a place of respect and inclusion. The NWHL has already broken barriers to promote women’s equality in sports and will continue to do so as the first US women’s professional sports league to partner with You Can Play. No matter who you are or who you love, the NWHL welcomes you,” stated Anna Aagenes, Vice President of Program Development & Community Relations for You Can Play.
The teams have also chosen You Can Play Ambassadors "to lead LGBT inclusion efforts throughout the season," as stated in the press release. The Ambassadors will be Emily Pfalzer (Buffalo Beauts), Molly Engstrom (Connecticut Whale), Brittany Ott (Boston Pride), and Madison Packer (New York Riveters).
“We want fans to know that the NWHL and its teams are committed to showing their public support for the LGBT community. We also want fans to know that the league is being intentional and proactive in educating its players, coaches, and staff on LGBT diversity and inclusion,” explained Jillian Svensson, Vice President of Development & Operations for You Can Play.