Published in print in the Humber Et Cetera on Dec. 3, 2012 and online Dec. 1, 2012.
The Toronto Marlies are doing more for pride in the city of Toronto than playing hockey.
Marlies are the first team in history to officially sign a pledge declaring their support and respect for all players, coaches and fans, no matter their sexuality.
The team partnered with the You Can Play project in November, an organization founded in March that promotes equality for people of all sexual orientations in sport.
According to the official website, Patrick Burke, Brian Kitts and Glenn Whitman founded the organization because of their close relationships with people hurt by homophobia in sports, including Burke’s late brother Brendan, who was a gay hockey player.
Kitts, a former marketing official for the Colorado Avalanche, also has a brother that is homosexual, which drew him to the cause.
“Teams often think they aren’t hurting people using this language,” Kitts said. “I’ve spent 10 years working for the Colorado Avalanche — I’ve seen it from the front office side, the language that’s there and general attitudes of people… When you put it in the context of having a younger brother who’s gay, it adds a different perspective than someone just telling you don’t do this.”
Dallas Eakins, the Marlies’ head coach, asked You Can Play to speak to his team about homophobia in September following the controversy surrounding a homophobic slur written in the eye black of Toronto Blue Jay shortstop Yunel Escobar.
Burke and Scott Heggart addressed the Marlies, who then took the pledge, which declares that they “stand for the idea that athletes should be judged for their character, work ethic and talent. Not their sexual orientation.”
“The Marlies have done us a great service,” Kitts said. “They didn’t just make the video but took it a couple of steps further — they’re happy to take it further — with the pledge they took. By doing that, you get a discussion started with the team and its fans.”
Laura Bye, 23, third-year sports management student and player on the Humber Hawks women’s varsity volleyball team, is in a same-sex relationship and is openly gay.
Bye said she thinks the step taken by the Marlies is important to change the attitude towards homosexuals in sports.
“It’s one of the areas in society that haven’t accepted gays yet,” Bye said. “It’s going to bring a lot of awareness and it will at least start something. It’s like when there’s a new trend — you need someone to start it.”
During a tournament at Canadore College, Bye had homophobic slurs chanted at her from the stands.
“I wasn’t upset because they outed me,” she said. “I was upset because no one did anything to stop it. In reality, sports are so far behind everyone else and it’s become so much more accepted and it’s like sport is at a standstill.
“It’s good that the Marlies are the first to take that big or little step.”
According to the pledge, “Everyone contributes. Everyone is valued. Everyone matters.” Marlies said they pledge to make their locker room a place of unity, to support and encourage each other on and off the ice and to make Toronto proud to have them represent the city.
Doug Fox, athletic director at Humber, said he thinks these issues don’t exist at Humber and are less prominent than they used to be at the professional level.
“Not many pro athletes come out and talk about this and that’s disappointing,” Fox said. “But times have changed. I don’t see the stigma that was there before.”