Miami Hockey Supports 'You Can Play' Project

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March 8, 2012

OXFORD, Ohio - When Miami Hockey student manager Brendan Burke lost his life in a tragic car accident in 2010, it was only the beginning of the fight for acceptance for gay athletes in the sports arena. Brendan's brother, Patrick, has carried on the fight by launching the "You Can Play" project, and both current and former RedHawks are helping spread the word.

The "You Can Play" project, of which Patrick is the president, is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation, as the mission statement reads. The first public announcement took place Sunday, when this public service announcement aired on national TV on NBC during the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers game. It will also be shown during Miami's games against Michigan State this weekend.

Since then just five days ago, the project has taken off, receiving support from all levels of hockey, including the NHL and NCAA teams. As last reported on its Twitter account, @YouCanPlayTeam, 38 NHL players have committed to filming a "You Can Play" PSA, similar to the one that aired on TV. The Twitter account itself has over 6,300 followers.

Among those providing support for "You Can Play" are former RedHawks Andy Miele ('11) and Tommy Wingels ('11). Miele is a forward for the Phoenix Coyotes, currently playing for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League, while Wingels is a forward for the San Jose Sharks. Both are on the project's Advisory Board - the only two current hockey players on the board -- as is head coach Enrico Blasi and Brian Burke, father of both Brendan and Patrick and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"This is something that we are honored to be a part of. Brendan was a huge part of our program," explained Blasi. "The Burke family has worked very hard to carry on Brendan's legacy, and it is great to see him still impacting the world. This is something we feel very strongly about as well. It is important to continue to show that the hockey world is accepting of gay athletes, and I think that is becoming very evident with the outpouring of support this project has received."

In addition to Blasi, Miele and Wingels, other RedHawk alumni have also reached out to get involved with "You Can Play". Former Miami star Ryan Jones (2004-08), now a forward for the Edmonton Oilers, and netminder Jeff Zatkoff (2005-08), now of the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL, are both filming "You Can Play" videos to help promote the project.

"If Brendan was still alive, he'd be one of the guys pushing for this but since he isn't able to do that, Patrick came and asked me to help and promote it in any way," Miele said. "We're all trying to do this for (Brendan) in his absence."

Wingels joined the cause for a similar reason.

"I think the biggest thing with this project is awareness," Wingels said. "The cool part about it is it's very easy to be a part of. Whether you're on the board like myself, or you're just a guy in the locker room, it's about watching what you say and creating an environment that is safe for everyone."

Former RedHawks are not the only ones helping the cause, however. Miami filmed its own "You Can Play" videos last week as several current players, including Reilly Smith, Cody Reichard, Alden Hirschfeld, Tyler Biggs and Chris Wideman, along with Blasi, stepped in front of the camera to express their support. They talked about having Brendan as an openly gay teammate and read the motto "If You Can Play, You Can Play," which Patrick says sums up the message of the project - if you're good enough, you get to play regardless of your sexual orientation.

"I really think the sky is the limit. This is really the first program I've been aware of in regards to the National Hockey League, and it's a good step," Wingels said. "Like I said, it's all about awareness. I think this is a great start. I think the reception amongst players around the league - you see some big name guys and Stanley Cup winners who are backing this. It just shows that there is acceptance and I'm excited to see its continuance throughout the league."

Miele knows that having Brendan as a teammate in the locker room made him more aware of the need to spread the message.

"You could see how much Brendan cared for the sport and if his sexual orientation prevented him from achieving something that he loved so much, that basically wasn't fair," Miele said. "Hopefully we help bring awareness that it's just a sexual orientation and nothing more, and it shouldn't prevent anyone from achieving their dreams."

Miami's "You Can Play" video will debut on the project's Web site in the coming weeks. For more information on the "You Can Play" project, visit their Web site,