As the You Can Play Project works towards transforming an athletic culture into one free of homophobic language and other actions, they are now joined in their efforts by the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. An initiative to create a culture in which professional women’s hockey can enjoy an equitable and welcoming environment is one worth working towards.
While there have been many professional athletes and teams involved in the You Can Play Project, the CWHL is the first league to support them. Part of You Can Play’s goal is to introduce a playbook in which coaches, players and media (across numerous sports) can ensure that a nonthreatening environment is in place for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) athletes.
The CWHL was the first sports league in North America to have an award named after an LGBT athlete. Its scoring title is named after legendary hockey player Angela James. The Angela James Bowl recognizes her remarkable contributions to the sport of women’s hockey.
James competed in the former COWHL (Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League) and NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League). As a member of the first four Canadian teams to have claimed the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships, she is the first Canadian woman (and first female visible minority) inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Nancy Drolet was a former member of the CWHL’s Board of Directors. In all of professional hockey, it marked the first time that a publicly known LGBT athlete served in an executive capacity. Her leadership helped to exemplify the great humanitarian spirit of the CWHL.
As a member of the first Canadian women’s ice hockey contingent that participated in the first Winter Games tournament (Nagano 1998), Drolet was one of the most legendary women’s hockey players to come from the province of Quebec.
Her legend was assured when she scored the gold medal-winning goal not just once, but twice. At the 1997 and 2000 IIHF Women’s World Championships, Drolet logged the gold medal-winning goal against the United States. Of note, both events were held on Canadian soil (Kitchener, Ontario in 1997 and Mississauga, Ontario in 2000).
While Drolet was one of the first female athletes in Quebec to have engaged in a legal same sex marriage, she is a noted builder in the game and one of the first women’s hockey players to be noted for her business acumen. Competing in the Ligue Regionale du Hockey au Feminin in the 1990s, Drolet also worked in a management capacity, helping to earn sponsorship for the squad.
Currently, Meg Hewings serves as the general manager of the CWHL’s Montreal Stars. Articulate, intelligent and hard working, she has won the Clarkson Cup in her first two seasons as the Stars GM.
Educated at McGill University, Hewings is a former member of the McGill Martlets. She would also play on the Montreal Wingstar in the NWHL. In addition, Hewings has also founded the site Hockey Dyke in Canada. As a LGBT general manager in professional hockey, she defines what is great about the CWHL, while serving as a tremendous inspiration.
The founder of You Can Play found his motivation in another inspiration. Patrick Burke is a scout with the Philadelphia Flyers and his role as a founder stems from the courage of his late brother, Brendan Burke.
Brendan had admitted his same sex preference while contributing to the University of Miami, Ohio’s hockey team. Their father, Brian Burke marched with Brendan in Toronto’s gay pride parade. Although Brendan tragically passed away in an automobile accident in 2010, his courage makes him a true hero.
With the encouragement of straight allies, You Can Play may help to revolutionize sports in a way that has never been conceived before. While You Can Play may have had its roots in hockey, its humanitarian effort is one that can be applied to various aspects in life.