You Can Play Project announces initiative to connect NFL players and LGBT youth

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The You Can Play Project, a campaign dedicated to eliminating homophobia in sports, released a statement on December 4, announcing a new program called the High Five Initiative.

The High Five Initiative aims to construct “meaningful connections between LGBT youth and leaders within the professional sports community.” The National Football League (NFL) will be the first to participate in a soft launch with former NFL players and executives, including Troy Vincent and Dwight Hollier. Vincent, Hollier, and the rest of the participants will visit the Hetrick Martin Institute (HMI) in New York City, a leading LGBT organization and one of the oldest in the United States.

Former NFL player and executive director of the You Can Play Project, Wade Davis, believes the new initiative will help eradicate homophobia through communication and understanding.

“We believe that the power of story telling is a transformative experience that helps to broaden and foster our understanding of one another,” said Davis. “We hope through these one-on-one interactions, youth will see they are welcome in sports.”

Both the High Five Initiative and HMI, which provides social support for LGBT youth, along with the assistance of several current and ex-NFL athletes, will collaborate through the 2014 NFL season in order to develop the program on a national scale.

The co-founder of the You Can Play Project and Director of Player Safety for the National Hockey League, Patrick Burke, foresaw the potential success of the project while affiliating with LGBT youth through the You Belong camp.

“After attending the You Belong camp and recognizing the impact those LGBTQ kids had on me, it became clear the easiest way to educated athletes was by creating meaningful interaction with the LGBTQ community, especially youth,” said Burke. “We hope the ‘High Five’ initiative will accomplish just that by moving through various sports and locations nationwide, connecting professional athletes and youth.”

The High Five Initiative is meant to help LGBT youth feel welcomed in sports. While visiting HMI, participating NFL athletes will first tour the organization and then speak with youth interning at Stars of Change and Peer Ed, two of HMI’s programs. NFL athletes will be educated in the importance of Preferred Gender Pronouns and safety concerns, while the players will educate the kids in the importance of hard work, perseverance, and dedication.

At present, You Can Play is officially partnered with the NHL and Major League Soccer, in addition to the NFL.

“Our goal at You Can Play, beyond creating safe spaces for LGBT individuals, is to change the singular narrative that exists about sports,” said Davis. “If youth only hear that sports is about toughness, masculinity, and violence, some may choose not to play…But when youth learn the true essence of sports is family, solidarity, and compassion for all participants, then we will see more youth, especially LGBT youth, understand sports is a place for them.”

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