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Why the Arizona Coyotes saying “Hockey is for Everyone” matters

Hockey should be for everyone, and You Can Play Nights are small, but meaningful, steps in the right direction.

Sarnia Sting v Niagara IceDogs Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Tomorrow, February 26th, the Arizona Coyotes a hosting their ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ night, which will also include post game, a showing of Soul On Ice: Past, Present, and Future. A telling of how black athletes shaped the game of hockey back in the day through now.

They will also be celebrating You Can Play that evening, and if you are not familiar with the organization here is a brief summary of what they are aiming to do.

You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect, and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, and only by what they contribute to the sport or their team's success. You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete's skills, work ethic, and competitive spirit.

The Coyotes, earlier this week, released the following video on their Youtube channel.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is this year's ambassador for You Can Play, which is a good choice when you think about it. OEL is on of the star players on the Coyotes and most likely the next Captain of the team when Shane Doan eventually moves on.

You Can Play means a lot to me, you see. Let me introduce myself properly.

Hi, my name is Sarah and I am a Queer woman. I have many friends who fall under nearly every letter of LGBTQIA+ and I love hockey. Hockey is a major part of my life now, and it always will be.

Last summer I wrote about how not coming out, as an athlete in the public eye, doesn’t make you a coward. You can read that here.

I grew up in Topeka, Kansas and it was not the best place to grow up Queer. Coming out is one of hardest things you can do. You don’t know if you friends will be your friends anymore. You don’t know if you’re safe anywhere anymore, especially when you live in a small Midwest town that is known for homophobia. I was lucky to have a support system and a supportive mother, but a lot of people I know were not as lucky.

I would have killed for a sports team to acknowledge that I existed like this. That it’s okay to like and play sports. Honestly, having anyone acknowledge that I existed.

You Can Play is an organization that I cannot put my full weight behind fully for various reasons. But having a night where the LGBTQIA+ community is recognized, and that players who may LGBTQIA+ know they have some support means more than you understand. Having players, even if they aren’t fully participating, use pride tape means more to some people than they realize. Seeing players that you idolize, using something that represents what you are/how you feel, can be a life saver in some teens.

Growing up feeling like no one wants you or your ‘type’ around, is painful. With everything going on now politically, having You Can Play nights and showing what allies are or athletes who are out, can help save lives.

Young hockey players have whom they look up to, but now young trans players have Harrison Browne to look up to as well. He plays for the NWHL, with full support of his team and the league, and came out earlier in the season. Having Harrison show that he can play no matter what in the NWHL, which gives lots of young girls and boys, cis and trans, hope that they can play as well.

One other idea that could make Pride Nights or You Can Play Nights even more meaningful is if the team would have a Q&A session with their ambassador on why they think this is an important night.

The community, now more than ever, is looking for something to hold onto when it comes to LGBTQIA+ representation and allies who would fight for us. The world is still not a safe place for us, but sometimes even the smallest steps from an organization or a person of stature, can assist in feelings of uneasiness in the arena.

We all go to hockey games to do the same thing, have fun and watch hockey. Representation is nice, but there is still a long ways to go before inclusion is actually achieved in the NHL.

Until then, I’ll be there enjoying hockey, being vocal about LGBTQIA+ issues and how the two can team up.

If you can write, you can write.

If you can cheer, you can cheer.

If you can play, You Can Play.

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Please feel free to reach out to me via email: sarahhhowling@gmail.com or via Twitter @sarahhowling.