“You can play,” was the message some fans sported on their shirts during the Ohio State men’s hockey team’s second annual Pride Night.
Executive Director of the You Can Play Project and former NFL player, Wade Davis, spoke Saturday at the Schottenstein Center before the Ohio State men’s hockey team (11-6-1, 1-2-1) took on Michigan State (6-10-3, 0-2-2).
You Can Play is an organization that seeks to bring equality, respect and safety to all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation. Before the game, which ended in a 1-1 tie with Michigan State winning the shootout, Davis spoke about the challenges he faced as a gay athlete.
“I didn’t have the courage to exist in the world as I really was,” Davis said. “The safest place for me was with my teammates because I wasn’t thinking about the idea that I was gay.”
It was that mindset that led Davis to his involvement with You Can Play. Davis said that when it comes to sports, one’s race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation should not matter.
“You Can Play addresses the idea that athletes really don’t care about your sexuality,” Davis said. “They only care about if you can help the team win.”
The Board Room in the basement of the Schottenstein Center filled up at 5 p.m. with hockey fans, students and families who came out to support OSU’s partnership with Gay Hockey Ohio in an effort to show the university’s commitment to ensure equality amongst all athletes. At Pride Night, Davis spoke about how his experience being open about his orientation as an athlete has been both “liberating and awful.”
“There is a common misconception that sports culture is a culture that is really homophobic, but actually in a lot of ways, sports is one of the few places where athletes are used to dealing with someone who is different,” Davis said.
Pride Night aimed to raise awareness and advocacy among both athletes and students at OSU through team videos expressing support of the You Can Play Project.
A video message from Mayor Michael Coleman played on the jumbotron opened the game in support of the project and OSU’s decision to promote the program.
“Tonight is about our sportsmanship and the strength and diversity of our community. These are values we embrace and honor right here in Columbus,” Coleman said in the video. “I take pleasure that we celebrate this kind of diversity.”
Davis said a huge idea that You Can Play stresses to athletes is that they need to treat each other with respect regardless of their sexual orientation in order to help other athletes play freely and openly.
There was also a silent auction held prior to the game to help raise money for the project. A hockey stick signed by current Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and other signed merchandise was available to purchase.
Brooke Cartus, a second-year law student at OSU’s Moritz College of Law, said OSU is the first Big Ten university to host a pride night. Cartus is the co-chair of The Outlaws, an organization within Moritz that seeks to understand legal issues that affect the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. She called the organization “an opportunity for open communication and education.”
Ben Brown, a first-year in agricultural engineering, supported the project along with many other students who attended the hockey game.
“If you have a love for the sport, it shouldn’t matter your orientation and if you’re good at the sport, it shouldn’t matter,” Brown said.