Wingels working to change homophobic attitudes

Sharks forward Tommy Wingels (left) sits on the advisory board of the You Can Play project, an...

Sharks forward Tommy Wingels (left) sits on the advisory board of the You Can Play project, an anti-homophobia campaign in memory of Brendan Burke, son of Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency file photo)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:28 AM ET

EDMONTON - Tommy Wingels is doing his part to try and change homophobic attitudes in locker rooms.

The San Jose Sharks rookie was a good friend of Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke.

Brendan Burke died in an automobile accident just over two years ago, soon after revealing he was gay.

In an effort to carry on Brendan’s legacy, Burke’s family helped create the You Can Play project, which strives to provide an attitude of inclusion in sports regardless of sexual orientation.

Wingels is on the project’s advisory board.

“It’s something that’s pretty special to me, I knew Brendan well and I think it’s a project the NHL is ready for,” Wingels said, prior to Monday’s encounter against the Edmonton Oilers. “We’re trying to create an atmosphere that’s free for everyone on the basis that if you can play this game, then you can play, it doesn’t matter of your sexual orientation or anything like that. If can play the game, then you should be able to go out and play.”

The project has received the support of many players around the league. It’s released a couple of videos with the simple message that if a player is capable of playing the game they should be allowed to play the game free of prejudice in and around the locker room.

“It launched pretty recently here and there’s been great support around the league, and I’m looking forward to seeing more guys participate,” Wingels said. “I think you’ll see that, maybe teams coming in our videos and I think the sky’s the limit with this project.”

The Sharks selected Wingels, 23, a native of Evanston, Ill., in the sixth round — 177th overall — of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

He played collegiate hockey at the Miami University (Ohio), where Burke was the team manager and video co-ordinator.

Wingels and the rest of the team at Miami University were supportive of Burke and rallied around his efforts to create a more receptive environment for gay athletes.

“I was friends with Brendan and it was a different level in college, but I saw the great support he had and the positive effect he had amongst the team when he came out,” Wingels said. “I just want to create an atmosphere when if someone is ready, they’ll able to do that. We’re trying to eliminate the casual homophobia in the game, the slurs in the locker room and if someone wants to help, then that avenue is there for them.”

The project has been well received throughout the NHL, but its message is not limited to hockey. There are a number of other athletes and sports personalities on the advisory board.

Burke’s brother Patrick is one of the projects co-founders.

“I think the biggest thing is awareness from one guy to another, from one team to another team,” Wingels said. “We just want to create an atmosphere that’s free of homophobia and the sky’s the limit for this project.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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