On a night the Islanders dedicated to raising awareness for the LGBTQ community, their You Can Play ambassador said the NHL and the Isles were ready to embrace an openly gay player.
“I think so,” said Casey Cizikas, the Isles’ representative for You Can Play Awareness night. “We’re a big family. Whoever it is, we’re going to welcome them with open arms. Every team is a family, and it takes every single person to bring that family together. It would definitely be big for the sport.”
Saturday’s event was part of a league-wide initiative that included naming LGBTQ ambassadors on each of the 30 teams. Andrew Shaw, the Canadiens’ ambassador, was suspended one game last season for using a homophobic slur towards an official and said his reason for volunteering to be the team representative was part of his learning process after the suspension and fairly large public outcry.
“It’s become a real big issue and a lot of people are realizing what they can and can’t say,” Cizikas said. “It’s very serious. To bring the NHL family and the community together, it’s big for everybody.”
Cizikas said he has “friends of friends and family friends” from the LGBTQ community. “It definitely wasn’t easy for them growing up,” he said. “But the way the world is now, we’ve come a long way. It’s definitely exciting.”
The You Can Play project started with close ties to the NHL. Brendan Burke, son of Flames president Brian Burke and brother of NHL player safety director Patrick, came out the year before he was killed in a car accident in 2010. The following year Patrick Burke helped found the You Can Play project to promote acceptance for LGBTQ athletes at all levels.