By Michael Pearson
(CNN) — The National Hockey League and a sports-oriented anti-homophobia advocacy group announced Thursday they are joining forces to provide players with tolerance training and other programs.
The league said the agreement with You Can Play cements pro hockey’s reputation as the world’s most inclusive sports league.
The New York-based league will partner with You Can Play to provide formal anti-homophobia training for all incoming players.
The team and the players’ union will also work to build You Can Play’s programs into the league’s behavioral health program to give players a confidential outlet to discuss issues of sexual orientation, according to a statement issued by the You Can Play and the league
It also calls for a “significant commitment” to training for teams, players and the public through formal training programs and outreach efforts — including public service announcements featuring NHL players.
“As NHL players, we all strive to contribute towards helping our teams achieve success on the ice. Any player who can help in those efforts should be welcomed as a teammate,” the statement quoted Ron Hainsey, a Winnipeg Jets defenseman and member of the NHL Players Association board, as saying.
“This partnership solidifies the message that the hockey community believes in fairness and equality for everyone,” he said.
The move doesn’t affect the NHL’s policy on discrimination based on sexual orientation, which has been part of its contract with players since 2005.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said the agreement makes the NHL’s policy of inclusiveness “clear and unequivocal.”
“While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands,” Bettman said in the joint statement with You Can Play.
Other leagues also have promoted tolerance.
The NBA’s contract with players says the league can’t discriminate against gay players, and new players receive tolerance training.
The league has partnered with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and the Ad Council on an ad campaign addressing homophobic language and has worked with the gay rights advocacy group GLAAD on initiatives to address anti-gay bullying and other issues.
In its 2011 contract with players, the NFL also banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. But the league ran into criticism from New York’s attorney general, among others, in February after NFL prospects said that they had been asked questions about their sexual orientation.
In March, Major League Soccer also unveiled an initiative urging players to reject all forms of discrimination.
You Can Play was co-founded in 2012 by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, the son of hockey executive Brian Burke. Patrick Burke’s brother, Brendan, announced he was gay in 2009. He died in a car crash the next year.