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February 9, 2018

Removing The Distance

With a special night, the Rangers lend support to all those in the LGBTQ community seeking a safe space in sports.

(Photo: Scott Levy/MSG Photos)

Tonight, Madison Square Garden’s grand exterior will be bathed in rainbow colors, and the Rangers will take to the ice with warmup sticks wrapped in “Pride Tape,” powerful signs of the organization’s support for equality and respect for LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans.

You Can Play Night — a joint effort by the Rangers, the NHL, the Players’ Association and You Can Play — can have a ripple effect, offering a statement that sports can and should be a safe space for everyone. The hope here is that it will stoke a continuing conversation, helping to dispel any lingering notions that the ball field, court or hockey rink are somehow exclusively heterosexual spheres.

Wade Davis calls it a campaign aimed at “removing the distance.” Davis, a former NFL cornerback, oversees Professional Sports Outreach for You Can Play. Part ambassador, part educator, he travels the country trying to spread enlightenment on an issue that is now receiving long overdue attention. Davis retired in 2003 and six years ago began publicly speaking about life as a gay athlete — a secret he held during his playing days.

“Attitudes are not delineated by education or class, but by exposure,” he says. “Nights like this are important. For a moment, everyone at the game, others just walking outside The Garden, will be conscious that there are people in the stands, or players and coaches, or referees, who may be part of the LGBTQ community.”

It is important that activists like Davis bring nuance to a complex subject. Being part of a team typically challenges athletes to relinquish ego while somehow maintaining a sense of self. Davis describes the struggle not as living in a closet, but rather as “not inviting anyone into my silence.”

Brady Skjei and the Rangers’ fans in solidarity at last season’s You Can Play Night. (Photo: Zack Lane/MSG Photos)

In breaking the silence, he says, he found acceptance and strengthened friendships. Now he wants to lift the dread and fear that may follow anyone contemplating sharing more of who they are.

With this in mind, the Rangers, to benefit You Can Play, are conducting an online auction from Feb. 9 through the 16th, offering up the specially taped sticks the players are using in warmups tonight. The team’s Blue Crew will wave rainbow “Together We Are RangersTown” flags as the Rangers appear on the ice.

A movement is underway, and the call here is for Davis’s efforts and You Can Play’s mission to take root at every level of sports — from high school and college to the pros. He conducts what he calls “High Five” sessions with teams across the country. Workshops like these, and the activities of the Rangers and NHL, should be viewed as examples for all teams and leagues to follow, an invitation to come out of the silence. 


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