By Michael Gold
The Baltimore Sun
2:32 PM EDT, June 12, 2013
Now that Major League Soccer has its first openly gay player, the league is launching a new effort to tackle anti-gay attitudes and encourage inclusion in its ranks.
Through a partnership with the You Can Play Project, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting LGBT discrimination in sports, the MLS and MLS Players Union hope to build on existing anti-discrimination efforts to offer greater support for gay players and fans.
"The diversity found in our League has always been a point of pride for us," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement released today. "MLS is committed to providing a safe environment where everyone is treated equally, and with dignity and respect."
In addition to offering education and training programs, You Can Play will offer confidential counseling to players. Outsports also reports that You Can Play will work with MLS on public relations issues.
"This partnership with MLS and the MLS Players Union confirms the message that MLS will not tolerate discrimination of any kind inside the locker rooms, on the field or in the stands,” said You Can Play president Patrick Burke.
Major League Soccer has, at least recently, taken an active role in rooting out LGBT discrimination among its players. On several occasions, the league has fined and suspended players for using anti-gay slurs toward other players, taking harsher actions than any of America's other major sports leagues.
Still, the organization lagged behind other major pro leagues in partnering with LGBT organizations. The National Hockey League started a similar partnership with You Can Play in April, while pro basketball joined forces with GLSEN back in 2011. Given that MLS was the first of the leagues to have an openly gay player take the field -- and midfielder Robbie Rogers' was preparing to return to the pitch for quite some time -- it seems a little strange the organization took so long to strength its emphasis on LGBT inclusion.
Still, regardless of the timing, it's encouraging to see a major American sports league focus on combating anti-gay attitudes not only on the field, but in the stands.
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