Oilers’ Ference marching in gay pride parade

Andrew Ference. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Andrew Ference of the Edmonton Oilers is a leader off the ice, too.

The Edmonton Oilers captain will be marching in the Edmonton Pride parade on June 7 representing You Can Play and says the decision was “a no-brainer.”

Ference says he recognizes the important role NHL players have in ending discrimination within sports and society.

“Making sure that [LGBT] youth know they have allies at the pro level, or whether it’s a teammate who might be thinking about coming out, or whatever it is, we want to make sure that it’s an accepting environment for everyone,” Ference told the Edmonton Journal.

Ference will be the first member of the Oilers to partake in the parade in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Other NHL members have contributed to the You Can Play movement in similar ways over the years.

Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames, has helped through nonprofit organizations and marched in at least three Toronto gay pride parades.

Burke lost his son, Brendan, in a car accident in February 2010, a few months after he publicly announced Brendan’s homosexuality in November 2009.

Brendan’s older brother, Patrick, launched You Can Play after Brendan taught him what the locker room can be like for young LGBT athletes.

“I think for most [NHL players], especially with You Can Play [initiatives], it’s not a big step for us [supporting diversity],” Ference said. “It’s not sticking our nose out to support something that is really out there.

“It would be rare to find someone that doesn’t support it among our group of players.”

There is currently no openly gay player in the NHL.

Earlier this year Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, and Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in the NBA.

“It’s time to change the way the world thinks about athletes – both straight and gay,” Patrick Burke writes on the You Can Play website.

Ference, a 14-year NHL veteran, has been involved with fund-raising for You Can Play since he played for the Boston Bruins.

“We are grateful for Andrew’s relentless support for You Can Play and the ideals we work to instill in sports,” Burke said via statement. “We look forward to celebrating inclusion and acceptance with everyone during Pride.”