There is a real threat that the NHL season won't start on time. Reuters

There's been a lot of recent talk about homophobia and gay athletes in professional team sports. Just last week, former Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo -- who's been a longtime champion of LGBT rights -- proclaimed that four current NFL players are considering coming out as gay, saying a group coming out would ease the burden on individual guys.

Now, the National Hockey League is sending a welcoming message of its own by partnering with the "You Can Play" project, a national organization that is "dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation."

This partnership with the national advocacy group, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in March, includes sensitivity training where NHL players will be trained and counseled on gay issues as well as participating in the project’s public service announcement videos.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, Patrick Burke, president of “You Can Play” and talent scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, said:

“Today marks a historic step for LGBT equality in sports. The NHL and the NHLPA [NHL Players' Association] are stepping up to ensure that the hockey community is welcoming -- not begrudging, not tolerant -- welcoming to LGBT players, coaches, management or fans. Now with the culture of the hockey community behind us, we can do the important educational outreach to help everyone know how to be accepting. The NHL has long had a slogan – ‘Hockey Is For Everyone.’ We will work alongside our partners in the NHL and the NHLPA to continue to make that true.”

While all big four professional sports organizations -- the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB – have sexual orientation codified in their nondiscrimination policies, this doesn’t stop anti-gay behavior or comments from happening.

Burke said education is key.

"If you were to go to a group of athletes and say, 'Would you support an openly gay friend,' the vast majority would say yes. But if you were to say, 'How many of you have used an anti-gay term in the last 48 hours,' the majority would also say yes," he told Reuters. "We have this disconnect with people and that's where education comes in. These are the only slurs today that can be explained away by someone saying, 'I didn't mean it that way.' With other slurs, racial slurs, that doesn't happen."

Thursday’s news of this collaboration has been lauded by gay rights activists, including openly gay Ellen DeGeneres, who tweeted:

Burke started “You Can Play” after the death of his brother, Brendan, who came out as gay in 2009 and was a manager of a college hockey team, according to Reuters.

Retired NHL player Sean Avery has been a champion for gay rights, openly supporting gay marriage in New York and actively working with another group that’s fighting homophobia in team sports, Athlete Ally.

To learn more about the “You Can Play” project, visit their website, Facebook and Twitter page @YouCanPlayTeam.

Watch a video for the project, featuring NHL players below:

For news updates from JR Tungol, follow him on Twitter @jratungol.