Tommy Wingels was a Sharks fan favorite, but his largest contributions to the sports world came in a different kind of arena. As one of the first advisory board members for the You Can Play Project, Wingels spent much of his professional career working to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ athletes.
Wingels' participation in the You Can Play Project was prompted by his friendship with Brendan Burke, for whose memory the organization was founded on. Burke was the student-manager of the Miami University hockey team while Wingels played there. Sadly, he died in a February 2010 car accident fewer than three months after he came out as gay to Wingels and his teammates.
The You Can Play Project was established in 2012 and has partnered with the NHL and the NHL Players Association since 2013. Wingels was the Sharks' nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2012 and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2013 for his involvement with the organization.
Wingels announced his retirement from hockey after 10 professional seasons on Thursday. On Saturday, Burke's father -- longtime NHL general manager Brian Burke -- congratulated Wingels on his career, and spoke to his great contributions off the ice.
"On the ice, Tommy Wingels will be remembered as an honest, hard-working player who would do anything to help his team win," the elder Burke wrote. "More importantly to the Burke family, we hope the hockey community recognizes Tommy for what he is -- a special person off the ice.
"... After Brendan's accident in 2010, Tommy remained committed to his friend. Tommy and teammate Andy Miele became the founding donors and first advisory board members of You Can Play, the organization our family co-founded to fight for LGBTQ inclusion in sports. Tommy took his role seriously, speaking out for LGBTQ inclusion both publicly and privately, correcting homophobic language and pushing to make locker rooms everywhere more inclusive.
"... The hockey world is unquestionably a better place today because of Tommy Wingels. We hope other players are inspired by his leadership to use their platforms to be advocates for social justice."
Wingels won't be spending as much time on the ice anymore, but his tremendous impact off of it will be felt for years to come.