Despite all of the controversy, nearly every player in the NHL donned rainbow warmup jerseys last season during their teams’ respective Pride nights.
But seven did not; and thus, the league is banning the practice altogether.
Last summer, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said players would no longer be permitted to wear speciality sweaters during warmups, citing the apparent “distraction” they create. While Bettman’s edict extends to all theme nights, it’s obvious he’s targeting Pride events.
With the 2023-24 season beginning Tuesday, the league released a memo recently clarifying its stance on special initiatives. And it’s a mess!
More than eight teams, the source said, raised concerns about part of the memo that stated, “Players shall not be put in the position of having to demonstrate (or where they may be appearing to demonstrate) personal support for any Special Initiatives. A factor that may be considered in this regard includes, for example, whether a Player (or Players) is required to be in close proximity to any groups or individuals visibly or otherwise clearly associated with such Special Initiative(s).”
The intended purpose of the initial memo, according to the league source, was to inform teams that they cannot wear any specialty sweaters during a game, in warmups or at an official practice. The source said the only off-ice restriction facing teams is that they can’t force players to participate in events regarding the specialty causes, because some players might fear retribution or embarrassment if they decide to not take part.
In addition, the league is also banning players from using Pride tape on their sticks, Outsports reports.
There are multiple glaring issues to pick apart with the memo. For starters, the line about players not being required to be in “close proximity to any groups or individuals visibly or otherwise clearly associated with such Special Initiative” seems like grounds for discrimination and exclusion.
Could a player on Pride Night express discomfort being around LGBTQ+ people, and refuse to share the ice with any honorees or special guests?
The ruling indicates “yes.”
Also, mentioning the “retribution” or “embarrassment” players may receive for not taking part in special causes seems like capitulation to the bigoted few. But that’s not surprising, given how Bettman has spoken about this situation in the past.
Earlier this year, he defended the players who didn’t wear Pride jerseys, saying the onus falls on LGBTQ+ people to accept different viewpoints.
“You know what our goals, our values and our intentions are across the league, whether it’s at the league level or at the club level,” Bettman said, via The Athletic. “But we also have to respect individual choice. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
Back in March, at least three different NHL teams blamed their string on Pride Night debacles on Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws, saying Russian born players felt like their safety could be threatened if they were spotted wearing rainbow garb.
But even the league shot that down.
When asked about the issue, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league isn’t aware of any Russian players being in danger for supporting Pride.
One of the NHL’s biggest stars, Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, spoke out against the league’s new policy of appeasement.
“I certainly can’t speak for every organization,“ said McDavid. “I know in Edmonton, we were one of the first teams to use the Pride tape. We strongly feel hockey is for everybody, and that includes the Pride nights,” he said.
The Oilers have participated in a special Pride cup in each of the last two summers, coinciding with Edmonton’s Pride celebrations.
And therein lies the true shame about the league’s stance against rainbow jerseys: NHL clubs on the whole are supportive of LGBTQ+ inclusion. Every team held some sort of Pride event last night.
And as mentioned, almost every player participated to the fullest.
But now, the NHL is pulling back. The league didn’t post a single LGBTQ+-supportive tweet during Pride Month this year.
Those slights don’t mean the NHL doesn’t want to pocket our rainbow dollars, however! The aforementioned memo says specialty jerseys may be sold as merchandise…they just can’t be on the ice.
In other words, the NHL is still happy to take LGBTQ+ fans’ money. But won’t stand up for them in the face of a few homophobes.
Lovely. Let the games begin!
The Nashville Predators recently assigned Prokop to their AHL team, putting him on the doorstep of the NHL.