Banning Pride in the NHL

NHL decision to stop wearing pride jerseys next season is a big disappointment.

It’s hard falling out of love sometimes. And other times, it can feel easy, almost natural. Hockey used to mean the world to me when I was young and addicted to having fun. It hurts to say I’ve never been happier in my decision to quit playing, watching, and supporting the sport altogether. Sports are funny that way. When you’re on the ice, nothing else matters. Unfortunately, in the real world, other things do matter.   

Next season, in the National Hockey League, all 32 teams will no longer wear LGBTQ pride themed jerseys for pre-game warmups. The League’s commissioner, Gary Bettman, suggested teams should stop having LGBTQ themed warmup jerseys because theme nights were being overshadowed by certain players’ participation.   

Last season, Ivan Provorov, Marc Staal, James Reimer, the entire Chicago Blackhawks organization, and others declined to participate or wear rainbow pride jerseys. They pointed to their religious beliefs and the new anti-gay laws passed in Russia as context for their decisions. This caught the attention of many major news outlets leading to numerous headache-inducing quotes about pride and the rainbow pattern.   

The league has failed the LGBTQ community in its weak attempts to flaunt inclusion. Hockey is not for everyone, and I doubt that will change in my lifetime when the NHL is backtracking like this.   

Here is a link to all 32 different pride nights from last season. As you can see, the majority of these nights consisted of wearing specialty themed jerseys and auctioning them off to charities that supported LGBTQ non-profits and causes. These weren’t regular old rainbow jerseys this year either, with many teams opting for specially designed logos and sleeves (Calgary, Florida, and Nashville in particular had gone over the top). What will pride nights even look like next season for the NHL?      

The NHL mandated “Hockey is for Everyone” onto the league in 2017. It’s hard to argue that your sport promotes unity and a shared bond regardless or cultural, sexual, racial, or religious background when you can’t even wear a rainbow jersey because it supports gay people. This is what failure looks like. Six years after its inception, just a weak gust of wind.   

Luke Prokop, currently playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds, said it best in his twitter post on the issue. Prokop is the first openly gay player under contract in the NHL and he was not shy to express his disappointment in the league.   

“Pride nights are an essential step towards fostering greater acceptance and understanding in hockey,” Prokop said.   

That sentiment extends beyond this sport and to our region as a whole. That’s why we celebrate pride. It’s clear the NHL and the League commissioner have no intentions in coexisting within this space. The response to the mild backlash has been disheartening. The lack of support or empathy towards the LGBTQ community after losing these jerseys has been eye opening.   

As a gay sports fan I always knew there was a chance that the guy I was rooting for might believe in something I don’t. He might even hate me for who I am. But it’s nice to pretend every once in a while, while he’s scoring off a one-timer or going down for the team to block a slapshot, that maybe we really are on the same team.   

After last season, I can’t seem to find the point of watching men with sticks chase a rubber disk who may, or may not, support my existence as a human being. It might not mean much to you, but it means the world to me. And it always will.