Once the NHL let one through the door, it stood to reason that another would follow. After the Flyers’ Ivan Provorov refused to wear their Pride Night jerseys in warmups, and their coach John Tortorella refused to admonish him in any way (nor did the official partner of the NHL in these matters, the You Can Play Project), the New York Rangers seemingly were only too happy to have that baton passed to them. On Friday night at MSG, the Rangers did not wear their Pride jerseys or use rainbow stick tape for warmups, even though that was advertised as part of the Rangers’ Pride Night festivities. Which makes for a Pride Night basically on the margins, which is the whole fucking problem in the first place. The point of these is to make it clear that LGBTQ+ fans, and by some miracle players one day, are welcome in the whole arena, both literally and figuratively.
This is what the NHL gets by sticking its head in the sand on Provorov and Tortorella. Instead of making the NHL a welcoming place for those who have not felt comfortable in the past, or right now, they have opened up more room for bigots, ignorance, and hatred. And they seem happy to do so. Did it come with yet another toothless statement from YCP? Of course it did! It’s what they specialize in:
This isn’t about accepting all views, as the league, its teams, and YCP want to claim. No one was asking Provorov or any of the Rangers to make out with a teammate at center ice during warm-ups. They were only asking them to wear a jersey that said people different from them are also welcome, which should be easy enough no matter what your beliefs are. Especially if your beliefs are supposedly deeply Christian, which — though most everyone following that religion seems to have forgotten — is actually based on acceptance and love for others even if they’re not also Christians.
What all of these entities have lost sight of is that Pride Nights and other events like this aren’t just about reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community. It’s just as much, if not more about educating the rest of the NHL’s fans and employees that this is what we stand for now, to teach them that the LGBTQ+ community is going to be part of the NHL world going forward and that the NHL is happy to have them be so. And that not only will it not be the end of the world, but it’ll also actually be better. That everyone has to realize what modern times and what the world looks like now. These nights are just as much about teaching the Provorovs and Rangers of the world that this is part of your world now. And even if it doesn’t apply to you, you’re going to make room for it.
Instead, what the NHL and its teams have said is that it’s OK for its players and execs to think and act as if they’re a group of fans, and yes, players in their dressing room — because there are gay NHLers — are less than. That the hatred and ignorance that they’ve faced that have either kept them out of the arena seats or being who they are as a player is sanctioned.
Because that’s what it is. Whatever Provorov or the Rangers or YCP want to hide behind, all of this is based on the idea that LGBTQ+ are lower, are less than others. They are not worthy of my respect, they are not worthy of simply wearing a shirt for 20 minutes, because they don’t belong. They are saying that they can’t take the smallest bit of time to make it clear that they are welcome, even if it’s not who I am. Because only who I am is what’s allowed, what’s proper, what is “normal.” That’s the path the NHL is on.
If that were all for the NHL, that would be bad enough. But this all comes in the same time period that the league couldn’t find the cardboard spine to stand up to Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Standing up to DeSantis should be the biggest hanging curveball in our culture today. He’s so wrong and so ugly on so many things, it’s a gimme. The NHL was going to hold a Pathway To Hockey Summit during All-Star weekend in Sunrise, where minority candidates were going to be able to learn about and seek out jobs in the NHL. Clearly, the NHL needs this, given the makeup of its current staff.
Of course, DeSantis couldn’t wait to come running and cry “woke.” The response from the league should have been obvious. And it still was obvious, it was just obvious in the way that the NHL and hockey have always been obvious. The NHL backed down and removed all language on the event about diversity and minority candidates. Maybe the biggest whiff ever.
What is the NHL afraid of? As always, it’s terrified of its crusty white fanbase, even though most of that will be dead in the next 10-15 years. The NHL is still pretty convinced that its arenas are mostly filled with old white guys who just showed up to see fights and hates anything that caters to modern society in the least. Mostly, they’re terrified that if there was any kind of similar reaction to their league that the NFL got over Colin Kaepernick, it would be fatal for them. The NFL can stomach that blow, which only lasted barely a ripple anyway, but the NHL can’t.
The thing is that hockey fans aren’t going anywhere. Too much of their identity is wrapped up in being a hockey fan. I’ve always said, for example, that if the Chicago Blackhawks changed their logo, there would be a lot of whining and yelling from a certain set of fans, and then those same fans would be the very first ones to buy the new jersey with a new logo on it. I’ve seen it. But Gary Bettman and the NHL are still too scared.
All you need to know is that while the NHL might claim this or that, they still have Paul Bissonnette on one of their national broadcasts, who works for BarfStool, a bastion of hate and ignorance. That’s where the NHL is. The NHL is where it can watch one of the major sports media companies, SB Nation, ax almost all of its hockey coverage when it decides it needs to cut marginal costs, because that’s where the NHL is.
In the spirit of how they and YCP want to act, we’ll just say that’s their choice. It’s a choice that will see them left behind of course, but it’s their league, and they can drive it into the ground if they choose.