On January 17, the Philadelphia Flyers hosted their annual Pride Night. Prior to puck drop, players were set to wear special warmup jerseys that had rainbow lettering and numbers as well as using rainbow stick tape. The players return to wearing their usual uniforms for the actual games and the warmup jerseys are auctioned off to raise money for various charities or organizations that are connected to the LBGTQ+ community.
Defenseman Ivan Provorov decided not to wear the specially designed jersey for religious reasons. Provorov ended up playing in the game after not participating in the pregame warmup, but hockey fans all over were outraged by what happened.
The league put out this statement in response to the backlash of what happened during the Flyers’ Pride Night:
“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the League encourages Clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans. Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
Fast forward a few weeks and both the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes were hosting their Pride Nights on January 27. The Rangers had specifically advertised that the team would be wearing pride jerseys and taking part in all of those usual activities. Instead, the players wore their usual uniforms and didn’t use the rainbow stick tape. Later, it was reported that the players and organizations involved with the night were not aware of the change. The Hurricanes also didn’t wear different jerseys. The only thing these two teams really did to acknowledge Pride Night was lighting their respective buildings up in rainbow colors.
The Rangers put out this statement as an explanation for their Pride Night mishap:
“Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
Pride nights have been an initiative the National Hockey League has put in place to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. They also remind fans that hockey is for everyone, a slogan they have adapted to show that the sport of ice hockey is a safe place for people from all different backgrounds.
The league-wide theme nights that bring awareness to communities and social issues that are prominent in our everyday lives are nothing new. These include Pride Night, Military Appreciation Night, Hockey Fights Cancer, Black History Month and Gender Equality Month. Several teams even go above and beyond the ones the league mandates and include their own theme nights, whether they be fun ideas or are connected to other initiatives they want to support.
Yet, these recent incidents show that hockey, in fact, is not for everyone.
There is a lot of work to be done in order to make hockey the inclusive sport it needs to be, but the NHL needs to do better too. Teams and players backing out of not supporting initiatives that help fans feel included and welcome in a sport where that hasn’t always been the case says quite the opposite.
It’s incredibly disappointing to see the league take steps backwards when what is needed is to keep moving forward. The debacle that has been happening around Pride Nights this season cannot become the norm. It is setting a precedent that this is okay when it isn’t. Fans don’t feel supported and are realizing a sport that makes them happy might not be a place they are welcome, which is a shame.
If you’re outraged about the disappointing Pride Nights that have happened so far, your feelings are valid and your voice is being heard. After making so much progress, it feels like the NHL is taking a step back. Hockey must be better than this if it truly wants to be for everyone.
The next scheduled Pride Night game is on February 9 when the New York Islanders take on the Vancouver Canucks at UBS Arena. We’ll see if it goes as planned.