Sports teams and leagues sometimes hold special events called Pride nights to be more accepting of LGBTQ+ people, and the NHL is one of the best at this. These events usually have fun activities such as wearing colorful LGBTQ+ artist-designed jerseys, having performances, setting up info tables, and even featuring drag shows. People really love it!
Recently, seven NHL players have decided not to wear rainbow-colored jerseys during their teams’ Pride nights for the first time, which has made the league’s commissioner consider if these events should remain in the future.
This news has made some fans and LGBTQ+ supporters worry as it could be seen as a sign that rules against expressing themselves and receiving health care are now stopping activities that were meant to make people happy and accepted.
“People are becoming more comfortable with standing up for the rights of LGBTQ+ people,” said Hudson Taylor, founder and director of Athlete Ally. It is a group that works hard to make sure the sports world is inclusive of everyone.
Some sports athletes have been expressing their religious beliefs when they don’t agree with an event or a thing. For example, five baseball players from the Tampa Bay Rays chose not to wear jerseys that celebrated Pride because of their faith and a female soccer player decided to skip two trips where she was supposed to wear these same jerseys.
Three teams from the National Hockey League (NHL) – Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, and Minnesota Wild – were supposed to wear rainbow-themed warmup outfits but they ended up not wearing them. First they said they were planning to do this, but didn’t give an explanation as to why they changed their minds.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that during the offseason, they will think about how to handle Pride nights better in light of some players opting out or teams deciding not to participate. Even so, he noted that most NHL teams and players still support this kind of event.
For the last 10 years, the NHL has been working with an organization called “You Can Play Project” which supports LGBTQ+ people who are playing sports. So far, no NHL player has skipped out on taking part in their Pride nights.
Republican lawmakers in the U.S. are now trying to take away rights from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) people – especially transgender people. Plus, sports organizations are making rules that don’t allow most trans women to compete in track and field or swimming races.
In some countries, laws make it illegal to share information about LGBTQ+ people. In Russia, NHL player were asked not to participate in Pride night because of this law. In Uganda, people could even be sent to jail for being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
An assistant professor from the University of Kentucky named Evan Brody also said that all of these restrictions are tied together. He does research on how LGBTQ+ folks are treated in sports.
“The laws being passed and the people not joining in, all these things affect LGBTQ people. This is happening a lot around the world but also in the United States,” said Brody. “We often talk about other countries having unfair treatment towards LGBTQ people but don’t think enough about what’s going on here.”
Many teams in the NHL host Pride nights to sell tickets but they usually do a very good job showing their support for LGBTQ people. It’s strange and noticeable when players or teams don’t do this anymore.
Russian players Ivan Provorov, Ilya Lyubushkin, Andrei Kuzmenko and Denis Gurianov, and Canadians James Reimer, Eric Staal and Marc Staal all said that based on their religious beliefs or family reasons they would not wear the rainbow-colored jerseys during warmups. Furthermore, Ilya said his decision was also influenced by laws in Russia where he’s from
Last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said some players have the freedom to not wear uniforms that make them feel uncomfortable. He also pointed out that it isn’t about disrespecting other people’s beliefs and lifestyles, but rather a personal choice of comfort. Taylor added that Russian player Ilya Lyubushkin might be afraid of consequences from his home country since he has family there and visits often.
Marty Walsh, the new director of the NHL Players’ Association, said he doesn’t think that members of the LGBTQ community should think that NHL hockey players are against them. Walsh mentioned that most of the players have worn their jerseys with pride.
This season, two young members of an organization called Twin Cities Queer Hockey Association got to sit on the bench during warm-ups at a Minnesota Wild Pride night event.
The Wild team has given a lot of help to the association that was co-founded by Bennett-Danek and her wife in 2022. They have been very good to the organization and everyone around them.
“The Twins were wrong to cancel their Pride night, but they made up for it. Even now, they continue to support our LGBTQIA community and will let us auction off the signed Pride jerseys they gave us. They also promised that next year’s Pride night wouldn’t be cancelled.”
It’s been four years since the NHL has punished someone for using homophobic language. In April 2022, however, a player got suspended for 8 games. Many hockey players are also doing special skates before games in support of LGBTQ+, which Zach Hyman thinks is a brilliant idea.
Hyman said, “I completely support being inclusive and open to minority groups who faced a lot of persecution in the past. Showing that we care and that everyone is welcome to take part in our game will show how much we truly value them.”
Stephen Whyno in Washington, John Wawrow in Buffalo and Mark Moschetti in Seattle wrote this report. The AP NHL can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NHLZonecom and the AP Sports can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.