Before a National Hockey League (NHL) game begins, the United States’ National Anthem, and depending on the location of the game, the Canadian National Anthem are both played prior to puck drop. The 23 players from each team line up on the ice, no matter where they are from, and listen to the two anthems being played or sung. This is despite the fact that only 69.9% of NHL players come from Canada and the United States.
After the game is finished, players are forced to do their media sessions with the U.S. press, despite the fact that many players are not native English speakers. The players do this, even if at times it can lead to frustration and gaps in translation.
Occasionally, the NHL will hold themed nights, honoring different communities such as Military and Law Enforcement Night, Autism Acceptance Night, Hispanic Heritage Night, Black History Celebrations and Women in Sports night. Players again, despite not all being a part of those communities, show up to the ice, show support for those communities and play a game of hockey.
There’s one more theme that is in that group — Pride Night. However, some players have not shown the same level of support for the LGBTQ+ community as one might expect. In fact, some players — such as James Reimer and brothers Eric and Marc Staal — have gone so far as to protest Pride Night and refuse to wear warm-up jerseys in support.
Reimer and the Staal brothers have cited their “Christian beliefs” as the main reason they refuse to participate in Pride Night. In addition to players protesting Pride Night, three teams — the Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers and the Minnesota Wild — canceled their previously-scheduled Pride Nights altogether, without giving sound reasoning as to why.
These decisions send a clear and direct message to fans — there is no place for the LGBTQ+ community in hockey. Perhaps it is not the intention of the dozens of players and three teams protesting Pride Night to send that message, at least not so explicitly, but the damage has already been done.
Luke Prokop, a prospect for the Nashville Predators, is the first openly-gay player under contract in the NHL, and he recently offered his thoughts on the situation on social media. “I share the disappointment in what feels like a step back for
inclusion in the NHL… it’s disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing [pride uniforms] and not fully embracing their significance,” he said.
“Pride nights are an essential step towards fostering greater acceptance and understanding in hockey, and I strongly believe that by prioritizing diversity and inclusion, we can create an environment where every player feels comfortable being their authentic selves to the game,” Prokop continued.
Perhaps these teams and players do not understand just how vital hosting Pride Night is, not just for themselves and for their fans, but for the future of the game. The teams and players protesting Pride Night have millions of fans, and they have a responsibility to be inclusive and respectful of everyone — it’s the reason the NHL decides to host Pride Night every year.
In a league that has seen youth participation grow 10% in the last decade, it’s important to be sending the right message. Inclusion controversies are not new to the NHL, as the league has a long history of racism in locker rooms and front offices. Now, the league has even more work to do in creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable and accepted.
So the next time the Blackhawks, Rangers and Wild force their players to sit through a national anthem that is not their own, and force foreign players to have press conferences in English, perhaps they should think twice about the double standard they’re creating by canceling a night that’s supposed to be about inclusion.
Featured image courtesy of @NJDevils, Twitter