How many missteps does it take to unravel years of good will? The NHL is dangerously close to finding out, as the league has again given a cold shoulder to the LGBT community with a major decision.
Over the weekend, the NHL proudly announced that the 2018 NHL Draft will be held in Dallas. The decision came despite Texas lawmakers debating a bill that would mandate discrimination against transgender people and place them in physically dangerous situations. The bill has already passed the Senate, and the Governor has promised to sign it if it clears the House of Representatives.
Whether it becomes law is secondary to the NHL conversation: The league is headed to Texas whether the law passes or not. Screw the trans people.
The NHL’s decision was met with consternation from the LGBT community. Even You Can Play weighed in with a message of disappointment.
“The draft sends a message that the partnership being built with Texas, and the business of sport, is more important than the individual dignity of fans and athletes,” the statement read in part.
You Can Play vice-president Chris Mosier is a transgender athlete and will face mandatory discrimination if he attends the Draft next year. You Can Play is a beneficiary and champion of the NHL’s increasingly hollow “Hockey Is For Everyone” campaign.
Certainly the NHL has deserved praise in the past for the steps it has taken to give a hug to the LGBT community. I have lauded the league on many occasions, including its partnership with You Can Play, and the inclusion of anti-discrimination policies. Various teams have also shown support by marching the Stanley Cup in pride parades and celebrating Spirit Day.
Yet many of these steps, including Pride nights and the creation of rainbow-colored T-shirts, are to some extent window dressing. What is the point of a league-wide anti-discrimination policy if the league is going to sentence its fans to discrimination at one of its main events of the year?
Plus, the NHL is still the only major professional sports league – men’s or women’s – in North America to never have a current or former athlete come out as gay (every other league has at least two). If the league had actually built an LGBT-inclusive culture, there would be at least one, even if he were a former player.
When it has come time for the league to take concrete action and make tough decisions over the last couple of months, the decisions have been slaps in the face of the LGBT community.
Its draft decision follows the league’s refusal to suspend Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf for yelling a gay slur during a playoff game. The league also failed to mandate any sensitivity training for him. Getzlaf responded by refusing to apologize for his actions, showing no remorse, and blaming other people for catching him in the act.
This was a year after the NHL did suspend Chicago Blackhawks player Andrew Shaw for a playoff game for the exact same thing. The differences? 1) Shaw actually apologized and showed remorse, and 2) Getzlaf was the face of his franchise.
Lesson learned: The NHL will allow players to use gay slurs if suspending said player could hurt TV ratings.
Now the league has shown no concern by potentially sending transgender fans and athletes to a state where they will have to either break the law and risk legal action, or obey the law and risk physical violence. The bill mandates transgender women use a men’s bathroom and locker room, setting the scene for potentially dangerous — and at the very least incredibly uncomfortable — altercations across the state.
What’s more, none of the league’s “LGBT ambassadors” – and every team has at least one – has spoken out publicly about any of this. While I praised the league for the creation of this program, I should have listened to the people who said it was bullshit, because that’s exactly what it has turned out to be.
I do appreciate many of the steps the league has taken to wave the rainbow flag. I really do. There has been repeated effort, we cannot take that away from them.
But to truly embrace the LGBT community – including countless fans and players – the league will have to start making tough decisions that reflect a commitment to inclusion, and not just rely on publicity stunts that increasingly seem to reflect a commitment to pandering.