The Minnesota Wild hosted its “Hockey Is For Everyone” night on Feb. 8. Yet some Wild fans and members of the Minnesota LGBTQ community are calling for some time in the penalty box for their favorite NHL team.
That’s because the Wild, according to the fans, avoided honoring the LGBTQ community during what has become each NHL team’s “Hockey Is For Everyone” inclusion night.
Before we get into what the team didn’t do, let’s talk about what it did do. In warm-ups, some of the Wild players wrapped their hockey sticks in Pride Tape and skated with them. That’s certainly something.
Except... that’s it. In 2014 that might have seemed like something to celebrate. Yet in 2018, LGBTQ fans have come to expect more on the one night out of the team’s 41 home games that is suppose to recognize the diverse communities in the state of Minnesota.
“They literally did nothing for us at all for this game compared to other NHL teams,” said one attendee who took to the Facebook event page created by Twin Cities Pride.
He was not alone.
“They have never recognized the LGBTQ community other than a tiny required blurb in the You Can Play video,” said Fiona Quick, a Wild fan who was also quite upset with the Wild. “They have no [pride] merchandise, no pride sticks, no rainbow anything, ever. They have never participated in a pride parade. Charlie Coyle is supposed to be their You Can Play Ambassador, and he has done absolutely nothing in the community, ever.”
To be clear, the Wild did feature Pride Tape in the warm-ups but did not use it once the game started.
Another LGBTQ fan was irate that “they will take our money but refuse to recognize us.”
Every NHL team this season is hosting a night honoring the league’s so-called “Hockey Is For Everyone” campaign. Some teams, like the New Jersey Devils, host Pride Nights specifically aimed at supporting the LGBTQ community. Other teams, like the Boston Bruins, opt for broader “Hockey Is For Everyone” Nights that touch on various communities, including the LGBTQ community. The Washington Capitals are hosting a series of nights this month, each one dedicated to a different group.
The rub for Wild fans is that the team’s inclusion night left LGBTQ people out in the Minnesota cold.
The Wild told Outsports that the team does in fact support the LGBTQ community. Wild spokesperson Aaron Sickman said the narrow focus of the night is to support specific organizations that promote playing hockey in the state of Minnesota.
“The Minnesota Wild continues to support numerous programs and initiatives that help provide as many people as possible the opportunity to play hockey in a positive and inclusive environment in The State Of Hockey,” Sickman told Outsports. “The Minnesota Wild supports families and fans of every race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and those with disabilities.”
He said the team tried to identify an organization that promoted the playing of hockey to the LGBTQ community in Minnesota. Since they couldn’t find one, they did not recognize that community during the game.
The Twin Cities Gay Hockey Association once gathered LGBTQ hockey players in the area but has since disbanded.
Despite knowing this focus of the night, and the fact that they were again going to largely ignore the LGBTQ community during the event, the Wild did contact Twin Cities Pride to help sell tickets to the LGBTQ community. That now seems like a transparent attempt to simply take money from the LGBTQ community.
Twin Cities Pride executive director Dot Belstler was disappointed to learn the Wild made no in-game acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community, despite using Twin Cities Pride to make money.
“I felt they were being authentic, so promoted the event,” Belstler told Outsports. “The local pro sports teams are starting to have Pride Nights, so for a first-time event, I thought the ‘everyone’ night would be a good start.”
It certainly seems disingenuous to craft a narrow focus for the in-game recognized groups while taking money from others. It undercuts the inclusion narrative of “Hockey Is For Everyone.” The Wild can’t have an inclusion night that sells dozens or hundreds of tickets to the LGBTQ community then ignores said community during the actual game.
The fact that the team reportedly did not carry in the arena pride-inspired rainbow T-shirts that were available to them, the likes of which other teams have offered, is unfortunate. Two fans said the team did not offer these shirts, and Sickman did not respond to a specific question about this.
What is clear from the messages Outsports has received from various LGBTQ Wild fans is that the team has damaged its relationship with the local LGBTQ community on a night built for inclusion.
It the Wild want to fix that, they could take any or all of three steps:
1) Honor Twin Cities Pride at the next Hockey Is For Everyone night and forge a real partnership with them. Hockey is for fans, too. Not just athletes. To ignore the LGBTQ community simply because there isn’t an LGBTQ hockey group is alienating.
2) Carry rainbow-colored Wild T-shirts in the team store.
3) Have some rainbow-flag presence in the arena outside of Pride Tape. The tape is great, but unless they’re going to have their players use it the entire game (which is allowed by the rules), a flash during warm-ups with no in-gme follow-up certainly doesn’t feel genuine.
The LGBTQ community is forgiving. The criticism by fans comes from a place of desired inclusion. And the Wild can fix this. But only they can fix this.