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Why does it matter if sports teams hold “Pride Nights?”

The St. Louis Blues are receiving criticism for scheduling “Hockey is for Everyone” night during a road game.

Nashville Predators v Los Angeles Kings
Every NHL team has hosted or is slated to host an evening celebrating “Hockey is for Everyone” during a home game, except the St. Louis Blues, who are holding the promotion while the team plays on the road.

“Pride Nights” are now largely ubiquitous in the world of professional sports. Most organizations hold some sort of in-season event promoting LGBTQ inclusion, which are typically held during home games, so fans of all stripes can attend the contest and celebrate diversity.

The Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues, however, are opting to celebrate their version of “Pride Night” this season while the team isn’t in town. The Blues are receiving criticism for scheduling “Hockey is for Everyone” night on March 24, when they’ll be playing the Capitals in Washington D.C. The event is being advertised as a “watch party” at Enterprise Arena.

In an email to Outsports, Blues Vice President of Media and Brand communications, Mike Caruso, said the decision to remove “Hockey is for Everyone” from the home schedule was based on ticket demand and fan engagement.

“The 12 theme nights that we held were based on past ticket sales response, overall fan engagement and contracted sponsorship elements,” he wrote. “There were several theme nights and promotions that we had to forego due to a lack of ticket availability. One example is our school fundraiser program, but there are others as well. Our Hockey is for Everyone Watch Party is our effort to bring that message and event back into focus.”

It’s tempting to be cynical about “Pride Nights” and dub them as just another way for multibillion-dollar pro sports teams to draw fans to their games — like the litany of other promotional events that are held throughout the season. But that’s missing the larger point. “Pride Night” means more than “Star Wars Night,” for example, because sports haven’t always been an inclusive place for LGBTQ people. It’s powerful to see iconic professional sports franchises, and some of the game’s best players, wearing the rainbow flag and other LGBTQ-themed regalia. To LGBTQ sports fans, it sends the message that we belong.

On this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki Podcast,” I discussed this topic, and the activism of pro sports teams in general, with USA Today For the Win columnist Hemal Jhaveri, who wrote a searing column about the Blues’ misguided decision. As an ally, Jhaveri says she thinks it’s important for “Pride Nights” to go beyond lip service, and actually signify meaningful change.

“For me, it’s really important, because sometimes you can call it ‘Rainbow Washing,’” she said. “It just feels like, to a degree, it’s not enough. A ‘Pride Night’ is a great first step for an organization to put forward as a clean message to all fans of the team that says, ‘Everyone is welcome in this building. This is what we stand for as a team. This is what we stand for as players.’ That to me is a baseline. ‘Pride Nights’ have become kind of ubiquitous where we kind of see them and I don’t want to say we roll our eyes, but we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s a great thing. Good for them, and I hope people go and they have fun.’ But when you take that out of the equation, I think it sends a message to the community that this one thing that we are giving you to celebrate you and to be as inclusive as possible, we can’t even give you that. It’s really discouraging.”

Click here to check out this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki Podcast”. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.