Is there a method to Gary Bettman's madness?
Or perhaps madness is the National Hockey League commissioner's method.
I just don't know.
I mean, if there's a measure of logic behind Bettman's baffling relationship with the LGBT(etc.) community, I'm struggling to find it.
Think about it.
A decade ago, the NHL hopped into bed with the You Can Play Project, a forward-thinking group determined to make the sporting arena a welcoming and safe place for the LGBT(etc.) community.
Its mission statement: "The You Can Play Project works to ensure the safety and inclusion for all who participate in sports, including LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches and fans. We achieve this by creating a community of allies that is able to foster a true sense of belonging. This becomes possible when sports teams sharpen the focus on the person’s skills, work ethic, and competitive spirit, not their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by developing a culture of respect, in every player, coach and fan."
And this was Bettman in April 2013: "Our motto is Hockey Is For Everyone, and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way. While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands."
Given the homophobic culture of men's hockey, it was an admirable kinship between the NHL and YCPP.
Yet here we are today, 10 months into an anti-gay push unlike anything we've seen in major men's sports, and it's fair to wonder where the hell Bettman's head is at. Is he an ally or a faux friend? Is his alignment with You Can Play nothing but window dressing?
Well, let's follow the bouncing puck and see where it takes us.
Last January, Commish Gary gave players his official okie-dokie to reveal their anti-gay leanings, scant days after Ivan Provorov, then of the Philly Flyers, picked up his Bible and said showing support for the LGBT(etc.) collective didn't square with scripture. Thus, the Russian Orthodox defender declined to don a Pride jersey for pregame warmup.
When the stuff hit the fan and many among the rabble heaped a huge helping of scorn on Provorov and the NHL, one of Bettman's minions issued the following advisory: "Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues."
That emboldened seven more of the NHL's 700-plus players—James Reimer, Ilya Samsonov, Eric and Marc Staal, Ilya Lybushkin, Andrei Kuzmenko and Denis Gurianov—to join the NHL's Rainbow Resistance Movement and out themselves as anti-gay by the end of the season.
That, in turn, prompted Commish Gary (surely at the urging of certain team owners) to get out of the garment industry in June. That is, specialty jerseys were abolished. All of them. But anyone with a lick of common sense the size of a gnat recognized it as an anti-gay gambit. No player, after all, had ever balked at wearing military colors, or Indigenous attire or a uni in support of fighting cancer, etc. Only the Pride rainbow. It was, to use Bettman's word, a "distraction." It had to go.
Which brought us to early October, when the NHL's Rainbow Resistance Movement arrived at the crossroads of Idiotic Lane and Dimwit Drive: Bettman banned Pride tape. Players were no longer permitted to use it on their sticks during games, in warmup or at practice. Essentially, it was a don't-say-gay gag order.
To reiterate my remark from last week, it was the silliest and dumbest directive in NHL history.
But wait. Commish Gary gave his head a shake, or someone did it for him, and the Pride tape ban was lifted on Tuesday.
So, again, does anyone know where Bettman's head is at?
I mean, okay, he did the right thing two weeks after doing the wrong thing, and the league's on-ice employees are now permitted to wrap their hockey sticks with Pride tape, but, for gawd's sake, why did we spend a fortnite talking about something so silly when the focus should have been on the start of the current crusade? What was Commish Gary's aim in the rainbow ban? What is his end game re the LGBT(etc.) community?
Everything that's gone down during the past 10 months is so very strange and, given the NHL's allyship with You Can Play, it doesn't make a lick of sense.
So what changed and who are the forces behind this year's anti-gay initiatives?
Team owners are whispering (barking?) in Commish Gary's ears at all times, so perhaps a handful of them have been driving this bus.
After all, a robust anti-LGBT(etc.) sentiment exists in North America, and it isn't unthinkable that it's found its way into the NHL board room. Team owners are Bettman's bosses. He does their bidding. It's hard to imagine that he's the sole architect of this epic bungling.
Commish Gary has to wear it, though, and it's a terrible look.