When Outsports named FIFA the undisputed 2022 Asshole of the Year, we felt like it would be the most lopsided “win” in the history of that award.
The only way a future Asshole of the Year could more clearly lap the field would be if they somehow figured out a way to distill all of the assholery encompassed by FIFA into one person and do it all year long, undermining over a decade of hard work by a lot of people aiming to build inclusion in their sport.
Just one year later, Bettman has topped FIFA. In terms of sheer assholedom, the only thing separating these two absolute legends is that Bettman has yet to sell the NHL’s soul to anti-LGBTQ nations like Qatar.
Bettman oversaw one LGBTQ public relations disaster after another this year, and every step he took on behalf of the NHL made the situation worse.
Things began to unravel in January when then-Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear a rainbow warm-up with the rest of his teammates during Pride Night.
In the wake of one player telling an entire community of fans that their humanity wasn’t worth acknowledging for just 20 minutes, the NHL responded by issuing a statement saying “we continue to encourage [players’] voices on social and cultural issues.”
As we’ve learned time and again throughout history, nothing stops bigotry faster than corporate-speak.
At a moment when decisive leadership was needed, the NHL’s pablum allowed Provorov’s homophobia to metastasize throughout the league. Soon, entire teams like the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks decided to ditch their Pride jerseys altogether, emboldened by Bettman to bend a knee to homophobia.
During All-Star Weekend, Bettman was asked about the rash of open homophobia throughout the NHL. His response was to lecture the LGBTQ community to honor the anti-gay players’ decision to be very publicly homophobic.
“But we also have to respect individual choice,” Bettman told the media, “and part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
Got that? One of the most important aspects of creating a diverse league is embracing players who are actively fighting against diversity.
At that point it became clear that when it came to expressing allyship, Bettman would treat logic the same way Bob Probert treated other players’ faces.
By the time the season ended, the NHL’s response to the Pride jerseys mess had turned into a crisis. But Bettman was just getting warmed up.
In mid-June, he announced a bold new strategy for combating hockey’s homophobes: abject capitulation. To avoid more conflicts, Bettman announced that the NHL would be treating Pride jerseys like the 2004-05 season, cancelling them outright.
By now, Bettman had already wrapped up Asshole of the Year, and it wasn’t close. But he still had almost six months left to run up the score, and he chose to take advantage of every minute.
Once the new season began, the league office sent memos to every team expounding on its new policies. Most noteworthy was an edict announcing that the NHL was banning Pride Tape on the ice at all times.
Bettman was declaring war on his own game’s equipment and, make no mistake, the LGBTQ community. It was one of the most insane policies a commissioner of a major sport had ever enacted — especially in response to an act of prejudice.
It would’ve been like Major League Baseball attempting to stop the racism Henry Aaron received after every home run by banning him from using a bat.
Already appalled by the Pride jersey debacle, the sports world reacted with outrage to the Pride Tape ban. Some players immediately began talking about using it on the ice anyway and daring the league to fine them. Even some team employees found ways to work it into their office supplies.
When Arizona Coyotes defenseman Travis Dermott became the first player to defy the policy and take the ice with Pride Tape, LGBTQ fans and allies celebrated his bravery.
The NHL subsequently decided to not fine Dermott, demonstrating that Bettman’s new policy was every bit as toothless as Bobby Clarke.
It was an all-time “good job, good effort” year for one of the worst commissioners any sport has ever seen.
Hockey fans have known Bettman was an asshole for decades — just ask those in Quebec City and Hartford. But 2023 was the year when LGBTQ fans felt the brunt of his trademark combination of buffoonery and unearned arrogance, essentially erasing a decade of hard work by You Can Play and other people in and around hockey to build LGBTQ inclusion in a pro league that has never had a current or former LGBTQ player or coach come out.
That’s why Outsports’ discussion for the 2023 Asshole of the Year lasted precisely as long as it took to say the four syllables of Gary Bettman’s name. While there were some true reprobates in the race like Riley Gaines, Bill Donohue, and Bob Huggins, Bettman proved to be this year’s Asshole Secretariat.
After all of his efforts, the NHL’s best Pride event will be the day Bettman resigns.
Previous Outsports Asshole of the Year winners:
2020: World Rugby
2019: IAAF aka World Athletics
2017: Fans who chant gay slurs
2014: Tony Dungy