The NHL has, in one year, gone from being viewed as one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive leagues in America to by far the most anti-LGBTQ sports league in all of North America.
It’s not even close.
People across the NHL have, for years, aimed to build an inclusive environment within the league. Brian Burke — part of NHL “royalty” — and his son, Patrick Burke, have carried the legacy of Brendan Burke in pushing for more LGBTQ inclusion across the sport of hockey.
The You Can Play project — the brainchild of Patrick Burke and the result of hard work by so many others — has talked with countless hockey players, coaches and teams to educate people across the sport on how to make hockey more inclusive.
Yet over the course of 2023, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his team at the league front office created an environment in and around the sport of hockey, and the National Hockey League, that now tells LGBTQ people they are not welcome in the sport.
POLL: Of the Big 4 major men's pro sports leagues in America, which do you perceive to be the most anti-LGBTQ?— Outsports (@outsports) December 18, 2023
At the final count, 56.1% of Outsports respondents viewed the NHL as the most anti-LGBTQ league amongst the Big Four men’s pro sports leagues — the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.
That is a complete opposite of a poll Outsports conducted a little over a year ago. That poll showed the NHL barely second to only the NBA in perceived LGBTQ acceptance, amongst the Big Four major men’s sports in America. The other two leagues are the NFL and MLB.
When asked about the least inclusive a year ago, the NHL had the fewest votes of any of the Big Four leagues.
Major League Soccer was available in those poll of a year ago, and it trumped all of the others. This X poll did not allow a fifth option.
Yet of the Big Four — MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL — the National Hockey League was regarded as either No. 1 or No. 2 for the most-inclusive of LGBTQ people, depending on how you look at the poll.
Today, it is viewed as the most anti-LGBTQ by far. In fact, in the (clearly unscientific) Outsports poll on X, more people view the NHL as the most anti-LGBTQ than the other three of the Big Four combined.
How did that happen? How did a league go from first two worst in perception of LGBTQ fans?
Two words: Gary Bettman.
The NHL commissioner early in 2023 — when a small handful of athletes refused to wear a rainbow jersey for 20 minutes — told fans they have to accept homophobia.
“Part of being diverse and welcoming,” Bettman said of athletes who couldn’t just put on a Pride jersey for 20 minutes during warm-ups, “is understanding those differences.”
No major pro-sports league commissioner in America has ever told their fans they need to just accept homophobia. That has never happened. Ever.
Yet Bettman told NHL fans they simply had to accept homophobia.
Bettman went further, telling LGBTQ fans they “have to respect” homophobia.
“Respect” homophobia. Think about that. Gay fans of the NHL have to “respect” homophobia.
Believe it or not, Bettman wasn’t done, eventually banning Pride jerseys and even Pride Tape on players’ sticks, even during warm-ups (something he and the league eventually mostly rescinded).
It should not be surprising to anyone that LGBTQ sports fans now view the NHL as by far the most anti-LGBTQ league in all of America.
Will the NHL change course? Will the league fire Bettman and find a direction that embraces a new generation of American sports fans?