What if an NHL team held an LGBTQ Pride Night and nobody outside the arena noticed?
That’s basically what happened in Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle the last week when the Stars, Kraken and Kings each held such a night with players wearing special warmup jerseys with no dissent.
“Every single Dallas Stars player Is wearing their Pride Jerseys. Every. Single. One,” Daily Dallas Hockey said in a tweet. The same held with the Kings and Kraken. Players wore the warmups, switched to their usual home jersey for the game, the game was played, fans had a great time and then everyone went home.
Contrast this with Philadelphia, where the Flyers let one player’s religious objections become the Pride Night story; or New York, where the Rangers caved to yet-unnamed homophobes on the team and abandoned plans to wear the Pride warmups; or Minnesota, where it seemed like the Wild blamed Vladimir Putin for their Pride jersey fiasco. In all three of these cases, the minority of refusniks steered the ship and became the story. “Hockey is for everyone,” really rang hollow.
On Saturday, the same night the Kings wore their warmups with zero controversy, the San Jose Sharks navigated a mini-controversy by allowing one player to opt out of the warmups while the rest of the players joyfully donned the Pride unis.
In all of these cases, management is responsible for how the Pride events turned out. The ones that kept the focus on what Pride is supposed to be had the most successful nights. The ones that got tangled up in what the minority of objectors wanted screwed it up and left a lot of people with bruised feelings.
No one in the LGBTQ community is demanding teams wear Pride warmups. As the Athletic noted, “The same night the Wild made headlines for not wearing their sweaters, the Lightning held Pride night in Tampa and didn’t receive criticism for not wearing Pride sweaters, because they had never planned to wear them. Other teams that didn’t wear Pride jerseys include the Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Bruins, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders, Red Wings and Senators.”
But if you are going to announce Pride warmups, then make sure you have buy-in or a plan for the few that will object. The Sharks allowed the one dissenting player to issue a statement, while issuing one that ended with them saying, “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.” That’s the way to do it.
The last word on this goes to Luke Prokop, a minor league player with NHL aspirations who is openly gay. His statement hit the perfect note:
“Pride nights and pride jerseys play an important role in promoting and respecting inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community and it’s disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing them or embracing their significance, while the focus of others has become about the players who aren’t participating rather than the meaning of the night itself. ...
“Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs and I think it’s important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it,” he said. “Pride nights are an essential step towards fostering greater acceptance and understanding in hockey. ... As someone who aspires to play on an NHL team one day, I would want to enter the locker room knowing I can share all parts of my identity with my teammates.”