There’s been blamed assigned to multiple parties for the NHL’s Pride Night mess, with some team sources even trying to throw the whole debacle on Vladimir Putin (seriously).
But the biggest culprit is the NHL itself. Commissioner Gary Bettman, whose previous comments about this topic at the All-Star Game were downright insulting, recently confirmed the league mandated that all players wear Pride jerseys during warmups.
This mandate was upheld, even though there obviously wasn’t buy-in from all parties.
What an avoidable disaster.
“This is the first time we’ve experienced that, and I think it’s something that we’re going to have to evaluate in the offseason,” Bettman told CTV News in Ottawa. “This is one issue where players for a variety of reasons may not feel comfortable wearing the uniform as a form of endorsement.”
That begs the question: if all players weren’t comfortable wearing Pride-themed warmup uniforms, why were they asked?
I am not defending the smattering of players — the Florida Panthers’ Eric and Marc Staal, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov — who have cited religion as their reason for not supporting LGBTQ inclusivity in hockey. They are using the Bible as a shield for their bigotry. It’s gross, never mind ridiculous.
There are plenty of Christians around the league who have worn rainbow jerseys, such as Reimer, Provorov and Marc and Eric Staal’s teammates.
There are also plenty of Russian players who have worn the jerseys, despite the bizarre excuse that some teams were offering about Vladimir Putin. When the Chicago Blackhawks abandoned their Pride jerseys, they said it was to protect their three Russian players.
On Monday, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin also blamed Russia for his snub to LGBTQ hockey fans.
Putin has passed an array of anti-gay laws, and the supposed fear is that Russian players could face prosecution back home for “spreading LGBTQ propaganda” if they skate around in Pride uniforms for a few minutes during warmups.
But that’s been disproven. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daley said recently there’s no evidence that Russian players who wear the warmups will face any danger.
Whatever the stated reason, a small minority of players aren’t wearing Pride uniforms, and they’re overshadowing the vast majority of players who are. It’s a shame.
Bettman mentioned that in his aforementioned interview.
“I think that’s become more of a distraction now, because the substance of what our teams and we have been doing and stand for is really being pushed to the side for what is a handful of players basically have made personal decisions, and you have to respect that as well,” he said.
First of all: umm ... no. We don’t have to respect players’ homophobia. Bettman spouted the same ridiculous line at the All-Star Game.
That offensive argument aside, his lamenting is understandable. As commissioner, it must be irritating to see the behavior of a small rebellious few overwhelm the league’s copious number of LGBTQ allies.
But Bettman must understand that he created this. While it’s nice to see athletes wear rainbow jerseys or insignias, nobody is demanding it. Pride Nights can happen without specific uniforms being worn.
In fact, that’s the preferable course of action, unless there’s full buy-in. Otherwise, LGBTQ fans get dissed on what should be a celebratory night.
The Tampa Bay Rays made the same mistake last year in MLB. Five pitchers didn’t want to wear a rainbow on their uniforms; and suddenly, they were the story.
It’s a shame the NHL didn’t learn from the Rays’ mistake, or the other recent incidents of players refusing to wear Pride uniforms.
This isn’t about protecting homophobes. This is about not turning Pride Nights into circuses, and perverting their entire meaning.
The NHL definitely needs to reevaluate its Pride Night policies over the offseason. Unfortunately, Bettman has shown he’s completely the wrong man to do it.