In Toronto, the players worn Pride decals on the helmets and Pride Tape on their sticks and the team held a live drag show. The Maple Leafs players also heard about the power of inclusiveness from a gay Olympic hockey gold medalist. In Winnipeg, all the Jets players wore a Pride warmup jersey. In neither place was there controversy.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Pride Night on Tuesday and the Winnipeg Jets’ on Wednesday were not the only successful such nights in the NHL this season, but after all the controversy over religious and political objections it was still refreshing to see.
The most-impactful part of either Pride celebration was the decision by the Leafs to have Meghan Duggan — openly gay, a former U.S. women’s national team captain, Olympic gold medalist and now director of player development for the New Jersey Devils — address the team on the power of inclusion and Pride nights.
“It’s difficult to understand inclusion if you’ve never been excluded,” Duggan told the players in a talk that was reportedly well-received.
“It’s difficult to understand inclusion if you’ve never been excluded”— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 4, 2023
Pride Night | The Leaf: Blueprint Moment pic.twitter.com/n6XPpo9k2I
Duggan told the Athletic that her point to the players about Pride Night was “not about endorsing certain values. It’s just about saying to a group of people that have been excluded in so many different areas of their life that ‘you’re welcome here.’”
“I have lived a very similar life,” Duggan said. “But I’ve also been very excluded in my life. And I wanted them to understand what it means to be excluded and why inclusion is important.”
She also reminded players of the power that comes with their platform, not just as professional athletes but as members of the Leafs organization.
“It can be a dangerous place for members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Duggan said. “And so I said, don’t underestimate the power of — if you feel comfortable — standing up, being an ally and showing public, vocal allyship because not only can that change someone’s life, it can save someone’s life. That’s how powerful their platform is.”
The Leafs did not wear Pride warmup jerseys — they never have since the nights began in 2017 — but players did wear Pride decals on their helmets, which looked cool. The only holdout was Russian-born goalie Ilya Samsonov, who cited Russia’s punitive anti-gay laws.
As a bonus to make the Pride Night even more gay in Toronto, “a live drag show set to Canadian music icon Shania Twain’s song ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman!’ was shown on the Scotiabank Arena scoreboard before players hit the ice.”
In Winnipeg, the news was that unlike on some other teams, the players were united in wearing Pride warmup jerseys.
“We want to make sure our rink, our facility, is a welcoming place. Everyone can feel included,” said Jets center Adam Lowry. “Diversity and inclusion are certainly important. You want everyone, whether they are playing the game of hockey or a fan of the game of hockey, to feel comfortable being who they are, what they believe in, their sexual orientation. I think visibility matters. We’ve come to the decision we’re going to wear it. I think that’s a positive.”
Lowry’s sentiment was echoed by coach Rick Bowness, who said: “It’s very important, and I’m glad to hear that. Listen, we all love the game. It’s the greatest sport there is, and the more inclusive we can make it for everyone, get more kids playing, more people playing, more fans watching — the more inclusive we can make it, the better off. It’s a great opportunity to grow the game. Keep growing our game. That’s the most important thing.”