Ever since the Chicago Blackhawks won the first pick in this year’s NHL Draft, and the opportunity to acquire hockey wunderkind Connor Bedard, they have been the top sports story in Chicago.
In the wake of their good fortune, the Hawks sold $2.5 million in season tickets. A scoreboard message carrying the news inspired fans to break out in a spontaneous rendition of the Blackhawks goal anthem “Chelsea Dagger” — at Wrigley Field.
Once again, the Hawks are rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the NHL’s second division and Chicago is abuzz.
I have been going to Hawks games since I was in grade school and enthusiastically celebrated their three Stanley Cups during the 2010s. Ordinarily, I’d be eager to join in the celebrations.
Except after what we’ve learned about their organizational culture over the past couple of years, as a gay sports fan, I can’t trust that the Hawks care at all about me or my LGBTQ community. And it’s hard to suspend my disbelief and lose myself in team pride when I can’t get over the homophobia they’ve indulged.
This past March, as several players and a few entire teams began refusing to wear Pride jerseys, it briefly appeared that we could count on the Hawks to be on our side.
Defenseman Connor Murphy spoke for the team and said all the right things, calling the Pride opt-outs “disappointing” and proclaiming, “I don’t see why anyone would have a need to feel like they don’t support a certain group. If it’s about the game and about bringing everyone together and about equality, everyone should always be supportive of that.”
There wasn’t a lot to cheer about on the 2022-23 Blackhawks but that felt like a rare moment to stand and applaud.
But then when their Pride Night came around at the end of the month, it was almost like Hawks management said, “We’ve been tanking on the ice all season…why not do it with our integrity too?”
Like the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers before them, the Hawks took the coward’s way out and announced the entire team would ditch their Pride jerseys, offering Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws and their effects on the team’s Russian players as a bizarre excuse.
I know that when I attend a Pride celebration, nothing makes me feel welcome like my team recoiling in terror from an anti-gay dictator half a world away.
Of course, those fears turned out to be disproven because no sane person actually says, “Ordinarily, I’d be OK with wearing a Blackhawks rainbow logo cap but first let me text Recep Erdogan…”
When it felt like the NHL was being overtaken by a wave of homophobic momentum, the Blackhawks could’ve made a statement for our community and stood behind Murphy’s words. Instead, they chose to back down and told LGBTQ fans that welcoming our community was not a priority.
You’d think the Hawks would put more of an effort into showing LGBTQ fans that they stand behind us. Especially after the revelations that came to light regarding Kyle Beach’s sexual assault that their 2010 Stanley Cup run included players taunting Beach with anti-gay slurs and asking if he missed “his boyfriend.”
In that instance, the players’ homophobia was only one of countless repugnant and disturbing details of the most horrific episode in team history. It will be a stain on the Blackhawks’ reputation for many years to come and one new top draft pick isn’t going to change that.
There have been times where the Blackhawks did put in an effort to connect with the LGBTQ community, most notably as the first team to bring the Stanley Cup to its home city’s Pride parade. However, that was the same 2010 team that, behind closed doors, was dropping slurs on Beach, tainting that moment of good will.
Still, many Blackhawks fans are finding ways to get excited about the imminent arrival of Bedard. After their Stanley Cup run, the team has all but disappeared from the sports radar once again and many fans view this moment as an opportunity for the Hawks to reassert themselves.
After what we’ve learned about what this organization thinks of the LGBTQ community, I’m not able to join them. Once the Hawks have made it clear that I’m not worthy of consideration because of who I am, that’s hard to come back from.
Even when they’re on the cusp of what feels like a franchise-changing moment, I can’t feel feelings that aren’t there.