This has been the year when Pride Nights in sports became controversial seemingly overnight, with NHL players refusing to wear Pride jerseys and the Los Angeles Dodgers becoming embroiled in controversy after disinviting an honored LGBTQ charity group before reversing themselves.
This has led to a notion brewing that for some sports teams, Pride Nights have become performative, simply a way to sell tickets without a real commitment to their LGBTQ fans. Which is why an email from Kieran “KiKi” Flaherty, a member of the San Francisco Earthquakes LGBTQ ice hockey club was most welcome and clarifying.
Flaherty’s overall point — which he states with eloquence — is that the NHL San Jose Sharks walk the walk when it comes to their LGBTQ outreach. Here is Flaherty’s email, shared with his permission:
Many professional sports clubs, including several NHL teams, failed to support their LGBTQ communities and fans by covering for their players, among other transgressions, as exemplified by the Flyers, Rangers and Islanders, and other teams. I agree with the assessment that caving under attack renders a Pride Night meaningless.
In the spirit that a team can and should prove their support is not just for show, and that pressure to abandon support for Pride in the face of criticism can be much-better handled, I would like to describe the positive experience that I and my teammates on the San Francisco Earthquakes LGBTQ Ice Hockey Club (S.F. Quakes) had with the San Jose Sharks team and organization during this year’s Pride festivities.
You will recall that one member of the team announced soon before the Pride Night game on Saturday, March 18, that he would refuse to wear the Pride-themed jersey in warm-ups.
Although that was very disappointing to me and my teammates, the Sharks organization and the team captain expressed support for Pride Night to our team and the broader fan base. All the players in warm-ups still wore the Pride-themed jerseys, albeit the dissenting goaltender did not skate in warm-ups or play in the game.
I do not have insight into how or why the decision for the goalie not to warm up or play came to pass, but I do know that we as LGBTQ hockey players believed the Sharks’ support for us as LGBTQ fans and players that night was sincere. Our relationship with the Sharks dates back nearly a decade; we have been pleased to have them host us in a suite for the Pride Night games every year, as well as host us for other Pride events. But this year’s efforts were additional and more meaningful.
Several days before Pride night and weeks in the making — the San Jose Sharks hosted the S.F. Quakes to play in a scrimmage at the Shark Tank versus members of the Sharks front office on March 18.
Not only did head coach Dave Quinn surprise the Quakes by appearing for a photo and give the Quakes a signed Pride jersey, but he spent more than an hour with us, coaching the scrimmage and getting to know everyone on the team. His spouse and their dogs even joined the friends and family of the Quakes in the stands that night. The Sharks also arranged for a television interview of a Quake between periods of the Pride Night game.
But most importantly, the Sharks chose to forego utilizing its social media channels during the game to communicate the typical goals and other notable plays. They chose instead to provide educational information and resources in support of LGBTQ athletes. When trolls and anti-LGBTQ individuals objected, the Sharks’ attitude could be best described as a polite, “Go Fact Yourself,” as they doubled down in their communication to stand with the truth about LGBTQ athletes.
From my perspective and members of the S.F. Quakes, this reflects sincere values of equity and inclusion in the Sharks organization and will help the SF Quakes to foster a safe, inclusive and fun hockey environment.
If you get a chance, take a look at the video the Sharks produced to help the S.F. Quakes with recruitment of new LGBTQ players and to spread the word that hockey is for everyone. As youth, many of us chose to leave or never start playing hockey because we believed — and often had experiences validating this belief — that sports were unwelcoming and even hostile or dangerous for LGBTQ individuals.
As adults, now we can appreciate a far better hockey environment for most of us. Importantly, the Sharks have acknowledged that more can be done, including by them, to be even better allies of our community and our team. This, we believe, is substantive progress.
This is how sports teams should do Pride, and Flaherty’s experiences attest that San Jose handled their event with class and respect.