Let's talk about Gary Bettman's "distraction"

Gary Bettman has overseen a complete reversal in how the NHL is viewed on LGBTQ issues, and it's not good. - Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

I hope Gary Bettman doesn’t think he’s fooling anyone.

I mean, he’s a smart guy, probably too bright to believe he’s pulling the wool over our eyes with his ban on all specialty warmup jerseys for National Hockey League theme nights. But on the off-chance that he figures he’s bamboozled the rabble, I’d suggest that most of us in the LGBT(etc.) community know what’s really going on here.

It is an anti-gay gambit, an astonishing example of blatant bigotry.

It has nothing to do with the military. It has nothing to do with Blacks or Indigenous peoples. It has nothing to do with battling cancer. It has nothing to do with St. Paddy’s Day. It has nothing to do with any of the NHL’s other theme events.

It has everything to do with the Rainbow. Pride. The LGBT(etc.) community.

It has everything to do with kowtowing to a minority of seven, that being the number of front-line employees who, during the just-concluded NHL crusade, refused to support a marginalized collective under increasing and systemic attack. That’s seven out of 700-plus on-ice personnel.

A "distraction" is how NHL commissioner Bettman described the now-abolished practice of players wrapping themselves in one of the unique, also quite creative, theme-night uni tops.

Funny thing about that, though: None of it was a "distraction" until people noticed Ivan Provorov of the Philly Flyers hiding behind his Bible one night in January.

Rather than slip on a Pride jersey and join his playmates in pregame exercises, the Russian Orthodox rearguard remained in the changing room, no doubt biding time by thumbing through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in search of confirmation that Jesus Christ really did feed 5,000 followers with five loaves of bread and two fish. (And, of course, they all washed it down with the water that he’d turned into wine.)

As it turned out, Provorov was playing Pied Piper to another six players, some of whom also leaned on scripture as a way out of participating in Pride Night. Others cited dire consequences, like a lifetime in the gulag for themselves and/or their families back home in Russia if war-mongering, anti-gay Czar Vlad Putin caught wind of them wearing anything resembling a rainbow.

But Commish Gary, acknowledging the Rainbow Resistance Movement, has now spared the anti-gay constituency any additional discomfort and exhaustive Bible thumping.

"I’ve suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it’s become a distraction and taking away from the fact that all of our clubs in some form or another host nights in honour of various groups or causes, and we’d rather them continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction," Bettman said in a natter with Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

"In the final analysis, all of the emphasis and efforts on the importance of these various causes have been undermined by the distraction of which teams, which players (chose not to wear the jerseys), this way we’re keeping the focus on the game and on these specialty nights we’re going to be focused on the cause."

So to hell with them all. Everyone shall pay for the sins of the seven.

But remind me. Where have we heard that dirty word "distraction" before, as it relates to gays in major men’s sports?

Oh, I remember now. It was NBC squawk box and hall-of-fame coach Tony Dungy, known far and wide for his anti-gay rhetoric and campaigning to deny gays basic human rights. You know, like marriage. Dungy suggested that the very existence of an openly gay football player, Michael Sam, would become a "distraction" for the St. Louis Rams.

"I wouldn’t have (drafted Sam)," Dungy told The Tampa Tribune in 2014. "Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth…things will happen."

Ya, "things" like those pesky news snoops wanting to turn the National Football League's first openly gay guy into a sideshow. They wanted to talk to him. To probe. At least one insisted on discussing shower arrangements in the Rams changing room. Hell, even Oprah wanted in on the act (not the showering but the sideshow).

Well, of course Sam was bound to be a "distraction." And, what, Aaron Rodgers with his wackadoo notions about hallucinogenic drugs and spending a weekend in complete isolation and darkness isn’t? The New York Jets QB is a one-man three-ring circus. Let me know the next time Rodgers goes a week without doing something off-the-wall and I’ll alert the media. Film at 11.

I can think of another athlete who was a "distraction." That’s right. Jackie Robinson, a Black man in a purely white man’s world.

Jackie was such a "distraction" from 1947 to ’56 that the Brooklyn Dodgers only won the National League pennant six times and the World Series once. His six all-star selections and rookie-of-the-year/MVP awards were also quite a "distraction." Hell, Robinson is still a "distraction." Every player, coach and manager in Major League Baseball is required to wear his uniform No. 42 every April 15.

Black guys in baseball stopped being a "distraction" about the same time the Dodgers won the ’55 World Series, and gay guys on the gridiron stopped being a "distraction" the moment Carl Nassib proved he could strip sack a QB, just like the straight guys.

But I digress.

We were discussing Gary Bettman and his rainbow ban.

Commish Gary didn’t want Pride jerseys to be a "distraction," so what does he do? He makes it a "distraction" by shutting down 700-plus players who want to support the LGBT(etc.) community. It's an ass-backwards directive, also poorly timed given that this is Pride Month, and it totally debunks the NHL’s Trademark Big Lie of "Hockey is for Everyone."

For his next trick, Commish Gary will reinstate the disgraced Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman, both of whom looked the other way when one of their players, Kyle Beach, was sexually assaulted by a Chicago Blackhawks male coach. He’ll explain the resurrection of their NHL careers in lawyer-speak, and he won’t even bother holding his nose to ward off the stench.

But that’s the NHL way: Out with the rainbow, in with the rot.