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Controversy surrounding NHL’s You Can Play

(Photo courtesy of “Flyers players skate with pride sticks during pre-game warmups and the game.”

Sarah Mahannah
Connector Editor

The National Hockey League has been under fire recently for incidents regarding players’ and teams’ decisions to not partake in Pride Night. In 2017, the NHL launched a campaign called “Hockey is For Everyone,” which is supposed to help diversify the hockey community and show support for players and fans of different sexual orientations, ethnicities and genders. The NHL has also been part of the You Can Play Project since 2013. All 31 teams host a pride night every season to promote the programs.

This year, the League is in turbulent waters after Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provrov refused to partake in pregame warmups for the Flyers’ January 17th game against the Vancouver Canucks because of his religious beliefs, which according to him did not align with wearing pride-themed jerseys.

Much of the community is upset about Provrov’s decisions as well as how the NHL dealt with this incident. The NHL and the Flyers’ coach had similar statements on the issue, stating that “players are free to decide which initiatives to support and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.” Anger arose from within the community because many believe that the NHL cannot be inclusive but then go behind the backs of their fans and players by supporting those who are against the inclusivity the NHL preaches about.

The League dug an even deeper hole after the New York Rangers decided to not wear their pride-themed jerseys last minute, choosing instead to wear their “Liberty Head’’ attire for their pride night. The disaster of the Ranger’s pride night brought this incident to the attention of many. NYC Pride, a known critic of the Rangers’ steps towards inclusivity, stated that they would like to talk to the team about how they can improve their allyship.

The feelings of many fans can be well stated by “The Athletic” writer Steve Buckley: “By not wearing those Pride sweaters during warmups — warmups! — the Rangers are saying, in so many words, that you’re not 100 percent welcome in their dressing room if you happen to be a queer hockey player. Or to get closer to the truth, not 100 percent of the players want you there.” Buckley’s point resonates with many and brings up a very real problem that current and future NHL players face.

As of now, the NHL has zero openly LGBTQ+ players under contract. 2021 was the first time the NHL had an openly gay player under contract. Obviously, the player did not last long in the NHL, as defenseman Luke Prokop is now playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WCHL. 

The National Hockey League is not the first or probably the last major organization to participate in performative activism. However, based on these incidents, there appears to be a significant gap between what the NHL says it supports and what it actually does to show support.

When the NHL supports players like Provrov and backs up decisions like what the Rangers did, it is understandable how players who are in the LGBTQ+ community can feel that they will not be truly supported by their teams. The NHL is known for sweeping incidents under the rug; maybe it is time to reanalyze its strategies.

In reality, giving into non-inclusive actions does not do much for the NHL except appease the few that do not have the same values as the NHL. This is poor PR for the NHL, and it will be interesting to see how the league will deal with incidents that happen in the future. Hopefully, they will do better.

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