By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc, CSCS, SDL (He/Him)

10 years ago, several prominent NHL players teamed up with You Can Play, an organization built around fighting LGBTQ+ discrimination in sports. You Can Play was founded by three guys, one of whom worked for an NHL team. The NHL players appeared in You Can Play’s first video “The Face Off” that highlighted sport as a place where everybody deserves the opportunity to participate free from hatred and discrimination.

Since then, You Can Play grew and prospered as more and more professional athletes and teams from the NHL and other professional sports organizations all over the world, joined in the campaign to promote diversity and inclusion in sports. During this era, LGBTQ+ rights and equality in the US and other parts of the western world made many advances, with the legalization of marriage equality, and other achievements. The LGBTQ+ sports community has also been growing significantly as a result, with a whole new generation of LGBTQ+ youth coming of age to find sport to be more accessible as ever, thanks to the campaigns and partnerships created by You Can Play, Compete Sports Diversity, and many others that have worked tireless in promoting and educating about diversity, equity, and inclusion in sport.

As a result, major professional sports organizations, and national governing bodies, including the NFL, MLB, MLS, NCAA, and others have made significant contributions and actions, outside of traditional “pride” celebrations, to invest and represent in LGBTQ+ sports DEI. With all of this being led by the NHL, until it wasn’t.

 

 

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Over the last few years, there has been pushback against the progress made on LGBTQ+ rights and equality. Anti-LGBTQ+ people have been more proactive in spreading fear, hatred, and misinformation while actively campaigning against organizations and groups that support the LGBTQ+ community. While this pushback is not without precedence, it has put the spotlight on those organizations who are truly committed to standing with the LGBTQ+ community and those who were just in it for the money, better knowing as Rainbow Washing.

Rainbow Washing most commonly occurs during June when corporations change their logos to rainbow “pride” variations to market themselves and sell merchandise to the LGBTQ+ community under the guise of diversity, equality, and inclusion. Then by July 1st, they are right back to normal. The issue being is that other than showing the rainbows, these companies are not actively supporting LGBTQ+ causes, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, or taking any actions outside of Pride month to support the LGBTQ+ community. Thus, appearing supportive on the surface, but with nothing happening underneath.

When some of these anti-LGBTQ+ groups started protesting against the Pride Month displays, the companies guilty of rainbow washing were quick to erase all trace of rainbows and LGBTQ+ support from their websites and social media. They were happy to support the community when it was “acceptable” but ran away at the first sign of trouble, leaving the LGBTQ+ community to stand on its own. Now, not every company is guilty of this, those who stuck around and stood their ground to support the LGBTQ+ community in the face of trouble, that represents true allyship.

 

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For the NHL, they were riding the Pride train for a few years and doing a good job showing allyship and support. With Pride Nights awash in rainbows, players wearing rainbow jerseys and using Pride Tape on their hockey sticks, to the NHL hosting panel discussions, workshops, and other events to educate on diversity, equity, and inclusion. But, within the last few years, their efforts began to fall apart. The issue, starting with something overall minor, being fumbled, and mishandled by the NHL that has now escalated to its complete abandonment of all the support and goodwill the NHL built up with the LGBTQ+ community.

 

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When it comes to representing what it means to be a proper ally. It’s not about wearing rainbows, it’s about building a culture that embodies the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion the organization claims to support. Currently, there are no openly LGBTQ+ NHL players, and despite 10 years of “Hockey is for Everyone”, there appears to have been little to no effort within the NHL itself to embody what that means.

Rather than taking the opportunity to apply the education and knowledge of diversity, equity, and inclusion, at their fingertips to build such a culture, the NHL chose to turn its back on the LGBTQ+ at the first sign of challenge. Highlighting once again that it’s nothing more than rainbow washing on ice.