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

Following up with our original article on the NHL’s growing perception-action Pride Night problem, the main issue being that the NHL throwing Pride Nights to tap in the almighty pink dollar but are facing increasing resistance and pushback from teams and players in participating in said pride nights. This resistance comes from athletes and teams refusing to wear pride jerseys, rainbow stick tape, to as far as refusing to take to the ice. All the while, the NHL continues to push the pride nights with blanket corporate statements about inclusion and diversity in hockey, but it is clear that the team culture within the organization itself doesn’t subscribe to those values themselves.

And the problem is only getting worse.

  • The Minnesota Wild refused to wear Pride jerseys during their Pride Night game and an auction advertised to auction said jerseys for charity was quietly deleted. Their justification being Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ law and that some of their players are Russian.
  • The Staal brothers who play for the Florida Panthers refused to wear the pride jerseys, citing their religious beliefs as justification.
  • San Jose Sharks’ goalie announces he won’t participate in warm ups with pride jersey, citing religious beliefs as well.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks, as a team, refuse to wear Pride theme jerseys, citing Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law as justification.
  • Luke Prokop, the NHL’s only openly gay player speaks out and shares disappointment in “what feels like a step back for inclusion in the NHL.” He also criticizes how Pride Nights are becoming focused on the players who protest and refuse to wear jerseys rather than what “pride” is supposed to represent.

More than a few speculate that the increased refusal is due to the presence of Russian players and allowing Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws and homophobic mindset infiltrate the NHL. While more than a few Russian NHL players have worn the pride night jerseys without a second thought, both the Wild and the Blackhawks as organizations citing Russian Anti-LGBTQ+ law specifically raises a huge red flag and knocks a severe blow to the NHL’s “Hockey for Everyone” initiative. In addition, the players continued use of religious conviction as a thinly veiled justification for their homophobic beliefs also highlight that the NHL as a whole is not embodying the values that “Pride Night” is supposed to represent toward building diversity and inclusion, league wide. This is further supported by Prokop’s own statements that the NHL is stepping backward in terms of inclusion and diversity.

As pessimistic as that all sounds, not all hope is lost, however. As much as some NHL teams and athletes point the finger at Russia and their religion to justify their homophobia, others are standing up to it on their own accord to show that not everybody in the NHL is so discriminatory.

The L.A. Kings, Dallas Stars, and Seattle Kraken all hosted pride nights, full of rainbow jerseys, pride tape and without all the drama. With fans such as Dallas Hockey specifically pointing out that all players wore the jerseys without incident. The same can be said for the LA Kings and the Seattle Kraken, all three who were lauded for keeping the focus of the night on the message “Pride Night” was intended to send.

The biggest news to come out of all this drama comes from Prokop’s own team, the Seattle Thunderbirds. While not a major league NHL team, the Thunderbirds are the NHL equivalent to a minor league team, playing for the Western Hockey League (WHL). Prokop is the first openly gay player with an NHL contract under the Nashville Predators but primarily plays for the Thunderbirds, who hadn’t planned on holding their own official Pride Night this season. However, that didn’t stop Thunderbird’s fans or the players on the team themselves from staging their own unofficial Pride Night.

In a recent match on March 21st, Thunderbirds fans came into the arena blanketed in rainbow gear to celebrate and show support for Prokop and LGBTQ+ pride in hockey. Prokop’s teammates then followed suit, entering the arena wearing rainbow socks and putting rainbow pride tape on their sticks during the warm ups, several of whom kept the tape on throughout the game. While the night’s promotion was originally a 2 for Tuesday, the Thunderbirds management themselves got into the spirit and replaced the original promotion with rainbow graphics on the arena’s jumbotron and displays.

The flash mob Pride Night was organized by Rebecca Bower with promotion help from the Seattle Hockey Pride Association, a local LGBTQ+ hockey club in Seattle and it was fantastic to see the Thunderbirds themselves embrace the spirit event and make a clear statement. Most of the Thunderbirds players themselves being teenagers, showed more courage, conviction and respect for diversity and inclusion in hockey than almost the rest of the NHL itself. Let’s hope the National Hockey League is paying attention, because they have got a lot to learn.

Photo Credit: @RealmofHelm via Twitter