The NHL fails again with the ban of specialty jersey

09:00 AM EST
min - read
Ariel Melendez
09:00 AM EST
min - read

The NHL has failed again after banning specialty jerseys

Gary Bettman, as he often does, made headlines when he announced that the NHL will be taking specialty jerseys away from all teams.

In an interview with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Bettman discussed the board’s decision, calling the change in jerseys a “distraction” from what the nights are supposed to be about.

“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 our clubs, in some form or another, host nights in honor of various groups and causes,” Bettman said. “And we’d rather they continue to get the appropriate attention they deserve.”

It has only become a distraction because the league let it be that way.

And it began when former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov decided to skip warmups because he did not want to wear the team’s Pride jersey. It was the first year that the Flyers had designed a jersey for the night. Players typically wore Pride tape on their sticks to be auctioned off at a later date.

While the Flyers continued with the Pride tape, they also donned jerseys for the occasion as well.

All except for Provorov, who did not have a jersey or stick available for auction. And when speaking about it after the game, Provorov cited his religion as the reason why he declined to wear the jersey.

That led to numerous other players deciding to use their religion as a way to avoid wearing the jersey. Eric and Marc Staal did the same, as did James Reimer. Teams began nixing the jerseys all together including the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, and New York Rangers.

It became more about who wasn’t wearing the jersey rather than who was. And that was the problem.

So the NHL decided to simply get rid of the “problem” instead of finding ways to address it.

It isn’t just Pride jerseys that will now be eliminated because of this either. We will no longer see the typical specialty jerseys such as Hockey Fights Cancer and Military Appreciation.

It also takes away other specialty jerseys for Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage, Women’s History Month among others. Plenty of teams invited local artists to design these jerseys. The jerseys would be shared across social media and auctioned off for charity. Player-worn and autographed jerseys tend to go for more than just a standard speciality jersey.

Mio Linzie is just one of the artists who have collaborated with multiple NHL teams to design these jerseys. She has designed jerseys for teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights. Artists like Linzie helped design these jerseys in order to give different communities visibility. That’s now being taken away.

“It doesn't only affect the LGBTQ+ community but it also affects other marginalized communities, as the warmup jerseys is a primary part of community outreach and charity within the NHL,” Linzie told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.
“It's also been a space for artists to express themselves and be able to create unique work under the NHL -- and that venue has now partly been taken away."

These teams can still have a night dedicated to certain causes and can highlight members of the community. And that has been done before and done well. What made it even more special has now been banned by the NHL.

A team like the Vancouver Canucks wore eight different warmup jerseys this season to recognize cultural events such as First Nations Night, Lunar New Year and Diwali.

The NHL catered to a select group of players and fans in order to eliminate the “distractions” that it was causing. In getting rid of these jerseys, the league continues to show that it isn't any closer to making everyone feel welcome.

In fact, it is doing the exact opposite.

It is validating the thoughts of people who feel that they are not welcome in hockey. Wearing a jersey for 15 minutes is not a distraction to anyone. It shows fans of all genders and sexualities that players care and want to include them.

Bettman admitted in the same interview that the concerns about people not feeling welcome were valid. In the same breath, he continued to talk about the jerseys as a distraction.

“In the final analysis, all of the efforts and emphasis on the importance of these various causes have been undermined by the distraction in terms of which team, which players.” Bettman said. “This way, we're keeping the focus on the game, and on these specialty nights, we're going to be focused on the cause."

In essence, Bettman alluded to the fact that things having to do with Pride were a distraction to the league and were therefore dealt with. He didn’t have to say those exact words for everyone to take away the underlying message he was giving. It won’t matter that none of the above jerseys will be worn. It’s because of the few who responded to the Pride jerseys that this became a topic to begin with.

It undermines the good work that so many players and teams have done around the league to make everyone feel welcome.

It undermines what someone like Scott Laughton has done with the “Flyers Pride Initiative”. It undermines the core values of the Alphabet Sports Collective, an organization where numerous NHL players are ambassadors with.

It undermines any player or person around the game who is thinking about coming out but is now even more afraid to do so because of the apparent consequences.

David Palumbo, board chair of You Can Play, spoke out about his disappointment in the NHL’s decision and how there is still plenty of work to do. The YCP campaign has long been involved with the NHL to help promote inclusion in the sport.

“What is very disappointing is that over 95 per cent of the NHL players who proudly wore (Pride jerseys) to show support and their values to the community will not get an opportunity to do so again,” Palumbo told The Province’s Patrick Johnston. “Of course Pride should be 365 and we will continue to work toward that with everyone involved,”

The actions of a few players ended with massive consequences for fans and the league itself.

In trying to take away the “distractions” of specialty jerseys, the NHL instead dug itself an even deeper hole in regard to growing the game they say they love.

The message is loud and clear to everyone.

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