Hockey is Not for Everyone

Pro Players
min - read
Ariel Melendez
Pro Players
min - read
If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
The NHL has a long way to go in making the sport more welcoming for all of their fans.
Once one player opted out, the door was wide open for teams and players alike to make the decision without consequences.
Despite the players and teams who have gone above and beyond to make all fans feel welcome, the league has instead given support to any team or player that elects to do the exact opposite.

Hockey is Not for Everyone

Search the NHL and Pride and you’ll find an entire site on the league’s website dedicated to this initiative. There are stories, videos, and resources. Even with the league dedicating a page to “Hockey is for Everyone” as they call it, the statement could not be further from the truth. Need proof? There has been plenty of that this season.

Let’s start with the Philadelphia Flyers. This was the first season that the team was going to wear pride jerseys on the ice. Typically, players used rainbow tape on their sticks and they were auctioned off after the game. Not as noticeable when some players choose not to do it. But when a player is absent from warmups on the night that the team decides to wear the jerseys, it becomes more noticeable.

That is what happened when Ivan Provorov was missing from the Flyers’ warmups on January 17. Provorov then played almost 23 minutes that night, sparking debate on exactly why he did not participate in warmups. It was reported and later confirmed that Provorov decided not to take part due to his religious beliefs.  

“Yeah, I respect everybody and I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say,”

Provorov said after the game, electing to not speak further on the matter.

John Tortorella, who was also asked about the matter, stood with Provorov about the decision he made.

“With Provy, he is being true to himself and true to his religion. This has to do with his belief in his religion. It is one thing that I respect about Provy. He is always true to himself. That is where we are at with that.”

This sparked plenty of debate. With Provorov electing to not participate, it opened the door for other players and teams to make the same decision, which has already been seen on multiple occasions.

Ivan Provorov
Ivan Provorov speaking to the media during the Flyers end of season press conferences last year.

Provorov’s Decision Leads to Players & Teams Pulling Back on Pride Night Initiatives

The New York Rangers planned to wear pride-themed warmup jerseys before their game on January 27, a little over a week after the Flyers. When the night came, however, those jerseys were notably absent. When questioned, the Rangers elected to not give a reason as to why they abandoned the jerseys and pride tape.

To make matters worse, NYC Pride was one of the sponsors that night. They were not made aware that the team would be forgoing the jerseys. However, the team did continue on with a pride-themed fanny pack giveaway, a ceremonial puck drop, and even a charitable donation was made to the Ali Forney Center. So why was all of that acceptable, but the jerseys were not?

Similar to the Flyers, the Rangers only spoke about their support for the LGBTQ+ community. They finished by saying they respect everyone’s right to respectfully express their beliefs. While the public may never know which player or players did not want to take part, we do know that Provorov’s decision opened the door for other players and teams, like the Rangers, to pull back.

A little over a month later, the Minnesota Wild held their annual Pride Night. They were also expected to wear Pride jerseys during warmups to be auctioned off after the event. Minnesota, however, also made the decision to not wear the jerseys, a decision announced not long before the game. Similar to the Flyers and Rangers, the Wild essentially said nothing.

Like the Rangers, the Wild still had other events planned for the night. Jack Jablonski, a former hockey star in Minnesota before an accident paralyzed him at 16, was in attendance and sported the Wild’s 2023 Pride jersey. Jablonski, now working with the Los Angeles Kings, came out as gay in September of last year, bringing to question how he felt about the Wild and their decision to not wear the same jerseys at the last minute.

James Reimer became the next player to decline to wear the Pride jerseys during the San Jose Sharks Pride Night on March 18. As Provorov did, Reimer cited his religious beliefs for not taking part. But ended his statement with the following:

“I strongly believe that every person has value and worth, and the LGBTQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey.”

Not sure anyone believes you about that Reimer.

The list could keep going on and on as Panthers Eric and Marc Staal also opted out of wearing Pride Night jerseys. The Chicago Blackhawks made the decision to not wear them at all, citing concerns for their Russian players. This certainly won’t be the last we hear of such things as the door is now wide open for these decisions to be made.

James Reimer
Reimer with the San Jose Sharks in 2016. Photo from wikipedia.

The NHL Has Plenty of Room to Grow

Going back to the NHL’s Pride website, it is clear that no matter how many stories or resources the league shares, hockey is not for everyone. If a player cannot wear a jersey for 15 minutes of their time, they are doing a lot more than “sharing their beliefs.” They are sharing that you are not welcome and they do not believe that you should be who you are.

Madison Packer, captain of the PHF’s Metropolitan Riveters, spoke about the importance of wearing Pride jerseys after the Riveters’ Pride night. She said it best in regard to what happens when they make the decision to not wear the jersey

“It’s really important that we do this. It’s important that, in my opinion, that all sports leagues and sports teams do it. We have an obligation as athletes to use our platform for positivity and for good. And there are a lot of kids that are sitting at home right now, questioning who they are as people. And when we push back and we don’t put a jersey on because it means something to us personally, we do damage to those kids.“

The league and the players themselves can say that they respect everyone’s beliefs or that everyone is free to be who they are, but it is clear that those are just empty words. There are teams out there that are more than welcoming to this community. The focus should be on them and what they are doing to help keep the conversation going.

The Colorado Avalanche have spoken about educating fans on the importance of pronouns and identities. Teams like the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Seattle Kraken, and San Jose Sharks had artists design their warmup jerseys specifically for Pride Night. The Sharks went as far as dedicating their game coverage to educating everyone and the issues that are more important than a hockey game. We aren’t talking about this, however.

Instead, the NHL has supported the acts of its teams in refusing to participate in pride events, essentially stating that all organizations can make their own decisions. No statement purporting inclusion can make up for what has transpired over the last few months. It goes back to one simple phrase: Hockey is Not for Everyone.

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