Why The NHL Needs Pride Nights

Pro players
min - read
Andrew Willis
Pro players
min - read
If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
NHL LGBTQ+ pride events have been around since 2013
Current political discourse has inflamed opinions regarding pride
The NHL should double down on Hockey Is For Everyone initiatives

Nothing New

For better or for worse, sports are often a microcosm of society.

Reflective of the world we inhabit, political and socioeconomic issues find their threads interwoven into the fabric of competition.

Those threads are there when a quarterback decides to peacefully protest police brutality during the national anthem at a professional football game. They’re present when players across multiple leagues declare they will not play, but instead stand in solidarity to bring attention to racial injustice.

There’s also those insidious threads, the ones that meander and twist themselves through the narrative of sport in the same way they tie up society at large and slow down progress - like when players refuse to take part in a few brief moments of inclusion for one night of the hockey season.

Since 2013, pride night initiatives have been part of the NHL’s framework.

The Florida Panthers were the first team to host an LGBTQIA+ night, years before the league would partner with the You Can Play project to name Hockey Is For Everyone ambassadors for each team.

For a decade these pride nights - unregulated by the league – were held without incident. No players sat out warm-ups or refused to wear pride themed warm-up sweaters.In recent years, the support for the LGBTQIA+ aspect of the Hockey Is For Everyone initiative was ramped up.

Players began rocking rainbow pride tape on their sticks in addition to the pride themed jerseys, and the league had no qualms in pumping out rainbow-adorned merchandise. Well–received by the fans and hockey community at large, pride night games fast became can’t miss events on a team’s schedule.

Then Ivan Provorov happened.

Ivan Provorov was the first player to refuse to wear the pride night jersey. A lot of players followed him after, citing multiple reasons.

Tempurture Change

In January, the Philadelphia Flyers defender cited religious reasons for refusing to wear the Flyers’ LGBTQIA+ pride night jersey.

Provorov is Russian, and of the Russian Orthodox faith.

Once that door was opened however, a handful of players followed suit. Goaltender James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks and Panthers duo Eric and Marc Staal refused to don pride night jerseys, citing religion as well.

Russian defender Ilya Lyubushkin declined to participate in the Buffalo Sabres’ pride night warm-ups, claiming fear of legal impact due to Russia’s extreme anti-LGBT propaganda laws. Fellow Russians Andrei Kuzmenko and Denis Gurianov also refused to participate in their respective teams’ pride night events, withholding due to family reasons.

Three teams decided to forego wearing the LGBTQ+ themed jerseys altogether – the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, and New York Rangers.

When deciding to scrap the pride night sweaters, the Blackhawks stated that they were concerned with the potential impact of Russian law on Russian players, echoing a similar sentiment to that of Ilya Lyubushkin. Decisions made around personal safety and the safety of family members should always occur in good faith, and are absolutely decisions that have to be weighed with a wide lens. However, no reason was given for the Wild and Rangers organizations decision to nix the warm-up jersey from pre-game ceremonies.

So why the pushback now?

What is so different from past seasons? In 2023, 500+ bills targeting the LGBTQ community were pushed through legislative sessions around the country. Most of these bills disproportionately impact the transgender community.

In states like Florida, policies enacted rival the draconian laws drafted in countries like Russia, with bills like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill threatening schoolteachers with legal action if discussion of LGBTQ topics occur in the classroom.

In the months leading up to an American election cycle, LGBTQ rights have once again been thrust into the country’s cultural and political square. Although these bills are nothing new, the thread that weaves through culture war politics has begun to weave itself through sports culture, as well.

That much is plaintively evident when players who abstain due to religious reasons have previously worn pride jerseys with no objections.

The Florida Panthers were the first NHL team to host a pride theme night, back in 2013.

The NHL’s response to all of the controversy?

Put an end to theme nights entirely.

For a league that may have a rocky track record, but still is leaps and bounds ahead of others when it comes to inclusion, the move seemed drastic. Only seven players objected to pride night, but because of the microscopic lens of culture war perspectives, fundraising efforts like Hockey Fights Cancer and military appreciation nights were also cut.

Again, league-wide inclusion initiatives beyond LGBTQ pride events were canceled because of seven players.


If theme nights are not league-mandated, then give players an opt-out option. Fans are wise enough to decide how much support they would like to give to a team or player who refrains from participating.

This bow to the minority concept is exactly why the NHL needs pride nights, and why the league should be doubling down on the real meaning behind the phrase “hockey is for everyone.”

The NHL had a chance to make a statement and not back away from something it has touted as a core value: equality in sport. With the LGBTQ+ community under attack across the globe, standing up for that core value would have been better reflected by the league doubling down on its support of pride events.

Instead of bending to the will of a few, the league should have had the courage to stand with the will of many.

By doubling down, the league’s stance would have been more clear: hockey is for everyone and we will continue to support that sentiment.

Instead, the message gets lost and distorted among the threads that act as cultural snares and hinder productive change. These tangled threads are exactly why the NHL needs pride nights, now more than ever.

If hockey is only a sport for those whose identities aren’t considered controversial, who is it really for, anyway?

Pro Players