NHL’s Bruised Pride Extends to Fifth and Sixth Teams: Blues, Leafs Ditch Jerseys
There’s only a week and a half left in the NHL’s regular season, and no one is happier about it than the league’s PR machine. The headaches continue at hockey headquarters, where two more teams — the St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs — both dropped the hammer on player Pride jerseys ahead of Tuesday’s games. The addition of the Leafs is especially significant, since not only are they the first Canadian team to break with the mob, but Toronto also happens to be home to the league’s War Room and Hockey Hall of Fame. If pulling the plug in the sport’s capital doesn’t make a statement, I don’t know what will.
Like a lot of teams, the Leafs have held similar nights for years. But together with the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, and Blues, 2023 felt different. Thanks to Philadelphia Flyers’ defenseman Ivan Provorov, who ignited this pushback in mid-January with his heroic stand, players finally felt free to say no.
And they’ve been saying no across the league — individually, like Sharks’ goalie James Reimer and the Panthers’ Marc and Eric Staal, and collectively. In the last week alone, two more players refused to join the rainbow parade, the Buffalo Sabres’ Ilya Lyubushkin and Vancouver Canucks’ Andrei Kuzmenko, who called it “a family decision.” Now, the dam has truly broken, as half of the Original Six teams join a rebellion that conservatives pray spills over into other sports.
Blues president and CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman explained the decision by saying the team “believe[s] in creating a welcoming and inclusive environment that encourages all fans to participate in our great sport,” including, for the first time, people who don’t want to endorse a radical LGBT orthodoxy.
It’s certainly created the perfect storm for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who’s conceded that the no-Pride tide is a major distraction the league will have to address in the offseason. “This is one issue where players for a variety of reasons may not feel comfortable wearing the uniform as a form of endorsement,” he admitted. “… [T]he substance of what our teams and what we have been doing and stand for is really being pushed to the side for what is a handful of players [who] basically have made personal decisions, and you have to respect that as well.”
Interestingly enough, the NHL’s own front office has dismissed the idea that teams are abandoning Pride gear to protect their Russian players — which was the creative rationale used by the Blackhawks to make their decision more palatable. Chicago’s management tried to lean into a false narrative that Vladamir Putin would personally punish his country’s superstars if they promoted or normalized LGBT behavior.
But Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly quashed that theory in late March, telling The Athletic, “We take all risks seriously, and this one is no different. Having said that,” he went on, “we have no information that would suggest there is any material threat that would exist (in Russia or otherwise) related to a Russian player participating in a club’s Pride activities.”
In other words, this isn’t a movement driven by political fear but personal conviction — which, frankly, is far more dangerous to the league’s woke agenda than anything else.
“Momentum is clearly on the side of free speech in hockey,” Family Research Council’s Joseph Backholm told The Washington Stand, “and hopefully hockey will be the vehicle through which Canada once again becomes a free country. The Canadian government has become too comfortable erasing civil rights in the name of equality, but that cause is doomed to fail sooner or later."
"Even in Toronto,” he insisted, “the NHL is respecting rights of conscience in the workplace. Justin Trudeau would do well to follow their example.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.