Second NHL Team Chucks Pride Gear, Forcing a Shift in League Messaging
In a story largely buried by the mainstream media, a second NHL team announced this month that it was ditching its Pride gear for players. Less than two weeks after the New York Rangers sent shockwaves through the sports world for bagging their special rainbow warm-ups, a neighboring team, the New York Islanders, followed suit.
The New York Post broke the news in advance of the Islanders game February 9. “The Islanders will be the latest NHL team to avoid wearing rainbow warm-ups during their Pride Night, on Thursday at UBS Arena against the [Vancouver] Canucks,” Ethan Sears reported. As he points out, the Islanders have an organization-wide policy against specialized uniforms, with the exception of Hockey Fights Cancer, military appreciation nights, and Saint Patrick’s Day. But unlike previous years, when players were urged to use rainbow-themed equipment, the team scrapped even the option of things like Pride tape.
The quiet decision, in deep blue New York, was especially telling in a year marked by Philadelphia Flyers’s Ivan Provorov’s public refusal to wear the team-mandated rainbow jerseys in mid-January. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say,” he said in the media scrum afterward.
His coach, veteran bench boss John Tortorella, insisted the defenseman was well within his rights to sit out warm-ups. “Provy did nothing wrong,” Tortorella told reporters. “Just because you don’t agree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.” He also pointed out the respectful nature of the Russian’s protest. “Provy’s not out there banging a drum against Pride Night. He quietly went about his business. [We] had a number of conversations to how we were going to do this. … [He] felt strongly with his beliefs. And he stayed with it. And this was discussed, prior up to that.”
Despite the shockwaves Provorov’s stand sent through the hockey universe, some think it was a rebellion waiting to happen. Like the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers, who in June refused to wear Pride messaging that contradicted their faith, a battle seems to be brewing between the woke agenda of major league sports and individual players.
Who knows how many others, emboldened by Provorov, threatened to opt out of the LGBT lovefest? Judging by the two teams’ actions, more than a few skaters were prepared to boycott, which would have created an even bigger mess for league officials to clean up with their rainbow allies. By embracing neutrality for the players — a compromise every fan can support — management avoided a major headache.
That may finally be sinking in at NHL headquarters, where Commissioner Gary Bettman has decidedly softened his rhetoric toward the league’s non-conformists. When questions started swirling about the NHL’s commitment to “inclusion” in the Provorov firestorm, Bettman’s default was to reassure the sport’s leftist partners. “A handful of players don’t define what we’re doing as a whole,” the commissioner said defensively. “You know what our values are.”
A month later, after the entire Rangers team had bucked Pride Night, Bettman’s messaging had noticeably evolved. “You know what our goals and our values and our intentions are across the league,” he said at the All-Star Game in Florida. “But we also have to respect some individual choice. And some people are more comfortable embracing themselves and causes than others. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
It was a refreshingly balanced statement for the NHL, which has been suffocating fans with its toxic ideology for years. Maybe this is evidence that the players are finally being heard in the fog of political activism that’s descended on sports. If so, then we could be on the verge of a seismic shift in how the leagues handle America’s culture wars.
Joseph Backholm, Family Research Council’s senior fellow for Biblical Worldview, credits Provorov’s courage for calling the league’s bluff. “NHL players are demonstrating that bullies only have the power you give them. Once you ignore their threats, you often learn they didn’t have that much power to begin with. Bullies only win if they are allowed to fight us alone. In this case, it looks like they were going to have to fight a lot of hockey players — and that’s a fight they didn’t want to have.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.