Lapointe: Hockey’s LGBTQ plan is all pucked up

Imagine a rainbow above Detroit’s Winged Wheel

Oct 23, 2023 at 8:59 am
click to enlarge Quinton Byfield of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings participates in Pride Night before a March 18, 2023 game. - ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
Quinton Byfield of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings participates in Pride Night before a March 18, 2023 game.

Update: Following outcry, after this article was published the NHL rescinded its ban on rainbow-themed “Pride Tape” to show support for the LGBTQ community. “After consultation with the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition, Players will now have the option to voluntarily represent social causes with their stick tape throughout the season,” the NHL wrote in a brief statement on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Original article:

In the spirit of two steps forward and one step back, a “Don’t Say ‘Gay’” backlash is currently whipping against progress in American culture.

It has reached even the National Hockey League, which recently blew an icy chill through the struggle for LGBTQ acceptance.

They did it first by banning “Pride Night” jerseys that include touches of rainbow colors to show acceptance of sexual and gender diversity. These shirts were worn only during pregame warmups and just one time per year.

More recently, they even told teams not to use the rainbow-themed “Pride Tape” that some players put on their stick blades — also once a year, and, then again, only in warmups.

Oh, some NHL teams will still present a bleached-out Pride Night this season. You can find it on the Red Wings’ website, way down in a press release that first touts giveaways of hats and bobbleheads.

Then, finally:

“As part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative,” it says, “Pride Night will return to Little Caesars Arena Jan. 31 against the Ottawa Senators.” What they could have added was “Welcome to the game. Please leave your pride clothing in your closet.”

Neither the Red Wings nor the NHL returned requests for further explanation regarding the league-wide repression of Pride Night expression.

Into that void, however, we offer this modest proposal to please everyone:

Let LGBTQ supporters buy space for their rainbows on the jerseys of the players, on the sideboards of the rinks, and even on the playing surface itself. Why not? NHL teams already sell those spaces to pushers of alcohol, gambling, and junk food. How could they say “No!” to love?

Already, on the front of the sweaters of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you see the brand of the milk industry. And the Washington Capitals last year wore the logo of a gambling outfit. Why not buy space for an LGBTQ rainbow on the front of the red Detroit jersey above the hallowed Winged Wheel?

As for the sideboards, they used to be plain and white. (Remember the Olympia!) Now, they have devolved into a revolving and annoying set of illuminated billboards that distract you when you’re trying to see the puck either in person or (especially) on TV. LGBTQ advocates could improve this look by paying to display stationary rainbows — no words, just rainbows on the sideboards — while the puck is in play.

And while they’re at it, they could buy permanent illustrations of rainbows (no words), under the ice, outside the blue lines, two on each end, near where they drop some of the faceoffs after an offsides whistle.

Even better, before the games — along with the national anthem — the singer could perform “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow.” Better yet, on Pride Night, on the big arena TV screen, show the film clip of Judy Garland singing it in The Wizard of Oz.

OK, enough with jokes. In addition to sports and sexuality, hockey’s Pride Night controversy touches on religion and international politics. All these hooks add nuance and complexity to the debate.

As for religion, Red Wings’ goalie James Reimer is a conscientious objector to forced displays of Pride support. When he played last season for San Jose, he refused to participate in warmups in a jersey tinged with the rainbow.

“I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said at the time in a prepared statement.

As for politics, among the few who refused to wear Pride shirts last season were several Russian players, perhaps reacting to a new law signed last December by Russian President Vladimir Putin which made it “Illegal to spread propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations.”

Opposing the NHL’s logic is Jim Buzinski of the web site Outsports, which originally outed the NHL’s administrative backlash against rainbow Pride displays.

“Players who don’t support LGBTQ rights were allowed to claim religion as a reason not to wear a jersey,” he wrote. “Yet, a player who supports LGBTQ rights and wants to put some rainbow tape on his stick is banned. No wonder there has never been an out gay NHL player, active or retired.”

That could change. Two years ago, the prospect Luke Prokop came out as gay. A defenseman now playing for the minor-league Atlanta Gladiators, Prokop is under contract to the Nashville Predators.

“I could not be happier with my decision to come out,” he said at the time on an Instagram post. “I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams.”

Late last week, rumors out of Toronto hinted that the NHL and its Players Association may be re-thinking this hasty decision against Pride displays. Many in the hockey establishment have spoken out against the ban.

One of them is Brian Burke, the executive director of the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players’ Association. He once was a top aide to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Burke has a gay son.

“This new league policy strips clubs and players of one of the most important and visible ways of supporting causes they are about,” Burke posted on social media. “This is not inclusion or progress.

“This decision does not grow the game and does not make our fans feel welcome . . . This directive closes a door that’s been open for the last decade.”

After Connor McDavid of Edmonton and several other NHL stars expressed dismay over the ruling, they were echoed by Ron MacLean, the host of Hockey Night in Canada, who told a Toronto radio station he hoped to see players defy the league and put Pride tape on their sticks.

“It is a very serious mis-step,” MacLean said. “It’s a gag order. It’s hard to believe they went down this path.”

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