NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shared with Elliotte Friedman Thursday that the NHL Board of Governors decided NHL teams will no longer wear specialty warmup jerseys dedicated to minority groups and good causes.
The NHL’s latest farce in their pursuit of diversity, equality, and inclusion came in the form of their revoking of specialty warmup jerseys entirely, in a decision shared by Gary Bettman on Thursday. Quizzed on the decision by Elliotte Friedman, Bettman argued that “Well, actually, I’ve suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it’s become a distraction, and taking away from the fact that all of our clubs, in some form or another, host nights in honor of various groups or causes, and we’d rather they continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction”. The problem, though, is that these jerseys are only distractions because the NHL, alongside certain teams and individuals, allow them to be. Bettman’s answer sounds like he’s hinting at the Pride jerseys being a distraction, and he is, but to cover up their own tracks, the NHL instead voted down all specialty warmup jerseys. These causes include, but are not limited to; Pride, Hockey Fights Cancer, Military Appreciation, Black History, and St. Patrick’s Day. Not one person could have complained about the Hockey Fights Cancer jerseys, but after the Pride fiasco this year, which started in Philly, the NHL jumped at the opportunity to tear it all down in one fell swoop.
The Philadelphia Flyers held their Pride Night on January 17 this year, and before playing the Anaheim Ducks, Ivan Provorov decided that he would skip warmups entirely specifically because of the Pride jersey. Provorov, who was well within his rights to skip the warmup, had actions that came with catastrophic consequences for the NHL and its fans. Flyers head coach John Tortorella stood up for Provorov, rather than allowing the disgraced Russian to stand by his own words and actions. Tortorella said “With Provy, he’s being true to himself and to his religion. This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy: He’s always true to himself. That’s where we’re at with that”. Basically, regurgitating what Provorov himself said three times. Tortorella must have turned over a new leaf when he confidently allowed Provorov to play on Pride Night, because in 2020, Tortorella was quoted as saying “I would hope that if one of my players wanted to protest during the anthem, he would bring it to me and we would talk about it, tell me his thoughts and what he wanted to do. From there, we would bring it to the team to discuss it, much like it’s being discussed in our country right now”. Contrary to what Tortorella said, there wasn’t much discourse with Provorov’s decision within the team, and he just played and kicked on as normal.
Ivan Provorov’s boycotting of the Pride jerseys gave the green light to various other players around the National Hockey League to do the same. Brothers Marc Staal and Eric Staal did the same for the Florida Panthers, and a Russian contingent of Ilya Samsonov and Ilya Lyubushkin followed suit. It feels strange that the NHL would be willing to bend the knee to the will of Russians, but are hellbent against drafting them thanks to their political stances against the war in Ukraine. The NHL also took retribution against inactive Russian players, like Alex Mogilny, who was once again bypassed in Hockey Hall of Fame voting. Other teams, like the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers, jettisoned their Pride Nights entirely.
It’s commendable that the NHL stands by their Original Six franchises, like the Blackhawks, so loyally. Before the Philadelphia Flyers allowed Ivan Provorov to walk all over Pride Night, the NHL did their very best to avoid punishing the Chicago Blackhawks and the individuals involved in the sexual abuse of Kyle Beach in 2010. Former Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville was allowed to peacefully resign from his post with the Florida Panthers, with Gary Bettman requiring a meeting with the scorned coach before he can ever coach again instead of banning him for life outright. It took 11 years for the Chicago Blackhawks and those involved in the sexual assault to get punished, and it took five months for the NHL to take away celebration and festivity from everyone.
The silver lining, according to Gary Bettman, is that “. . .they continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction”. Pride Nights and other nights will continue to happen as normal, except they won’t be normal and will actually be a hollow shell of what they were, with the players no longer partaking with the fans. “Hockey is For Everyone”, they claim, until it involves a hockey player who’s upset he has to wear a rainbow for 15 minutes before their game starts. Now, hockey is for nobody. No veterans, no cancer fighters or survivors, no LGBTQIA+, no Black history, no Hispanic heritage. Fans will instead be left to their own devices to celebrate themselves and others, with the help of the underpaid arena staff and without being seen by the league and sport they so loyally support. As masters of self-sabotage, combined with a critical lack of self-awareness, the NHL continues to ‘grow the game’ in the least efficient way imaginable. All thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers organization and Ivan Provorov, fans will have at least one less thing they can celebrate going forward.