Welcome Matt: NHL teams scrapping Pride jerseys ought to show some social leadership

Mar 23 2023, 10:07 pm

sekeres and price

There’s a terrific article on hockeyinsociety.com today, a locally curated blog about the intersection of politics and hockey.

For many in the sport, it’s their worst nightmare.

Because it’s been clear for decades that commissioner Gary Bettman and hockey culture doesn’t want to do social leadership. They like their place removed from society, not having to deal with real issues and real people.

So you can imagine that as hockey existed in its Neverland, many in the sport never thought they’d be asked to show support to the LGBTQ+ community. And this recent rash of players (and now clubs) refusing to don Pride jerseys for warmups has larger society wondering about homophobia in the sport.

But let’s get one thing clear: Russian players are not being imperilled, regardless of what the Chicago Blackhawks might try to tell you. The Hawks announced that their players won’t wear Pride jerseys because of a Russian censorship law, designed to marginalize the LGBTQ+ community.

As Hockey in Society points out, the law is the equivalent of a US misdemeanour or Canadian summary offence. Punishments are fines ranging from $65 to $2,500 (all figures USD). Only a few fines per year have been issued, and usually to organizations, not individuals.

It has been speculated that the families of Russian NHL players parrot these laws, creating a chilling effect on North American shores, which is exactly what the authors of these arcane laws want.

So for the Blackhawks to cite this law in drafting their program for Pride Night is both ignorant and an overstep. Or as statistician Nate Silver barbed: “when did Russia annex Illinois?”

Russian hockey journalist Slava Malamud put it more harshly. If you’re not familiar with Malamud, he was basically blackballed out of the industry by the Washington Capitals for daring to write about Alex Ovechkin’s support of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.


The NHL and its member clubs are not, obviously, ascribing to Russian laws. They are using Russian laws as an excuse for players who don’t want to wear Pride jerseys in warmups.

Hockey is into uniformity and the safety of the herd. Rather an isolating a teammate that objects, find an excuse so that the whole team can avoid participation and the objector is insulated.

And that’s the worst part, as Hockey in Society noted. Bettman said last week that this was going to be a matter of individual choice.

Many of us can live with that. Don’t want to wear the Pride jersey, like San Jose goaltender James Reimer, so be it. Deal with the consequences.

But decisions like the Blackhawks’ take the choice out of individual’s hands and do a disservice to the sport and the communities in which the NHL operates.

Matthew SekeresMatthew Sekeres

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