February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the National Hockey League. The NHL devotes one month each season to elevating diversity and inclusivity in professional sports, pairing with organizations like You Can Play to help bring together “all people who play or watch hockey, including fans of every race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and those with disabilities.” (Source) Using the hashtag #HockeyIsForEveryone, the League hopes to spread awareness and open conversation on social media.
This year’s Hockey is For Everyone is especially exciting, as the NHL announced several ambassadors to help promote the month, including Angela James, a black hockey player and one of the first women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Harrison Browne, the first openly transgender player in professional hockey. And this year we’ll see hundreds of NHL players warm up before games using rainbow Pride Tape on their sticks, showing their commitment to including LGBTQ+ players and fans in the sport.
The Just Love team has a few hockey fans among our ranks, so over the next couple of days we’ll take some time to talk about what #HockeyIsForEveryone means to us, as well as how (and if!) events like these make sports more welcoming.
Also check out Part 2 | Part 3
El: “A Mixed Bag”
For me, Hockey is For Everyone is a mixed bag. I’m thrilled, of course, to see all 31 teams on the calendar with at least one #HockeyIsForEveryone event (and some, like the Carolina Hurricanes, will participate in five games this month!). It’s a chance to see myself represented in the sport that I’ve come to love—a chance to see women’s teams get the spotlight, to see queer youth and local queer leagues promoted and welcomed. And I’m fortunate to be attending two games on Hockey is For Everyone nights!
But I’m also aware that, despite the pretty graphics and nice hashtag, hockey is not a sport for everyone. The NHL devotes one month each season to inclusivity and diversity, and then seems to forget all about it. Teams spend twenty minutes at warm-ups with Pride Tape on their sticks, and then go back to throwing slurs at each other on the ice. As I said to a friend earlier today, “I know it’s dumb to think, Look, the NHL devotes a month to supporting minorities and queer people, go them! But when you get starved for 11 months of the year, you kinda have to feast for that one month they give you.”
Although sometimes, as I’ve discovered the hard way, they don’t even give you those 20 minutes of rainbow tape.
I don’t want to diminish anything that #HockeyIsForEveryone month does for fans and local communities. I can attest to how powerful it is to see rainbow flags at a hockey event, to see pride t-shirts with my teams’ logos. Every time a player does a You Can Play video, or participates in a local Pride Parade, I’m reminded about how much I love the game.
But I also know that hockey has a long way to go. Hockey fans have a long way to go. And a one-night commitment to diversity from each team isn’t going to get us there. In a league with zero openly queer players, with only a handful of black players and Muslim players, and a giant No Women Allowed sign*, the NHL can be a painful and toxic place for a fan who isn’t white, cis, and male.
* one woman has played in the NHL— Manon Rhéaume, who played an exhibition game in the early 90’s with the Tampa Bay Lightning. But as last weekend’s NHL All Star event showed, women hockey players are just as talented (if not more so) than their male counterparts!
What do I want to see? More support for LGBTQ+ communities year-round. Sled hockey teams invited to play intermission games. More NHL teams pairing with NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League) teams to grow the game. More outreach to low income neighborhoods. Support for young players of color, for players from different religious backgrounds. Bring diversity and inclusion into everyday conversation, until it becomes an integral part of the game.
In the end, what it boils down to is this: the NHL gives us 28 days of representation and inclusion. The season is 185 days long. If you’re only being inclusive for 15% of the season, you’re not doing enough. Until #HockeyIsForEveryone becomes a season-long hashtag– until the NHL truly stands up for women’s hockey, for minorities, for people with disabilities, and for queer players and fans– it’s not going to be good enough.
So thank you to the NHL, the players, the coaches, and the office staff who work to make Hockey is For Everyone a reality each year. It means the world to us. But don’t let the campaign end on March 1 (or March 5, as the case may be this year)… let’s truly make hockey for everyone, always.