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 1 | Part 3
DMac: “Making an Effort”
I’ve been a hockey fan pretty much since I was born. That sounds like a hyperbole, but my grandparents are ride and die sports fans so I became one too. I’ve been through three lockouts and one strike and a looooong list of rule changes in the league. I’m telling you this not to brag, but to show you that I’ve been through a lot with the NHL and that I know they are capable of change.
Try as they might over the years, the NHL just seem to completely fail when it comes to inclusivity. The intent is there, but the follow-through not so much. In terms of actually supporting the gay community as a league, it’s only been the past few years that Pride nights have been introduced to more arenas (before I believe it was only the Florida Panthers doing this). Individual players have taken more initiative by going to pride parades and other activities, but the league itself has put no major effort into this program. It is a month of Hockey is for Everyone and 11 months of the NHL ignoring it.
When you look at the forward momentum the You Can Play movement had in the NHL when it started in 2012, and the lack of inclusivity that followed in the past 5 years, it is depressing. If you want to get even more depressed, google something like “NHL homophobia” or “slurs against PK Subban”. You can play, sure, but don’t expect to be treated well while you’re there.
As a longtime fan, I cannot figure out why a league that is an outlier amongst sports leagues cannot for the life of it make it easier for more people to play and become fans. They NEED the numbers and they need more fan investment. So why do they keep catering to straight, white, male fans (specifically white ones) that are already fans of the league? Why aren’t they making an effort? It leaves a bad taste in my mouth… and I’m already interested in the sport, so I don’t blame non-hockey fans for not wanting to get involved.
Over the years I’ve been challenged to prove that I wasn’t just there to look at men (barf) and, of course, I’ve made these men instantly regret ever talking to me; but I shouldn’t have had to. The list of the ways the NHL has failed its female audience goes on and on. The ugly pink shirts the NHL is trying to sell me are just feminine icing on a pile of “you’re not included but we want your money”*. If they can’t even include their female fans in their plans, what hope is there for gay fans or fans that are POC or disabled?
* There is nothing inherently wrong with pink, but I want jerseys etc in the team colors instead of being forced to buy pink. Also, for the record, I would like to say that I have met a lot of NHL players and none of them have ever treated me differently because I was a woman. Bless them.
Then you have the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League) which has embraced the LGBT community like no other sport has. After a player came out as transgender they specifically created a Policy on Participation of Transgender Athletes to show that, “the NWHL supports athletes choosing to express their gender beyond the binary of female and male.” (Source) The CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) has also embraced this message, and were the first sports league to partner with You Can Play. They have a couple playing on Les Canadiennes who are married and just had their first baby together (google this to cheer yourself up after googling slurs in the NHL).
These women’s leagues have the advantage in that they were created in a more inclusive world than men’s hockey leagues, but they also have embraced and owned up to their messages of inclusivity. The NHL has announced its message and hasn’t followed through, so if it’s afraid of losing fans then why make the announcement at all? What is holding them back?