I've been grinding my teeth and getting irritated over this whole NHL and the special jerseys thing since long before yesterday, and then I said, hey, I have this blog. So here it goes.
Facts first: Gary Bettman said to Elliotte Friedman that the NHL would no longer allow teams to wear non-standard jerseys in warmup. When asked clarifying questions, he said teams could still produce and sell special jerseys (they never have been allowed to wear them in-game) and "players could model them". I have to infer that last means for promotional purposes. Either to promote the sale or the event or the cause.
Okay, this is the thing, and it's how I've felt since the Flyers put on a show for their Pride night that was derailed by Ivan Provorov and John Tortorella. Everyone in hockey fandom helped in that derailment, often with vigour and glee and malice in their hearts.
James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton were the players behind the Pride initiative in Philadelphia, and I trust them both to have been sincere in their work, and sincerely frustrated by the conversation that ensued that was all about Provorov. Tortorella made things worse by knowing in advance about Provorov's desire to claim religious reasons for opting out of wearing the jersey and not telling anyone in management.
Derailing was a thing we used to care a lot about back in the day. If you were trying to have some conversation about social issues and someone came along and did the whattabout dance, or several other standard forms of moving the conversation to the focus they wanted, the done thing was to resist that. You were to declare derailing posts as off limits conversation and moderate accordingly. This all seems terribly quaint in this age of social media where making it all about yourself and your emotions and emoting is the entire point.
And that's where I really begin here. It's not my place to decide what the precise right way and correct words should be used to advocate for full inclusion and openness to all the various people who would call themselves some kind of Queer. Also all the people who don't like that word and have a different one. I'm not of them. But I believe the larger "we" that makes up our hockey fandom does, should, already does and will always, and oh by the way, already does include all people who group together for Pride.
I'm emphasizing the already here because this concept of "welcoming" sits wrong with me. So does any talk of "opening the door". I am old school. The old chant was "we're here, we're Queer, get used to it". It was never, "Gosh, would you be so kind as to allow me in to sit quietly and pass for one of you?"
So from my nature and my nurture in the 80s and 90s – dark times – the quiet path of least resistance isn't my first inclination.
But. Oh, but there is a but here.
Let me make it all about me for a second so I don't co-opt someone else's experience. When some of you have said: Oh wouldn't it be great if Hayley Wickenheiser was made GM of the Leafs, the old hockey men would get so mad!!! My response was: Yes, yes, that's what we're here for, us women who are unicorns in this men's world, we're here for you men to beat each other over the head with. We are just the cannon balls of your culture war – otherwise not terribly relevant once there's been "the first" at something.
I don't want to take up the warrior role, thinking I'm fighting on behalf of Queer rights, and find out I'm actually just using other people as the cudgel to fight this dreary culture war we all seem to be trapped in.
Much Like Pierre LeBrun, I don't have all the answers, in fact I have none. I don't have a recipe for truth, justice and the one true way here in this post. I actually do understand where Bettman is coming from, though. Two places, and it's very him that his self interest can have a larger purpose built around it.
First, let's be aware that Bettman has a legitimate financial motive to not want to attract the attention of the culture warriors of America. The Bud Light boycott seems to have worked.
How much he should let fear of that happening to the NHL influence him is an open question. It's easy to say he should just do what's right, damn the consequences, but he isn't actually the King of the NHL, and he answers to owners. So this self interest is the framework around which he's built a policy that seems aimed at having his cake and eating it too. And yet, I think back again to Laughton and van Riemsdyk trying to wrench the conversation back to the event they'd created and utterly failing.
Social media had their villain. And a mass of people who had no skin in the game beat each other over the head with a Pride jersey for days. And then it became weeks, and it became a Thing with every event. People wrung their hands at the drama and wondered, sometimes, it seemed, quite avidly: Would the Leafs have a Bad Man on the Team? Would this team, would that? It's acceptable to hate on the players who don't participate. Hate is in the air!
I don't, as mentioned, have a formula to make this Pride night thing work and work better. I don't have an answer for the inevitable question Bettman has also avoided (some more self interest) of what happens if some player eschews honouring the armed forces in some way, something most people seem to instantly be able to see could generate opposing views. Or what the NHL can or should do if some team goes down that "thin blue line" jersey road again.
All I know is this: You can't force someone to profess a set of beliefs or opinions for your own personal comfort. You can't educate everyone around to your way of thinking. So no matter what formula you use to have special jerseys on the ice for Pride night, you will get a Provorov. You will get the meaning derailed into another fight. You will amplify hate speech in arguing against it. You will give some other numpty the opportunity to whine on social media about "hating the sin not the sinner" which is now a common slogan of the hate mongers.
It would be wrong to leave out this last point, though. Hatred of the Queer community is now a key ideology of a political movement. Violence is on the rise. I live in a town that has to have half the police force attend a small community Pride event in the nice liberal neighbourhood full of ageing boomers. It used to be just a little day in the park where the more liberal than thou got together to have a picnic. Now it's nexus of violence, all fuelled by online hate groups.
For me, what Morgan Rielly does in going to Pride, what James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton do, what Kyle Dubas did by going to Pride – these things matter. They are chosen actions, not some box you tick by putting on a jersey and skating around. But it's not about me.
Maybe that's where I land here. I think the NHL should have got some experts in something other than brand protection in to sort out this tangled problem. I would like to hear from people with skin in the game on this issue.
It's just too easy to say this is a step back if you don't have any idea on how they can step forward. I don't! I genuinely don't see how the NHL as a league or teams individually can pick a better path. Teams have a role as members of their community. They should exercise it. They obviously want to. And that very reality opens the door to the hate-mongers who want to cynically use Pride to promote their fantasy worldview.
At my most cynical I think that the NHL and its teams were dupes who didn't open the door and welcome in the Queer community (always have been present), but rather, they opened the door to hate, gave it a stage to act on, and sat back and let it have its say.
Anyhow. I look forward to some of the players going to Toronto Pride – it might be too close to the NHL events in Nashville for the management staff.
Tonight is the Trans Pride Rally and March, The Dyke Pride Rally and March is Saturday night and the Pride Parade is at 2 pm on Sunday.