Skip to Content

The NHL Scurries Away From Its Pride Night Problem

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 13: in Game Five of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on June 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL just wrapped up a season in which one of the persistent league-wide storylines centered around various teams and players revealing themselves to be homophobes at worst and cowards at best. These revelations were connected to Pride Nights throughout the league, which usually included the home team wearing special warmup jerseys as a way to signal solidarity with their queer fans. The carrying out of this tradition was particularly fraught this year, as several players drew attention to themselves by refusing to wear a Pride Night jersey, and several teams opted out of wearing the jerseys entirely, citing a collection of dubious reasons. The NHL having a notable number of players and teams that are unwilling to show even a base level of respect for their LGBTQ fans is a problem that would certainly weigh heavily on any league commissioner's mind. Thankfully, Gary Bettman has a solution: just pretend the problem doesn't exist.

Bettman spoke to reporters following the NHL's board of governors meeting in New York on Thursday, and revealed that going forward teams around the league will not be wearing Pride Night warmups. He was fairly blunt in explaining the reasoning behind the decision, which boils down to We want everyone to stop talking about this.

"It's become a distraction, taking away from the fact that all of our clubs in some form or another host nights in honor of various groups or causes," said Bettman. When pushed to explain if he thought that abandoning Pride Night jerseys, and announcing the decision during Pride Month, might be upsetting to LGBTQ fans, Bettman batted away the question. "I agree those are legitimate concerns, but in the final analysis all of the efforts and emphasis on the importance of these various causes have been undermined by the distraction."

The insistence on lumping Pride Nights in with other theme nights, like military appreciation and cancer awareness, is telling if only for how clearly it reinforces what's always been true about sports leagues' approach to Pride Nights. Their existence has nothing to do with leagues or teams actually wanting to express any genuine love and respect for LGTBQ fans, and everything to do with wanting to secure another chunk of sponsorship dollars and frictionless PR. Whether NHL owners are actually dumb enough to have been genuinely surprised at discovering that asking players to wear Pride jerseys in America is a more fraught proposition than asking them to express their disdain for cancer doesn't really matter. What matters is how they've decided to interpret that difference as nothing more than another threat to their bottom line.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter