The NHL was asked questions by several of its teams about what they can and can’t do for special initiatives like Pride Night. Those concerns came after the league delivered its clubs a memo last week titled Game and Practice-Related Special Initiatives that many franchises reportedly found far too restrictive.
ESPN’s Ryan Clark reported that in response to the issues that teams brought up, the NHL sent out an additional memo on Thursday to clear up any confusion. The new memo specifies that the old edition was only meant to relate to official on-ice conduct and would not limit any off-the-ice celebrating of specialty causes.
All of this news follows commissioner Gary Bettman’s statement from this past June where he indicated that as official league policy, teams would no longer be allowed to wear any specialty jerseys during warmups this season and for the foreseeable future.
“Players should be encouraged to express themselves off the ice,” Clark reports the new memo states. He adds that it also outlines that “player participation in club-related messaging is voluntary if permitted.” Teams are still allowed to host specialty groups at games and players have the freedom to wear “whatever they want” off the ice as long as it falls “within the guidelines of each team’s respective dress code.”
The new memo states that the specific times that players may not wear specialty jerseys are during games, in warmups, or at an official team practices. The only additional guidelines are that no player can be “forced” to participate in any events for speciality causes, “because some players might fear retribution or embarrassment if they decide to not take part.”
That wording tracks with Bettman’s words from the offseason. “I’ve suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it’s become a distraction and taking away from the fact that all of our clubs in some form or other host nights in honor of various groups or causes,” Bettman said. “We’d rather those continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction.”
The commissioner, in that June interview, went on to say that players would still be allowed to support particular causes (Pride, Hockey Fights Cancer, Military Appreciation, etc.) and be free to model specialty jerseys but will just not be permitted to do so on the ice. Hence, why the initial memo that didn’t specify the league meant purely on-ice activities would be affected needed to be updated.
While not specifically stated, much of this discussion was sparked by Pride Nights in the NHL benefitting the LGBTQ+ community. Those evenings regularly came under fire over the past year as a rash of players and teams opted out of participating.
The controversy began when Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear the Flyers’ Pride Night jersey, citing his Russian Orthodoxy. The New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Minnesota Wild later all announced they would not wear Pride jerseys, despite earlier promises from the Rangers and Wild to do so. Sharks goaltender James Reimer cited objections stemming from Christian values when he sat out of warmups for the San Jose Sharks, as did the Florida Panthers’ Marc and Eric Staal.
The Chicago Blackhawks canceled plans to wear Pride jerseys over concerns for the safety of Russian players and their families. The Sabres’ Ilya Lybushkin similarly expressed concerns of retaliation from Russia when he chose not to participate. The Leafs’ Ilya Samsonov did the same with similar justification.
The league’s new standard policy regarding specialty nights will not restrict teams from auctioning off jerseys and other items to help support chosen causes. That’s great news as in 2022 alone, the Capitals’ Pride Night Auction raised over $25,000 to benefit SMYAL, a DC-based organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth. And, that was without the team creating or wearing Pride jerseys.
The Caps will be holding their Pride Night again this season, on March 20, 2024 vs the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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