The NHL, and all major sports leagues for that matter, have not had a great track record in addressing homophobia, transphobia, sexism, misogyny, etc. and actively supporting the LGBTQIA+ community— which entails more than just changing their Instagram profile picture to a rainbow logo. At the center of this is #HockeyIsForEveryone which we would all love to be true, but ultimately the NHL is not ready to call out homophobia among fans in fear of losing their support. This may be the problem— these people should NOT be welcome in the hockey community if they aim to bring others down and create a hostile environment by refusing to accept an individual’s identity.
I am not a member of the LGBTQ community, so my voice in this is limited. But I’d like to point out the standards set by the NHL. For one, they have done very little to convey that discrimination is NOT welcome, which is very different than showing support. The keyword there is showing. They give LGBT athletes a couple shoutouts on social media, go rainbow for a month, and call it good, but very seldomly take ACTION against fans, staff, and players showcasing discriminatory behavior (although they have been better recently).
A prime example of this is on their Instagram and twitter posts about pride month that are flooded by 12-year-old white boys who feel attacked by gay pride. On the very post that they claim hockey is for everyone, they allow imbeciles to contradict that very message. Recently, yes, they have responded to a few of these comments but still tiptoe around these ideas because unfortunately, hockey is one of the most non-diverse and non-inclusive sports, bred out of a locker room atmosphere and “boys will be boys” narrative.
However, there is credit to be given to the NHL. They have taken the initiative to showcase a few LGBT athletes and donate to You Can Play. Additionally, individual players have taken it upon themselves to show their support (Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals attended a pride parade last year, members of the Canauks walking in one in 2017) which definitely goes a long way. The NHL Taking action against Brendan Leipsic for his degrading comments sets the tone for how issues like this will be handled in the future; with adequate consequences that convey homophobia won’t be tolerated. Although, it’s likely Leipsic’s contract termination had more to do with comments about his teammate’s wives and girlfriends.
But that same message doesn’t go over so easily with fans. The NHL has carefully tiptoed the line of showing their support for LGBT rights, rather than showing their lack of support for homophobia and other discriminatory attitudes. You can argue, of course, that these go hand in hand, and they do, but the narrative these different messages create is very different. It’s similar to not being racist or being anti-racist; one entails a much greater sense of activism against discrimination. The NHL’s support is great, but it doesn’t have a vast effect on changing the environment of hockey and doesn’t target the attitudes rooted in locker rooms across the country that may make LGBT players feel unwelcome. It doesn’t address fans’ use of slurs or displays of disgust at the sight of a same sex couple. Basically, it doesn’t necessarily help to ensure an LGBT individual that they will not only be accepted but welcome.
I’ve played hockey for 13 years on many different teams. I played about 7 years of boys’ hockey and have heard homophobic, racist, and sexist slurs that largely became part of guys’ vocabulary in that setting. But don’t think that girls’ hockey is any better. When I was 16, I played my first season of girls hockey since I was 8 years old. That season, I watched as a girl who was a member of the LGBT community was bullied off the team. She was excluded, ignored, and ostracized by the team. After she left, girls continued to joke about her and her sexuality and I deeply regret not speaking up then, and not reaching out to her more while she was still on the team. What I’m trying to get at is that issue of inclusion goes much, much, deeper than punishing the use of a slur or using a rainbow profile picture. It involves changing the attitudes players have and the conduct of locker rooms to foster inclusion and acceptance. And the NHL is not using their power as the top hockey league in the country to create systematic change in the sport.
It’s time they call out homophobia from fans, not just players, and stop worrying about alienating people just because they’re sending inclusive messages. Who wants homophobes as fans anyways? If seeing your favorite sports team change their logo to rainbow for a month and post about inclusivity upsets, irritates, or angers you, I want you to think and ask yourself why, because that’s where change starts. Because hockey is for everyone— except homophobes, transphobes, racists, sexists, and anyone who holds discriminatory attitudes 🙂