After a busy year, behind the scenes of the NHL’s first Pride night of the season

The Athletic

TEMPE, Ariz. — As the Arizona Coyotes poured onto the ice for warmups Friday night, Raven Fallows was pressed against the glass behind the home team’s net.

Fallows — who made the 40-mile drive to attend the Coyotes’ annual Pride game against the Los Angeles Kings at Mullet Arena — was one of the few Coyotes fans from the LGBTQ+ community to show their support for Travis Dermott. Pre-game skit.

But to their chagrin, word quickly spread that Dermott, who had protested the NHL’s ban at the Pride taping six days earlier, was not on the ice with his Coyotes teammates. He was ruled out due to illness. So Fallows and other fans began scanning the sticks of the Arizona players on the ice.

Will any of them follow Dermot’s lead by using Pride-themed tape on their sticks?

He did neither.

“It’s sad. As a queer hockey fan, you always hope they’re willing to include you on Pride Nights,” Fellows said. If Dermot was here I think there would be more players.

A day before Thursday’s game, Dermot said he wouldn’t try to use pride tape on any of his team-mates.

“I think that’s the beauty of the rule change,” he said. “Everyone can choose to support if they want to. But if you don’t feel comfortable supporting, that’s totally fine. We welcome you, not alienate you.”

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NHL players are allowed to represent social issues with stick tape

Arizona’s players may not have been wearing Pride-themed tape Friday, but signs of solidarity from the LGBTQ+ community were prominently displayed elsewhere in the packed arena. Sean Durzi and Liam O’Brien walked onto the stage before the game wearing jerseys emblazoned with Coyotes pride.

Afterward, Durzi was asked what sort of conversations took place in the locker room about the club’s pride night.

“People in this room, we stand together on this. Nothing has changed. We came in with pride jerseys,” Durzi said. “We used the tape, we didn’t use the tape. Nothing will change here.”

Durzi Pride Sweater E1698614059852

Sean Durzi and Liam O’Brien wore Pride jerseys as they entered the arena ahead of the Coyotes’ Pride Night. (via Arizona Coyotes)

Matthew Spang-Marshall, president of the Arizona Legacy Pride Hockey Association, threw the ceremony before the game. Spang-Marshall bought 52 tickets for Friday’s game and said he plans to protest inside the packed arena if the NHL doesn’t change its stance on the haughty taping. But instead of displaying signs with an important message, Spang-Marshall and his team decided to thank players like Dermott and O’Brien for being partners in their community.

And as the evening drew to a close, Spang-Marshall wanted to steer the conversation in a different direction.

“It takes players who want to be bold to represent, but it’s not always about the players and what they do,” Spang-Marshall said. “What is the organization doing? It’s not always what you see with your eyes. It’s what’s happening behind the scenes. And I still feel the love from the team. They put us on the ice. Yes, this was a good night. “

As Lindsay Fry sat in the broadcast booth at Mullet Arena on Friday, the Coyotes radio commentator was grateful the club hosted Pride Night.

“As someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, it really means a lot. You see it as a sign,” Fry said. “It made me feel like I belonged. And I got support.

Frye is the only openly gay member of an NHL broadcast team to serve as the Coyotes’ radio analyst since January 2021. These nights on the calendar.

“There are real problems going on there and it’s a Pride night for that. To help people overcome that fear. People ask, ‘Why do you have a whole month to be proud of? Or why do you have a Pride night game?’ It’s because we haven’t reached that stage yet,” Frey said. “There are cities where I don’t feel comfortable holding my wife’s hand. We have a long way to go, so that’s what these nights are for.”

Dermott said Pride nights are important in the NHL and he was reminded of that last week. Dermot has been flooded with thousands of notes on social media from people from the LGBTQ+ community thanking him for standing up and being an ally.

Sprang Marshall

Matthew Spang-Marshall (left) with members of the Arizona Legacy Pride Hockey Association at Mullet Arena Friday game. (Ian Mendez/The Athletic)

“If you don’t think you need them, I’ll send you screenshots in DMs,” Dermot said. “And you’ll quickly agree that this is something that happens to a lot of people.”

Pride-themed nights in sports are a fairly recent phenomenon. In the year In 2000, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave away 5,000 tickets to a home game to local LGBT groups. However, the gesture came after two women were ejected from Dodger Stadium for kissing each other to celebrate a home run. And the Dodgers won’t officially host their own Pride Night until 2013.

The San Jose Sharks are believed to be the first NHL team to host a Pride-themed game, when they hosted “LGBT Night” on March 30, 2011 against the Dallas Stars. However, according to a March 2011 story by the Bay Area Reporter, which has covered the LGBTQ+ community in the Bay Area since 1971, the Sharks were reluctant hosts. There were no in-game activities to honor the community and the Sharks players did not participate in any capacity.

“There is no big promotion,” a Sharks spokesperson told the outlet. This group is coming to our games buying a block of tickets to sit next to each other.”

Syd Zeigler — who founded in 1999 as a portal to covering LGBTQ+ issues in sports — says the Sharks’ embarrassing first attempt at hosting a Pride-themed game was not a catalyst for change in hockey. He believes much of the credit belongs to Brendan Burke – son of longtime NHL executive Brian Burke – who, in 2010 He came out as gay in 2009 while working with the University of Miami men’s hockey program. Shortly thereafter, Burke died in a car accident.

“I believe there’s been a change in sports because of people coming out,” Zeigler said. “If Brendan Burke didn’t come out, the NHL wouldn’t have these pride nights.”

Burke has fueled the conversation around sexism in hockey, thanks in large part to the You Can Play Project, which was established in Burke’s memory by his brother Patrick in 2012. In April 2013, the NHL and You Can Play project was announced. partners, making the NHL the first major American pro sports league to work extensively with an LGBT outreach organization. As a result, the NHL was ahead of its peers in North American sports.

“The NHL sets the standard for professional sports when it comes to LGBT broadcasting and we are incredibly grateful for their help and support,” Patrick Burke said when announcing the partnership in 2013.

“Our motto is ‘hockey is for everyone’ and our partnership with You Can Play With You affirms that position clearly and unequivocally,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “While we believe that our actions in the past have demonstrated our support for the LGBT community, we are pleased to reaffirm that the NHL’s official policy is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker room and in the locker room, in partnership with the NHL Players Association.”

As part of the partnership, the You Can Play Project is allowed to conduct seminars at NHL rookie symposiums to educate prospects on LGBTQ+ issues. The league and players union have pledged to integrate the project into their behavioral health program, allowing players to seek confidential counseling on sexuality.

In the year

In the year During the 2017-18 season, all 31 NHL teams will participate in a Hockey For Everyone theme night at their home arenas, with most teams welcoming members of the LGBTQ+ community to those games. Next season, the Vancouver Canucks had a handful of players wearing Pride-themed jerseys — rainbow-colored name bars and numbers — on the night of March 13, 2019 for Hockey is for Everyone.

In the years that followed, many teams began wearing pride jerseys for the Heat. The New Jersey Devils – who began hosting an annual Pride Night in 2017 – will have their players wear the jerseys for the first time in 2021. In the 2022-23 season, 14 teams – almost half of the league – used pride-themed jerseys. warm up.

That number would have been higher, but several clubs — including the Wild, Rangers, Islanders, Blackhawks and Blues — reversed course and scrapped plans to have their players wear Heats jerseys at the end of the 2022-23 regular season. Their decision comes after many NHL players and teams chose not to wear them, citing religious reasons or safety concerns.

Due to Russia’s increasing anti-gay laws, many Russian players chose not to wear the Pride night warm-up jersey. Russian players, including Buffalo Sabers defenseman Ilya Libushkin, did not wear their jerseys, and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ivan Provorov, then sat out of the warm-ups against the Philadelphia Flyers. Brothers Eric and Mark Staal and then Sharks goaltender James Reimer also opted out, citing their religion.

The controversy spilled over the summer when the league’s board of governors implemented new guidelines in June that barred players from wearing themed jerseys. Bettman says the shirts have become “annoying” and wants the focus to be on the underlying initiatives at each club.

But the measures proposed by the Board of Governors included quietly banning players from using Pride tape on their sticks — a decision that caused shock waves when NHL teams were notified of the decision in September.

That prompted the You Can Play Project — which once praised the NHL for its efforts in LGBTQ+ space — to issue an interesting statement aimed at the league after news of its 2023-opening-night Pride-themed tape ban broke. 24 regular season.

“It’s now clear that the NHL is backing away from its long-standing commitment to inclusion and continuing to open up the one-time industry leader on 2SLGBTQ+ property,” the You Can Play Project wrote in a statement in October. 10. “We have now reached a point where all the progress made and the relationships established in our society are at risk.”

In a tumultuous year, hockey’s role in the LGBTQ+ space has been redefined. Considered an industry leader, the momentum has stalled – not a step back.

“I think we’re still really behind the curve in the hockey community and showing support for this community,” Dermott said. “And I think that we’re in the spotlight, you have to take a stand and show that these people matter.”

The Arizona Coyotes don’t plan to become the first NHL team to host Pride Night during the 2023-24 NHL regular season.

While most places in North America host Pride-themed events in June, Arizona is a little different.

“It’s really hot in June,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said. “So we do a lot of things in October while it’s cold. That’s why we held our Pride Night here.

Teams around the NHL will be eager observers of the Coyotes’ Pride night on Friday, eager to see how the first game under the new rules will play out.

A video call between league officials and the 32 member clubs in mid-September turned out to be contentious, NHL sources with direct knowledge of the situation told The Athletic there was plenty of unhappiness. Representatives from several teams’ community relations departments pushed back angrily against the league’s new guidelines. Teams in Canada asked if they would be allowed to issue orange t-shirts to their players and staff to mark the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th. Other clubs were confused about what constitutes a breach or violation under the new rules.

The displeasure with that video call, combined with an extremely strong push from the NHL’s Player Inclusion Coalition, forced the NHL to rethink some aspects of its bans. And when Dermott used pride-themed tape on his stick during an Oct. 21 game against Anaheim, the issue was thrust into the national spotlight. “Following consultation with the NHL Players Association and the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition, players will now have the option to represent social issues with stick cassettes throughout the season,” the league announced in a statement a few days later.

Coyotes Mascot Pride

Howler, the Coyotes mascot, wore a Pride jersey and rainbow headband at the team’s annual Pride night. (Ian Mendez/The Athletic)

But the ban on jerseys for themed nights is still in place. Last season, the Coyotes hosted their Pride night in March, and every player on the roster wore a Pride-themed jersey in the warm-up.

As they planned this year’s event, Gutierrez and his staff knew they had to be creative to satisfy all stakeholders.

“We know the rules of the NHL very well,” Gutierrez said. “We never hesitate to celebrate. ‘How do we figure this out? How do we do this?’

An hour before puck drop on Friday evening, fans marched into Mullet Arena with a welcome message on the main scoreboard, “Pride Night,” a colorful, rainbow-adorned backdrop of the Coyotes and Kings logos.

The National Anthem was performed a cappella by the four members of the Phoenix Gay Men’s Choir.

Howler, the Coyotes mascot, wore a rainbow headband as he tossed T-shirts into the crowd.

Fans who purchased the Secret Service confirmed that the players had signed a white puppy with a rainbow-colored Coyotes logo in the center. Each member of the Coyotes also autographed pride-themed white jerseys that were displayed on the lower stage for fans to bid on.

The walkout featured a shootout featuring members of Pride Growers — an adults-to-play program launched by the Coyotes in 2021 that aims to provide a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community to learn hockey.

The Coyotes say their grassroots initiatives to help the LGBTQ+ community have been lost in the Pride jersey controversy.

“I think there was a lot of focus on who was wearing the jersey and what wasn’t,” Gutierrez said. “It overshadows all the great works that have been done.”

And after Friday’s sold-out Arena game, Gutierrez said he believed the Coyotes set a template for what clubs can accomplish this season when they host their own Pride nights.

“I think the biggest step is that you can continue to show your support. And you can rethink in the new context what the NHL wants us to focus on,” Gutierrez said. “Not just because of what happened this week. That was always the plan.”

(Image credit: Samuel Richardson / The Athletic; Photos: Brett Holmes / Icon Sports via Getty Images; Josh Lavallee / NHLI via Getty Images)