The NHL goes woke.
On August 26, 2020, when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their game following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the NHL was the lone professional sports league to go forward with its schedule. The following day, however, a newly formed group led by prominent black NHL players called the Hockey Diversity Alliance spearheaded the postponement of games for the next two nights. And in the aftermath of the incident, the NHL launched a series of initiatives designed to, as Morning Consult put it, “combat racism and make the traditionally white sport more inclusive.”
The NHL launched its “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign back in 1998, but until recently, the league was notably less woke than the NBA, NFL, and major league baseball. Now many teams, and those covering them in the media, seem to be making up for lost time by inflicting wokeism on unsuspecting fans.
Consider some recent incidents. This month, the San Jose Sharks issued dozens of tweets that read like something out of a queer studies course syllabus at Oberlin College. On March 18, the last-place-in-their-conference Sharks notified their fans that they’d be using their platform to “offer information and facts about LGBTQIA+ topics” in the hope “that (their) content will serve as a reminder that there are issues more important than goals, highlights and wins.” “Worldwide, gender diversity is seen far differently than that in the Western World or as you may know it,” one tweet began. “Most of us are familiar with the male, female, and transgender labels. But in other cultures, the existence of ‘the third gender’ or even fourth and fifth genders is common.” The thread continued, “The muxe gender is a respected third gender in Zapotec cultures in Oaxaca, Mexico that has existed for centuries. Gunaa are those who were born as men but who identify as women & are attracted to men. The Nguii are those who were born as men and are attracted to other men.” And if lionizing a culture that practiced human sacrifice wasn’t weird enough for a hockey team, the stream of bizarre tweets continued: “The Ninauposkitzipxpe were honored as a third gender in the North Peigan tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy in northern Montana and Southern Alberta, Canada.”
So there you have it: if some obscure tribes with unpronounceable names believed in more than two genders at any point in history, apparently, Sharks fans should, too. The Sharks’ tweetstorm came on the heels of a Pride Night the team hosted, in which all but one of its players wore Pride jerseys during the warmups. The lone heretic, backup goalie James Reimer, cited his Christian faith—as had Ivan Provorov, a Russian defenseman for the Philadelphia Flyers who refused to wear a Pride jersey in a similar incident in January.
The media attacked Reimer and Provorov as bigots, though sales of Provorov’s jersey spiked in the days following the incident, and the same may happen with Reimer, even though he ranks 39th in the league in goals-against average and save percentage. In one typically outrageous response to Provorov’s jersey boycott, the NHL Network’s E.J. Hradek said Provorov should “get on a plane” and return to his home country of Russia, where he could “get involved” in the war with Ukraine. Paul Newman, a sportswriter for the Daily Mail, tweeted that Reimer’s statement on why he wasn’t wearing the jersey was “unacceptable both from the player and the club,” and added “this man should have no place in the NHL.”
At present, there are no openly gay players in the NHL. Luke Prokop, a minor-league defenseman, is the lone openly gay player under contract with an NHL team. He released a statement after the Reimer incident emphasizing that Pride nights are “an essential step towards fostering greater acceptance and understanding in hockey.” He continued: “We can create an environment where every player feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the game. As someone who aspires to play on an NHL team one day, I would want to enter the locker room knowing I can share all parts of my identity with my teammates.”
After the Provorov incident, players from the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Minnesota Wild declined to wear Pride jerseys or wrap their sticks with rainbow-colored tape, prompting their teams to scrap Pride night celebrations. One prominent sports website, The Athletic, smelled a Russian conspiracy, though only one Russian player—Provorov—explicitly refused to wear the Pride jersey. The reporter’s Russian conspiracy theory revolves around how 5 percent of NHL players are from Russia and that Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law making it illegal to spread “propaganda” about “nontraditional sexual relations” in the media, advertising, movies, or on social media.
The NHL’s leftward drift has been on display in other incidents as well. In February, the Manitoba Moose, a minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, lectured fans not to use terms like “girls, boys, ma’m, sir, ladies, gentleman and guys.” In a ridiculous tweet, intended to show support for the “2SLGBTQ+ community,” the team coached fans to use instead terms like “folks” and “friends,” while defining obscure pronouns and groups like Two Spirits.
In November, the NHL celebrated a tournament in Wisconsin “comprised entirely of transgender and nonbinary hockey players with around 80 folks participating!” After one user responded to the tweet, “so men playing on a woman’s team?” The NHL responded with a tweet remarking, “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Nonbinary identity is real.”
The PR from the trans hockey tournament didn’t go as planned, however. A video clip of a large biological male lightly bumping into a significantly smaller biological female went viral. She was injured and had to be carried off the ice on a stretcher, highlighting the inherent risks of allowing men to compete against women in a physical sport.
The league also advertised a job fair in Florida in February to help “diverse job seekers who are pursuing careers in hockey.” It stipulated that “Participants must be 18 years of age or older, based in the U.S., and identify as female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability. Veterans are also welcome and encouraged to attend.” The NHL later backtracked, saying the event was open to anyone, but only after Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s press secretary, Bryan Griffin, called out the league for hosting a discriminatory event. “Discrimination of any sort is not welcome in the state of Florida,” Griffin wrote.
What’s next for the NHL? Will it replace the Skills competition at next season’s All-Star game with more lectures on pronoun usage and queer feminist theory? If its goal is to continue antagonizing a significant portion of its fan base, perhaps so. The NHL’s woke virtue-signaling on LGBT and other pet causes of the Left isn’t coming as a result of pressure from woke players. Unlike the NFL and NBA, you rarely hear hockey players straying into anything political.
Instead, the new, far more woke NHL is a product of the successful lobbying efforts of what some call the Pride Mafia—most notably the influential Human Rights Campaign. For the Pride Mafia, it’s not enough if only 99 percent of hockey players agree to wear Pride jerseys. This increasingly authoritarian crowd insists on total compliance and, together with the media, will try to destroy anyone who doesn’t go along. They believe that there is only one acceptable, legitimate viewpoint on LGBT issues (theirs), and they’re determined to “educate” anyone else who feels otherwise.
Most athletes and fans, including me, want LGBT people to be able to attend games and compete against members of the same sex free from harassment and discrimination of any kind. But compulsory Pride celebrations—once confined to a whole month, now year round—and woke indoctrination from pro teams and leagues generates animosity and backlash that won’t advance the cause of gay rights. The best way to promote tolerance and acceptance is to police genuine discrimination, not to browbeat people into celebrating particular sexual orientations 365 days a year. Whether the NHL or other sports leagues—to say nothing of a host of other institutions force-feeding leftist indoctrination to Americans—will wise up to this reality remains to be seen.
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images
City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).