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NHL bans specialty jerseys during warmups – the Iowa State Women’s Hockey Club and the hockey community responds

Teammate+shoots+on+freshman+Caitlin+Convay+during+the%C2%A0Iowa+State+Women%E2%80%99s+Club+Hockey+Team+practice%C2%A0Sep.+14%2C+2019%2C+at+the+Ames+Ice+Arena.
Mikinna Kerns/Iowa State Daily
Teammate shoots on freshman Caitlin Convay during the Iowa State Women’s Club Hockey Team practice Sep. 14, 2019, at the Ames Ice Arena.

On Tuesday, a memo was emailed to the 32 teams of the National Hockey League. In this memo, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman clarified rules for theme night games and said there would be a ban on any “specialty” jerseys being worn during pre-game warmups. The memo also bans the use of rainbow-colored stick tape.

This across-the-board decision bans specialty jerseys from being worn for several causes, including Hockey Fights Cancer, Black and Latino Heritage Nights, Indigenous History and Military Appreciation Night, as well as Pride Night.

The ban happened in June but was only publicized with the start of the NHL season earlier this week. At the time of the initial ban announcement, the You Can Play Project, which runs the Hockey Is For Everyone program that encourages inclusion and aims to bring unrepresented groups to the sport, issued a statement regarding the ban.

“Today’s decision means that the over 95% of players who chose to wear a Pride jersey to support the community will now not get an opportunity to do so,” the organization stated. “The work to make locker rooms, board rooms and arenas safer, more diverse, and more inclusive needs to be ongoing and purposeful, and we will continue to work with our partners at the NHL… to ensure this critical work continues.”

Bettman explained in an interview with ESPN Radio on Tuesday his reasoning behind the ban.

“What happened last year was that the issue of who wanted to wear a particular uniform on a particular night overshadowed everything that our clubs were doing,” Bettman said. “Instead of having that distraction and having our players have to decide whether or not they wanted to do something or not do something and be singled out, we said, ‘Let’s not touch that.’”

This decision comes after a season that included a handful of NHL players refusing to participate in warmups that involved pride-themed jerseys. The first of these players was Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, who cited his Russian Orthodox faith as his reason for not participating in a pre-game warmup in January.

After Provorov, players such as Eric Staal and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers and James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks followed suit, all citing religious reasons. In March, the Chicago Blackhawks made the decision not to wear pride-themed jerseys ahead of a game, citing a recent anti-gay Kremlin law that could endanger their Russian players when they returned home.

After the jerseys are worn during warmups, they are auctioned off and the money from these sales normally goes to benefit charities that are related to the theme. For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins held their Pride Night on Dec. 12 and the money from the jersey sales went to a local LGBTQ+ charity, as well as the You Can Play Project.

A few hours after news of the ban was made public, the Iowa State Women’s Hockey Club reposted a news article to their Instagram story with the caption, “We don’t stand for this,” followed by the caption “#allies”.

In a statement to the Iowa State Daily, Leah Bergstrom, the club’s treasurer and captain, explained the reasoning behind the post.

“We thought it was important to let our teammates and other players across especially women’s teams (which is our main demographic on Instagram) that we stand with them and support them even through the loss of public support in the sport of hockey for their community,” Bergstrom stated.

Though Bergstrom acknowledged that the NHL is still hosting Pride Nights and working with the Hockey Is For Everyone program, she does not believe this is enough.

“The support that the NHL has shown specifically to the LGBTQIA+ community since 2013 when the [Hockey Is For Everyone program] started [was] suddenly taken away,” Bergstrom stated. “Without this publicity, the work that still needs to be done to make arenas, locker rooms and teams inclusionary to the LGBTQIA+ community has lost a huge supporter.”

Notably, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association also made a statement denouncing the NHL’s ban.

“To grow the game, we must come together to create an inclusive, supportive environment for all hockey fans, players and staff,” the statement read. “While this decision sets back years of progress, we must remain steadfast in our support of the LGBTQ+ community. Hockey is, and always will be, for everyone.”

Despite their activism and donations, the NHL has never had an openly gay player. The closest they have come is the Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop, who came out as gay in 2021. While he has not publicly commented on the NHL’s decision to ban specialty jerseys, he did make a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, after several players opted out of wearing pride jerseys last season.

“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,” Prokop stated. “While there’s still progress to be made before hockey is for everyone, I’m optimistic about the change we can achieve and am committed to being part of it.”

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