While the forces of “woke” march resolutely across the world of sports, darkening our spirits as they thrust leftist mantras into our daily ration of athletic contests, some glimmers of hope, some slivers of free-speech sunshine, manage to break through the miasmic overcast once in a while.
And it’s no surprise that they’re coming from professional hockey. While the NFL, the NBA, and MLB have all made it their business to shove left-wing causes in our faces in the past few years, the NHL has retained its reputation as the least woke of the major American sports leagues.
As evidence, we offer the recent spate of contentious “Pride Nights” at NHL arenas. The league this year instituted gay-themed nights at its arenas in which players, during warmups, wear specially created jerseys, which are later auctioned off. They also wrap rainbow-colored tape around their sticks.
First to object was Philadelphia Flyer Ivan Provorov, who, alone among his teammates, declined to participate in the pregame skate for a contest against the Anaheim Ducks, in which his teammates wore the theme jerseys and wrapped their sticks in rainbow tape. “I respect everybody, and I respect everybody’s choices,” he said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”
In hockey, players rebelling from the mind-control hive at least get a voice.
The incident sparked predictable backlash against the Russian-born player, including calls for him to be fined $1 million and a suggestion that he return to Russia and possibly take up arms against the Ukrainians. But also — mirabile dictu! — there came thundering back heartening support for freedom of expression. His coach, John Tortorella, said: “With Provy, he’s being true to himself and to his religion. This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy: He’s always true to himself. That’s where we’re at with that.”
Even the league, the NHL, struck a note for freedom: “Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
Is it a surprise that Provorov’s jersey flew off the racks at the online stores of the NHL Shop and Fanatics (at a cool $175 per), with only men’s extra-small sizes still available a few days after the game?
A week after the Provorov incident, the New York Rangers, although promising fans they’d also don special Pride-themed warmups and wrap their sticks in the rainbow motif during their pregame skate, emerged from their locker room for the pregame in their normal jerseys sans fancy stick tape. Explained the organization afterward: “Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night…. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
And, earlier this week, the New York Islanders left the jerseys and tape in the locker room while the Minnesota Wild ditched the jerseys en masse (but a few opted for the tape) during their respective Pride Nights.
Is the sports world rediscovering the grand American tradition of free speech?
Not all of it, certainly — NBA players aren’t criticizing China all of a sudden. In hockey, though, players rebelling from the mind-control hive at least get a voice. This respect for individual liberty is what separates hockey from the other sports leagues. Those few who objected to NFL woke demands, once called out, backpedaled faster than a DB defending a Tyreek Hill fly route. No NBA player that I can remember pushed back verbally against the collective Black Lives Matter salutes.
Pride Nights draw very near to shoving politics into the playing arena.
The NHL is the least woke of the major sports leagues. It’s also, by a long stretch, the whitest and least diverse. A survey released last October revealed that 83.6 percent of league and team employees are white, 3.74 percent black, 3.71 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 4.17 percent Asian. Women constitute 36.81 percent of the league’s employees, and LGBTQ+, fewer than 4 percent.
The racial piece can be explained. Hockey is a winter sport, played on ice. Players have traditionally come from cold country — from Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, places with historically few blacks. Blacks are not naturally drawn to hockey for the same reason they don’t care much for the Winter Olympics. Besides which, hockey’s entry portal is restrictive to the less affluent — the beginner needs more than a bat, ball, and glove, or a football, or a basketball and a hoop, to access the game. Hockey equipment is necessary to gain entry, and pricey, and once a modicum of skill is acquired, players find themselves playing club hockey, the better ones on travel teams, which involve airplane flights and overnight stays.
The pushback on gay themes can perhaps be laid on hockey’s workingman roots and popularity, as well as the libertarian streak that emerges in Americans when somebody tries to make them do something. The typical NHL fan is probably willing to abide the choices of others but rejects heavy-handed attempts to tell him what views he has to approve or not approve.
The league, as one would expect, is trying to flip those numbers and change that image. It wants to broaden its fan base. Every sports league wants to grow the business by appealing to newer demographics.
But Pride Nights draw very near to shoving politics into the playing arena, which is anathema to many sports fans, not only those of hockey. Stanley Cup winner and holder of an Olympic gold medal Theo Fleury told Tucker Carlson in December: “You know, I think the reason why we all gravitated toward hockey was [that] first and foremost it was fun. Then secondly, you know, there was no politics involved. You know, we played this sport because we absolutely loved it.”
It doesn’t matter to us who plays the sport, whether you’re transgender, gay or whatever. The reason why we play the game, and the reason why the game is so amazing and so great, is [that] it’s for everybody. Right? And the reason why we play the game is [that] it’s an escape from what’s going on in our lives….
Unfortunately politics has no place in any sport, whether that’s football, basketball, hockey, baseball. Politics should never be a part of any kind of sport whatsoever.
The Canceling of Mitchell Miller