When Carolyn and Merrin sent out the call for guest contributors, I knew that I wanted to write something, but I couldn’t settle on what. After reading Carolyn’s series on how the NHL fails at marketing, I decided to look into just how LGBTQIA-friendly each NHL team is. Marketing to the LGBTQIA community is a focused, concrete thing that these organizations should be able to do.
The good new is, every team has had at least one player do a You Can Play video. Though as far as I can tell, no NHL player has done one since Landeskog completed the set in January 2014. It’s like everyone decided they checked off that box, so no one needs to bother again. Update: Andrew Ference and Ben Scrivens have since done YCP videos with the University of Alberta.
Every team publicly apologizes for/condemns players who have said something homophobic/biphobic/transphobic in public. (Hello, bare minimum of human decency!) But what do teams do to indicate they are actually, publicly welcoming of LGBTQIA fans (and our money) and potential future players?
To examine this, I set up a series of items that I consider demonstrate a LGBTQIA-friendly atmosphere and checked each team’s records on them. The items include LGBTQIA theme nights at arenas, participation in Pride parades, activity with LGBTQIA charities, and how the team structures their players’ family and partner organizations (typically known as WAGs, for “Wives and Girlfriends”). Here’s what I found.
LGBTQIA Theme Nights
Looking at everything through the 2014-15 season, we’re off to a slow start. Only 5 teams have ever had an LGBTQIA theme night: Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Philadelphia, and San Jose. Columbus seems to have had the first LGBTQIA theme night, as their 2013 calendar lists a “Fourth Annual Night Out,” which indicates their first theme night would have happened in the 2009-10 season. I can’t find any reference to any Columbus LGBTQIA theme nights since the 2013 season, though, so this seems to have been discontinued.
Detroit just had their first LGBTQIA theme night in April. (Side note: I’m not sure why this article says this is the 2nd ever NHL LGBT night. Four other teams has already hosted LGBT nights at this point.) Florida hosted their only LGBTQIA theme night in conjunction with Spirit Day in 2013. Philadelphia hosted their only LGBTQIA night in March 2010. San Jose, the only team besides the Blue Jackets to have multiple LGBTQIA theme nights, held their 5th Annual Equality Night in March.
In total, just five of 30 NHL teams (16.7%) have ever hosted an LGBTQIA theme night, and only two of 30 teams (6.7%) have hosted more than one. That’s only thirteen total games over six (well, five and a half) seasons. That’s depressing and makes me want to flip a table and walk right on out of here. Maybe there’s better news in the next section.
EN: This section was updated to include information on the Bruins’ mascot appearance at the 2013 Boston Pride parade. — Updated again to include information on the Blue Jackets’ mascot appearance in 2014 and 2015 Columbus Pride Parades, and the 2014 appearance of the Pittsburgh mascot. — Updated again to include information on the Penguins’ mascot appearing in 2014 and 2015.
Having someone from your team (front office, players, coaches, ice girls, spirit squad, mascot, etc.) participate in a Pride parade is another way to publically indicate support for and acceptance of the LGBTQIA community (and involves less work than hosting a theme night).
Thanks to Brian Burke, it is better news. Ten of 30 teams (33.3%) have had one or more members of their organization participate in at least one Pride parade. Five of 30 teams (16.7%) have participated in multiple Pride parades. Burke has marched in several Pride parades as part of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization (2010-12) and as part of the Calgary Flames organization (2014–15). He marched with his son, Patrick, one of the founders of You Can Play, at this year’s Toronto Pride parade. He will be all or part of over one quarter of all NHL team Pride appearances by the end of this year. (His sixth appearance will be as Grand Marshall of the Calgary Pride parade in September.) His appearances ensure the Maple Leafs have attend the most Pride parades (six) of all NHL teams: Burke in 2010-12, goalie Ben Scrivens in 2013, forward Troy Bodie in 2014, and assistant GM Kyle Dubas in 2015. On the one hand, it’s great that one person is having such a noticeable and ongoing effect on making the NHL more LGBTQIA-friendly. On the other hand, it would be great if literally any other GM could get off their asses and sit on a rainbow float for a few hours next year.
Brent Sopel was the first player to attend a Pride parade, in 2010 as part of the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks. This started a tradition of the Blackhawks having a presence at the Chicago Pride parade each year they’ve won. While it’s great that Chicago has had a presence at three Pride parades (Sopel in 2010; mascot Tommy Hawk attended in 2013; and the Stanley Cup accompanied by Tommy Hawk in 2015), Sopel is the only Blackhawks player to have participated in a Pride parade.
The next NHL players to appear in Pride parades were Tommy Wingels of the San Jose Sharks and Manny Malhotra and Jason Garrison of the Vancouver Canucks, who marched in the 2012 Chicago and Vancouver Pride parades respectively. Malhotra and Garrison were accompanied by the Canucks’ mascot, Fin the Whale, which I believe is the first appearance of an NHL mascot in a Pride parade. These appearances mark the only Pride parade involvement for either team.
In 2013 Blades, the Boston Bruins’ mascot, marched in the Boston Pride parade. It seems that some players were planning make an appearance but were a bit busy with the Stanley Cup Finals. Also, as previously mentioned, Ben Scrivens, then of the Toronto Maple Leafs, marched in the Toronto Pride parade.
2014 brought first time Pride parade appearances for six players, four teams, and three mascots as well as the first appearance of team captains. For the Calgary Flames, captain Mark Giordano and Sean Monahan appeared in the Toronto Pride parade with Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs’ Troy Bodie. Sven Baertschi and Mikael Backlund marched in the Calgary Pride parade accompanied by the Flames’ mascot, Harvey the Hound. Edmonton Oilers’ captain Andrew Ference marched in the Edmonton Pride parade, marking the first appearance for the Oilers. (This was also the first time the captain of a professional North American sports team marched in a Pride parade.) Stinger, Columbus’ mascot, made the first appearance for the Blue Jackets in the Columbus Pride parade. The Penguins’ first appearance was courtesy of mascot Iceburgh who marched in the Pittsburgh Pride parade.
2015 had the largest number of teams participating in Pride parades, with six. As previously mentioned, Flames GM Brian Burke has already marched in Toronto with the Maple Leafs’ assistant GM Kyle Dubas, and the Blackhawks’ mascot, Tommy Hawk, accompanied the Stanley Cup in Chicago. Ben Scrivens of the Edmonton Oilers and Stinger of the Columbus Blue Jackets marched in their second Pride parades in Edmonton and Columbus, respectively, and Florida’s Panthers Patrol made the first Pride parade appearance for that organization.
So of the ten teams that have made a Pride parade appearance, we have the Toronto Maple Leafs at six, the Calgary Flames at three (will be four in September), the Chicago Blackhawks at three, the Edmonton Oilers and the Columbus Blue Jackets at two, and the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Florida Panthers at one each for 21 (soon 22) Pride parade appearances in six years. Eleven players, six mascots, two front office personnel, and one spirit squad have been involved, and the only four of them who have done it more than once are goddamn Brian Burke, Ben Scrivens, Tommy Hawk, and Stinger.
Oh look. I am still depressed and want to flip a table and rage quit everything. I will say the good news here is that we are seeing an increasing number of teams participating in Pride parades as the years go on, unlike with LGBTQIA theme nights where the number of events seems to have stagnated.
Still, participating in a Pride parade does take a modicum of effort. You know what doesn’t? Just throwing money at something.
The easiest way of all for an organization that makes millions of dollars to show support for a cause is just to give a bunch of money to an appropriate charity. No fuss, no muss, no going anywhere or doing anything. Super easy!
The numbers for this were a little harder to find documentation for than previous sections. I can confirm that no team’s foundation makes their donations to an LGBTQIA-focused charity a regular/publicized part of their work. Of course, due to the nature of some of these charities (e.g., working with child abuse victims, helping the homeless), they deal with causes that disproportionately affect the LGBTQIA community, so it’s not like they aren’t helping at all. They just aren’t helping us specifically.
So let’s start with what I have been able to find. Of the five teams who hosted LGBTQIA theme nights, four of them – Columbus, Detroit, Florida, and San Jose – definitely made donations to a local LGBTQIA charity as part of the theme night(s). I can’t find any reference to any charity for Philadelphia’s theme night, but donating money to a relevant charity is a very common part of all theme nights in the NHL. It wouldn’t surprise me if they did donate to an LGBTQIA charity; I just can’t prove it.
As for Pride parades, there’s usually an entry fee associated with marching in a Pride parade with that fee going towards parade costs and local LGBTQIA charities. So you might think that means all seven teams who participated in a parade did donate to LGBTQIA charities in a roundabout way. However, most of the Pride participation wasn’t done under the banner of those teams, it was done via other groups. All of Toronto’s appearances were with You Can Play, as were Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Andrew Ference, and Ben Scriven’s. Ference also marched with Camp fYrefly. Brent Sopel, Blackhawks’ mascot Tommy Hawk, and Tommy Wingels all marched with the Chicago Gay Hockey Association. Vancouver’s Pride appearance was part of a joint effort with You Can Play and the Vancouver Cutting Edges. Boston’s mascot marched with Boston Pride Hockey, and Columbus’ appeared with Gay Hockey Ohio in 2014 and the Columbus Ohio Gay Lesbian and Ally Hockey Association in 2015. Pittsburgh’s mascot marched with Pittsburgh Gay Hockey. This means that all donations came from those groups and not the teams.
Sven Baertschi and Mikael Backlund’s appearance was as part of the Calgary Sports & Entertainment Group, which owns the Flames. That counts as the Flames (indirectly) contributing to LGBTQIA charities.
Florida’s Panthers Patrol also seems to have appeared independently of other groups, so that’s another “Yes” for Florida contributing to LGBTQIA charities.
So for the easiest option (throwing money at something), there are still only five of 30 teams (16.7%) who have ever contributed to LGBTQIA charities and three of 30 teams (10%) who have contributed on more than one occasion. No team has contributed independently of a required (parade admission fee) payment or expected (theme night) event.
Nothing about this is making me feel any better about life. How’s your favorite team doing so far? Failing spectacularly? Yeah, mine too. On to the last topic.
Since being an NHL player currently means you are a man who is or is presenting as straight, that means all current partners are wives or girlfriends. For a team to be truly accepting and welcoming of a non-straight player, they need to show they would be welcoming of whatever family he brings with him. That includes having an inclusive name for the group of spouses/partners/significant others of players no matter their gender.
Most teams don’t have an official name for the group of players significant others. I could only find 10 who do. Of those 10, Calgary, Chicago, Colorado, and Tampa Bay have inclusive names with the first three teams opting for Better Halves and Tampa calling their group the Family Association. Four of 10 (40%) isn’t terrible, but it’s still less than half.
Holy shit, do we have a long way to go before the NHL is actually LGBTQIA friendly! Barely a quarter of the teams are worth congratulating.
A huge fuck you! to the following 17 teams who have not done a goddamn thing (53.3%):
Los Angeles Kings
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
St. Louis Blues
A large fuck you! to the following teams with the only thing going for them is an inclusive significant others group name (6.7%):
Tampa Bay Lightning
A you tried! to the following teams who did something once and never again (13.3%):
And a thanks for doing something! and please keep doing things in the future (except maybe better)! to the following teams (26.7%):
Columbus Blue Jackets
Detroit Red Wings
San Jose Sharks
Toronto Maple Leafs
What Can We Do?
How can we make this better? By telling our teams what we want to see. We want to see LGBTQIA theme nights. We want to see our team represented in Pride parades. We want them to be active in helping the LGBTQIA community in their area.
Also by thanking our teams when they do something great. Like dogs, they respond to positive reinforcement.
So holler at your team on twitter, email, Facebook, snail mail, whatever, and let them know that just telling us they’re LGBTQIA friendly isn’t enough. They need to show us. And when they do something right, they need to see that we noticed.
Note About Player Involvement
I really appreciate all the new information fans have shared that allowed me to update the post, so the overall picture isn’t quite as dire as what I first wrote. However, I won’t be incorporating updates on the really great work that individual players and their spouses are doing because I want this to stay focused on the work of NHL teams.
Tommy Wingels of the San Jose Sharks has acted as a member of You Can Play’s advisory board for many years.
Andrew Ference and Ben Scrivens of the Edmonton Oilers, along with Krista Ference and Jenny Scrivens (Goalie for the New York Riveters), are all very active in their support of Camp fYrefly. Andrew Ference was the keynote speaker at this year’s Mayor’s Pride Brunch in Support of Camp fYrefly, and his talk focused on what it means to be an ally. Both the Ferences and Scrivenses have made donations to fundraisers for Camp fYrefly.
[8/20/2015 Update: The Pride Parades section was updated to include information on the Boston Bruins’ mascot’s appearance in the 2013 Boston Pride parade.]
[8/21/2015 Update: The Pride Parades section was update to include information on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ mascot’s appearance in the 2014 and 2015 Columbus Pride Parades. A sentence was added to the Charities section regarding these appearances as well. Per an eye witness, the Pride section was updated to include an appearance for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ mascot, Pittsburgh.]
[8/22/2015 Update: Added some additional instances of involvement in LGBT organizations, as well as the Note on Player Involvement.]
Note: All this information was found through Google. If I missed something your team did, please let us know, so we can update the article! I want the results to be better than this.