I've been a hockey fan since I was 9 years old. Specifically, I've been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. My friends in elementary school, all Vancouver Canucks fans, would give me their Maple Leafs hockey cards. I tend to lean towards the underdog, so I, as a West Coaster, chose the Leafs as my team to cheer for. At the time, they were definitely the underdog in my circles.
And I've been loyal to the Leafs ever since. I've bought Leafs jerseys and paraphernalia, followed the team's scores and trades, and generally handed over a lot of my brainspace to following the team.
When my wife and I visited the Hockey Hall of Fame last week, she made sure I got a picture with my favorite jersey there, and I chose the Ted Kennedy one:
But I admit I wasn't really having a great time at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Everything I saw there, which usually brings me joy, seemed tainted.
Some events in the NHL have really turned me off of the game, and over the last week it's really strained my ability to get excited about the sport. This discomfort stems from NHL players refusing to wear novelty "Pride jerseys" at warmups. I've found the whole fiasco deeply, deeply distasteful.
It started with Russians. The Philadelphia Flyers' Ivan Provorov refused to wear a Pride jersey, citing his religious beliefs, I guess as a Russian Orthodox person. His coach, John Tortorella, supported him in this; Gary Bettman, the NHL Commissioner, also supported team's decision.
To me, this appeared short-sighted on the NHL's part. It's already bad enough that we have Russians being paid who would be sending money back to their terrorist-state homeland in the middle of a cruel war of aggression; it already felt icky to watch Alex Ovechkin approach the all-time NHL goals record, knowing his connections to Valdimir Putin. Now, in addition to this compromise with allowing Russian players at all, they were letting Russian religious sentiments get in the way of the expression of basic human rights. The NHL fell directly into the wrong side of history.
Naturally, after Provorov got away with it, a few other Russians followed suit; some teams scrapped their "Pride jersey" nights altogether.
Then, last Saturday, I saw the news that James Reimer, a Canadian, a Christian of some sort, also refused to wear the Pride jersey.
This really pissed me off. If I have to, I can kinda' justify the Russian refusal, since these players' families might receive retaliation in their homeland if the players are seen supporting western values. I can sorta' justify it for them if I really have to.
But for a Canadian? Come on. I can't justify that. Because I shouldn't have to justify anything in the first place.
What all of this shows is such a shocking lack of leadership on the NHL's part that I don't want to follow the sport right now. The league comes off as weak and backwards, bending to the whims of people's religious beliefs, trying to be "all things to all people," which never works.
The NHL had a chance to take the moral high ground when the war with Ukraine started. They could have banned the Russian players, or at least refused to pay them. If they didn't want to do that, they, or the Flyers organization, could have taken a stand and suspended Provorov for his refusal to be a team player. Instead they took a middle road. They catered to his bigotry. And that middle road caused a slippery slope that has now lead to NHL being a platform for domestic bigotry. What a joke.
The NHL and the NHLPA (the NHL Players Union) should be ashamed; to me, they've lost all of their credibility.
Hockey has been considered a backwards community for a long time. A lot of the machoistic garbage, however, took place behind the scenes: sexism, racism, and all that. Hockey culture has been under a microscope for a while now, and this is good. But at least it was all sorta' behind-the-scenes.
But right now, the NHL is a platform for bigotry. The NHL platforms bigotry.
So I'm done with the NHL for a bit until they get their act together. As a fan, I can't support and enjoy it.
I just wish I'd already downloaded NHL23 to my PS4 before I'd settled on this.
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