The NHL and the Conservatives clash in a culture war
The National Hockey League finds itself on thin ice with some conservatives as a new target in America’s culture war.
Ahead of its All-Star Game in Florida on Saturday, the league has sought to put its efforts to promote diversity and inclusion front and center. But the moves have drawn heavy criticism from powerful conservatives, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a top contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. the most-watched prime-time cable news host, and sparked controversy. ice.
There is no indication that these tensions will soon fade. Amid calls for change from inside and outside the sport, the NHL and its teams have sought to address past instances of racism and abuse, diversify their roster and foster a welcoming environment for LGBTQ fans and athletes. In doing so, the league promoted semi-regular “Pride” nights at games, conducted a top-down diversity and inclusion assessment of itself, and appealed to racial groups and ethnicities that traditionally weren’t a big part of the league. Workforce.
At the same time, leading conservatives argue that some of these initiatives openly discriminate against straight white men — who still make up the vast majority of team and league employees — or hamper religious freedom. DeSantis, ahead of his potential presidential bid, strategically picked fights over social issues with big business and entities like Disney, the College Board and the NHL when operating in his state, which he says is the place where ‘the revival will die. ”
Shaun Anderson, an assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University who focuses on the intersection of sports and social justice initiatives, said the idea that the NHL’s recent efforts to change hockey culture are too “woke” is comical. For years it has lagged behind contemporary leagues like the NFL and NBA when it comes to social, cultural and political issues.
“I laugh a little, because the [idea of the] woke up the NHL,” he said, “I’m like, ‘well, they must have woken up yesterday.
It was in Florida that one of the most important clashes took place. A few weeks ago, the league posted a message on LinkedIn announcing its “Pathway to Hockey Summit,” a career information event the NHL finally hosted on Thursday at the start of its All-Star weekend festivities. . The forum was described as being for “those who have never been exposed to hockey” to learn more about the game’s opportunities.
It included a note that read, “Entrants must be 18 years of age or older, based in the United States, and identify as female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Native, LGBTQIA+ and/or or a person with a disability. Veterans are also welcome and encouraged to attend.
The league later said the wording was a mistake and replaced the post, but not before DeSantis’ office condemned it in a statement and called for the removal of “discriminatory bans” on attendance.
“Discrimination of any kind is not welcome in the State of Florida, and we do not respect the long-held idea that discrimination should be ignored whether applied in a politically popular way or against any group politically unpopular demographic,” spokesman Bryan Griffin said in a statement. .
After the switch, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told The Athletic that he didn’t “want to get into any of this” and “increase the debate about it,” but said the event was “ misinterpreted”. DeSantis himself highlighted the episode, telling Fox News, “We’re not going to indulge in this wry conceit that it’s okay to discriminate against certain people if it’s politically correct to do so and so we did make it very clear to the NHL that they were breaking our laws.
“They reversed course very quickly,” he said. “And our society is better when we are all treated the same and all treated as individuals and not as members of groups.”
Florida State Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican, described the NHL’s description of the initiative as blatantly racist and said the league retreated on the issue because it had no “a publicly acceptable position”.
“People play sports to get away from politics,” he said. “The idea of using these vehicles to shove this down people’s throats, I think it’s short-sighted, I think it’s a terrible business strategy.”
He added, however, that he found nothing wrong with a private company wanting to diversify its workforce, but he objected to the framing of this event.
“If the thing had said, ‘Hey, we’re having a diversity event, and we’d like people from these groups to come, but everyone’s welcome, I don’t think that would have been on the radar screen. from the governor,” he said. “But the event literally said white men weren’t allowed to attend. This should bother people.
Florida State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, countered that the league’s “rollback” from the position in light of DeSantis’ pushback was “dangerous” and, given the general actions of DeSantis on social issues, “should be a national concern for everyone.”
“Hockey just isn’t a popular sport within the black community,” Jones said. “The fact that the NHL saw the need to reach out to get black people and others to appreciate the sport is the position of right. It is to be inclusive. It’s about making sure everyone can enjoy hockey. … It will have long term effects if corporations start bowing to this authoritarian, fascist mode of leadership that we see.
Although the league changed its promotion of the event, the summit took place as originally scheduled for Thursday and, as The Associated Press reported, focused on diversity efforts. Kim Davis, the NHL’s executive vice president of social impact, growth and legislative affairs, told the outlet that the league “doesn’t care about the tough questions asked, as long as the assessment is fair. “.
In October, the league released the results of an internal diversity and inclusion assessment, which found that approximately 84% of league employees were white while 93% identified as straight. Davis said the league plans to update the survey every two years.
The NHL did not respond to a request to speak with Davis for comment on this story.
Former NHL forward Brandon Bochenski, now Republican mayor of Grand Forks, North Dakota, thought it was inevitable that the same forces for social change that drove progress in other sports would soon shape hockey.
“The NHL was the next target, I guess,” he said. “It’s difficult, because diversity is not limited to skin color and sexuality. I think a lot of people believe that. »
One of the reasons the NHL has traditionally attracted a predominantly white audience and talent pool is that the game is most popular in countries with long, deep winters – such as Canada, Russia and Scandinavian countries – which are less racially diverse.
And in the United States, the sport’s high costs for skates, skates, sticks and other equipment and fees have also often made it a more exclusive sport, limited to affluent communities – a problem Bochenski said the league should be at the forefront of resolution.
But Bochenski said people’s backgrounds in the sport are more varied than they appear at first glance.
“I don’t think hockey on the cover looks as diverse as it actually is,” he said. “If you walk in there and talk to guys, they’re from different faiths, different families, different upbringings, how they treat people, there’s a lot more to it than that. I think so it frustrates people when it’s really just about skin color and sexuality because you have a pretty diverse group of people that make up the NHL.
The league has skated into thorny issues beyond DeSantis’ dust in recent weeks. Prior to a “Pride Night” game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Anaheim Ducks last month, Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov opted out of pregame skating because he refused to wear the Pride-themed warm-up jersey, saying that after the contest he wanted to “stay true to myself and my religion.” The incident sparked both backlash and support for the Russian-born player.
Last week, the New York Rangers, aware of how Provorov’s situation has unfolded, opted out of their scheduled Pride-themed warm-ups, with the team saying in a statement that “the The organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we’re proud to bring attention to important local community organizations in another big Pride night.
“Consistent with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to express their beliefs with respect,” the team added.
Bochenski said both incidents would have created dilemmas in the NHL locker room, where the culture is that individuality is set aside for the entire team. For the Flyers, “having a [player who] was not going to participate was probably difficult for them to decide what to do.
“I think Rangers decided not to put that pressure on anyone,” he said. “And I don’t know which one is the right choice.”
In light of each case, Anderson said the league and individual teams should strive “to always engage in a collaborative effort with the organization initiating the initiative and those directly affected by it.”
“The hope is that you do the right thing. You put these events together and withstand a backlash,” he said. “Because you are a multi-billion dollar company. stop watching the NFL or NHL because it’s “woke”, it will subside.
“And then,” he continued, “you’re doing well with a group of people who just want a chance to do something big in sports.”