Anti-discrimination group wants to keep Pride in the NHL

None of North America’s major professional sports league can outdo the NHL when it comes to consistently shooting itself in the foot (presumably with a 100mph slapshot).

To anyone who follows the league, its unmatched “foot-shooting” capabilities are evident in everything from how it polices the thorny issue of on-ice violence, coupled with a frustrating lack of consistency in enforcing its own rules, and a hidebound commitment to doing things the way they’ve always been done.

But it’s in its approach to broader social issues that the league so often tends to fall down like a four-year-old wearing skates for the first time. The latest example is a ban on all “cause-based” jerseys worn by the players prior to a game, with commissioner Gary Bettman telling Hockey Night in Canada‘s Elliotte Friedman that they’ve become a “distraction.”

Ostensibly, it’s a blanket ban that includes everything from military appreciation night to Hockey Fights Cancer and Black History Month, as well as more innocuous occasions like St. Patrick’s Day. (To be clear, the nights themselves remain on the NHL calendar. Only the jerseys have been jettisoned.)

But there’s little doubt that it’s a knee-jerk reaction to the controversy around Pride Nights that dogged the league throughout this past season—whether it was individual players like the Philadelphia Flyers’ Ivan Provorov or the Florida Panthers’ Staal brothers refusing to don a rainbow-coloured Pride jersey for warmups, or teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild doing away with them entirely.

So when the sports world’s self-professed toughest league meekly capitulated to a handful of homophobes and the perpetually angry mob, it indirectly informed a broad swathe of fans that there’s no place for them in the sport. And in classic bumbling NHL fashion, it chose to announce this ban during… Pride Month. (Shortstop creative director Sam Archibald recently wrote about this for The Message.)

To give it some credit, and perhaps in response to widespread criticism, the NHL and NHL Players Association did this week announce the launch of the Player Inclusion Coalition. Co-chaired by retired players Anson Carter and P.K. Subban, it has a stated mission to advance equality and inclusivity through the sport, both on and off the ice.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to a new marketing campaign created by Wunderman Thompson for the Get REAL Movement, a Canadian non-profit committed to combating 2SLGBTQ+ discrimination, racism, and bullying in schools, summer camps, and workplaces.

The campaign is based around a two-minute video featuring Harrison Browne, an LGBTQ+ advocate who is the first transgender athlete in professional hockey, and who previously appeared in advertising for Scotiabank’s “Hockey For All” brand platform.

Timed to coincide with draft night, one of the showcase events on the NHL calendar, “Prideless” features an interview-style video with Browne talking about how the league’s recent ban affected the LGBTQ+ community. “[W]hen a team says they’re going to wear a Pride jersey and they back-track on that statement, it sends a really hard message to LGBTQ+ fans and players that ‘We’re not going to stand behind you when things get tough,'” he says.

Interspersed throughout the interview are clips of NHL jerseys being cut and stitched together to create a Pride flag. This flag, however, features only three of its six colours. The colours missing from the flag are the signature colour of teams that declined to participate in Pride Night activities this past season—Chicago (red), Minnesota (green) and New York (blue) are conspicuously absent.

Ari Elkouby, chief creative officer at Wunderman Thompson, said that the agency began formulating a response when teams began to pull out of planned Pride night activities—first the Rangers in January, followed by the Wild and Blackhawks in March—which ultimately led them to the Get REAL Movement.

“We saw them as a really amazing partner to drive education,” said Elkouby. “We had this idea of showing the league what Pride looks like without unanimous support, and it’s pretty shocking.” Production on the video started prior to the NHL ban that was announced last week, which required the agency to slightly tweak the ending—from urging other teams not to backtrack on their support, to urging the league to reconsider the ban.

The video is being shown on Get REAL’s social channels, and drives to, which features educational materials about allyship, as well as a link to a petition urging people to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community (as of June 29, the petition had garnered more than 1,000 signatures).

“I know these things seem trivial, like it’s just a jersey, what difference can that make, but I think people maybe underestimate the importance of showing allyship,” said Elkouby. “Hopefully we can change people’s hearts and minds, as well as the league’s.” One of those might be easier than the other.


Chris Powell