I am a huge fan of hockey, and in particular, of the Rangers. I’ve watched the team since the days of Lundqvist who has since retired and stuck with the team by joining their TV family. Now I’m glued to the screen watching Panarin and Zibanejad scoring goal after goal. Odds are, if you clicked on this article, you’re a big fan of the sport as well. If this is the case, I am sure you’ve shared in the same disappointed feeling as myself and the rest of the NHL fan base over the last 20 months.
The frequency and caliber of controversies attached to the NHL organization seem to be endless. The most frustrating part is that many of these controversies were avoidable had the NHL been proactive. There is heightened duty for individuals and organizations that find themselves in highly influential positions. Simply put, the hope is that they utilize their platforms for good, and to spread good. This has been seen in the NBA’s handling of Black Lives Matter (8), by the National Women’s Soccer League halting play to bring awareness to sexual assault (1), and even by the MLB’s efforts to stand for general equality by broadcasting games hosted solely by women (7).
On the outskirts sits the NHL, lacking any notoriety for leading the social pack and frankly, it’s embarrassing.
(1) NHL and Civil Rights
The NHL was initially hesitant to say the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and instead relied heavily on printing “#WeSkateForTheCup, #WeStakeForBetterDays, #WeSkateForBlackLives” and, “End Racism”. Do these phrases still carry a powerful message on their own? Of course. But there was an undeniable fear of saying “Black Lives Matter”. It was nowhere in the arena during the return to the bubble for the Stanley Cup in 2020 until the NHL final showed a promotional video highlighting the social circumstances over the past few months. The video audio played the follow; “three words we need to get comfortable saying: Black Lives Matter.” The catch – the NHL did not make the video, NBC did (2).
Following this, it was the Hockey Diversity Alliance that had to ask the NHL to suspend playoff games in August of 2020 in solidarity with the movement (3). This was following the actions other leagues like the NBA who had already quickly made the choice to suspend gameplay. It seems the NHL made many calculated choices in their handling of the BLM movement in an attempt to remain neutral, resulting in a lot more following than leading.
(2) NHL and Sexual Assault
The NHL has recently made headlines recently due to their mishandling of sexual assault allegations. Kyle Beach came forward, for the second time, after a decade of silence following his initial report of sexual assault with the threat of violence against then film coach Brad Aldrich. The wrongful holdup behind anything being done about these reports was that at the time, the Blackhawks were in the running for the Stanley Cup. After winning, Beach sat waiting for disciplinary action by the Blackhawks against Aldrich. Fast forward a decade, and still nothing had been done in pursuance of these allegations. Kyle Beach officially filed his 2021 lawsuit against the Blackhawks coverup of the allegations in 2010, and now the NHL admits knowledge of the allegations for over four months prior to the official filing (4). The NHL took the word of Blackhawks Management over Kyle Beach who stated that the allegations against them “had no merit”, so the NHL did nothing. Commissioner Bettman stated in a conference, “I’m not sure there’s anything we could’ve done differently or faster, based on the knowledge that we had.” (4).
I don’t know Bettman, maybe as a commissioner of the league, do a little investigating of your own rather than blinding trusting the team being accused for hiding sexual assault allegations for over a decade? Just a thought.
(3) NHL and Gender Equality
Did you know that the National Women’s Hockey League is in the middle of trademark and copyright processes to change their name to the Premiere Hockey Federation (PHF)? (5). If not, do not feel too bad, especially if your chosen source of hockey news is the NHL Instagram account. On September 7th, 2021, the organization formally known as the National Women’s Hockey League took a stand for gender equality in sports and removed the word ‘women’ from their name to squash the appearance of being just the women’s version of the NHL, a subgroup to real hockey. I went all the way back on the NHL’s Instagram to early September, 2021, and did not find a single post regarding this huge trademark decision by their hockey counterpart. The lack of support shown by the NHL to women in hockey is egregious and disappointing.
Their complete disregard of women in the game does not end there. It is felt not only on the ice through their silence regarding PHF, but in their own staffing at the NHL. For this, I will let the numbers speak for themselves. See below for the 2019 staffing gender data for the NHL.
On average, there are 46.6 people working in each team’s hockey operations, two of those are women, making the average hockey operations department 96 percent male (6). Are we sure this reflects an organization that follows equal opportunity hiring laws? This is not some town run coed softball league where you need at least two girls on the field at any time to play. This is a multimillion-dollar organization repeatedly and substantially staffing men more than women.
Although I am giving a major metaphorical thumbs down to the NHL with this piece, I have hope and I am still a huge fan of the sport. I am a fan of all it can do for a city, for a young person searching for a meaningful and challenging activity, and for a person like myself who finally found a sport the entire family will actually sit and watch together, start to finish. The NHL is lucky enough to be the organization representing one of the toughest and most entertaining sports in the world. Going forward into 2022, the NHL must improve and grow drastically – clean it the puck up NHL.