NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed Thursday that the league’s Board of Governors decided all 32 franchises would no longer wear any cause-based jerseys next season.
Bettman suggested the idea at the annual Board of Governors meeting in New York, saying it would remove potential distractions from the game if players made the decision to not wear certain jerseys.
“In the final analysis, all of the efforts and emphasis on the importance of these various causes have been undermined by the distraction in terms of which teams, which players. This way we are keeping the focus on the game” he said following the meeting.
Many teams chose to wear pregame jerseys celebrating a number of causes including Pride, Hockey Fights Cancer, and military nights during the 2022-2023 season.
The Pride jerseys became a controversial topic in the NHL last season, after several players chose not to wear the jerseys during warm-ups.
Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov was the first player to make the decision, saying it went against his Russian Orthodox beliefs.
“I respect everybody and I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov told reporters following a game against the Anaheim Ducks in January. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”
Following Provorov’s decision, the NHL released a statement stating “players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
Throughout the season a number of players follow suit, choosing not to wear the special Pride-themed jerseys.
Florida Panthers brothers Marc and Eric Staal also claimed religious reasons in their decision to not put on the pregame uniforms. Other players, like Buffalo Sabres defender Illya Lyubushkin cited Russia’s anti-gay legislation as the reason to not participate.
After the topic became a hot-button issue in the league, the Minnesota Wild, the New York Rangers, and the Chicago Blackhawks all chose to outright cancel Pride Night warmups.
Chief Operations Officer Kurt Weaver with You Can Play, an organization which advocates for members of the LGBTQ2S+ in sports and has worked alongside the NHL for the past 12 years, expressed disappointment in the league’s decision on Thursday.
“The reason for Pride Nights and the jerseys in general is the visibility it gives the community, specifically saying you are welcome in hockey, you are welcome in the arena,” he told Humber News.
“That message is vital for young athletes to see who may be wondering if hockey is for them,” Weaver said. “Their favourite NHL star wearing the jersey is that invitation to the game, and let’s them know hockey is for you, hockey is for everyone.”
However Pride awareness is not the only cause that will be affected by this decision. Another cause-themed jersey seen around the league last season were the Hockey Fights Cancer jerseys.
The Hockey Fights Cancer partnership aimed to inspire hope and courage for people living with cancer, and the NHL sponsored events have raised more than $32 million, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Bettman made it clear that while these jerseys will no longer be worn, the special-themed nights will continue on a team-by-team basis and that the jerseys will continue to be sold.