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NHL Solves Pride Controversy by Banning All Pregame Theme Jerseys

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NHL commish Gary Bettman said last night that teams will no longer wear themed jerseys during pregame warm-ups because “it’s become a distraction.”

Bettman’s announcement, which came in an interview with Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman following a meeting with the league’s board of governors, comes after several teams had controversies involving their pregame Pride jerseys this season, including the Flyers, Wild, Canucks, Canadiens, Panthers, Sharks, Rangers, and Chicago.

The league’s new policy will apply not just to Pride jerseys but to all themed pregame jerseys. NHL teams routinely use theme-driven jerseys during pregame activities to boost the messaging for certain promotions, including military appreciation, celebrating Indigenous people, St. Patrick’s Day, Black History Month, Hockey Fights Cancer, honoring first responders, local holidays, Mexican Night, and more. Going forward, teams will still be able to have such promotions in their arenas and sell themed jerseys, but the players will no longer wear the jerseys on the ice.

Bettman’s comments in the Sportsnet interview included the following:

I’ve suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warm-ups because it’s become a distraction and taking away from the fact that all of our clubs, in some form or another, host nights in honor of various groups or causes. We’d rather they continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction.

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’re keeping the focus on the game and on these specialty nights, we’re going to be focused on the cause.


32 of our clubs did Pride Nights, some do Heritage Nights, everybody does Hockey Fights Cancer. Some do military nights. All of those nights will continue. The only issue will be, or the only difference will be, we’re not going to change jerseys for warm-up because that’s just become more of a distraction from really the essence of what the purpose of these nights are.

When an NHL team is retiring a player’s number, it’s also common for all the players to wear pregame jerseys featuring the honored player’s number and NOB. It’s not clear, at least to me, whether the new policy will apply to that practice, although my assumption is that it will still be permitted.

Personally, while I think Bettman’s comments sound eye-rollingly insincere (he obviously just wants the Pride issue to go away), I actually think it’s a positive outcome, because the pregame jersey routine long ago began feeling rote and overdone. If teams want to keep having cause-based promotions, that’s great — but leave the uniforms out of it.



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Can of the Day

Oooh, that’s a beauty. And from Brooklyn, too! Very nice.

Comments (61)

    I’m torn on this one.

    I always thought the idea of pregame jerseys was silly. Maybe things have changed since I was a kid, but I always remember myself and my teammates struggling to get our jerseys on over our equipment in the locker room. I certainly wouldn’t want to it twice before a game.

    However, what troubles me is that it is very clear that it is only one specific theme night that caused “distractions”.

    I know this a website for people obsessed with uniforms, but the sanctity of the uniform seems like that absolute least important issue here.

    Yeah, this really has nothing to do with uniforms. This has to do with the NHL wanting to make the discussion about homophobia in hockey go away, a discussion that comes up every time there is a pride night.

    Bettman realized that they couldn’t just get rid of pride night warm ups so they had to toss them all and that would give them enough cover with the but-both-sides ‘focus on the game’ crowd.

    dumping all of them is the bet solution. teams have uniforms, its a visual identity, Stick to that and play.

    This is a good development.

    I don’t care what the issue is but I know I want my teams uniforms to stay their uniforms. This stuff is all marketing and falls into the same as jersey advertisements.

    Some fans may be turned away by this…but hockey (specifically the NHL) isn’t turning away any consumers at the gate or at the team shop.

    The National Homophobia League is fine with getting LGBTQ+ money, they just don’t want LGBTQ+ hockey players.

    They certainly don’t care about eradicating homophobic language at all levels of the game. This banning sends the message that they are completely fine with it.

    no one is stopping anyone from playing hockey or watching it. Trying to control someones thoughts or language is stupid. People will be as they want to be. Let them talk, that way you’ll know who the fools are.

    So no more wearing MLB or NBA themed jerseys, e.g., LA Kings can’t wear Kobe tribute jerseys nor jerseys that can be later auctioned off for charity?

    “If teams want to keep having cause-based promotions, that’s great — but leave the uniforms out of it.”

    My thoughts exactly! Players shouldn’t feel forced to wear (or ostracized for not wearing) a warmup jersey for a cause they don’t support or feel comfortable about.

    If a player doesn’t want to support getting paid from a LGBTQ fan, then the player can go find another career

    Exactly, if a player has a problem with making everyone feel welcome — especially in a sport where people have not been welcome (historically and currently), then they can go play in the KHL since they don’t seem to want to live in a free, equal, and welcoming society.

    Free and welcoming means letting *everyone* play, no matter their orientation and no matter their beliefs. Welcoming one group shouldn’t be coupled with “Go play somewhere else if you don’t believe everything I do.”

    Don’t really want to get into a long diatribe with anyone on this.

    “If a player doesn’t want to support getting paid from a LGBTQ fan, then the player can go find another career.” So if a player doesn’t want to wear a jersey (for any reason: Pride Night, Armed Forces Night, etc.) during warmups your solution is the person shouldn’t be able to work at his chosen profession. So very tolerant of you!

    Yay, an end to these patronizing exhibitions!

    Just play the games and leave the virtue-signaling to others.

    I have no problem with Pride Nights, Heritage Nights or any other one-off. But this always felt to me like a merchandising opportunity cloaked in virtue signaling. It was a chance to sell your favorite team’s jersey… but in camo, rainbow stripes or shamrocks.
    Teams can still celebrate whatever they want without turning their uniforms into a template for squeezing more money from loyal paying customers. In fact, it might be a little more genuine when the chance to get more money is taken from them.

    I think the NHL has taken a step in the right direction. Pandering to groups of any kind is bound to alienate some percentage of the fan base. By simply wearing the standard uniforms, the teams take that alienation out of the equation.

    Good point. The funny thing is, sports have the power to unify under the same banner and colors. In Philadelphia and the surrounding area, “GO BIRDS” has replaced “Hello” or “How are you?” as a greeting. People of all ages, races, sexes, religions, orientations all use it because we support the same team. Differences go out the window because we have found common ground. It’s beautiful in a way; people who might have nothing to do with each other see themselves as part of the same thing; they are no longer The Other that we are conditioned to fear and hate. They’re one of us, and if they like the same team, maybe they aren’t so bad…

    “Pandering” is an interesting (and noticably negative) choice of words. What some people view as “accepting” or “welcoming” is a more positive view of the special jerseys.

    The correct term is “marketing” here. For any initiative jersey they want to sell.

    “Pander” means to tempt, attract or cater to. And it is exactly what teams are doing. Altering their uniforms and colors to get a subset of their fan base to buy more and special merchandise. Be it military/patriotism, ethnicity or sexual orientation, the teams and leagues are altering the design of their uniforms to appeal to a portion of the fan base. There’s only a negative connotation if you want there to be one; the word is fairly neutral and not inflammatory, and precisely defines the behavior being discussed.

    If teams want to keep having cause-based promotions, that’s great — but leave the uniforms out of it.

    Exactly. Wish other leagues would follow suit.
    Now if we can convince the commissioner that ads on unis are a distraction as well…

    Bettman says he doesn’t want the uniforms to “be a distraction” when… being a distraction was exactly the point all along.

    The point of those jerseys is to be a distraction from the usual routine… to make people notice and to make people think.

    It’s a cowardly, un-principled decision on the part of Bettman, and he’s hiding behind “all special jerseys” as a policy change.

    Leaving out my personal opinions, but honest question: If an NHL team wears a special warmup sweater during pre-game warm ups, do the fans really feel included or supported by it? Yes, everyone in the arena sees them, but they don’t get on TV and although they may get a mention on radio for example, they are largely unseen from a mass-audience standpoint. But, back to the original question, do folks who are connected to or support a particular cause really feel included or acknowledged by them, any more than they might with the team doing something else or other things at the event or in media in support of those causes?

    I’m kind of of two minds here (and trying to sidestep any number of political minefields): no matter how shrewd it is, an organization telling fans who are part of historically marginalized groups that they are a welcomed part of the fanbase will never be a bad thing. That said, the warmup jerseys always felt a shade too much like pandering to me, AND it creates the potential for problems with players, either with their own viewpoints (however uninformed) or fear of retribution from their home countries or whatever.

    I’ve also stated over and over that I don’t like the MLB’s league wide special hats/jersey promotions (which are worse to me than City Connect and frankly the sleeve ads) because they diminish the importance of each team’s unique visual identity. I tend to think the NFL’s pink and camo gear and the NHL’s special pregame sweaters fall into that category as well.

    I’ve seen this sentiment on a few comments, so I don’t mean to single you out.

    Does altering what a team wears in pregame warmups really affect their visual identity at all?

    On a very basic level, if a team is altering their colors for a one off, then yes. And if a team alters their colors twenty times a season for various promotions, then yes absolutely. But my larger point was that the warm-ups, the ads, the league wide sideline gear and hats across all American sports has an impact on uniforms across the board. And even when it’s a cause I support, I always find myself wishing there were a less awkward way for a team to show their support.

    I prefer the approach that pro soccer teams and leagues in Europe have taken: there are certainly on field and in unform gestures and signals, but they’re not merch dumps.

    Whether I agree with your comment about soccer or not, it’s an irrelevant point. Soccer teams get up to three new kits every single year. It’s incredibly rare for a team to hold onto a jersey for two years at this point. The entire professional game has become a merch dump, and that’s coming from someone who is a primarily a soccer fan above all else.

    did I miss the time when they said they were not invited to be fans? Did I miss the hetero night? Did I miss the anti-military night, the pro-cancer night. No. None of those have a “special” night. The teams want anyone willing to pay the price to come out. No person/group needs a special invitation to go to a game.

    It’s the “right” call. But it’s also the most cowardly. Which is typical of the NHL.

    Actually, it is one of the most even handed decisions that Bettman could have made, and one that CEO’s (which, in effect, he is) need to start making. You can still have special nights, you can still sell special merch, you can still honor special people, and the players play the game.

    Simple, applies equally to everyone, and gets your business out of the perpetual outrage machine.

    I’m in agreement with this. The warmup jerseys have always been an unnecessary component of theme nights.

    I think it’s the right choice, but it seems like kind of a backpedal. It does seem more genuine to me that if the a team is having a (insert name here) themed night that they won’t be pandering/marketing to that group and/or the general public to make money off jersey sales, hat sales etc. As far as charity auctions, they can always auction off the regular jerseys from the actual game.

    It also makes it easier for the players to just do their job. Think of it this way, if your employer came to you, multiple times per year and said “Everyone in the company is wearing these to support __________, you are expected to wear this as an employee of this company”. What it was for a cause you didn’t necessarily believe in or agree with? What if it displayed the logo of the biggest rival of your favorite team? What if it had the logo or company name of a business or restaurant you don’t care for? Would you feel a little awkward wearing it?

    I think it’s great that sports teams hold these events that are meant to celebrate many diverse causes and ideologies, but the unfirms should have always been left out of it from the get go. Let’s hope more leagues follow suit, especially MLB with the Mother’s Day, Father’s Day 4th of July etc. The cause is what’s important, not the marketing dollars by selling the “special” uniform accessories.

    I wonder what Fanatics take will be on this since they sell St Patricks, military, etc warm up jerseys on their site. We all know the tail wags the dog in these kind of things.

    Reminds me of the Howard Stern show when Robin Quivers read a story about the subways curbing littering by banning garbage cans, and Artie Lange said, “That’s like stopping bigotry by banning Black people.”

    I’m sure they dont do this for ALL their special warmup jerseys, but its pretty routine to auction those jerseys off to charity afterwards and now there wont be any such jerseys to auction off.

    So because like 10 homophobic players couldn’t just shut up, the NHL and Gary Bettman are cutting off thousands of dollars from great causes, not just LGBTQ+ charities, and making queer hockey fans feel less welcome in the sport. Great.

    Just to clarify: Teams can still sell/auction autographed theme jerseys — they just won’t be *pregame-worn* autographed theme jerseys.

    Teams can also donate to worthy causes without any transactional merch exchange. (And so can fans.)

    Yeah I know they can still sell/auction theme jerseys, and people shouldn’t need the motive of an autographed jersey that’s been worn on the ice, but cmon we all know that the prices those jerseys fetch at auction will be lower.

    Wow, the only people who were making it a distraction were the people crying about it. Glad they got what they wanted and ruined it for everyone. Now that you’ve appeased them with this they’ll be looking to take away theme nights altogether. But then again that’s their goal. Rid the world of anything and everything that doesn’t fit their narrow world view.

    While searching your post for something related to sports uniforms beyond your anger over the decision a company made, let me ask: Do you feel the same way about people whose narrow worldview doesn’t align with yours? I actually agree with you on matters of inclusivity, but that has to include people with whom I disagree. Tolerance isn’t silencing or ostracizing people who say things you don’t like, then you’d be no better than the people you belittle.
    Me? I would include everybody under the same colors of the teams we root for. End of story. We can disagree politically; leave that behind and watch the game.

    I think this is a good idea because you need to think about the majority. There is a much higher fan population of people who don’t want this. Theme nights in general are kinda dumb and should be reserved for like 2 games per season and for something that is really meaningful. Like a throwback night to remember the teams past. Or an American theme night to remember our countries past.

    I’d love to see the stats that back up “There is a much higher fan population of people who don’t want this”.

    Actually, I wouldn’t, because it’s not true and they don’t exist.

    I agree with you here, Charlie. And to add to it, the whole point of Pride night, Indigenous People’s night, etc… is a public demonstration of welcoming to minority groups of fans. We can debate the finer details of what these nights should look like, but the notion that they shouldn’t exist because they’re not for most people is foolish at best.

    As a life-long hockey guy and father of a gay daughter, I’m ok with the decision. Pride nights never translated to a greater sense of inclusion for my family. What teams do off-ice to support inclusion seems far more meaningful to me. And while I look askance at the players citing religious beliefs for not taking part (I’m also a life-long atheist), I’m not at all comfortable with forcing them to wear something they don’t want to. I’ve always thought the themed jerseys were a money grab in disguise. Now, this comes from a guy who thinks the national anthems should be left out of the pre-game routine. It’s just a hockey (football, baseball, basketball etc.) game, why muck it up and inflate its importance with patriotism. Just play the friggen game.

    Thanks Lex. This addresses a question I asked earlier, at least from your perspective. I think if the pre-game uni thing was the only special acknowledgement (or whatever) teams had for various groups and causes, I would be disappointed. Seems to me from the standpoint of the folks they are on the surface attempting to support and recognize, this one thing being discontinued is insignificant, and didn’t do much in the first place.

    I also think that forcing someone to wear or do something in the name of inclusivity is a poor way to educate people who are less informed.

    Paul, I usually very much agree with your takes on this site, but this take is incredibly off the mark. If the league truly wants to push the “hockey is for everyone” message, this is an enormous step backwards. Pride, Black History, Indigenous nights, Hockey Fights Cancer, autism awareness, military appreciation, first responders, St. Patrick’s Day, etc – all out the window because the league is caving to a handful of bigoted players and a loud minority of hateful individuals. These types of nights are not even remotely on the same page or even in the same book as the sweater or helmet advertisers – the special warm-ups were a way to show the values of the team and the fans. This is an incredibly disappointing development and just another stain on Bettman’s already so-so legacy as commissioner that he’s moving forward with this decision.

    These types of nights are not even remotely on the same page or even in the same book as the sweater or helmet advertisers.

    I never claimed they were (and I agree with you on that point).

    Apologies on conflating someone’s comment about them being worse than the ads with the article – must have gotten tripped up when reading the article + comments.

    Missing the mark here, bud. Themed nights in support of different groups will still occur. Jerseys will still be available, just not worn by players on the ice. Not sure why people think players donning the jerseys is that big of a deal. The whole thing is kinda silly. Take a military night- let’s say it’s in NY and in support of the American military. Should a player from Russia or Sweden have to wear a jersey showing they support the military of a country they aren’t a citizen of? Just play ball, Fer fuck sake.

    Themed jersey/caps/whatever and “[insert here] Nights” were always going to lead to this eventually. I don’t care if it’s to honor legless veterans, fuzzy kittens, or what have you: from the beginning of all this, people have been getting suborned into endorsing things that a damn adult citizen should be free to endorse or not. No matter how I feel about God, freedom, and apple pie, I won’t be made to pay lip service to them when I walk into the office to do my job. And sports players deserve the same.

    I do not play hockey but I have never understood warm up jerseys for hockey. So you warm up in a cold environment, go back to the locker room and change into a new jersey? And players on the bench do not wear them for obvious reasons: you can be quickly inserted into the game and you do not want to take off the helmet and struggle with a warm up jersey and put on the game jersey.
    Different with basketball: you wear a no sleeve jersey underneath and you wear the warm up shirt on the bench while you are not playing. That is functional. A hockey warm up jersey is not. So my point here is: get rid of EVERY warm up jersey in hockey. Use them as practice jerseys or something.
    Now a warming up jacket for hockey that fits over the uniform: that is a thumbs up for me.

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