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.