Pride Night is important, and the Minnesota Wild planned and executed a good one for Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center. It is unfortunate that it was, in a very visible way, hijacked by intolerance – perhaps from several thousand miles away.
Lord knows the US has its own issues with prejudice and the LBGTQ+ community here still has miles to go before they can sleep soundly at night, but it doesn’t look like the Wild’s decision not to wear custom-made Pride Night jerseys during Tuesday’s warmups was cultivated locally.
And while it was ultimately an unfortunate capitulation to bigotry, it was understandable.
About three months ago, on December 5, 2002, Russian President Vladimir Putin he signed a law making it illegal there to promote same-sex relationships or the idea that non-binary orientations are “normal”. Since then, no Russian NHL player has worn the Pride Night jersey.
You may know of a local Russian athlete who played for the Wild who actually wore a Pride Night jersey last season.
The 1-0 loss in Tuesday night’s shootout was in every other way a positive one for the Twin Cities and its LGBTQ+ community. Among other solid gestures, Wild players donated tickets to QUEERSPACE, team donated suites to Twin Cities Pride, Twin Cities Queer Hockey Association and Team Trans. Jack Jablonski opened the game with the traditional “Let’s Play Hockey.”
Just as important, nearly every one of the 20 Wild players in the lineup made it a point Tuesday to say they agree to treat their peers with dignity, respect and acceptance. About 17 of them attached their bat shafts and/or blades with rainbow tape for warm-ups, including Connor Dewar, Marc-Andre Fleury, Freddie Gaudreau, Filip Gustavsson, Ryan Hartman, John Merrill, Jake Middleton and team captain Jared Spurgeon.
This is the best kind of leadership.
As the LGBTQ+ community fights for inclusion, there’s no better exposure than it gets from professional sports teams. Once a bastion of toxic masculinity, they are – like the rest of North America – evolving. When professional athletes visibly respect and accept the LGBTQ+ community, it matters. They are not, for example, considered “coastal elites”, easily dismissed as enlightened connoisseurs; they are admired and respected by all people of all castes. Their approval, on the big screen, is more valuable than yours or mine.
When you first look at something like last night’s decision to make those jerseys a healthy scratch, it’s easy to assume that at least one player balked and that the organization decided not to spare what must be a delicate base of work in team in the locker room as a team. trying to lock down a Western Conference playoff spot in the final month of the regular season.
It’s also easy to say that the team should make recalcitrants explain their decision to disobey a team directive, and easy to believe that a team would balk at it just so other players would don’t have to answer a bunch of questions about an intolerant. linemate.
It remains possible to be so. The Wild wouldn’t directly respond to the late decision, other than to say it was an organizational one and that the team was “proud to continue its support of the LGBTQIA+ community” with the second annual Pride night.
But it just doesn’t seem like any of that is the case. I don’t want to buy into the cliché that sometimes there are bigger issues at play – there are no bigger issues than respect, acceptance and inclusion – but it presented a complicated set of circumstances that the team had to work through. Some NHL players simply have family in precarious places and situations.
Instead, we celebrate our diversity and rejoice that so many of the Wild’s most visible and admired employees thought to personally show their support for Minnesota’s LGBTQ+ community on Tuesday.