The NHL has sent out two memos regarding guidelines for what teams should do about special initiatives and theme nights, according to a report from ESPN. The first memo caused some “confusion,” which led to the league sending out another memo to clarify its policies.
Throughout the 2022-23 season, the NHL faced criticism for its handling of special initiatives, especially as it pertained to Pride Nights. In hopes of avoiding a similar situation in 2023-24, the league sent a memo titled “Game and Practice-Related Special Initiatives” to each team last week.
However, that memo did not have the intended effect. For some teams, it muddied the waters even more. Specifically, they were concerned about a portion of the memo that referred to players and coaches taking part in themed nights.
“Players shall not be put in the position of having to demonstrate (or where they may be appearing to demonstrate) personal support for any Special Initiatives,” the memo stated, per ESPN. “A factor that may be considered in this regard includes, for example, whether a Player (or Players) is required to be in close proximity to any groups or individuals visibly or otherwise clearly associated with such Special Initiative(s).”
This prompted teams to wonder whether players and coaches could do something as simple as holding up signs on “Hockey Fights Cancer” nights. Teams got more clarity when the NHL sent out its second memo, which was more about wearing specialty jerseys in warmups or practice, which commissioner Gary Bettman has referred to as a “distraction.”
Under its new policy, teams are no longer permitted to implement those themed jerseys. They are also not allowed to force players to take part in events related to those special initiatives.
Last season, the NHL came under fire when a handful of players chose not to partake in warmups on Pride Nights. Then Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov and San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer both cited their religious beliefs as the main reason for not participating.
There was also a fear within the league that Russian players who wore Pride Night warmup jerseys would be punished when they went back home because of the country’s new anti-LGBTQ laws. In the wake of the controversy, several teams chose not to wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys at all after originally planning to do so.